Ten Years Sober!

Posted on January 1st, 2020 @ 00:00 in Uncategorized

At the end of December 2019 I marked ten years sober. I’d been thinking for a while how I want to “celebrate” this milestone and so far, all I’ve done is buy a print that seemed apt, by an artist I’ve liked for a while.

HOORAY, GO ME! I often look back and wonder how it is that I am here, sober, and still alive, when others are not. There but for the grace of God… I mean, if I believed in God. I could just as easily have died of cirrhosis at 35, or of alcohol poisoning at 33. Who am I to pretend I am better or stronger than others. I was lucky. I had the right impetus at the right time, and a ton of support to help me through it. I could afford private rehab, rather than waiting a year or more for a placement on the NHS, I had patient and non-judgmental friends, and I had, perhaps… I’m not sure. Enough of the shit? But also enough of a drive to live to hold on.

And so, what conclusions to draw? Out of the 12 or so people I met in rehab, all but 2 relapsed within the first year. (I don’t know if any of them got clean later, we lost touch.) Were they weaker than me? Most of them had families and certainly more reason to stay sober than me. Did they have more stressors in their life? That first year sober I was absolutely miserable at work and sure could’ve done with a drink from time to time. But somehow I stayed away. (I did smoke for a while, which was very helpful at the time, and easy to quit, funnily enough.)

I didn’t start talk therapy until the autumn of that first year, which I then stayed with for over three years. I can unequivocally say that was the best investment I ever made. I absolutely came out of that process a different person. I was quite miserable in 2010. Getting used to the world without alcohol was no fun. I had not been a sober adult before! That’s not to say I’d been drunk 24/7, but alcohol had always been there to use as a crutch, to help me cope and help me forget.

The world was different without. At first, it was grey. Bleh. I remember my therapist explaining to me that this was what emotions were like for most people. The dramatic ups and downs, the mania and the depression, that had been the alcohol brain, not me. I know how stupid this sounds, but I was outraged! This was gonna be my life from now on? This unending BLEH? I did slowly regain more nuanced emotions, but the dramatic extremes did not return. I still recognize the same impulses, mind. My anxiety still makes me ruminate unnecessarily and I have a tendency to expect the worst. But it is now all at a manageable volume. My anxious voices chatter until I can subdue (or distract) them, where before they would spiral further and further into a strident crescendo until I was convinced everyone hated me and I was better off dead.

Those abysses are completely gone. That is the most amazing thing, because I remember very well feeling that my life would be like this forever. Anyone who told me otherwise was a stupid liar who didn’t know what they were talking about. In this AskMefi thread from 2006 I got into an “argument” with someone who called me out on my conviction that everyone was at least somewhat miserable. Back then, I got 23 (“moderate depression”) on Beck’s Depression Inventory. Some people in thread were scoring 2 or 3. It was obvious to me they were lying (to themselves, perhaps). Such general contentedness was impossible! Certainly forever unattainable for me. Turns out I was wrong. When I take the test nowadays, I score a 2 or 3.

Sober life is great! I love and enjoy so many things. That’s not to say it’s always puppies and roses (more often cats and chocolate). There are things I cannot do, or that cost a lot of effort, or that would’ve been easier with alcohol. Mostly these involve people. Getting drunk allowed me to socialise in a way that I simply can’t without. So there are things I don’t do. I don’t miss them, mostly, though I may miss out on opportunities. But I don’t feel like my life is substantially diminished by this.

Maintaining my mental health is also still a conscious, continuous endeavour. Exercise has mostly replaced alcohol in managing my serotonin levels, which is largely a good thing cuz exercise is healthy, I am outside a lot, and it allows me to eat a lot of chocolate (my relationship with food will not be discussed in this post). But it also means I spend a lot of time in a precarious balance between tending to injuries or chronic issues, and keeping up my activities so I don’t slip mentally. I am perpetually low key worried I will be forced to take a long break and spiral back into something scary. And I often think about the day when I will have to stop running and cycling altogether, and then what.

Then what indeed. I don’t rule out that I will one day start drinking again. If I do, I am pretty sure, it’s to see me out of here. That said, I don’t intend to do it any time soon. This past decade has, overall, been the best of my life and I intend to keep this going as long as my body lets me! And perhaps I can build up new coping skills as I get older that’ll make me less depenent on exercise. Who knows. The human mind is a wondrous thing.

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