I have been sober for three years today. On August 17th of 2010, I walked away from my last drink at the last table I would ever sit at in the pub I may as well have paid rent in for nearly ten years. It felt glorious for about two hours, and then the reality of staying sober set in, but I stuck with it, and I am so glad that I did. Here's a few things I've learned.
One: I am the same person sober as I was drunk, only better, because I'm less sick and depressed about everything.
I still carry as much judgement, anger, and depression around with me some days as I did when I was drunk. At first, this seemed monumentally unfair, like I should automatically be liberated of all of my worst traits as soon as I wasn't drinking anymore. It turns out, though, that thoughtlessness, selfishness, and myopic depression are not just the domain of drunk people.
Now I know better. Drunk, I had no bearing to deal with myself and move towards growth, but now I do. The liberation lies not in being free of everything that ailed me but in being able to see what ails me and move through and beyond it.
Two: Consciousness and memory are hot commodities in this short life, and they make being a faulty human so much more bearable. Who knew?
I am actually conscious now during my waking hours. I had no idea before I quit drinking that my consciousness was not only compromised while I was actively drunk but also beforehand while I obsessed about getting alcohol and afterwards when I was too drunk to dream, too hungover to enjoy anything, and too tired from dealing with the ongoing health issues related to my alcoholism to be able to do much else. I was rarely fully conscious outside of the veil of alcohol, and I didn't remember much because of it.
Three years later, I am still amazed at how much I see, hear, and do and how much I remember about what I see, hear, and do now that I am not moving through the soup of drunkenness anymore. It's like I finally woke up, and I keep waking up. It's pretty brilliant.
Three: Now that I'm awake, I am afraid of everything.
Speaking of waking up, I woke up to find out that I'm pretty much afraid of everything. This growth I now have the bearing to move towards? Yikes.
I have learned that growth means change, and change is uncomfortable, and discomfort triggers my fear, and I am afraid of pretty much everything, because I can't come at life through the muffling cotton batten of sweet, fizzy beer anymore.
Four: I may be afraid of everything, but fear, as it turns out, is a nuanced and informative tool, and I am starting to like it.
While I was drinking for that twenty-year stretch, fear was just fear. It had one flavour, and that flavour was insurmountable horror and ugliness. It was paralyzing, and part of alcohol's purpose in my life was to soften and erase that feeling. Sober, I have nothing between me and the fear, and so I have had to get to know it better. I'm glad I have.
It turns out that fear has a multitude of flavours that come in everything from being afraid to anticipation to anger to exhilaration. We lump a lot of big, less familiar emotions into fear simply because they are less familiar, which means we are probably more afraid of the big, less familiar emotion than we are of the thing that caused it.
For example, I used to fear public speaking just a tiny bit less than violent death. Once I got sober, though, I tackled that fear to give a TEDx talk , and I have spoken at a number of conferences since then. I still shake and freak out and question my decision-making before taking the stage, but I have found that I like spreading messages more than I fear that walk up to the mic. I wasn't afraid of public speaking so much as I was actually afraid of the vulnerability of conviction, which is why I didn't stand up for myself at work or speak up in public about things I believed in or have a better relationship with my family.
Sobriety has allowed me to see the shape and colour of my different fears rather than lump them all into the same ugly heap I used to have to run to the bottom of several pints to avoid.
Five: Living with less fear allows me to live with more creativity and love.
Fear held me in a state of defensiveness. It still does sometimes, of course, but much less so, and that is due to two important things:
- as I mentioned in point four, I am better able to look at fear, figure out if it is actually fear, and see whether that fear is truly related to the thing at hand, and
- I have figured out that 99.999% of the universe is not only not personally invested in me, but it is also probably not even looking at me.
Once you figure out that most of your fear is actually cloaking other more interesting emotions and that you are pretty much flying under the radar, you stop looking at the world as something that is always at the ready to attack you personally at all times.
On the one hand, this could sound like I'm telling you that you have more big emotions than you realize and nobody cares, but on the other hand, you could see what I'm really saying, which is that you can set yourself free:
If you take apart capital-F Fear and discover the emotional multiverse lurking inside of it, you can put it all to good use loving people and doing really cool stuff that you didn't think you could do before, and 99.999% of the universe isn't even going to think about trying to stop you.
Without the broad constriction of fear, I can make stuff and do stuff and love things and people, and I am more free to do so than I ever knew was possible, and it is capital-F Fucking incredible.
I'm not saying it all gets better once you sober up, but some things get a lot better. You're still a jerk sometimes, fear still exists, and big emotions are hard to deal with, but sober consciousness, bright and occasionally fiery awakeness, declares its own possibilities.
Mindful sobriety lays out a clear and practical hope that gets good stuff done, plain and simple.
Three years. THREE YEARS. I've been sober for three years. This is the stuff Good is made of.