I bring this up because right now I have two friends who are both in their first weeks of sobriety. Talking to them daily has pulled me back into those dark, frustrating days of my own life two and a half years ago. I’ve been trying to think of the right thing to say without overwhelming them because, the truth is, there are so many things I wish people had told me very early on in my sobriety. These are just a few.
1. Sobriety is what you make of it. This is perhaps the biggest and most important one. Being sober can feel like a burden or a blessing. I’ve chosen the latter. When it feels like a burden, sobriety isn’t likely to have a lasting effect on someone. When it becomes something you are grateful for it is more likely to stick. There are so many opportunities out there that sobriety presents, but being involved in them includes stepping out of your comfort zone. For example, when I was one year sober I decided on a whim to fly to Texas for ICYPAA—the International Conference of Young People in AA. I didn’t know one single person, but I felt like I had known everyone immediately. Taking that chance was one of the best decisions of my life. As with many things in life, sobriety can present so much growth and opportunity when approached the right way.
2. It will get better and it will get easier. I remember feeling so utterly hopeless in my first few days of sobriety. I didn’t think I would ever be happy again. I actually kept a journal during that time and when I go back and read it, I can’t even believe I wrote it. I was so hellbent on returning to drinking that nothing else mattered. I was miserable, and I knew I would stay that way until I could drink again. Except that didn’t happen. One day passed, then one week, then one month. I found that each day it became easier to get out of the bed in the morning. I began laughing again. I felt myself returning. Time really does heal. It’s just a matter of muddling through those first few weeks and months.
3. It’s OK to be scared. One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s good to be scared. It means you still have something to lose.” (Thanks, Grey’s Anatomy). Think about it though. Why would fear even be present if we didn’t still have things in our life that we loved and cherished? Being scared is a good sign because it means that you know your life is changing, likely for the better. It means you don’t have to lose any more than you’ve already lost. In most cases, you’ll even gain back what you’ve lost.
4. You will feel normal again. When I got sober at 20 years old, I didn’t think I would ever be a normal person. How could I when I would never even have a legal drink? I mean, that’s what normal people do. I was convinced I was doomed to a life of being an outcast. But that was just my “poor me” mindset talking. Today, I feel mostly normal. To be honest, I’ve found that there’s a sort of happiness in not being completely normal. Normal is boring. Normal doesn’t give you a story.
5. Bad days don’t make you a failure. I still have shitty days where I would love to be able to go out and let loose like others my age. I still have days where I think “What if…” When this happens I catch myself thinking that I’ve somehow failed at sobriety just because drinking enters my mind. This isn’t true. It would be bad if the thought of picking up a drink never, ever crossed my mind again. Part of being an alcoholic is learning how to combat those thoughts. At the end of the day, just the thought does not make me a failure.
6. There are others like you. I felt so alone when I stopped drinking. Sure, I knew adults who were sober. But not 20 year olds. People my age didn’t get sober as far as I was concerned. However, once I started treatment I found out that there were whole programs for people like me. In fact, when I went to Texas for ICYPAA, there were thousands of young people like me. I also realized that even though adults weren’t like me in terms of their age, they were still like me. Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. Today I know that I am never, ever alone.
7. There isn’t as much of a stigma associated with substance abuse as there used to be. Times change and it took me awhile to realize that substance abuse is more widely accepted today than in the past. I assumed that anyone who knew about what I was going through would immediately judge me and write me off as a lost cause. However, that wasn’t the case at all. I’ve never felt as much love and acceptance as when I finally decided to be honest with myself and the people around me.
8. You are not an embarrassment. This was probably my biggest anxiety and the reason I kept my sobriety so hush-hush at first. I didn’t want my family to have to deal with the embarrassment and shame that was sure to follow me admitting what was happening. Even though they made it clear that they didn’t feel like I was a burden, I was convinced that was how it would feel. But once I started telling people, I realized I was wrong. Most people, especially my family, were just proud of me. There was no shame or embarrassment that went along with my confessions.
9. You will meet so many unexpected people. I met THE Luke Bryan because I got sober. True story (long story, though). While I can’t promise that sobriety will lead anyone to meeting celebrities, I can promise that it will lead them to meeting people who will make them wonder how they ever lived without them. So many beautiful human beings have come into my life because I got sober, including my sponsor, my boyfriend, a fellow sobriety birthday and blogger sister, and countless others. Some I’ve never met in real life, but we communicate through technology. There are so many people in my life today who make every moment of the struggle of sobriety so worth it. They remind me who I am and why I am doing this. Every single day.