Here’s what a year of sobriety feels like* to a forty-one year-old wife, teacher and mother of four.
It would be a lie to say I took my first drink at 13.
My love of alcohol actually started around the age of four, when I would crunch the melting ice at the bottom of my father’s crown and coke.
Daddy would drink one every night after work, in those glasses you got from McDonald’s or Burger King, the ones with Charlie Brown and Snoopy or the Smurfs painted on them.
Later, around the age of 10 or so, my mom would purchase boxed wine, the pink and absolutely disgusting kind, and sometimes as a joke, my brother and I would empty out our Sprite and Coke cans and fill them with the wine. The little buzz we got was funny, but hearing my mom yell at my dad for drinking all the wine was even funnier.
So it was an easy jump to my first real drink of alcohol, although the fact that it was my mother who gave it to me, shocks people.
My parents had recently been divorced and my father had refused to tell my mom the whereabouts of his new apartment and had sworn me to secrecy too.
Mama was no fool, so one night she bribed my best friend Erin and me.
The offer? Wine for the apartment address.
The Reasons I Drank Alcohol
In the beginning, I drank to be rebellious. Being as young as me, it wasn’t quite cool yet–it was still pretty taboo and shocking.
And I learned a couple of things in those days about humanity, about all the ways in the future it would be wrong for a person of my status or class to do something but totally okay for another group to do whatever they wanted.
When it comes to vices like drinking, drugs and sex, money buys you a blind eye.
Pretty soon, everyone in my grade drank, smoked, and did things that I myself hadn’t done and wouldn’t do. But by then, I didn’t care.
For me, alcohol had become less a vehicle for fitting in and more a means to curb the ever-growing anxiety inside my head.
With a few beers or a couple of glasses of wine, maybe a good mixed drink (or all of the above), I didn’t have to feel constantly worried, afraid, angry or bitter. I could relax and have fun.
Fun is relative. Some nights were not fun at all. Others were a riot.
Some nights ended with me on a bathroom floor, or worse, somewhere I didn’t even know I’d asked to go. Sometimes, somewhere I’d specifically asked not to go. Who listens to a drunk girl?
Drinking as an Adult
I was able to successfully make it nine full months four times without alcohol during each of my pregnancies. I didn’t even bat an eye. It was never a question I would remain sober. (I’ve been shocked to find out how often this isn’t the case!)
I hardly ever purchased alcohol for my house, and I never drank it at a random dinner or other kind of function.
But when I went out with friends or there was a fun party, I would act like a complete fool.
And many of these nights out coincided with various marriage issues I was having at the time.
Throughout my marriage to Clayford, we have struggled because of our past.
But those are stories for another day.
After a particularly rough night out, I would reevaluate my drinking, swear to never do it again, quit cold turkey.
Sobriety would last a few weeks before eventually, I’d get frustrated with my life again and return to the bottle.
As I grew older, a definite pattern emerged: I would go months without a drink, life would ramp up, I would argue with my husband or become less than satisfied with life, I would innocently start buying wine to drink a couple of evenings in the week, a couple of evenings would turn into every evening, the evening would turn into the minute we got home from carpool, I would have a night where I went overboard, I would decide I needed to take a break.
This happened for almost two decades.
Why I Finally (finally!) Quit Drinking for Good
In 2020 life was tough for everyone. The whole world went from normalcy to disruption, seemingly overnight.
The first week of quarantine, Clayford lost his job, a position he’d held for nearly 12 years.
But that’s not all that happened in the span of a year. From 2020-2021:
- We teachers were forced to teach online.
- My oldest son graduated high school and left for a college 4 1/2 hours away.
- My first dog died. We’d had her 15 years.
- Clayford got a new job. Then another.
- Two people I’d known forever were lost to Covid.
- I got Covid.
- My nephew died by suicide, leaving his family to care for his two babies.
- My daughter graduated high school.
- My third son started junior high.
- Teachers went back to work amid pandemic restrictions.
The list goes on.
When you’re dealing with your own mess, while also worrying deeply about the world at large, your head feels like it’s going to explode.
I couldn’t keep my feelings and emotions in check. I knew that I was drinking harder and longer than I ever had before, but I didn’t know how to stop and cope with my feelings.
On my final night of drinking, I laid on my bathroom floor and said, “Enough is enough.”
I knew that my life needed to change. For starters, my health was beginning to go downhill. I’d developed high blood pressure and was pre-diabetic.
I’d gained 25 pounds overnight.
I was depressed, my face was breaking out, and my side hurt constantly. (It was my liver, I assumed.)
So I quit. This time, for good.
What Staying Sober Felt Like in the Beginning
When I was just starting out, being sober felt normal.
I was never an “alcoholic” as an everyday classification. I learned I suffered from “Alcohol Use Disorder,” which is actually a pandemic in our country.
According to a study whose findings were written about in The Washington Post,
…the rate of alcohol use disorder, or what’s colloquially known as “alcoholism,” rose by a shocking 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s. One in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to the study.“One in Eight Americans Is an Alcoholic….” Christopher Ingraham
There are many factors driving the increase, of course, and the pandemic exacerbated the already frustrating situation.
But what’s become most frightening is seeing now that I’m sober, how many other people often are not.
Alcohol is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
It seems to be found at every dinner, every social function, party, celebration, sports event, college campus, golf course, swim club, tennis court…and in every home.
Alcohol is everywhere, and it’s almost as if no one can socialize without it.
When you’re sober, you start to question these things. What is it about being with other people, that makes us feel the need to drink?
And why are some people so adamantly opposed to it, while others can’t put it down?
As the initial high of my sobriety wore off, I began to question this divide we have in society with the nondrinkers and the drinkers.
I have discovered there are five distinct camps of people in relation to alcohol:
- The people who are super-opposed to drinking, usually for religious reasons. These are the kind of people who judge and look down on you when you do drink. (It makes me super sad that this is the group who represents Jesus most of the time. Hello–first miracle, anyone?)
- The people who don’t have an ethical issue with drinking but don’t drink, either because they knew someone with a serious problem or they themselves had or were developing one. (I fall into this category at the moment.)
- The people who don’t mind drinking but who aren’t particularly into the whole “let’s get drunk” vibe. They drink a little and stop. (HOW?!? How does this happen?)
- The people who can’t stop, won’t stop and usually can’t remember what happened the morning after.
- The people who are in between 3-4.
Here’s the thing: Many of us think we’re number three. Many of us are number four and don’t want to be.
MOST of us are number five and won’t admit it.
I was definitely number five and had had various brushes with number four. Too many to be proud of.
What Staying Sober Feels Like Now
I’m good. I can say that with an honest heart and mean it.
Maybe it was the pandemic that changed my life.
Maybe it was my children growing up and me realizing I did not want them to see me like that forever.
Maybe it was losing my nephew or simply growing older.
All I know is, I’m so thankful I quit drinking, and I never want to go back to the way it was.
It would be a lie to say I don’t wish to be on a beach sometimes sipping a pina colada.
When I go out with friends, having to explain that I’m “still not drinking,” and hearing them say, “oh, but you could have just one,” because they never thought I had a problem gets old.
And worrying that my children won’t have a normal relationship with alcohol because of all they’ve seen is stressful. My older two still haven’t drunk an alcoholic beverage and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
But I never want to go back. The old Toni was not a fun Toni. She thought she was having fun, but she was escaping. She was distracting and attempting to drown out the issues.
For the record, the issues haven’t gone away. The hard part about not using alcohol to distract yourself is that you’re left with your feelings. I don’t really know what to do with my feelings, and I guess I never have.
I can’t say for sure what consequences sobriety will end up having on my career, my marriage or my future.
Life doesn’t always present us with an easy path.
Sometimes we have to trust that the rocky trail is the right one.
I am currently walking blindly through thorns and bristles, brushing against crags, climbing boulders.
I don’t know quite yet when a smooth road will appear or if it ever will at all.
But I’m okay with that, because, although I’m walking blinding, my head is clear.
For the first time in a long time.
My hope is that if you’re struggling, too, you’ll think about putting the alcohol away.
You’ll be so glad you did.