When you get sober, you will be haunted by hangovers. There will be so many nights where you will wake up to pee, so many mornings when the sun makes its way through the tiny window in your garage level apartment, and a surge of panic will rush you fully awake as you strain to remember what happened the night before. What did you do? What did you say? It’s only when you realize it was just a dream that you were pounding beers, that upon closer inspection, your head in fact actually feels fine, that you are able to fall back asleep, or get up, move the day along. You think this is something that will be short lived, but you’re eight months in, and the hangover dreams (nightmares?) still come, and you will never not be fall-to-your-knees grateful when you remember that you never have to be hungover ever again.
The first few months of sobriety will be a small, quiet thing, something precious and essential that you will carry around everywhere with you, a tactile little secret you can keep in your pocket. A few times a day you will peek in, make sure it is still there, and every time you look inside and see it, your entire system will exhale what feels like a resounding, bone-level yessssssssss.
In the beginning, every breath you take will feel like it’s own private revolution, and it won’t be long before your excitement will spill over and you’ll no longer be able to keep the secret. That little seed pod you’ve been carrying around in your pocket? You’ll notice it’s begun to sprout, so you’ll hang it up in that tiny bedroom window, you’ll spritz it with water every morning like you always forgot to do to your air plants. This time, you don’t forget.
You will tell anyone who will listen. Then, you’ll learn the hard way—at least a dozen times—that when folks realize you don’t have some big story, no rock bottom, their interest fades. You will become mindful about with whom and when you share your reasons. You start practicing, and eventually get comfortable saying, simply, I don’t drink! —and leave it at that, and when people press further, you say, I just don’t like it! —and move on. This will be awkward at first, and it will be surprisingly challenging not to qualify it in any way. You’ll look forward to the day it simply ain’t no thing, the day nobody says a damn word when you’re the only one at the party drinking a LaCroix.
You will drink so much fucking LaCroix.
Behind closed eyes you will see images: of snakes in mid-molt, baby chicks recently hatched, and though you feel like a butterfly you keep that to yourself because that cliche is pushing it a little too far even for you.
Speaking of coping: you will take walks, so many walks. Long walks in canyons and forests and hills where you talk things out with your dog, with the hawks that fly overhead, with all the beasts that surround you as you remember how to inhabit your own beastly body. You will lose some weight: the number on the scale will surprise you, but it’s the sudden sense of lightness you experience as the weight of other people’s expectations and your own unattainable standards begin to float away that will feel better than looking fly in a little bikini ever could. Along with your new friend, Captain LaCroix, you will drink coffee, all the coffee, along with iced almond milk matcha lattes, a beverage that costs about as much as a cocktail and with just enough syllables to stumble over which makes you feel embarrassed every time you order it. You will read, and read, and read, you will learn about addiction, and the brain, and you will be so happy to have found these resources because where before you felt shame now you are overcome by compassion. You will become increasingly able to forgive yourself. You will fill all your free time with either reading, or podcasts, or writing. You will start and stop a daily meditation practice precisely one thousand million times. You will slowly but surely begin to push back on all the messages your brain sends you that something is inherently wrong with you, that you should shut up, that you have nothing unique to say. As you push back, as you let yourself be seen mid-molt, you will wake up almost every night around 4am in a panic, and you will feel like you are dying. You won’t die. You don’t know if this will ever get easier but you are tired of living your life like you should be apologizing for it so you do it anyway. You write as if no one will ever read one word. You keep knocking at the door.
You will be lonely. There will be countless times you will return to that precious thing hanging in your window, stare at it, touch it, rub it between your fingers, put it in your mouth and swirl your tongue around it, lay it under your pillow on sleepless nights, put it against your ear and stretch your senses for it’s messages. You will feel shy. You’ll want to find other sober friends but you don’t identify as an alcoholic so AA doesn’t feel right, and where else do you find other people like you?
You will finally deal with your shit, all the stuff you were just numb enough not to feel, not to reckon with. This mostly has to do with normal adult type stuff, little things that seem breezy for everyone else but to you feel insurmountable. Money stuff. Relationship stuff. Basic, day-to-day, keeping it together type stuff. You will have to accept that whereas before you always felt ahead of the curve, in reality you might be more of a late bloomer than you would have ever thought.
You will begin a crusade against Magical Thinking. You will check yourself everytime you fantasize about winning the lottery (especially since you have never even once bought a ticket), or having some distant and as yet unknown exceptionally rich relative who is going to die and leave you everything, or even finding money on the ground, or expecting some prince to come sweep you off your feet. You will push back on wishing your life was somehow different than exactly how it is. You’ll lose yourself, still, sometimes, but now you have tools to return home, instead of tuning out.
You will get to work, and it will be the most rewarding thing of your life.
It will shock you how easy it is. You keep expecting to miss it, to miss something - the taste, or the slow warmth of that first drink, the inner unspooling, the way it let you, you know, just relax around people. You will expect to miss the way booze made you feel OK. You won’t miss it. In fact, you will wish you’d given it up ages ago. This is another thing you will forgive yourself for.
You will get sober, and you will see that it’s so much more than simply not drinking. You will slowly begin to re-learn how to trust yourself, how to rely on instincts and gut feeling and intuition. You will begin to say no. You will speak less. You will be hyper aware of your body, of the space you take up; whereas before you found ways to numb these sensations now you learn to deal. You will begin to touch and taste all the things that you low-key never thought possible for yourself.
You will start to think bigger. You will start to demand more for yourself, for your life. And while you will have no idea how that seed will sprout - big and leafy, crawly and viney, rich and full like a succulent - but you tend to it like your life depends on it. You will realize that your life indeed does - not the life you’ve left behind, the one of smallness and catering and pandering and inaction - but the one you’ve always dreamed for yourself, the one full of art and beauty and travel and being the type of person who allows herself her desires, to act upon those desires, to be the type of woman who knows what she wants and then, you know, goes and gets it.