Day 297: I recently wrote about counting days in recovery. It’s been a rough few days for me mentally (nothing in particular – just seen a dip in my mood) and it has made me reflect on the positive milestones reached so far in my recovery journey. It then made me wonder about the milestones I’m yet to reach but WILL get to in time. Here are my thoughts on the key milestones of sobriety (and I’m not talking about days, months or years here)…
1. Attend a Wedding
Most of us have been to weddings in our lifetime and in many cases (particularly in British society) the day is dominated by booze from morning to midnight and in some cases the morning after as a mender! Weddings are therefore one of the most common hurdles in sobriety. The day will often mean overcoming a lot of offers of alcohol to turn down. It is even just plonked ready in front of you as you get seated for the wedding breakfast. A glass of bubbles to toast the bride and groom already poured by the server. I attended my first sober wedding a few months back and it was tough but achievable. My wife and closest mates knew I was sober so it was only the odd person I had to decline alcohol from. I had fun, I danced late into the night and I felt great the next morning unlike my mates!
2. Feeling uncomfortable
There have been many times in recovery where I’ve felt uncomfortable. Not just the obvious places like in a pub or at a gig where alcohol is around you. Sitting on my couch on a Saturday evening when the kids are in bed. That memory of having a glass of red with the wife or a few pints of Guinness on Boxing Day never leaves you entirely (well, not for me) but knowing I made the right choice and allowing it to pass can be very empowering.
3. Holidaying sober
No more 6am pints in the Airport. No more 10am pints round the pool. I haven’t had a foreign holiday since knocking booze on the head but I have had a family holiday in England this year, a long weekend away with the wife and a stag weekend to contend with. It will be a different test when I next go abroad but Covid seems to be keeping that option a distant one for now.
Unexpected bad news can be one of the hardest events to navigate, regardless of where you’re at in sobriety. I do imagine these are also the moments that can provide the greatest clarity and strength. The death of a loved one and things like funerals and memorial services will challenge us and it is another milestone, on reflection, to be proud of. I haven’t had to live through this yet in my sobriety.
5. Saying No
Being able to say “no” to something or somebody is very empowering. Not everybody will understand or respect your sobriety. I’ve been asked by people who don’t really understand my circumstances if I fancy a pint. I don’t always feel comfortable being in that environment because it reminds me of my drinking days and being part of that ‘lad’ culture where if you had a soft drink you were a ‘sissy’. I’ve turned down trips out with friends because I know it will be centred around alcohol. I feel bad and low sometimes doing that but I think over time I will start to appreciate why I’m doing it. I’m protecting myself.
6. Saying Yes
Sometimes saying “yes” can be the hardest part of sobriety because it usually involves getting out of your comfort zone. For me, going on a Stag weekend with a large group of lads (some I had never met) was a tough one. I was very anxious about it but I wanted to go because it was one of my best friends who was getting married. I’m pleased on reflection I went. I spent more time on my own that weekend than I would have if I was drinking but it was a good balance for me.
7. Establishing Self-care
This milestone isn’t a set in the ground one but it is so important to establish over time a ‘tool kit’ of self-care that works for you and your well-being. Since February I have started running regularly again, I walk a lot more, I’ve started Yoga and I read so much more than I ever have. That works for me. You won’t discover your self-care package overnight but once you have a variety of healthy coping mechanisms in place you can really start to own your mental health and your sobriety.
A glass of wine after a long day at work. A nice, cold bottle of beer in the garden during the Summer. A glass of Baileys on Christmas Eve whilst prepping the food for the big day. All things I would do without fail and enjoy. Drinking wasn’t always demonic for me. I could be ‘normal’ with the stuff at times. I’ve replaced the beer in the garden with a 0.0% Heineken. The Baileys this year will be replaced with a glass of non-alcoholic ginger wine and my go-to after a long day at work will be some yoga, a run or to play with my daughters!
Again, you might not appreciate this immediately but as your body starts to recover from the abuse of alcohol and stress levels fall your sleep quality will improve. I still sleep around the same amount of time but my deeper sleep is longer in duration now. When we drink we don’t sleep properly and we will often wake up very dehydrated. I have two young daughters so naturally my sleep could be better but it is still so much better than it was when I was boozing until midnight.
10. Go Clubbing
My first few trips to pubs have been a little anxiety inducing but thankfully I have friends and family who are supportive plus non-alcoholic drinks are becoming more widely available and popular in the UK. One thing I haven’t done yet is go to a night club. I’m a big fan of dance music and used to love a late night on the dance floor but almost always under the influence. In time I’d love to appreciate a decent DJ set in a good club without the stresses of queuing for drinks, spending loads of money and getting hammered. One for my 40’s maybe when I take my teenage daughters to Ibiza!