…and three tough questions I had to ask myself.
My name is Amanda. I’m a single, social, thirty-something living in Austin, TX. I’m also alcohol-free. I describe my journey as “spontaneous sobriety” because I didn’t identify as having a “drinking problem” (though, as you’ll read, that doesn’t mean my drinking wasn’t a problem).
A former social drinker (read: party girl), I’ve candidly discussed my alcohol-free lifestyle quite a bit over the last few years. What I haven’t shared in detail is how much I struggled as social or “gray area” drinker.
You know the gray area…that place where you’re not a super-casual, once-in-a-while drinker…but you’re also not a hit-rock-bottom, time-to-get-help drinker either. You’re just there, somewhere in the middle, drinking in a way that is still deemed socially acceptable…if not socially necessary.
That was me. I drank only on the weekends (maybe a glass of wine here and there on the week nights); sometimes in moderation, sometimes in excess. My habits were no different than those around me. So why on earth, if I didn’t have a problem, would I ever want to stop…wouldn’t that mean that I did have a problem?
I struggled with this way of thinking for over six months after I started to hear a tiny whisper that told me I should stop drinking. I remember walking out of a wellness retreat in the Spring of 2016 determined that I was going to focus on my own personal growth, only to find myself back in endless and mundane loop of drinking a few weekends later. The whisper grew louder and finally, after two really tremendous hangovers at the end of the year, I knew it was time to get serious.
But let me be honest, I only planned to give up drinking for 30 days. At first, I thought that would be enough to magically re-set and I’d go on living this life where I was able to totally moderate my drinking. I felt the instinct that there was NO WAY that 30 days of sobriety was enough to cement a new way of being. Furthermore, I started to feel good — really, really good — and I wanted to keep exploring how that felt. So, I committed to staying sober for 60 more days (90 total). Somewhere in that 90 days something shifted and I started asking myself some really tough questions. If you’re in that same gray area, I hope answering these questions might help you as well.
Question 1: How do I want to feel? There was a big part of me that thought I deserved and needed to drink in order to relax. But there was a bigger part of me that wanted to feel happy, joyful, vibrant, inspired, energized, motivated, fulfilled. Once I realized that alcohol was not only failing to contribute to those feelings, but was actually dragging me further and further away from them, I no longer wanted to drink.
While it didn’t happen immediately, after some time, the haze of alcohol lifted and I started to feel really content, then happy, then joyful…feelings I had worried I wasn’t even capable of feeling. I had convinced myself that I was probably depressed. Never had it occurred to me that I had built up such a reserve of a toxic depressant in my system, that I was experiencing it’s effects long after my hangovers subsided. While I still have down days, I now actually live in that sunshine-y, blissful place I thought was only a dream.
Question 2: Who do I want to be? I used to think I wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else. That’s precisely what alcohol allowed me to do. To fit it. To join the crowd. But really, it was dulling down the part of me that was meant to shine (while simultaneously substituting an over-the-top version of me, that — while entertaining — certainly was not the highest representation of what I have to offer). Yes, drinking had allowed me to be like everyone else. And you know what happens when you’re just like everyone else? You become mundane; mediocre.
I did not want to be dull, mundane or mediocre. I have big dreams to bring to life and operating at a mediocre level was no longer an option. I’ve had to work through a lot of stories about self-worth and not being enough — or worse, being too much — in order to allow myself to feel comfortable stepping into my greatness now that I no longer have alcohol weighing me down. It’s an ongoing process. I can tell you this, though, each day that I wake up fresh and clear headed, I am grateful that I have chosen a path where alcohol isn’t in my way.
Question 3: Who am I if…? After I established that I no longer wanted to just be part of the crowd, I had to talk myself out of clinging to my introvert tendencies and denouncing all social situations that involved drinking. As someone who chose sobriety, being around alcohol doesn’t trigger me, but let’s be real, being in social settings when you’re the only one not drinking is challenging. I went through the list of things I thought would be intolerable or no fun without the presence of alcohol. I sat with my thoughts and then had a realization: Who am I if I can’t survive these situations without drinking? Was I incapable of getting through a tough week without a drink? Was I so dull that I couldn’t celebrate without a champagne toast? Was I so lacking in confidence and so boring that I couldn’t go to a happy hour or out on a date without a cocktail? Was I so un-fun that I couldn’t have fun at an event without tossing back a few drinks? Or, was it possible that (and here is the most unfavorable question I ask) some of those events and places and people SIMPLY WERE NOT FUN???
Here’s what I found, I am strong, resilient, capable, interesting, confident — ALL OF IT. I can navigate any situation I desire without the help of alcohol. Is it always easy and joyful and exciting. HELL NO. But, do I feel a sense of power and accomplishment each time that I do something other people were not willing to attempt sober? Abso-frickin-loutely.
Sometimes it is a challenge to draw myself out into social situations, I’ll admit that. It is easier to stay at home where I don’t have to put effort and energy into starting conversations with others — as an “outgoing introvert” it doesn’t always come natural to me. Truth-be-told, I do require a lot more alone and self-reflection time now that I’m not drinking. I have years of subconsciously buried and unprocessed thoughts and emotions to sort through and loads of dreams and passions to chase. I also rejoice more in the time I’m able to spend in small, intimate groups or in one-on-one conversations. I don’t need the stimulation of a crowd full of people that I once craved during my drinking days. In fact, the bar that I would have walked out of for being too quiet or dead is now my retreat; a place where I can actually sit and have a conversation with a friend.
If you’re a gray area drinker and are feeling that call that I once felt — hearing the tiny voice inside that says there might be a better way, I encourage you to ponder these questions for yourself. As always, I share my own journey and offer resources and support over on my blog (authentiallyamanda.com) and Instagram (@authenticallyamanda).