What I Learned After 1 Year of Sobriety

I had my last drink of alcohol precisely one year ago today (June 26, 2021). I’m not sure what my final alcoholic beverage was… maybe a vodka soda with lime. That was my drink of choice. I didn’t go into this particular night with the intention that it would be my last night of drinking. Instead, it was just a regular night out with the boys filled with rock music, crude humor, and alcohol. 

This night, however, proved to be the wake-up call that I needed. We started with margaritas at a famous place here in Austin, Texas to get the “Purple Rita.” There’s a limit of 2 for a good reason. We then proceeded to the concert with tequila shots, White Claws, and more liquor. Once the show was over, we walked across the street and proceeded to drink more. 

I woke up with no recollection of that night nor how I got home, and I woke up safe in my bed and with my car safe in its parking spot without a scratch on it. I knew I got lucky this time. And after two rough days of recovering and trying to get the alcohol out of my system, I realized the next time may not be as lucky. 

I pledged to myself that I would take a break from drinking. It wasn’t the initial plan to give it up for good, and I didn’t broadcast that I was not drinking anymore. This was only going to be a break, which turned into 1 month, then 2 months, and so on. Once I hit one month, I knew this was the right decision and decided to stay down this path. 

Here I am 1 year later, and it turns out that giving up alcohol was the best decision I could have ever made. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past year. 

Alcohol is Everywhere

Alcohol is a staple in today’s social culture, especially here in Austin, Texas. Alcohol is everywhere. 

Breweries and distilleries are popular hangout spots on the weekends. Happy hours are plentiful, regardless of the day of the week or where. I’ve had jobs where alcohol was served during work-time happy hours. 

People take cases of beer with them to sit on an intertube or a paddleboard in the middle of a river. You can get alcohol at hair salons, gyms, and movie theaters. There are brunch drinks and bottomless mimosas. Networking events. Game nighs. Trivia nights. You get the idea. 

I didn’t bat an eye at a day of drinking with friends because I viewed this as socially acceptable behavior. A lot of social plans centered around where we could get drinks. Drinking became so ordinary that it blurred my belief of what constituted a drinking problem. Once I decided I wasn’t drinking anymore, I realized that my own personal behavior around alcohol was anything but ordinary. 

I Didn’t Believe I had a Problem

My relationship with alcohol was like being in a toxic relationship. You don’t realize you are in one while you’re in it.

I always lived by the idea that certain behaviors must be present to classify a drinking problem. If I didn’t check any boxes, I didn’t have a problem. These behaviors included drinking alone, sitting at the bar drinking alone, needing alcohol to unwind or relieve stress, or feeling the need to have a drink every night.

I used to go out with friends, get completely inebriated, and not think anything of it. We once planned a “White Girl Wasted” Sunday Funday where the object was to get “white girl wasted,” or blackout drunk for those that don’t understand the slang.

I woke up in a stranger’s bed and did not know where I was. I threw up in bar bathrooms and on sidewalks. I was arrested for public intoxication because I was peeing in an alley. Not once did I ever consider this type of behavior to be abnormal. It was “social drinking” to me and just a good time. 

It wasn’t until a couple of months after my final night out drinking that I began evaluating my past experiences with alcohol and recognized a pattern.

My issue wasn’t an addiction. It was having control once I started, which in itself is an alcohol problem. When I fully accepted that I had a problem, the transformation began. 

Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places

Once I decided not to drink anymore, I downloaded an app called “I am Sober” and quietly just checked in every day. I told no one. Honestly, telling people about my new, alcohol-free life gave me more anxiety than not drinking. I silently looked for motivation and found it in some unlikely places. 

I followed a yoga teacher on social media from my Core Power Yoga days whose classes I attended regularly. I didn’t know her very well outside of the studio. Looking through her posts, I noticed she recently evaluated her relationship with alcohol and deiced to stop drinking. 

I discovered Amanda Kuda, an alcohol-free life coach, on social media through this yoga teacher. Amanda works exclusively with women, but her posts about sober living brought out my curiosity about a life without alcohol. Amanda and I will discuss the social stigma with alcohol and more this week on the “Living Very Well” podcast.

Then I met Katie Rose! A yoga friend discovered I was going to this fitness studio in South Austin and told me to try the Pilates class taught by Katie. My friend warned me that Katie’s classes are insane, “hard as fuck,” and I’d hate life for 60 minutes, but I’ll leave and want her to do it all over again. My friend was right. 

The more I got to know Katie, the more I learned about her story and journey into sobriety. She publicly spoke about her struggles with addiction, which became an inspiration to keep going down this path of an alcohol-free life. Katie and I recently talked about living a sober life on my podcast. Check it out below. 

Whether they know it or not, all three of these women played a part in my success in staying alcohol-free for the past 12 months, as did many of the new friendships I formed in the past year. Still, telling people was another challenge I had to overcome. 

Finally Telling People

When I moved back to Austin at the end of 2020, I returned to the same friend group that I had before moving to Miami at the end of 2018. Nearly all of my friends drink, and they were used to me being right there with a drink in hand. I was so scared to tell them that I wasn’t drinking anymore, and I was afraid they would stop inviting me to plans and that I would lose their friendship. I was also nervous about telling my family, but not how I was about my friends. I knew my family would be supportive and not be judgemental.  

At first, it didn’t really affect my relationships and friendships. However, after a while, I began noticing the communication getting less frequent, the invitations few and far between, and I had to be the one to initiate plans. It became exhausting having to always initiate plans that I eventually stopped and haven’t spoke to those friends in several months.

Dating proved to be even tougher. I had several women tell me that because I didn’t drink, it wouldn’t work for them. I began wondering how I would make friends since alcohol dominated many social events. 

I stayed away from places where alcohol would be for the first few months because I knew that was a possible trigger. Once I felt comfortable, I looked for ways to be in social settings where alcohol would be present. Replacing alcohol with mocktails, sparkling water, or soda turned out to be a great substitute.

Once I got over the hump of telling people, I realized it was not willpower keeping me on this journey. Changes started happening socially, mentally, and physically, and I liked them. 

Physical Changes

“Being sober doesn’t make everything perfect.”

Katie Rose, Austin Pilates instructor and 2 years sober

It’s important to remember that changes are linear and involve more than just giving up drugs or alcohol, especially physical changes.

The first physical change that I noticed was my weight. Alcohol is a toxin loaded with sugar and other ingredients that can put on the pounds. After about 3 months, I saw that the weight was coming off. 

Another physical change was in my skin. The blemishes and imperfections began to clear up, and my skin is much smoother and looks much younger than someone about to cross over into their mid-40s. I regularly get told I look like I’m in my mid-to-late 30s. My hair and nails are also much firmer and look healthier. 

I sleep better. One of the myths about alcohol is that you sleep better after a drink or two, and it’s actually quite the opposite. I was always someone that could fall asleep pretty quickly, but staying asleep was a problem. After a few months of being alcohol-free, I got deeper and more beneficial sleep. I also had no trouble staying asleep for long periods, or at least until the cats wanted to be fed. 

Social Changes

Drinking never consumed my life, but it did my social life. You don’t realize how much time you spent drinking until you’ve given it up. Not only did I spend time drinking, but I spent time thinking about drinking and making plans that involved drinking. 

With that time back, I spent a lot of time working out, paddleboarding, finding joy again in video games, going on hikes, and cooking at home. I learned how to code, built a website, and started this venture called Very Well Wellness. 

Yet, the most significant change in my life was in my social circle. Over the past year, I cultivated new friendships and deepened ones with people that were once only acquaintances. I found friends through fitness and in other places of common interest. I still have friends that drink, but I no longer feel like I have to partake in alcohol to have a good time with them. 

Many of these new friendships and relationships I once thought would never be possible or that I deserved them. I’m not sure that alcohol was solely responsible for me feeling like I didn’t deserve them, but I also believe it surely didn’t help.

Mental Changes

I have a history of depression and mental health issues. Alcohol didn’t really help with that. Alcohol use is linked to causing depression, but depression is also linked to alcohol abuse. It’s the which came first, the chicken or the egg type of question. The one thing about alcohol is that when you drink, your body releases a flood of happy hormones. It’s a short-lived high because it’s the opposite feeling the next day. 

Without alcohol, my mornings are more blissful. I discovered self-worth and self-respect. I realized what I deserve from people, not what I was told to accept. I still have periods of sadness, but those periods of depression are shorter and less frequent. I’m also not as agitated or as anxious over the little things as I once was. 

Where to From Here?

I think about where I was and where I am now. Right now, I like the sober version of myself a lot more! So, I think I’ll stay right here. 

While I’m much more comfortable with my relationship with alcohol, I don’t plan on drinking again. Alcohol no longer has a place in my life. I can sit comfortably with friends, watching them drink as I sit with a cup of sparkling water. 

After a year of abstaining from alcohol, sobriety feels like a routine. I am happy and feel accomplished. It was not easy to let go of this substance that helped a socially awkward kid from West Virginia not be so uncomfortable. 

I’m learning who I was before alcohol and discovering a more robust, healthier person. I can enjoy concerts and events without feeling pressure to fit in or drink. I now have hope, even if our world feels very dark these days. 

I still get asked if I plan to drink again, and the truth is that answer has changed over the past year. At first, my response to that question was, “I’ll evaluate that once I hit a year.” A year is here, and I can say with conviction that I don’t see myself ever drinking alcohol again.