Why Getting Sober Felt Like Losing Part of My Identity
I still remember the initial feeling I had four years ago, when I finally made the decision to become sober. For me, a beer guzzling, sharp-tongued wild child, bidding adieu to alcohol was a shocking turn of events. Even though I had known for years that my drinking was unhealthy, deep down I didn’t believe I was ever going to actually do anything about it.
Radical change is an adrenaline rush. You’re initially thrilled as the new image of yourself that you’re going to create — and it dances around your head. I’m going to be the real me. I’m going to be the best me. I’m going to be stable. I’m going to be at peace. I’m going to be happy. But of course, nothing is ever that simple — happiness will never be the lowest hanging fruit.
When you’re unhappy, it’s not very hard to convince yourself that it’s always resting just beyond your reach. Sobriety hasn’t always been easy, and it was especially hard in the beginning. When you’re used to not only socializing through drinking — but also flirting, dating and being intimate — losing that crutch, frankly, feels devastating.
With my initial surge of conviction and determination, I imagined that taking away alcohol — my favorite vice — would make me feel whole. I thought when it was gone it would simply leave behind an unscathed version of who I was meant to be. But, the loss of drinking — though necessary — initially felt like just that: a loss. I mourned the loss of my inebriated identity. I missed my excuse to escape. I wept for my rationale for any and all misbehavior. I yearned to get wasted.
For many people, myself included, being in a tough situation makes you want a significant other. You crave someone who will stand by you, or better yet, make your troubles go away. As a gay 22-year-old, I had gone from the closeted confines of high school — where I’d never had a functional or enduring relationship — to college, where all of my romances and other intimate affairs were catalyzed by liquid courage.
What was even harder to accept during those early days of sobriety was that I was in no emotional place to date. Once you took the alcohol away, my problems were glaring: I felt empty, and I was so scared. I had to learn to love myself.
For the first year, I was on a total emotional roller coaster. I had to confront all of these terrible feelings and fears I’d been burying for so long beneath alcohol, drugs, eating disorders and promiscuous sex. Why did I feel unworthy of happiness? Why did I hate myself? Why was I scared to just be OK? Couldn’t I exist as a normal, healthy person? Did I need to encase myself behind a thin shield of tragedy as a way to keep the rest of the world out?
I’d like to tell you I have found the answer to all of these questions. I’d like to say I’m completely fulfilled and that you can be, too, should you just follow my clearly defined steps. But, it’s not that simple. I’m not there yet, but I am so much further on my way. Sobriety is tough. It forces you to deal with your shit — yep, the same shit you’ve spent your whole life hiding and denying.
Initially, this inevitable introspection is terrifying. You don’t have alcohol to blur the edges until the picture of yourself is just what you want it to be. But, it gets better — it gets so much better. And I’m getting closer all the time. Self-acceptance no longer feels like my version of punishment in a Greek tragedy. It will not forever be just past the ends of my fingertips. I can feel it. I have felt it. I have held it in my hands and found it a place to rest within my heart. I have realized nothing is so black and white.
Self-love and self-acceptance are not obtained or lost, rather they are in flux. The levels of both you may hold at one time are constantly ebbing and flowing. Some days, I love myself and other days I am still hard on myself. But I assure you I am never that crumpled ball crying on the floor, always on the verge of self-destruction, that I was so often during my drinking days.
Obtaining sobriety in the LGBT community can have its own additional challenges when you live in a larger society that does not accept you. This subconsciously led me to believe I should not accept myself. I believe this acceptance will come. Though sobriety may feel isolating, or “quitting” drinking may feel like you lost some game that other people are winning, don’t succumb to these dark thoughts. You are not alone. You’ll find your people — I promise you will — but you have work to do before. The first step out of your crumbling “wonderland” is the one where you begin to find yourself.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Unsplash photo via Clem Onojeghuo.