By the time I had my last alcoholic drink, I had no choice but to face the facts:
I was broken.
28 years old, divorced, and living in the box room at my parents -a room no bigger than some storage cupboards- I was physically, mentally, spiritually and financially broken.
I had no money, no job, very few friends, and all manner of weird and not-so-wonderful health problems.
I looked like crap, I felt like crap. For all intents and purposes, I was crap.
But that was five years ago.
Today things are different.
I no longer drink alcohol. I look good, I feel good. I’ve spent four years building a successful freelance writing business, and live in my own home, my own have, my own sanctuary.
It’s from this sanctuary that I write this today, celebrating five years sober, five whole years since that last drink.
I’d love to tell you that my life magically transformed overnight once I walked away from that last drink.
That, however, was far from the case.
Over the past five years, I’ve had a lot of growing to do, a lot of pain to process, and a lot of really harsh truths to stare in the face and accept.
Here are just five of those harsh truths that I’ve had to face in my five years of sobriety.
1: The Main Problem Wasn’t The Drink, it Was Me
During active alcoholism, it was easy to blame all my negative behaviours and personality traits on alcohol.
After all -and stop me if you’ve heard this one before- I was the nicest guy in the world until I had a drink.
Spend five minutes talking to people in recovery, and I guarantee that’s all it takes for one of them to say just that.
There’s this belief that everything from anger, hatred and self-loathing to selfish behaviour, greed, and dishonesty were all caused by alcohol alone.
So tell me this:
How come, when you take the alcohol away from me, you don’t automatically take away anger, self-loathing and all that other stuff?
How come I’m still capable of displaying all those negative behaviours?
Because those negative behaviours were always a part of me. Alcohol didn’t put them there, alcohol just brought them out of me.
Let me rephrase that:
Alcohol brought out the worst in me.
But here’s the thing:
In order for that to happen, the worst had to already be in me so that it could be brought out.
That means that whilst alcohol certainly needs to be eliminated from my life, it leaves an even bigger problem:
The good news, is that it’s much easier to direct my thoughts and actions toward the positive and live consciously with the best parts of me now that I don’t have alcohol dragging me towards negative.
I could talk about this subject all day, but instead, let’s move on to the second harshest truth I had to face in my sobriety.
2. Not Everyone Will Get It
You might be surprised at how many people have told me I’m not an alcoholic.
It’s baffling when it’s people you’ve only just met (usually they’re drunk at the time), but it can be a little hurtful, if not outright damaging, when it comes from people you love and care about.
There you are, doing your best to get and stay sober, working hard to live a better life, and somebody tells you that you don’t have a problem in the first place.
It feels like they’re undermining your efforts. It can even feel like they’re insulting you, making out like your over-exaggerating or just being dramatic by declaring yourself to be a problem drinker and doing something about it.
I get it though, don’t you?
The reason people think I’m not an alcoholic is exactly the same reason that I used to think I wasn’t an alcoholic:
I didn’t fit the stereotype.
Most people have a pre-conceived idea of what an alcoholic is, what an alcoholic looks like, and how they behave.
So when you don’t fit in with that, they’re quick to dismiss your claims of alcoholism and suggest you just try controlled drinking instead.
Obviously, that’s dangerous, especially if you’re considering agreeing with them, but here’s the thing:
It doesn’t matter whether other people believe it or not.
Yes it can be harsh, especially when people are dismissive of the work you’re doing to improve your sober life, but that’s just the thing:
It’s YOUR life.
Other people aren’t going to end up back in their parents’ box room with no money and no friends If they take another drink.
Therefore, it’s up to me to keep going, to believe in myself and what I’m doing, even if nobody else does.
3: Some People Don’t Actually Give A Sh*t
You know what’s worse than people undermining your efforts to stay sober?
People not giving a sh*t what you do.
When I first sobered up, I was far more self-obsessed than I realised. I thought everybody should know what a wonderful thing I was doing and give me a hearty pat on the back for turning my life around.
Look, I know that sounds dumb now, but at the time, that’s how it was.
So it was a bit of a let down when I’d meet family members like aunts and uncles and they’d nod with indifference when I told them I no longer drank.
It was even more of a let down when I’d meet them again after that and they’d offer me alcohol – clearly what I’d said to them meant that little that they hadn’t bothered to remember it.
And why would they?
To them, it wasn’t a big deal and didn’t need to be.
The only person who needed to remember that I was living sober and to make that their number one priority was me.
It can be completely deflating, but one of the harshest truths I had to face when I first put the bottle down was that not everyone is going to give a sh*t about my sobriety.
Today, as long as I give a sh*t, I’m perfectly OK with other people not doing.
4: The Extent of My Carnage Was Far Greater Than I Realised
Speaking of other people, you wouldn’t believe how many people bore the brunt of my active alcoholism.
When I first got sober, I used to refer to my drinking and it’s associated behaviours as self-destructive. They were, but they were also a lot more.
They were completely destructive, laying waste to anything in my path without mercy or discrimination.
Friends, family, my ex-wife, they were just some of the more obvious casualties of my tsunami of chaos.
But when I sat down to write a list of everyone I’d harmed, and therefore had to make amends to, I found that list was much longer than I’d expected it to be.
What was worse, was when people I had absolutely no idea I’d hurt or upset would bring up my past foul deeds to my attention.
Naturally, I did what I could to make things right there and then, but realising that the extent of my destruction went far beyond what I’d originally thought was a hard blow to deal with.
Fortunately, I’ve done my best to make peace where possible with those I’ve harmed and at least put things right with most of the rest.
Despite definitely being the black sheep, I enjoy the best relationship I can with my family today.
Though she’s no longer a part of my life, I made peace with my ex-wife, and the people I call friends today I know are true friends.
If I do encounter more people who were victims of my behaviour, it is up to me today to act immediately, where appropriate, on making things right, no matter how scary that can be.
5: There’s More to Come
I’m not sure if there will be more ghosts coming back from my past to confront me, but what I do know is that as I move forward into the future, there’s always going to be one more challenge in front of me.
Just like those aunts and uncles I mentioned earlier, the world at large doesn’t give a sh*t if I’m trying to stay sober and keeps presenting me with challenges to overcome.
In the five years that I’ve been sober, I’ve dealt with surgeries, bereavement, severe depression, and relationship breakups, each one bringing its own pain.
Everything passes, and I’m grateful that whenever I come out the other side of that pain, I do stronger and more at peace than when I went into it, but that doesn’t stop the pain itself from being intense.
Nor does it mean that life will ever stop throwing challenges at me.
The first couple of times that I came out of a dark place in my life, I believed that was it.
I believed that, from that moment on, life would be wonderful, that I’d overcome everything I would ever need to do and that from that point on I’d be free to enjoy my sober days forever more.
You see, there’s always something. There’s always a new challenge. There’s always a new lesson to be learned.
Some of those lessons -and I don’t mind admitting this- are damn painful, and I’m not going to sit here and lie to you by telling you that I accepted every challenge put in my path with grace, dignity, and a smile on my face.
Sometimes I kicked, screamed, and threw a tantrum, sometimes I felt so defeated by some new challenge and almost gave up, but I always got through, and I always got stronger for having done so.
Today, I’m willing to accept that, just because I feel wonderful today, there will one day come another challenge I have to face, and that challenge is likely to be painful. But I don’t keep looking over my shoulder waiting for it. It’ll come when I need to grow or I need to learn something.
When it does, I’ll be ready, but for today, I shall simply enjoy being five years sober, whether anybody else gives a sh*t or not.