Why Not Drinking Is The Least Radical Part Of My Sobriety

by Melissa Mowry
Originally Published: 
Why Not Drinking Is The Least Radical Part Of My Sobriety: Portrait of a young woman with fist in ai...

When I made the decision to stop drinking two years ago, it felt like a radical undertaking. Never much of a rule-breaker or risk-taker, I’d spent much of my life up until that point trying to make myself smaller, prettier, and more palatable to the people around me. I said yes to everything, had zero boundaries, and avoided nearly all conflict; I couldn’t even take a stand on which restaurant I wanted to go to if a friend asked me to weigh in. And now here I was making a bold statement with my life, a choice that put my firmly in opposition to that of almost everyone I knew.

When you’re part of the majority, it’s hard to see with any clarity how your actions look to an outsider. In my drinking days, I thought nothing of kegs at kids’ birthday parties or PTO-hosted wine tastings. It was all business as usual. But once I became an outsider, I started to see how pervasive drinking culture had become—how many routine events and activities either revolve around or incorporate alcohol. An IPA to greet you at the finish line of a 5K. A glass of chardonnay while getting your hair trimmed. Baby showers with signature cocktails. Yoga and wine classes. Wine and paint nights.

My choice to thumb my nose at all of it felt downright revolutionary.

On the surface, a life of sobriety is about not drinking. Period, end of story. But as I came to find out, sobriety is far deeper and more expansive than I was able to comprehend when I was on the other side of it all. I thought that making the choice to abstain was the culmination of the story. What I slowly began to understand is that the juiciest, most interesting parts of my story were just starting to be written the moment I put down the bottle.

The thing about addiction, at least for me, is that it claims a lot of real estate in my head. Even when I wasn’t drinking, I was often throwing myself headlong into some other form of numbing—bingeing, buying dumb shit I didn’t need, working out obsessively, making myself unnecessarily busy. All of it took up so much space. Removing alcohol from the equation felt like watching the clouds part and glimpsing a tiny sliver of blue sky I’d never had the pleasure of noticing before.

This newfound space led me to some truly radical life changes, most of which have very little to do with the physical act of not drinking. First and foremost, I’ve begun to value my own company and crave more time alone with myself. Not the kind of hectic, hurried time where I’m throttling down the highway going 20 miles over the speed limit while filling my car with loud music and scheduling reminders on my phone. I’m referring to the kind of unproductive solitude that’s made space for me to really know myself and learn to discern my own voice amidst the cacophony of an increasingly noisy world.

Within that sphere of solitude, I’m learning to respect my own rhythms, honor my needs, and communicate them to the people around me. I’ve gotten much better at checking in with my gut when I need to make a decision instead of consulting 15 other people, looking for a coded message on a passing billboard, or closing my eyes and pointing to a random Bible passage. I know now that the answer is already inside me somewhere. I just need the stillness and patience to draw it out.

The longer I’m sober, the more selective I become about my relationships, making conscious choices to deepen the ones I value and letting go of those that aren’t serving me. Now that I’ve finally learned how to love myself without condition, I’ve found that I can no longer be in relationships with people who disrespect me or take more from me than they give. I don’t tolerate my own abuse anymore, so it only makes sense that I’d stop taking it from other people, too.

Matthew Henry/Unsplash

That self-love also became the catalyst for healing my relationship with my body. I had been at war with myself for 15 years and, all at once, realized how tired I was of fighting this bitter and unwinnable battle. Where once I’d made food and exercise choices that were motivated by shame and self-hatred, I started making ones that reflected the love and compassion I’d developed for myself. In a strange turn of events, the emotional healing parlayed into physical healing—I was able to cut out all prescription medications, balance my hormones and eliminate symptoms I’d been battling for decades, restore my gut health, and eradicate a host of other issues from migraines to insomnia. (No longer spending a good chunk of my weekends recovering from hangovers didn’t hurt either.)

For so much of my life I’ve been hyper focused on myself, zeroed in on the myriad issues that ruled my own little world. With a bit of space and perspective, I’ve begun to zoom out and notice the wider world, finally considering how others around me, namely people of color and LGBTQIA folks, have historically been/are currently being silenced and oppressed. I’ve started educating myself on their lived experience, with an eye toward doing better myself and raising children who are vocal allies. For the first time maybe ever, I’m considering my responsibility to the planet instead of using the earth’s resources as if they’ll keep replenishing themselves indefinitely. Over the past year, I’ve made some pretty radical changes to my diet and the products I consume in the hopes of contributing more positively to the earth.

I never expected any of these changes; I honestly just thought I wasn’t going to drink wine anymore. But as the need to address each of these areas has arisen in me, it’s felt as natural as breathing. All I have to do is hold space for whatever’s coming next and inevitably, some new method of deepening or stretching myself bubbles up in my consciousness. I direct my attention there, let God lead me to who/what is meant to teach me, and allow myself to be transformed even when the metamorphosis is painful and uncomfortable. And then I wait for the next chapter of my story to unfold.

Maybe the most radical thing of all is that I never want this work to be done. Where I once saw this kind of change as an uncomfortable necessity of being alive, I now understand that all of this is the actual point of life. It’s what will allow me to continue becoming the truest version of myself—the same me that was always there, but a little bolder, a lot kinder, and with a hell of a lot more boundaries.

These days, my sobriety is the most interesting thing about me, but not in the way I’d ever imagined. What fascinates me is not so much that I can hold my own in a world consumed with alcohol; that became second nature to me pretty quickly. What I’m far more intrigued by is the way that sobriety continues to refine me, smoothing my rough edges and sharpening the areas where I need stronger boundaries. In the longest two short years of my life, I’ve been utterly transformed, ripped apart from the inside out, forced to painfully deconstruct old narratives and write new ones in their place. I am at once stronger, fiercer, freer, and less apologetic while also being gentler, softer, lighter, and more compassionate.

I also happen to not drink alcohol anymore.

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