This Is What I Have Learned In 12 Years Of Sobriety

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 

I am 12 years sober. I have been a non-drinker just about as long as I was a drinker. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was slugging beer and smoking cigarettes without a care in the world. No, I am not ashamed of my past, but I am really glad that chapter is behind me. These last 12 years of sobriety have been an eye-opening learning experience, that’s for sure. Here are 12 of the greatest lessons that I have learned in those 12 years.

People Will Judge — Let Them

Whenever I enter a new social circle, there’s a bit of anxiety. I am not afraid of being triggered or tempted, I just have to go through the inevitable offer of alcohol and the follow up question of why I don’t want any. It isn’t anyone’s business, but I’m always honest. I tell them that I’m a recovering alcoholic and I don’t drink. There have been comments and jokes and plenty of things said behind my back about my sobriety. People have their impressions of what an alcoholic is, and people sometimes will project those ideas on my situation. I let them think what they want. Only I know my truth, and I live by it every day.

I Am Happier Sober

My life is no longer ruled by arguments and hangovers and feelings of shame. I can wake up every day feeling good about my choices and myself the night before. Sure, I may have six Diet Cokes like I had six Budweisers, but that isn’t going to make me pick a fight with my husband or pass out in bed. I love my life the way that it is. I am the best version of myself without alcohol.

My Children Deserve Me Sober

I only drank for a short time during my first child’s life before becoming pregnant with my second and giving up all of my vices. Now I have four children who deserve my love and my help and my guidance. I could easily have stuck with my drinks and polish off a bottle of wine every night, but I chose them. Being a mom was my ultimate dream in life. Now that I have been given that gift, I will not let anything stand in my way of doing the best job that I can.

My Marriage Is Better Without Alcohol

Alcohol was fuel for arguments between my husband and me. When I quit drinking 12 years ago, things got better. He quit two years ago, and it was a complete 180. We both have realized that alcohol is a poison for us, and in order to have a happy, fulfilled marriage and life with our children, it cannot come between us. We don’t need it to live a happy life, but we do need each other, and we need to be good to one another.

I Can Still Have Fun Without Alcohol

I have celebrated 12 birthdays without booze. There have been graduation parties and annual pig roast celebrations. They have all been dry for me, and I have not missed a beat. I can still laugh and carry on with the best of them even if I don’t have a beer in my hand. I may not be as silly as I once was, but you can understand my stories without a slur or a hiccup. That is much more fun.

My Life Is Safer Without Alcohol

I was a habitual drunk driver. No, I am not proud of that. As a matter of fact, it is really embarrassing. I didn’t take into consideration my own safety or the safety of anyone else on the road. It was a selfish decision that could have been fatal. I am so sorry to anyone I put in danger. And I am ultimately so grateful that by the grace of God, I — and everyone who crossed my path — stayed safe. Never, ever again.

I Know Who My True Friends Are

Sure, I lost a few of my drinking buddies along the way. That’s OK. My real friends love me for who I am and don’t need me to drink with them to prove that. Having said that, I will never guilt or shame anyone if they want to drink. Everyone knows their own limits, but if they aren’t safe, I’ll be the first one to take their keys. That’s what friends do.

I Have No Need To Explain My Sobriety To Anyone

If you are so worried about why I don’t drink, Google me. There are plenty of essays about my relationship with alcohol so that you can make yourself plenty familiar with my story. If I feel like you’re a trustworthy and genuine person, I will tell you my truths. But I don’t have to; no one has to.

Sobriety Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

This has been a big one for me. My sobriety isn’t a shameful thing. I don’t feel badly about being sober, because I don’t feel guilty about being a drunk. It is a part of my history. No one’s past should be anything to be ashamed of. Instead, you have to look at it as a learning experience. If what you have gone through has helped you to be better on the other side, then you walk away a winner. Always strive to do better.

Being An Alcoholic Doesn’t Define Me

Yes, I am an alcoholic. No, that’s not the biggest part of who I am. Instead, I am a mom, a damn good one, and a wife and a daughter and a sister and a friend. Those are things that make me special and unique and good. I don’t walk around with a name tag that says, “Hi I’m Colleen and I am a writer.” I don’t need to wear one that says that I am an alcoholic either. They are all pieces of my puzzle; together they make me who I am. One is not more important than the other.

I Have No Problem With People Drinking Around Me

Please don’t feel like you can’t drink in front of me. It really is OK. I’m not going to grab your beer and guzzle it down because I have the taste. There is no reason to hide something that is perfectly OK for you to do just because I can’t. Alcohol isn’t inherently bad, but my relationship with it is. I can handle it. You don’t have to protect me from myself.

My Sobriety Has Helped Others To Find Their Own

I have been told that I am an inspiration to others. I don’t need accolades. But knowing that other people have faced their demons and found success because I have shared my story is humbling. I guess that’s why I talk about it and write about it and have no shame about my story. If it helps one person to have the courage to make their life better, then it’s worth it.

On the 12th anniversary of the day I chose sobriety, I wrote on Facebook that I am 12 years stronger, 12 years healthier, and 12 years grateful. I think above all, I am mostly grateful. For reasons that I will never understand, I was kept safe from myself when I was drinking. I never had a devastating fall or a horrible car accident that resulted in my death, or God forbid, someone else’s. That is something to be so very, very thankful for.

I am not better than those who cannot fight their demons, just incredibly fortunate to have conquered mine. My God, I am grateful to the people who have stood behind me and will continue to be there for me for the rest of my life. I am committed to a lifetime of success. I am humbled that I have been given this chance.

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