FEATURE - July 2018
Living Alcohol Free
One Woman's Journey to Empowerment Through Sobriety
By Melissa Saubers
2 Years! Never in a million years would I have thought that I would now be more than two years free from alcohol. The last time I drank was at The Cure concert on June 8, 2016. Two years later and I’m happier than ever and 100 percent committed to living this way for the rest of my life. It’s not a struggle to live alcohol-free: I’m not triggered, I don’t feel like I’m taking it “one day at a time,” I don’t feel like I’m missing out, I don’t feel like there is something wrong with me or that I have a disease. I know, with my whole heart, that this was the best decision that I could have ever made for myself. Many people have asked me many questions over the last two years so I thought I would post answers to those questions in hopes of helping someone else who may be feeling like I used to feel—alone and without hope. I don’t feel like that anymore. It can get better, there are many ways to get there, you can change the direction of your life at any moment.
Q: Why did you stop drinking alcohol?
A: It was getting in the way of me living my best life. But I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew that drinking alcohol was not fun anymore and had actually turned into being a really miserable way to live but I kept on drinking for a long time after I knew it wasn’t serving me anymore because it was so ingrained in my life I couldn’t figure out how to get it out, how to stop. I thought maybe I should just slow down, not drink so much. So I tried that for a very long time, but it never worked for me. There are just so many opportunities to drink in a normal life I couldn’t get away from it and along the way, I figured out that I don’t have the “off switch”. And our society doesn’t make it easy for someone who chooses not to drink, everything has alcohol at the forefront these days.
So at first, I tried moderation. I would make up rules to help me:
“I won’t drink during the week.”
“I will only drink on special occasions.”
“I will only drink one drink so I’ll make it the best one money can buy, a $10/glass of wine”... then $40 later…
I would make promises to myself, then break them, then beat myself up. It was a vicious, vicious cycle.
Q: How much were you drinking before you quit?
A: I think this is the wrong question to ask someone who has quit drinking. It’s not always about the quantity but more about the intention behind the drinking. If I had compared the amount or the number of times I was drinking in a week to others I would not have thought anything was that unusual. But when I realized that my intention to drink had changed and it was starting to have negative effects in my life that’s when I knew it wasn’t benefiting me anymore.
Q: What were your fears about quitting?
A: I was scared to quit because I thought I’d be boring, that I would lose all of my friends, no one would want to hang out with me, no one would invite me to things, I would be an outcast, I would feel awkward and “other”, people would think I “had a problem”, that I couldn’t “handle my alcohol”. When I first quit, I did feel all of those things but when I finally owned this new way of living then I realized, most of the time, those things aren’t true. And after learning more about alcohol I realized that it’s actually a drug and I don’t have to “handle it”.
Q: What benefits have you seen from quitting alcohol?
A: There are so many...
#1—NO HANGOVERS, ever! I get so much done now, every single day. I have so much energy, I never waste-a-day-away dealing the aftereffects of a night of partying.
#2—Better Mental Health - Alcohol is a depressant and increases anxiety. I could quote some actual science about this but instead, I will just tell you that when I was drinking my depression was very intense and my anxiety was sky high, especially the day after. After a few months off alcohol, I was able to stop taking antidepressants and my anxiety went away. I still have moments of my mood dropping quickly (hello lack of Vitamin D) and moments when my anxiety creeps back in but overall I’m better able to keep them at bay and manage them when they do appear.
#3—Developing Healthy Coping Techniques—I’m not perfect, I’m a work in progress, but I now try to use better coping techniques for when I’m stressed and most of the time they work. Yoga, meditation, exercise, journaling, spending time in nature and with friends, seeing a therapist, etc. But when it gets really intense, as it has over the past few months, I still have a tendency to want to escape the pain and uncomfortableness. Still working on sitting with the feelings.
#4—New Friends—Oh my, if you would have told me that I would have a whole new group of wonderful new friends I would never have believed you. I thought I’d be a lonely person for the rest of my life. But I have found my tribe and it’s growing and I’m oh so grateful. And I still have all of my old, dear friends, we just do different things together.
#5—New Interests—I’ve discovered what truly lights me up. Yoga is therapy for my body, mind and spirit. Meditation helps keep me calm and less reactive. Exercise, I actually enjoy moving and getting stronger every day.
#6—Better Physical Health—When drinking alcohol I was bloated, achy and every time I ate something there was a science experiment going on in my gut. My sleep was interrupted and I was tired all the time. Alcohol was actually poisoning me (it is a toxin, after all). Without alcohol, many of those things have cleared up and I have been better able to listen to my body and with the help of an awesome functional doctor figure out what was “wrong” and put a plan in place to fix it.
#7 - Extreme Clarity—I started to feel this at around 4 months and have really been feeling this over the past year. It’s helped me make some much needed changes in my life.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to cut back or quit alcohol altogether?
A: First I’d say, you’re not alone. I thought I was. Since I quit drinking and I’ve been open about quitting so many people have reached out to me to tell me they are miserable drinking alcohol but they aren’t sure how to eliminate it from their lives. I totally get this. What I’ve come to realize through this process is that there is a spectrum of alcohol use and misuse. On one end of the spectrum are those who can take it or leave it or just drink one and on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who struggle not to drink every day for the rest of their lives. Then there is the rest of us in the middle, most of us are in the middle, in the “gray” area of drinking, those of us questioning our relationship with drinking and whether it’s worth it or not. I would NEVER judge anyone or make any assumptions about an individual’s relationship to drinking. I know that everyone has their own personal relationship with alcohol and it’s unique to the individual.
The first question you should ask yourself is would your life be better off without alcohol? How is alcohol serving you, how is it benefitting your life? I suggest doing this exercise. Take out a journal and answer these four questions, then reflect on those answers.
What DO YOU like about drinking alcohol?
Why DO YOU want to keep alcohol in your life?
What DO YOU NOT like about drinking alcohol?
Why DO YOU WANT to stop drinking alcohol?
If you decide you want to explore living alcohol-free then check out these resources:
Hip Sobriety, Holly Whitaker and Hip Sobriety School (how I stopped drinking) http://www.hipsobriety.com/
This Naked Mind book and podcast by Annie Grace https://thisnakedmind.com/
Edit Our Drinking Podcast
One Year No Beer https://www.oneyearnobeer.com/
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Melissa Saubers has been living authentically alcohol-free in Kansas City since June 9, 2016. She's a small business owner, mom, yogi, community activist and volunteer living in Waldo. If you'd like to meet more people in Kansas City who are interested in living or exploring the alcohol-free lifestyle reach out to Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected.