Reflections on 3 Months Sober

I’d ordered a Cobb Salad and double Jameson at Merchant Ale House so many times that I no longer needed to place my order.

I was that chick at parties who could down straight whiskey without flinching.

I was the girl who stopped drinking first at house parties and helped other people attempt to curb a hangover the night before with water, toast, and electrolytes.

I was the drink-alone-at-home-before-the-thing-you’re-nervous-about woman.

I was the responsible one, the designated driver, the “no I’m not drinking tonight” friend

I was all of this.

I stopped drinking September 3rd 2018. Three months ago. I can’t tell you what my last drink was or where I drank it, but I remember making the decision to stop drinking on Monday the 3rd.

I’ve done Sober Octobers and Dry Januarys before, mostly for health reasons after start-of-term Frosh week partying and following holiday celebrations at the end of the year. Until a year ago I hadn’t ever considered my relationship with alcohol. I saw other people drinking more than I was so I never thought twice about my own drinking. We see commercials, movies, and nights out with friends that normalize having one too many drinks. Or a hard day that ends with a few beers. Or girls nights with bottle after bottle of wine.

So if I’m not drinking any more than anybody else, I must not have a problem. …That’s how I thought about it for years.

What I came to realize for myself is that it isn’t always how much I drank, but why I drank.

Some days I didn’t drink at all. Some weeks or months would go by and I would have a drink or two out with friends, and that was it. I may have been the last person my friends thought would have a problem with alcohol. But that’s just it - my problem isn’t solely with alcohol. I have difficulty navigating trauma - and alcohol was my coping strategy.

Addiction is far more nuanced than we portray and understand it to be. In a world of reducing complex experiences into binaries, addiction becomes yet another experience thrown into two categories: drinkers and non-drinkers, addicts and non-addicts, those who can handle alcohol and those who cannot. I’m not an expert, and this post alone will not cover even a fraction of the larger narrative surrounding alcohol, addiction, stigma, and being sober. What I do know for sure is that our narratives around addiction are bullshit. We judge addiction, whisper about it, and shun. (Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety writes a lot here about all things sobriety and her work has supported me immensely).

Weeks could go by with very little drinking, then stress would hit. Anxiety, fear, and stress. The need to be consistently alert, always on guard and anticipating the next potential something. I was guessing, waiting, anticipating. Always. And drinking made that stop. I could experience a few hours off from the job I had never interviewed for. Could have a night off from what seemed like a life sentence of consistently re-living and re-feeling the things that I had had no control over.

But what I do have control over is how I support myself. I’m sober because drinking wasn’t serving me, it was harming me. I was addicted to the numb it provided. The quiet. The way it made me forget what had happened to me. How it could make me feel like the person I wish I was - joyful, fun, and free.

Here’s the kicker: I feel the most me, the most grounded, joyful, and authentic now, 3 months sober, than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I’ve celebrated a close friend’s wedding, ran a 5K for Pathstone Mental Health, and started taking dance lessons. I’ve gone to parties and pubs, clinked glasses in a toast, and danced passed midnight. I’m doing the things I’ve always done, but without booze. I’m building my business, supporting front-line workers across Niagara, and telling my story, worrying a little less each day what people might think.

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And this took work. This took trying to stop, trying again, and drinking again. It involved denial, bargaining, and avoidance. It took therapy, a 1-month program, and talking about it. A lot.

I want to talk about it because I have the ability and the means to and I want to use this space to do what I can to destigmatize how we navigate trauma.

Today I’ve been prepping for my 75th workshop that I’m delivering in the Niagara community about owning our authenticity. We’ll be digging deep into bringing our full selves to the surface in our personal and professional lives, and how to uncover the you that’s always been there - beneath the messaging and programming about who society/family/friends thinks you should be.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate 3 months sober than to plan and deliver a workshop on authenticity. And it feels damn good.

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*I can’t stress enough that these are my opinions and my experiences - I’m not an additions counsellor or an expert on addiction. My way of navigating sobriety does not and will not look like everyone or anyone else’s.

A few links:
Canadian Mental Health Association - Niagara
IN CRISIS? CONTACT COAST 1-866-550-5205, 24 hours a day 7 days a week
Community Addiction Services of Niagara

Laura Liz Hughes

Laura Hughes is a Niagara-based community educator, poet, and motivational speaker delivering equity and arts-based programming to youth, educators, and organizations on leadership and team-building, addressing & ending sexual violence, supporting students' mental health and wellness, building and supporting girls’ and women’s resiliency, teaching inclusive sexual health education, and creating consent culture. Her Master’s of Education research focused on queering sex education to centre queer, non-binary, and trans youth in Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum and in classrooms across the province. She is a trained counsellor for sexual violence survivors and advocate for creating space for our stories and experiences to be shared. Laura has facilitated over 60 workshops across Southern Ontario to elementary, secondary, college and university students and is currently booking for Fall 2017 - Spring 2018.