Thawing Out the Fear of Going Sober
Going sober can be so hard in the beginning. Most of us feel a freezing shame when we decide that we need to stop drinking. We are afraid that we won’t be able to learn to live alcohol-free. Starting out sober is like learning any life skill. We are afraid that we will slip. That we won’t be able to gain traction.
Why, oh why do we feel shame if we are a beginner? Why, oh why do we self-loathe if we make a mistake? Babies learning to walk don’t feel shame. They do feel some bumps and bruises. They shed tears and find reassuring arms along the way.
Learning to ride a bicycle was daunting in my childhood years, yet I persisted and soared with flying hair through forests, bumpy dirt roads, and grassy vacant lots. Freedom!
I had no embarrassment or shame in learning to play a game, master the computer, or start driving. My first visit with Santa was so thrilling! When we’re children, we approach challenges, new things, and changes with curiosity, devotion, and determination. Most of all, fun!
Then we get older. We start adulting. Responsibilities galore. We “must” ourselves. We want to fit in. We want to belong. We want approval. Normal and healthy wants. But for many of us, these wants are not backed up by self-awareness or self-esteem. Enter dysfunctional, people-pleasing, manipulative, and deceptive behaviors. Enter numbing. Enter rationalizations. Destructive self-talk. Hidden shame. Denial. Enter toxic people, things, and situations.
The spiral begins.
And for many of us, lots of drinking, to numb the pain.
And we make mistakes.
I made many mistakes as a widow. I’ve never been a widow before. When I became a manager, I made mistakes. I’d never managed before. Going sober? Quitting destructive behaviors? I’d never done that before.
Today I am one year minus one day alcohol-free. When I first decided to go sober I never ever thought that I’d make it this far. Many of us have slipped during our sobriety journey. I did at eight months of sobriety.
I panicked, scattered, catastrophized, worried, and shamed myself. Spiraled out of control. Over what? A Microsoft Windows update that deleted, crashed all my work, photos, and precious emails and notes. It seemed like my whole life was erased. Censured. Shutout.
By a computer program.
So-called improvement to my computer system.
I didn’t even ask for this “improvement.”
What was tied up in this slip?
People in my past have crashed me. Deleted me. As with the computer crash, I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t ask for it.
I’ve done this to me too.
People-pleasing, anyone? Trying to fit in? Banking on one person for happiness? (You can. It’s you.) Approval-seeking? Blaming? Trying to earn love? Controlling? That’s what made my slip such a crash. Tied into my slip were bad things from my past. Unconscious pain that lingers waiting to freeze me again with shame and fear. People who edited me. Censured me. Shut me out. Erased me.
It sent me back to grief. Catastrophizing. Self-doubt.
Drunk before I drank.
However, I did not stay in my slip. Having gone sober months before I was no longer comfortable to be a drinker in so many ways. Drinking edits me. Censures me. Erases me. Intimidates me. Taunts me. Shames me. Definitely not comfortable anymore.
I forgot my mantras that help me stay sober and free.
Progress not perfection. I learned valuable information from this one-day slip. I will not censure my eight months of being alcohol-free because of a heartbreaking mistake. I gleaned valuable life information. Mistakes happen. Human condition.
Live and let live. Those that hurt me, shamed me, censured me? Some are out of my life. Some have grown and are a treasure. Some will never change. All are lessons. Acceptance. I live. Their lives are theirs.
If I say yes to the drink, what am I saying no to? Obvious, especially after the fact.
S*&t happens. The computer thing? Rebuilding. External hard drive. Thumb drives. Save. Save. Save. Spend money. Sigh…
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.“ W. C. Fields.
At first glance, I laughed at this quote. Considered this quote. There may be times that it’s true, like I’ll never, ever be a size 6 again. Probably not going to be a gazillionaire. Pulitzer Prize winner. But I’ll be a damned fool about drinking. I will try, try, try and try to be sober.
The first couple of months alcohol-free were a seemingly never-ending endurance contest of detox. The brain fog, nausea, cravings that clung, fatigue, lack of sleep, sweating, anxiety, depression, self-pity, fear, insecurity, self-loathing, self-recrimination, guilt. Okay. That’s enough! However, those that start the AF journey, have some of these. I wrote all the withdrawal symptoms down and kept them by my bed, chair, in the car, purse, and bathroom drawer. I no longer cling to this list. It’s gone. Obsessive? You betcha! Had to be.
Then I found Boom.
“When you know who you are, you know who you aren’t”
No clue who I am sober.
I had descriptors: widow, animal lover, sister, mother, grandmother, marketing guru, music lover, flower lover, and a person with a very severe drinking problem. I knew without a doubt I belonged on Boom.
The next several months were filled with reading, posting, exercising, clearing and cleaning and soul-searching. I knew if I didn’t face the pain, I’d drink again. And again. And again.
Introjection: an unconscious adoption of the ideas or attitudes of others.
“Fully absorbing and internalizing negative information about themselves without discerning if the data is accurate.” Ginger Lapid-Bogda
A ten-dollar word for a priceless lesson.
I’ve discovered many over-analyzers, over-thinkers, over-achievers, and over-doers here on Boom.
Yes, me too.
One lesson I’m learning is all the destructive and yes, even traumatic labels I’ve picked up and made mine since childhood that are not true and oh so life-damaging. Introjection. Picking up untruths, criticisms about me like I pick up lost pennies and make them mine. Time for a righteous purge!
Here are some “untruths” and I know many of you have internalized them too:
never amount to anything
it’s okay to hit you
you’re so sensitive–get over it
and so on….
Very rarely are the labels true. Many destructive labels occur when we are children with no skills to overcome. We’re adults now. So, kick those labels to the curb along with the booze. This is not one-and-done. I found that when I went sober, at first, it got worse before it got better. A frightening vacuum, void sets in. Even though the labels aren’t true, then who am I? Without the booze, who am I? Booze and untruths are so painful but comfortable. Predictable. Accessible. Accepted by society, actually, encouraged by society. Truth will set you free after some time in misery. How long is up to each of us.
With work, patience, and community, some glimmers of the real you come to light. Are you an encourager? Generous? Truth-seeker? Believer? Inspirational? Talented? Athletic? Nurturing? Creative? Optimistic? Hardworking? Insightful? Youthful? Spiritual? Good-looking? I see these qualities in other members of my BOOM community and I’m making them mine. Well, the athletic boat has sailed and patience needs a whole lot of work.
Introjection’s antidote: Community. The void is slowly being filled by a good and true self-image. My cup runneth over with Selzer and thanks.
Try a change in perspective.
Some new beginnings are fun! My first horse clinic. My first car. My first puppy. My newborn son. My first flower garden. My first paycheck. Learning the guitar. No shame or embarrassment. A sense of accomplishment. Celebration! We are all new at something for the rest of our lives. Old? Yep. We’ve never been old before. Married? Yep. Never done that before. And if you’re remarried, you’ve never been married to that particular person before. New job? Yep. New people and skills to embrace. Sobriety? New to me every morning.
Approaching new things with the curiosity and openness of a child helps me in my sober journey. Sobriety for me is a process and not a destination. Many times we have fun with this on BOOM. Sometimes children get downright silly with laughter beginning a new anything! They go nuts about boogers and gas.
Laughter kills the fear.
Approaching others and situations with the curiosity and openness of a child “helps the medicine go down.” This is really a hard one for me because I’ve been ingrained with “try harder-work harder.” Perfectionism. Gave up. Drink. Drank. Drunk. Children ask for help and reassurance from adults. We can do this too. We do on Boom.
Whether you’re one hour, one day, one year, or several years alcohol-free, we’re still beginners at something. There’s no shame in that. Sometimes it’s fun! Sometimes a beautiful connection. Let’s be alcohol-free today and have some fun.
Come hang out with us in our BOOM Rethink the Drink community.
We are an independent, anonymous, and private community who share resources, support, and talk it through every day. It helps to have a community behind you in a world where alcohol is the only addictive drug that people will question you for NOT using
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