It’s been almost 2 years since I took the leap into my sobriety journey, and it’s been an interesting one. While I’ve taken prolonged breaks from drinking alcohol (3-4 months at a time) since turning 30, this is the longest stretch of sobriety I’ve tackled since my teen years. As with many of my lifestyle shifts, my sobriety started as a timed experiment—the inception stemming from a break-up that involved me moving across the country. In late January of 2021, I moved back from Calgary into my parents’ home in Waterloo, ON in the midst of COVID. The whole ordeal was traumatic and I wanted to omit alcohol from my lifestyle entirely—opting instead, to process my pain and emotions in a healthy way. In my past, I used alcohol as a numbing agent; a substance that I believed would help me cope with difficult situations in my life. The truth is, alcohol only amplified the pain tenfold. It left me inebriated and numb—only for the emotions, anxiety, and sadness to return the next day, but with a vengeance. It was only through years of experience and making the same mistakes repeatedly that I finally learned my lesson: I needed to feel and deal with the pain stone cold sober. I stopped dating for quite some time, and re-focused my energy on myself and my healing.
That January, I made the decision to run another self-experiment to abstain from alcohol, but this time I extended my goal to a 6 month timeframe. I detailed more about the experiment in this post. For the first few months while living with my parents, I didn’t find it all that difficult to abstain from alcohol to be honest. This was in the midst of another COVID lockdown, so restaurants and bars weren’t open and social gatherings were few and far between. While I used to enjoy drinking in my 20s’ at home, in my 30s’ it became entirely social for me.
In July of that year, I came out to Vancouver on a whim—booking a one way ticket and deciding to set up shop here for an indefinite amount of time. The first 6 months of my sobriety experiment breezed by quicker than expected, and so I decided to extend the challenge to a full year. When I hit the full year, sobriety just became my norm. I no longer positioned my sobriety as a challenge or in any way a sense of deprivation. It just became my every day.
Since I started my sobriety journey prior to moving to Vancouver, everyone that I’ve met here knows me as “sober Em.” Or in other words, the friends I’ve met here enjoy my company for me, and don’t see me as a drinking buddy. Granted, the drinking culture in Vancouver is a stark contrast from Toronto; there’s still a nightlife, albeit a much milder one.
I think my decision to remain sober was partly due to my environment. The lifestyle in Vancouver is very active; going to bed early and waking up at the crack of dawn is more common than staying up late and partying into the evenings—or at least in my experience it is. My friends are also pretty similar to me—we enjoy walks, teas, dinners, beach, hikes, workouts, and hangs + chats. I never feel like I’m missing out when it comes to partying because, the truth is, I’m not.
Looking back, my mentality towards drinking has taken a 180 degree overhaul throughout the last couple of years. When I met sober people in the past, I didn’t understand why they would willingly choose not to drink when drinking was just so much fun. When I was knee–deep in my drinking days, most of what I considered as fun revolved around alcohol. Since so much of my social life was wrapped up in going out for drinks, I couldn’t fathom how it was possible to enjoy life without it. I admittedly believed that their life must be so boring…so blah. I am now that sober person and I finally get it. However, it took many years to finally discover the truth for myself—reprogramming my subconscious mind through learning combined with first hand experience, trial & error, and many mistakes and hard lessons.
For the first 6-months of the challenge, there were some times where I craved the euphoric buzz that alcohol provides; that loose and tipsy feeling when you’re two beers deep, or hanging out at a brewery and experimenting with a sample flight. It’s true that there are some activities that I used to love that I don’t anymore because I don’t drink…like going to bars/clubs, going to baseball games, or overly crowded music festivals where the majority are on some kind of drug (or multiple).
By omitting alcohol, I got back in touch with myself and my inner world. It took time and patience to get there, but I rekindled my love and interest in activities from my youth—when being sober was just the natural state of life. The truth is that exposure to alcohol for prolonged periods of time weakens your prefrontal cortex; it dulls your ability to enjoy basic life experiences that at one time brought you so much joy. When I was in the midst of my heaviest period of drinking, I found that nothing was as fun as drinking. I always opted to go out for a pint over going for a tea and a walk. I didn’t enjoy sports as much because they were in the evenings and I would rather just stay at home and watch something with a bourbon, or go out for drinks with friends. Alcohol was always at the back of my mind. It was controlling me and my outlook on life—the lens in which I saw the world. It convinced me over time that life wasn’t as good without it. The media, our culture (especially in North America), my friends, and society at large, supported this notion wholeheartedly.
Alcohol deceived me. It told me without it, life would be boring. It told me that my friends wouldn’t want to hangout with me anymore, that I wouldn’t be thought of as “fun,” that I’d be letting other people down when I went out for drinks and actively chose not to drink. Alcohol told me that I wouldn’t be as confident at parties or social gatherings and I wouldn’t enjoy the conversations I’d have. It told me that dating would be a struggle and would keep me planted in my naturally reserved state–that I wouldn’t be bold enough to make a first move without it. In short, alcohol tried to convince me that it was my life partner and that I’d experience a severe loss and fomo for the rest of my life.
However, let me tell you the real truth: all of this is straight up BS.
The Sober Life
I had to come to the realization that life is way better sober by experiencing it first hand myself—by going in and out of periods of sobriety for years. I learned hard lessons with repeated exposure; damaging my health, relationships, and my self confidence. The longer I went without alcohol, the less I missed it, and the more I was able to get in touch with my real self; discovering what brought me true meaning and fulfillment. I’ve never been more creative, financially secure, and productive in my life. I’m now able to fully enjoy little pleasures like going for an ocean walk, reading a good book, having a deep conversation with a friend, and enjoying a delicious meal out—without any of the negative repercussions like hangxiety or feeling less than optimal the next day. Last year I wrote and published my first book: Find Your Stride, and would never have been able to accomplish such a monumental task if drinking was part of my routine in any sense. I was able to develop more self-discipline. I was less moody, emotional, and was able to approach conflicts more pragmatically. I became more patient, more caring, and the best version of myself I’d ever seen.
Drinking hindered my ability to enjoy everything life has to offer.
We all know the repercussions of heavy bouts of drinking: hangovers, hangxiety, general feelings of lethargy, shame and guilt from all the shit we said (or believe we said) or did the night before. I don’t have to deal with any of that anymore and let me tell ya: it’s hella liberating. I’ve saved so much money from removing alcohol from my lifestyle, money that I’m now putting towards my future (my investments and saving a little nest egg for a cozy cottage down the line). There was a point in my life where I’d spend almost a thousand dollars a month going out for drinks and buying alcohol for at-home consumption. There was a passage in Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind that really stuck with me. She said something along the lines that we are never better off after a night of drinking, but only worse off; yet, we pay exuberant amounts of money for this “privilege”. I realize I may be sounding polemic, but alcohol can be destructive—it’s caused so much destruction in our society, and its pervasiveness is insidious to individual’s lives and families. I’ve seen how the substance destroys lives first hand.
I no longer have to deal with the extremes of a drug and the subsequent highs and lows. I now feel natural highs. I still feel lows, but when I’m feeling low, I can feel my feelings, deal with them, and let them go. I no longer numb them through vice.
The sober life is the best life I’ve ever had. The “sober curious” movement has gained momentum. There’s communities like A Sober Girl’s Guide to provide support for those looking to take the plunge into the amazing life of sobriety. There’s many books out there like Alcohol Lied to Me, This Naked Mind, and An Easy Way to Control Alcohol—all of which do a tremendous job of reprogramming our mindset towards— and relationship with—alcohol. I truly believe that if you want to live a sober life, you have to give up the notion that alcohol is doing anything good for you. If you genuinely think alcohol is adding something to your life, you will live in a perpetual state of depravity like I did. With every opportunity to drink, you will need to exert will power—an inner force that is indeed finite. Let me be clear: I’m not trying to demonize anyone who wants to include alcohol in their lifestyle, but am speaking to those who genuinely want to explore sobriety and those who are looking to remain sober over the long haul. I needed to be real with myself and expose the real truths behind the substance in order to make it sustainable for me.
The combination of prolonged periods of my sobriety experiments, journalling my journey, seeking out resources to help support me on my journey, finally helped me let go of this notion that I was missing out. It took years; years and years to finally do this, but the work and the journey was hands down the best decision of my life.