I promise it won’t always be this hard. Not drinking won’t always feel like starving yourself of oxygen and food. I know you feel like an elastic band stretched too far, ready to snap back to the old ways sooner or later.
But you won’t. Not this time.
That feeling, the resistance, the unbearable stretch, the tangible burn- that is CHANGE ITSELF, cooking inside you.
Stay in the fire. Keep burning.
I know you feel like your anxiety has skyrocketed since you stopped drinking. Believe me, that isn’t permanent. At 18 months sober you will fill out a health questionnaire for life insurance whilst buying a house (because that’s the kind of thing you now feel worthy and capable of), and you’ll realise that – for the first time in your adult life – you don’t classify yourself as having any mental health problems. It’s been at least 6 months since your anxiety felt significant. It’s been much longer since any depressive episode. Depression and Anxiety used to be constant companions. Part of who you were.
I know you are terrified of losing people you love and not being able to cope. But, sober, you are stronger than you can imagine right now. At 12 months sober, you will lose your grandmother. You will plan her funeral and give her eulogy. At 17 months sober, you will lose your best friend to cancer, aged just 37. At her request, you will sing her favourite songs at her funeral. You will nail it, and do her proud. You will visit her family regularly and be there to support them. You will cry, grieve, hurt. It is not fair. But you do not fall apart. These are the inevitable tears of love and loss. You realise it isn’t about ‘coping’ or ‘not coping’. You walk on through sadness. Despite daily tears, depression doesn’t visit.
You are beginning to let go of the guilt for spending so much of your three children’s early childhoods with a hangover, for exposing your sons to a clichéed cartoon “They whine, I wine” version of Mummy, a glass of wine permanently glued to her hand each evening. You speak openly with your eldest son (13) about alcohol, addiction and recovery. He listened with your friends to you speaking on the radio about becoming teetotal on New Year’s Day this year.
At 18 months sober you will finally apply to do a Masters Degree with a view to starting a brand new challenging career, the one you’ve been dreaming about for several years but felt you didn’t have the perseverance for until now.
Over time, sobriety will become simultaneously less important and more important to you. Less important because the act of not drinking, once all-consuming and painful, becomes effortless, pain-free. More important, because it is part of your identity, like being human, or being female, or being a mother. While it doesn’t fully define you, without sobriety, you would still be in a miserable cage of self-loathing. Thus it defines your freedom. It brings clarity. It brings the space for you to find purpose, meaning and value in yourself.
Sipping your virgin mojito, at 18 months sober, it will pop into your head that your daughter, now aged 3y4m, was just 22 months old when you last drank. She will grow up only knowing you as a teetotaler, with no memory of the you with a wine glass in your hand.