I had my last last drink on April 13, 2013.
There is no way to describe what has happened in those months since. As far as I'm concerned, my life can be cut up into two boxes. The life before I learned what it meant to not drink, and the life after. The former a slow progression through a tolerable life with a severe longing for something more and a clear sense of never having or being enough. The latter not just the escape from that…the latter truly the having of things that I had always assumed were just not for me.
What unfolded was something beyond my wildest dreams. What unfolded was what happens when you decide for you and only you, and when you clear the space to make YOU happen.
Whatever benefits alcohol seems to provide I assure you they are trite in comparison to the possibilities of the life that stands beyond. Saying goodbye to the junk was saying goodbye to the life I had accepted as good enough and hello to a life that continues to unfold in magical, reality defying ways.
If you are thinking about sobriety…or even just feel like your consumptive addictive habits are standing in the way of your greatness, read these 19 things I have done in 19 months, and then make a list of your own. What would you do with all that time, energy, love, and clear space? What are your dreams? What are your goals? What the fuck do you want in life that you think you can't have?
The truth is…we are all capable of greatness. We are all capable of doing anything we can dream, otherwise we wouldn't be capable of dreaming it. It just takes the willingness to abandon what is holding us back and to step through and out of the comfort zone. As Charles Dubois once said, “The important thing is to be able at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become.”
So I sacrificed party Holly. And here is what became.
19 Ways My Life Changed In 19 Sober Months.
1. I rewrote my story. Before I stopped drinking, my story was that I was a volatile, unstable, insecure, gossipy drama queen mess and that I'd never be okay. I would always barely make it by, I would always be in tumultuous relationships, I would never follow through on anything, and I would always be a bulimic, cigarette smoking, alcohol abusing pothead bitch. This was my story. This was what ran through my head day after day, sometimes minute by minute. I'm inherently fucked and I always will be. And then I changed one line of my story. I became a non-drinking chain-smoking volatile pothead drama queen bitch. Then the rest slowly fell into place, because I just couldn't stop there. The truth is no matter what we think we are, we are always changing, always evolving, minute by minute, nano-second by nano-second. Today my story is not that same bullshit sad one I had held onto my entire life. It's a story of hope and a story of courage and a story that continues to evolve.
2. I fell in love with myself. Ugh it's so cliché. It almost makes me barf it's so cliché. But it is so true. You cannot love another thing until you truly love yourself. And somewhere along the way that's exactly what happened. I fell madly and deeply in love with me. This doesn’t mean that I always remember this or act from this place. There are still self-lover-quarrels. But I finally know what it means to choose for me and to love me exactly as I am - messy parts and all. And this started with that first subversive choice - choosing sober me, regardless of what anyone else felt or thought.
3. I have more energy than I know what to do with. We don't think often think about the toll drinking takes on our energy - but it's hefty. There's the hours spent actually consuming, in scenes that tend to also be energy thieving. Then there is the time it takes to recover from that drinking, feeling like shit, operating at half capacity, dragging ass. We tend to be in a constant state of dehydration, and we tend to exchange healthy food calories for empty alcohol calories which zaps further energy. And finally, there is the brain drain that comes from worrying about our drinking, trying to moderate, thinking about if we will/if we won't, what we might have done when we were intoxicated. It is one HUGE leak. Since I quit drinking, the amount of energy I've gained/saved/transmuted is incalcuable. It's not only present in every item on this list. It's present in every alive cell of my body. Every other word out of my mouth used to be "I'm so tired" - I dragged. And now I don't. I leap.
4. I look better. I look better now than I did in my 20s. I remember a few years ago looking in the mirror and just ACCEPTING that it was downhill from there. At 33. But as the Jameson and red wine disappeared from my life, so too did the wrinkles, broken capillaries, bags, and the saggy, green, sallow skin. Yes, there are still wrinkles. But my skin has firmed up, the wrinkles decreased in number, the broken blood vessels can't be seen, and the green has become a pink luminscent glow. The beer belly that I'd come to accept as my beer baby went away, and shifting from the bar scene to the yoga scene inevitably reshaped my body. Sobriety and younger/better looks is a one-two punch. One, you don't ingest something that makes you look like shit. And two, you spend more time doing things that make you look good. (If you want to know why and how alcohol makes you ugly, here you go).
5. I fell in love with life. By the time I was nearing the end of my drinking career, the moments I enjoyed life were few and far between. I had for the most part lost my joy, and couldn't quite grasp exactly what the point of it all was. The present moment constantly evaded me, and the simple things were never enough - my mind was stuck in major fear patterns, consumed by the past, afraid of what was to come, hateful of what was. I couldn't see, I couldn't appreciate. On this side of things - not just quitting drinking but doing the work that I've done to support it - I find myself in complete appreciation and gratitude of the world around - and all of it. Everything illuminated, every minute precious, every experience a treasure. Major hippie crap.
6. I started acting like a kid. One of the things I loved so much about drinking was the complete shedding of having to be anything in those moments of zero inhibition. To capture that free-spirit essence I found at certain levels of intoxication, I committed to an attitude of wonderment and play. This meant dancing when I wanted to dance and singing when I wanted to sing, running through fields or down stairs, and simply doing what my heart desired to do, no matter how crazy I looked or uncomfortable I made people or myself feel. I made it a point to find fascination in the things that surround me, and to look at the world through a fresh, childlike perspective.
7. I hung out in Italy for over two months. In the last two years I have spent over 9 weeks in Italy. This was afforded by both the amount of money I saved from not drinking and drugging, and also from the mentality that life is too short to not do what we love that I got from sobriety. Traveling for extended periods of time to places I love just wasn't worth waiting to do someday anymore. In the process I've fallen madly in love with Rome - I'm heading back there in the next few months - and I'm determined to figure out how to live there part time.
8. I learned I can dance. Sober. This was shocking to me. In my drinking days, give me enough tequila and I'm Sasha Fierce (in my drunk fantasy mind). In my sober days…it's actually the same (in my sober fantasy mind). What I found as I gained comfort in my own skin - a skin I didn't need to numb out to be in anymore, a skin that needed no removal of inhibition to just be - is that I don't have to be drunk to do things I love to do. Further, I've found that making the subversive choice to not drink has allowed me to not give two fucks about what people think - which really helps if you love dancing at clubs and you're not all that coordinated. If I'm having fun, that's enough for me.
9. My relationships changed entirely. I had spent years in tumultuous friendships, manships, and familyships. It was like that game at arcades where one gopher pops up, you hit it in the head, and then another appears in it's place - a constant chasing of fights and conquests and a need to be right. Someone was always on my shit list, and I was always the victim. Sobriety changed all of that for me. Not because I HAD to as part of my recovery - I didn't work the steps and I didn't make a list of folks to make amends to. But as a side-effect of all the healthy coping mechanisms I added in. Peace and kindness and humility and compassion became important, and fighting, anger, and drama has become less and less important - there's too much other good stuff to do with my time. This isn't to say I don't experience friction, I do. I'm human. It is, however, an entirely different experience and no longer a theme.
10. I learned a lot of random shit and had a lot of random experiences. I learned how to read tarot, chant, interpret A Course In Miracles, design and launch a website, edit photos, wrap a turban, conquer a panic attack with my breath, play the gong, do a headstand and hold it for four minutes, produce a live stage at a tech conference, speak passable conversational Italian, make chai tea from scratch, and start a company. I have done past life regressions, worked with psychics, practiced white tantric yoga, learned Emotional Freedom Technique, read over a hundred books, started multiple Meet-up groups, meditated for over 500 hours, and couch surfed for 5 months. And that's just off the top of my head. More time + less fear = bigger life.
11. I kicked pot and cigarettes. I did not wake up one day and stop doing everything at once. For me, that was not an option. Not if I wanted to be successful. This past January on my 35th birthday, some 8+ months sober from alcohol, I said goodbye to two of my besties - American Spirits Yellow, and the sticky-icky - after a combined 40 year relationship. These two came on scene at age 15, and my dependency and love for them both combined with my many failed attempts at quitting over the years had led me to believe that I would forever be a stoner and a smoker. However, my desire to be clean and live my most maximal effective life led me to push forward to total sobriety. The strength to break these two habits would have never come had I not stopped drinking.
12. I became a yoga and meditation instructor, twice over. If you were to find my MySpace page from the year 2004, you'd find it to say my dream was to be a waitress and a yoga instructor. But accountant paid the bills and consumed my life. I reasoned that one day after having kids or striking it rich (or marrying rich…) I would find the time to do it. But yoga was such an integral part of my recovery and path, and had become such a fixture in my life, that it stopped being acceptable to put off any longer. I signed up for Kundalini training in July 2013, and Vinyasa in spring 2014, and I haven't stopped at 400 hours - I am eyeing a training in India in 2016, and my goal is 1,000 hours of training in the next few years. I can't go fast enough or learn enough.
13. I became a disciplined meditator. God, I had romanticized this for years. Me on a meditation pillow, an enlightened and transcended being who approached the world with mindfulness. Buddha Holly. Except…I didn't know how to meditate, nor did I even really try. My first real attempt was January 2012. I went to a vipasana retreat with James Baraz, and for the first time in my life, was able to meditate. Like legitimately. For a few minutes. And then I forgot for another year. The experience never left me, I treasured it, remembered it tasting better than any artificial high, but I wasn't ready. In January 2013, desperate to be sober forever, I returned to the pillow, both by way of Kundalini yoga and Gabby Bernstein, and found it to be a homecoming, a place of refuge, and one I continue to return to day after day. I reach for the practice automatically, the same way I used to reach for a cigarette or a glass of wine. If you are interested, here's how to start a meditation practice, and here are my 12 favorite resources.
14. I became a writer. In May of 2013, less than one month sober, a girlfriend handed me Carry On, Warrior, by Glennon Melton. To that point, I had perfected the art of professional writing (and when I say that I mean I was really good at tearing people new assholes through email at work), and that was about it. I had secretly fancied for years that one day I'd become an anonymous blogger, telling of the exploits of the mess that was my life, circulating in some Carrie Bradshaw fashion with a Dear Sugar twist ("...and then I put a sheet on my head, ran around naked, and jumped into bed yelling 'I'm a naked ghost!' as I soared past him and smacked my face on the headboard, splitting my lip open."). Other than that, I never had seriously considered writing for a living.
When I dug into Glennon's book on that day, I knew that I needed to write constructively about what I was going through. I created a Wordpress account immediately, and gave birth to an anonymous blog, LittleMissSurrendered. I would publish a post from time but never took it too seriously. Everything changed the night of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, when I wrote a piece about addiction and my experience in it juxtaposed against my mom's battle with cancer, and posted it to my Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, outing myself as a survivor of bulimia and addiction. A week and 3,000 reads later, I had not only found my voice - I had found that I wanted to share it for a living as part of my work in addiction advocacy and recovery.
15. I made new friends, strengthened my true friendships, and learned to ask for help. One thing that remains clear in all of this is I would have never done it had I not forged the community I have now. I have been and still am supported by so many. The support I have received from my loved ones has been the thing that has sustained me and held me and pushed me beyond anything else. From the simple loving kindness, to the literal hand-holding, to the dinners and lunches and couches and messages and cards and books. To web design and business strategy and copy writing and marketing strategy and BD advice to accounting work and PR work to advocacy on social media, and on and on and on. I am RICH in friends, love, and swimming in the deep generosity and kindness of others.
16. I took up photography. While I had a penchant for dating photographers, trying the craft on myself felt out of the question. But as time freed up, as my creativity flowed, and as my ability to see the beauty in the world expanded, so too did my love of capturing it all. I had friends teach me the basics of both shooting and photo editing, and spent a decent amount of time practicing (like all my time on some days). It's now one of my major creative outlets, an amateur sport where I find flow and peace and timelessness. It is the work I am most proud of outside of Hip Sobriety. It sustains me in joy.
17. I got three new tattoos. My spirit animal on my left breast (it's an Eagle, bitches), NQTD on my arm to indicate my commitment to Never Question The Decision of my choice against alcohol, and a heart on my back to remind me to keep my heart open in the front, and allow things that don't serve me to pass out the back.
18. I collected an army of spiritual teachers, role models, and angels disguised as humans. I remember when I read Eat, Pray, Love, more than anything I wondered how LG had found a real life guru. And now I know how - you look. Gabby Bernstein and A Course In Miracles taught me to choose love over fear and to understand a non-dual God, Zoe Wild - a Tibetan buddhist nun - helped me find a deep love and understanding of Jesus and Christ Consciousness. I learned meditation from James Baraz and my Kundalini gurus, which has given me access to altered states and a way to interpret them. The Bhagavad Gita as well as other yogic texts as introduced to me by Stephanie Snyder helped me to understand the importance of doing fearless selfless work, Rome taught me get on my knees to pray, my MD/spiritual advisor JVC helped me to understand my soul's purpose, my therapist Leah helped me access my angels, and another therapist, my beloved Anne, helped me understand the meaning of multiple lives and why I'm here in this one. This is just a handful of an army that lit my way to today.
19. I quit my dream job to start my own business, Hip Sobriety. Along the way as I did the self-work, I became acutely aware of 4 things: The importance of purpose, how desperately in need the addiction space was of things I could offer, how precious little time we have in this life to do the things we must, and the importance of risk and overcoming fear. I dreamed of doing what I am doing now while I was still drinking, and then throughout my recovery, but I was terrified of going it alone, and further, leaving behind a company and a role that I genuinely loved. But the universe would have none of that, and when the time was right, it conspired to push me forward. And here I am.
It's been a trip, and if anything, I have learned that we are all limitless, and each capable of great great things. Anything we can dream ourselves to be, we can be.
To your great dreams, and your beautiful life.