Goodbye, Old Friend

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It has been 125 days. It seems like nothing. It seems like an eternity.

125 days ago I said goodbye to one of my oldest, dearest friends. One that has been with me for nearly every moment of celebration and triumph, every moment of chaos and despair, in my adult life–as inevitable as my shadow, with me so often that we became indistinguishable from one another.

Sometimes we come to rely on a friend more than we should. Sometimes friendship turns bitter and false, but it has been a part of our lives for so long that we refuse to see how twisted the relationship has become. Even once we recognize the toxicity of this “friend” it can still be hard to say goodbye. It is so easy to remember the good times, the warm glow of the early days. Maybe, if we just tried hard enough, we could forget the pain, the anxiety, the fear that has grown over the years, and embrace the love and warmth and happiness of the past.

But, of course we can’t. I couldn’t. So I said goodbye.

I haven’t had a drink in 125 days.

I hemmed and hawed over whether or not I would write about my sobriety here or not. It’s not exactly writing-related. And yet, I think there are a lot of us writers and creative folks who fall prey to alcohol and substance abuse. There is this idea that if we aren’t hurting we have nothing worthwhile to say. Sometimes we buy into that idea so much that we hurt ourselves, just to feel connected to something greater than ourselves. Pain, the human condition. If life isn’t difficult enough, we make it so.

Since I quit drinking I have become acutely aware of the many ways I had internalized alcohol as some inexorable aspect of my “self,” as if the ubiquitous glass of wine in my hand was an extension of my very being. Even once I began to see the negative impact that alcohol was having on my physical and emotional health, the idea of not drinking was terrifying to me. I’ve attempted to cut back, or “take a break” from drinking in the past. But I could never come to terms with the idea of giving it up completely. For ever. That was like trying to imagine cutting off my own arm. Sure, I might survive the amputation, but would I ever feel whole again?

I can’t pinpoint for you what changed, exactly. But in August I had a moment where I knew, I just knew, that I was done. I made the choice, not only to quit drinking, but to actively pursue sobriety as a lifestyle. I think this is what has made the difference for me. In actuality, “not drinking” is the easy part. Having to relearn who you are, experience and process emotions without a chemical safety-net, develop healthy coping mechanisms to replace the unhealthy ones… that’s the tough shit.

Learning how to write sober has been one of the hardest parts of all. I had come to rely on a glass or two of wine to shush the internal editor and get the ball rolling. I trained myself to “need” alcohol in order to write. Untraining myself has been difficult. I haven’t been as prolific as I would have liked in the last few months. However, I have made a few encouraging discoveries.

  1. I can shut up the internal editor just by sheer force of habit. Ass in chair. Write. Write shit if you have to. But if you start writing, eventually the shit runs out and you’ll have something usable.
  2. I actually write better sober. Shocker, I know. But the old “write drunk, edit sober” adage (that may or may not be correctly attributed to Hemingway) is a crock of shit. As far as I can tell, the need to write drunk is really just a symptom of lazy work habits.
  3. Editing is a hell of a lot less painful when your drafts are coherent.
  4. All of the actual mechanics of writing craft are easier when you are using your whole brain: structure, plotting, connecting themes and imagery… you name it, it’s easier sober.
  5. I eat better and I sleep better when I don’t drink. I don’t have anxiety attacks anymore. I exercise regularly. All of this makes me more competent, not just in writing, but in everything I do.

I’m not writing any of this in order to convince anyone else that sobriety is the right choice for them. Your relationship with alcohol (or any substance) is your own. Only you can decide if you need to make a change. If, however, any of what I’ve said here speaks to you I’m happy to offer whatever advice and support that I can. Please comment!

For those who are considering sobriety, or are just curious to read about addiction and neuroplasticity, I highly recommend reading “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace and “The Biology of Desire” by Marc Lewis. The r/stopdrinking subreddit is a great source of information, advice, and support as well.

Thanks for reading!

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13 thoughts on “Goodbye, Old Friend

  1. Love this post Sarah!! Inspiring.. makes me question my relationship with alcohol over the years… Proud of you and thank you for sharing xx

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. I’m so very proud of you! My own daughter, not too much younger than you also is working in her sobriety. While I have been working to give up the stogies. I too was using cigars as a writing crutch. And I recently looked back to realize that I did most of my good writing long before I took up the smoke. I wish you wonderful success in this and in your career! And may you have a very happy new year!

    1. Thank you, Harvey! Happy New Year to you, too!

      Check out Allan Carr’s “Easy Way to Quit Smoking” if you need help with the stogies 😊 I’ve never been a smoker, but his methods for quitting drinking are what inspired Annie Grace’s “This Naked Mind” and his books come highly recommended in the recovery community. I have his “stop drinking” book on my e-reader in case I start feeling complacent in my own sobriety. Congratulations to your daughter, too. It’s quite a journey and an emotional roller coaster. She’s very lucky to have your support!

      On another note… I’m committing again to the 12 Short Stories Challenge this year. See if I can make it past the six month mark, lol. Care to join me?

    1. Thanks so much! I fell much more grounded now, in my life and inside myself. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made! I only wish I figured it out sooner, lol

      1. We come to things in our time and when we’re ready I think, so don’t beat yourself up. It’s always warming to hear this kind of story.

        1. Thank you for reading and commenting 😊 it can be hard to share stuff like this, but it helps to know that people respond positively. There’s always a fear of being judged lurking in our subconscious.

          1. I know what you mean and anyone that does judge should be ashamed, everyone faces their life struggles and deals differently and that should be met with kindness and respect not judgement.

            My pleasure to read it 🙂

  3. I am very impressed with your honesty and the success of your endeavour. I hope you never encounter that dangerous old friend again and that, if you do, you look him n the eye and tell him where to put his nasty suggestions. Thanks for the follow!

    1. Thank you very much! And I hope so, too. I’m lucky to have a hefty dose of stubbornness in my personality, so I think that will help me stick with it.

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