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  • Writer's pictureShaeden Berry

The Unexpected Challenges Of Sobriety



When I first became sober almost six months ago, I immediately got my hands on every piece of "quit lit" I could find.


"Quit lit" if you don’t know, is the name given to books that focus on quitting drinking and navigating life without alcohol.


Whilst this isn’t my first time embarking on sobriety (alcohol can be a tricky habit to kick), I was determined that this would be the time that stuck.


I wanted to be equipped with every bit of information available to prepare myself for any challenges the sober life might throw at me.


And here’s the thing; sobriety can throw quite a few challenges at you.


I’m talking challenges that aren’t just “not drinking” (although, to be fair, that is a big one).


What I’ve found is that there are other struggles that arise, some of which lie outside the scope of the mainstream sobriety literature.


These are the unexpectedly challenging things I’ve found:


 

1. Identity Crisis


There’s this weird sort of "rebirth" when you become sober, especially if it’s the first time you’ve found yourself alcohol-free in a while.


It can often be the first time you’ve ever sat with yourself free from the haze of alcohol.


It can be the first time you’ve tapped into your emotions the real ones, not the artificially enhanced ones – and looked deep inside to who you are.


I spent much of my teenage years – the time when you’re supposed to be figuring out who you are - basically drunk off my face.


This meant that a lot of who I thought I was (i.e. party girl, extroverted, wine girl) was tied up with alcohol.


When I became sober, it felt like I had only created half of an identity and filled the gaps with booze (side note, that’s a hot tip; if you’ve ever found yourself making “alcohol” a part of your personality… it might be time to revaluate).


One of the unexpected challenges of sobriety that I found was that I had to reconstruct who I was.


For anyone else who might be in the same boat, I know there’s this sense of, "but I’m in my twenties/thirties/forties/whatever, I can’t be changing who I am now, it’s too late."


Listen, it’s never too late.


And while it’s been challenging as hell and therapy has been holding my hand throughout the process, it’s also been incredibly rewarding to figure who I am and what I actually like.


 

2. Drunk Me vs Sober Me


All that being said, when you do start figuring out who you are without alcohol, there is another challenge – the divide between you who are – which, sans alcohol, always feels so, so great – and who you were starts becoming obvious.


Especially when you think about who you were when you were drunk.


When you start becoming this amazing sober person doing all the things and in general not being a drunken flake, it becomes hard to face your old alcohol-soaked self.


In the beginning, I created this sort of cognitive dissonance towards 'Drunk Me' and told myself it was the alcohol that made me do things like ditch my friends for strangers, spend $600 in a single night and start fights with loved ones.


In a way, this did help the early days of sobriety.


But, my friends, I’m sorry to say, it’s not healthy or sustainable.



One of the challenges of sobriety is confronting who you were and accepting that.


Yes of course alcohol does make us do stupid things, but it also amplifies certain aspects of our personality that were already there in the first place.


So, a lot of 'Drunk Me' was… well, still me.


Addressing those parts of yourself can be terribly difficult.


But think about how the reconciling of the two “versions” yourself is so hard – it’s hard because, guess what, you’ve changed for the better in leaps and bounds.


It’s a marker of our sobriety success.


 

3. Lack of Positive Side Effects


It’s time we talk about the supposed side effects of giving up alcohol.


Quit lit loves to tell us we’ll have more energy, sleep better, our skin will clear, the literal whites of our eyes will brighten, birds will sing to us and somehow, we’ll also bring about world peace.


Or maybe those last ones were an exaggeration.


In any case, the books, articles, and websites basically tell us that going sober will transform us into health machines.


Oh yes, and, of course, they tell us we will lose weight.


I’m sure hearing about the health side effects of sobriety is helpful to a lot of people, and it is good to realise, by comparison, the detrimental effects of alcohol – but here’s the thing, what if literally none of those things happen to you?


I gave up drinking almost six months ago and I’m still tired, sleep terribly and right now there’s a pimple breakout across my chin.


Sure, I feel better not having hangovers all the time – but aside from that?


I feel the same.


And let’s touch up on the weight loss thing – it irks me that "losing weight" is highlighted so frequently and with such adulation and excitement in quit lit.


I did not lose weight when I gave up drinking.


I felt like this side effect was guaranteed to me.


So when it didn’t happen, I felt like I was doing something wrong.


I started blaming my eating habits, my exercise schedule; I lost sight of what the actual goal was – to stop drinking.


It wasn’t to lose weight or magically acquire any of the side effects - it was to cut something from my life that was ruining me.


If you don’t get any of the “promised” health benefits of sobriety, it can be really easy to feel cheated and develop a sense of, “well, what is the point then?”


And that’s when you need to take a step back and remember, the point is not to have hangovers every weekend.


Or maybe the point is not to wallow in hangxiety.


Whatever it is, just remember to keep that as your goal, not a side effect that buys into the toxic diet and wellness culture of society.


4. Non-alcoholic drinks


Now onto the more fun stuff! Say you’ve slogged through the identity crisis, shaken free of toxic health culture and now you’re ready to socialise in bars and clubs again with your pals.


Great! Except; another challenge.


Navigating the world of non-alcoholic drinks.


Soda water with lime is only nice for the first few drinks before it gets boring.


Mocktails are just expensive juice.


I can handle about two diet cokes before I feel gassy and sick.


If you’re lucky however, you will have lots of options.


The sober-curious movement is gaining traction and there are now many non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits emerging on the market.


This makes things a lot of more fun and easier when you go out.


5. The Cost of Rituals


When I got good news back in the day, I celebrated with a glass of champagne.


When I got bad news, I drowned my sorrows in red wine.


On self-care nights, I poured a glass of white wine.


All these rituals and celebrations were, for a long time, intrinsically tied up with alcohol.


It can be difficult, when you become sober, to feel like you’re properly celebrating or mourning when you don’t complete the ritual you’ve followed for so long.


You can end up feeling at a loss.


When I got my first article published this year, the lack of a sparkling drink in my hand to toast to my success made me feel, in an odd way, bereft.


What sobriety forces us to do is create new routines and rituals around celebrating, commiserating and, yes, even self-care – and this can be challenging.


It can feel a little like filling a void.


I had to keep trying things until they fit, and it was hard, yes, but also rewarding to create these new little rituals around the key moments in my life.


Self-care is now a mindful crafting afternoon making clay earrings.


Celebrating is buying a treat for myself.


Sadness is combatted with a walk in the nearby park.


6. Other people


There are a variety of reactions you commonly get when telling people you’re sober.

"I can just have one drink and stop!" (Good for you)

"I could never give up drinking!" (I literally didn’t ask you to)

"So what?" (Exactly, thank you; so friggen what?)


What I wish for in the future is for my sobriety to be met with ambivalence.


Actually, what I really want, is for it to never be mentioned at all.

When I was sober the first time, a drunk person told me they don’t like sober people because “all they do is talk about not drinking.”


For context, I’d said it once, after declining a wine.


From my experience, sober people don’t talk about not drinking. In fact, we try very much not to talk about it because we don’t like having to answer a million questions or be treated to stories about how so-and-so’s drinking isn’t that bad, and they don’t need to stop drinking.


That’s great, Chad, I literally don’t care.



That’s the thing; for most sober people, we literally don’t care if you drink.


But the challenging thing about sobriety is that so many people around you think that you are bothered that they drink.


It becomes hard to get across to people that our decision not to drink is, in no way, a reflection on their decision to drink.


It can be exhausting to deal with this, and I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t appear to ease off in my experience.


Not even two weeks ago my news of an upcoming holiday was met with, “gosh I could never go on holiday where I couldn’t drink” and whilst it is super tempting to respond with snark (“gee, you must be incredibly boring then to not be able to handle entertaining yourself in a literal foreign place without altering your mindset with beverages”) my go-to response is to… change the subject.


Honestly, it works, and once the person realises you aren’t going to engage with them on talk of sobriety or drinking (look, a lot of people are just looking to debate you and justify their drinking, even though you literally didn’t ask), the chances are that they’ll give up.


 

Given I am still in the early days of sobriety, I know these won’t be the only challenges I have to face as I navigate the world without alcohol.


But each challenge I overcome leaves me better equipped the handle the next, so for those who are struggling, I can say with confidence from my own experiences – it gets easier.


We get stronger and we get more secure in the knowledge that we got this.


Sobriety is a challenge, yes, but it is a worthwhile one nonetheless.


 

If this post brought up any issues for you, please contact The Alcohol and Drug Support Line - a confidential, non-judgmental telephone counselling, information and referral service for anyone seeking help for their own or another person’s alcohol or drug use. Call (08) 9442 5000 for assistance.


For more from Shaeden Berry, you can find her on Instagram @berrywellthanks

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