One thousand days ago I woke up in Honolulu and said “no more.”
All I knew then was that I could see my future if I kept drinking and it didn’t look good. I don’t, and never have, considered myself an alcoholic but I knew that’s where I was headed. I didn’t have some major, life ruining rock bottom but I knew that if I was going to be the best version of me possible, I had to quit drinking.
The remainder of my solo vacation to Hawaii is a blur and I only remember a few things. One of them was walking. A lot. I walked from Waikiki to Diamond Head, up the mountain, back down the mountain and back to Waikiki. In Chuck Taylors. My feet were not pleased.
Another thing I clearly remember is the crying. The whole trip was just a series of me going to the beach or taking a walk and then urgently fighting my way through crowds of tourists, back to my hotel room, so I could sob uncontrollably for a while. When I was done, I’d change my outfit and the cycle would begin again.
The final thing I can recall from that trip is waking up very early every morning and sitting on my balcony with coffee, watching the sky get brighter and being filled with hope.
When I say that I’m not an alcoholic or that I didn’t have a big rock bottom, it may lead you to believe that quitting drinking was easy for me. It wasn’t. The next few months were really, really hard. Hell, the next year was hard and life can still be hard but, I no longer want to numb it with alcohol.
I don’t usually do things like this but, I thought it might be fun to write about some of the ways my life has changed in the 1000 days since I’ve quit drinking. Because things have really fucking changed.
Ten ways my life has changed in 1000 days sober
Having feelings again
Feelings are really fucking hard. I’m a pretty sensitive person and have always had a lot of feelings. A protective crust, not unlike the crust that protects the sandy soil of the desert and other arid climates, built up over my feelings as I got older. While that crust may have kept me safe in many ways, it also robbed me of my humanity.
The tricky part is that I didn’t even realize this crust had built up. It happened so slowly, over the course of decades, that when I quit drinking and emotions started cracking through it, I had no fucking clue what was happening. All feelings ended up showing themselves as physical energy. It felt like I had flubber bouncing around inside of me, trying to escape, and the only way to calm it down was to move my body. Because of this, the first few months of my sobriety were basically just me oscillating between not being able to stop moving and being so exhausted that I couldn’t be bothered to even get a glass of water.
My first year of sobriety was more or less dedicated to simply having feelings again. I spent a lot of time not only feeling feelings as they happened but, taking a step back and really trying to figure out what I was actually feeling. A lot of my anger was actually other emotions that I didn’t know how to acknowledge or express.
In the past six months or so, I’ve really shifted my focus from identifying my feelings to actually being able to show and express my feelings.
This is so hard.
The fear I have around this runs so deep that I have a hard time even writing my true feelings down in a place where no one else will even see. So, this change is a work in progress and I have a feeling it will be something that I never master but am always practicing. And I welcome that. From what I’ve noticed in the past 1000 days, having feelings is terrifying while also being completely awesome. I don’t ever want to go back to my old ways.
A renewed desire to learn
When I was younger I read endlessly and was always curious about how things worked. As I grew and settled into adulthood, my days turned more into a cycle of waking, working and unwinding, with less time dedicated to reading and learning new things.
During the first few months of my sobriety, I was a wreck. My brain was a jumble of thoughts and feelings that I hadn’t experienced in years. Eventually, though, the jumble cleared out and I was interested in things again.
I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read in the past 1000 days but, I can tell you that I’m pretty sure that it’s been more than all of the books I read in the entire decade prior to my sobriety.
It is so mind blowing to not only be able to read about feminism, LGBTQIA+ history, sobriety and race but to be able to see where all of these things intersect and influence each other. I know I’m pretty late to the party and other folks have been making these kinds of connections for ages but, I am still amazed. Every day.
Without sobriety, I would still be in an oblivious haze. I’d be scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, thinking that reading an article on Jezebel or Huffington Post was enough to keep me informed.
This amazing thing happens when you all of a sudden have access to your emotions, you can also see that other people have them too. I’ve always been overly responsive to the emotions of others, even hiding in embarrassment when someone on a sitcom was clearly about to make a fool of themselves. As a drinker though, I was able to put a wall up between me and real life human beings. It was too easy for me to brush off their experiences and laugh at misfortunes.
Now, in sobriety, I have empathy. I’m able to really see where other people are coming from and accept that not everyone is in the same space as I am. Being more empathetic means I can hold space for those who need it; it means I can I can take a step back from reacting to people’s behavior and truly do what’s most kind for both them and me.
Finding my voice
It’s no secret that I’ve been pretty scared for my whole life. I talk about it relatively often. What that means is that I’ve been scared to say what I think or to stand up for myself and others; I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or have any difficult conversations. I wanted to keep the peace.
And, when I did speak, it was usually dripping with sarcasm or humor or plain meanness. I was so afraid of being who I was that I did everything I could to make sure I basically never said anything of value.
Slowly, that began to change. As I was sober for 3, 6, 8 months – I was beginning to see things in this world, in my own community, that I couldn’t stay silent about. I began to, tentatively, step out and talk about these things. First, in safe environments and then on a wider scale.
Now, I know that I cannot stay silent to keep “the peace”. That “the peace” is what kills us all. Being loud about the things that affect me and other forms of injustice is the only way I can help to change things.
Historically, to say I have not been a risk taker would be an understatement. The first time I drove a car outside of New England was a few months before my 30th birthday. By the time I was 32 I was taking an eight week cross country trip to move to Portland, Oregon. Just writing those two sentences is making my head spin about how much can change in such a short period of time.
Once I got to Portland, however, I pretty much resumed my old life of safety. It was scary being in a new city, so far from home, with only my partner at the time. As things changed and fell apart: my relationship ended, I got sober and my company went out of business, I still clung to any semblance of routine and normalcy I could find. It was soul sucking but, I was also what I felt I had to do in order to stay safe in a city where I still didn’t have much of a support system.
December 29, 2017 was my last day working at the company that had gone out of business. I was the last employee and it was rather anticlimactic as I left the office that evening, no one else was there so I just locked up and left. For the first time in my life I didn’t have plan for what I was going to do next. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.
To date, 2018 has been my biggest risk yet. Save three and a half weeks in August, I haven’t had full-time employment. I’ve accepted the fact that my worth has nothing to do with my productivity.
The greatest thing? At the end of last year I had a conversation with a friend about what I wanted to do, career wise. All I knew was that I wanted to create space for queer and trans folks in recovery. I didn’t know any more than that. Not one more detail. And now, less than a year later, not only do I have a clearer vision of what I want to do, I’m already doing it. There is a blog and We’re Here, We’re Queer! and a secret Facebook community; none of which would exist if I hadn’t given myself room to exist, without a plan.
My next risk is coming up very soon in the form of another cross country move to Rhode Island. If my recent history has shown me anything, it’s that this risk will pay off, big time.
Advocating for myself
This summer I was lucky enough to be able to attend SHETalks WETalk Brooklyn, a weekend long workshop created and run by Catrice Jackson. The conversation there was a no holds barred conversation about white supremacy and racism. It was one of the most difficult, eye opening weekends of my life.
At one point I was asked why I wouldn’t stand up for Black women in the same way I’d stand up for myself. My honest answer was that I often don’t even stand up for myself. One of the women there turned to me and asked me if I had any self-worth. It was in that moment that I realized – in order for me to be as effective as possible in helping to dismantle white supremacy, I needed to tend to myself. I needed to be able to stand up for myself and who I am with confidence so I can also stand up for other oppressed folks with confidence.
In the few months since I attended that workshop, I dove into the work of building my confidence and my self-worth. In doing that, I’ve been able to not only stand up when I see something happening that affects me but, I’ve been able to stand up when I’ve seen things happen that affect other folks as well.
Not one part of this would have been possible if I was still drinking, or if I had been newer in my sobriety. Drinking numbed me to the actions of others. I accepted whatever tolerance breadcrumbs were thrown at me and didn’t ask for more, even when I needed it. Even when lives depended on it.
I don’t accept breadcrumbs anymore. I want a whole damn sandwich.
Deep, soul connected, friendships
I’ll admit, I have a handful of friends that I’ve known for 15, 20 and even 30+ years. We’ve grown up together and have supported each other for all of that time. I’ll also admit that me getting sober has deepened those friendships beyond my wildest dreams. It’s much easier for me to talk about important things or to even initiate conversation now that I’m not preoccupied with drinking.
But let’s also talk about the friendships I’ve made in sobriety. Folks. These friendships are huge and full color and soul connected. I know that early sobriety is super lonely, it really is. There is a feeling that you’re the only one and no one will ever understand you, not unlike first coming out as queer or trans, especially if you came out when you were young, like me.
And, just like the way you find your queer family, you find your sober family. I tried so hard for so long to be someone that people liked. Sometimes that meant being myself and sometimes that meant changing myself. The friends I’ve made and kept in sobriety have been with people who think I’m really awesome, exactly as I am, at all times. I never have to pretend to be anyone else or like things I don’t like or do something that doesn’t align with who I am.
It takes time to find your people but, when you do, be prepared to be connected for life.
Learn to take care of myself
I was going to title this section self-care but, that’s not exactly what it is. Self-care has a very specific meaning and I don’t feel comfortable using that to describe what I do.
But, in sobriety, I did start taking care of myself. If my first year of sobriety was all about learning how to have feelings again, my second year was all about learning how to take care of myself.
I made doctor and dentist appointments, THEN I WENT TO THOSE APPOINTMENTS. I consolidated my credit card debt and started living within my means. I found foods that helped make me feel better after having some terrible gastrointestinal problems for years. I learned how to manage my PMDD. I established and enforced boundaries. I realized that exercise for the sake of changing my body isn’t good for my mental health and I can only exercise for the sake of my mental health if I want to stay healthy.
Most of these things may seem like no big deal to the average adult but, for me, they were revolutionary. I never, truly learned how to take care of myself in these ways and had a lot of anxiety around even beginning to address one single task, never mind a list of them. As an added hurdle, my PMDD was so bad that I felt like I was cycling through hell every month AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT WASN’T NORMAL! So there were entire weeks, every month, that I was basically useless.
Addressing the things that are causing you anxiety and stress, especially when they have to do with your physical body, are some of the bravest things you can do. I know, I felt like a fucking super hero after every single thing I accomplished.
Listen to myself
Many people who have known me for a long time might say that I’ve always just done whatever I wanted to do without caring what anyone else thought. To an extent, that’s true. I’ve always been a little weirdo and proud of it. I’ve also always had hefty levels of self-doubt and perfectionism. That thing I did that you thought was me just being confident and spontaneous was really something I agonized over for a significant period of time, or I was drunk and didn’t care.
Both my sobriety and moving so far away from home are the two things that have given me the freedom and space to learn how to not only truly listen to myself but, believe what I hear. Once I moved to Portland I felt like I had a freedom to really explore who I was without having to live up to the expectations of others. In fact, I think that my sobriety is a direct result of that freedom. I often have conversations with my friend who is also from the east coast and got sober out here and we both think that it would have been unlikely that we would have quit drinking back home.
In my newfound “me-ness” I was able to really look at the things that were coming up in sobriety with a curiosity. I explored ideas, especially around spirituality, that I would have previously immediately dismissed. In this exploration, I found that I only actually dismissed about 75 – 85% of them. Yup. Still an atheist. But, an atheist who is open to conversation with others about their beliefs.
I was also able to notice and listen to the signals that maybe my gender wasn’t exactly what I always thought it was. Or, more accurately, what I had always been told it was and accepted because I had to do things the right way.
As I began to notice how certain language made me feel, it became clear to me that I’m agender. This blew my whole world wide open. Now I move through life with more confidence and an increased urgency to create space for queer and trans folks.
A big beautiful life
This may sound cheesy but seriously, my life has become so big and beautiful since I’ve quit drinking.
I want to be very clear here: a big beautiful life doesn’t mean I’m happy all of the time and things are always fantastic.
I still struggle with depression, anxiety and loneliness. I still make mistakes and have bad days. But I also have a sense of contentment that I didn’t think was possible. Even on my worst days, I wouldn’t change my life.
I don’t feel trapped in someone else’s reality; I get to carve my own reality out of the things that make me feel alive. I’m free to make changes to the way I used to do things and I’m free to do things I never thought I’d be able to do. When I have a thought or a feeling, I know it’s something I’m actually thinking or feeling and not something that has been increased, decreased or created by alcohol.
The most important thing that I want to get across here is that life without alcohol is amazing. It’s the hardest, most beautiful, painful, glorious thing ever.
I have learned so much in 1000 days of sobriety, so much more than I ever thought was possible, but the most important thing that has happened in the past 1000 days is: I am in love with myself for the first time ever.
And I love you all.