By Savanah Mandeville
On June 30th, I celebrated one year since my last drink of alcohol.
Albeit, I don’t remember my last drink of alcohol because I was blacked out when I had it – as I often was from the ages of 20–27 – but I know it was sometime between 1:00 and 4:00 in the morning on June 30, 2018.
When I’d started drinking earlier that evening, I had no idea it was going to be my last night as a drinker, a wino, a party girl and all the other identities I’d collected over the years like lint clinging to a pair of yoga pants (worn mostly to drink wine in). I went downtown with a couple of girlfriends in cute outfits and clinked glasses on a bar patio in the twilight, enjoying the warm, glowy summer air. I was blissfully unaware that some 12 hours later I would wake up in a jail cell soaked in blood because, in my blacked-out state, I’d taken my tampon out at some point prior to being cuffed and carted off to jail (and my periods are no joke). This wasn’t my first time in the slammer, and I had already cross-my-heart-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-my-eye PROMISED myself it wouldn’t happen again when I was in a similar predicament at age 22. To look at me, I don’t look like someone who has been to jail (my cellmates pointed this out several times…), and for all intents and purposes, I am not the type of person who goes to jail. I’m a productive, contributing member of society. I’m a straight-A student, a little bit Type A, organized, responsible, all that good stuff. But for some reason once I start drinking, I can’t stop. Binges have led me to doing all kinds of crazy things I would never normally do and being in extremely dangerous situations I should’ve never been in. Honestly, I’m lucky to be alive. I had a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde life.
I decided over the course of the 24 hours I spent in jail that it was never going to happen again. I was done drinking. I meant it this time. D-O-N-E, DONE.
As I write this on the other side of one year since that horrible day, it feels like I’ve done something impossible like pulling a rabbit out of a hat or walking on the sun. This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done because, despite all the bad things that came with drinking, I loved it. As a really shy person, alcohol helped me out in so many situations — it was like a miracle in a bottle for me. Not to mention the many wildly fun, amazing times I’ve had under the influence. Giving it up meant I had to reprogram everything I’d ever known and approach life with new eyes.
Now, I don’t want this to turn into a “how to get sober” guide (although I would write that if anyone wants me to), and I’m certainly not on a soapbox shouting that everyone needs to stop drinking. I get why people drink and, trust me, I am not judgmental about it. I get it.
But I do think there are some myths at large in our society surrounding both drinking culture and sobriety culture that need to be brought up. In a lot of ways, at least for me, it seems things are better now than they were even just a few years ago. Most people accept that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. The people in my life have been mostly supportive of my decision, despite multiple people in the sober community warning me that losing my friends was something I would just have to accept. And I was ready to accept it. Fortunately, I haven’t lost friends (the ones that matter) and my family has been really cool about it too. Nobody treats me like a pariah or social outcast. People tend to genuinely understand it and, if anything, seem to admire it. My grandpa told me that he always knew I was “not one to give in to peer pressure” and that I “have my sparkle back.” Those compliments alone are enough to never pick up another drink again for as long as I live.
So, without further ado, here’s a few things I’ve learned in the last year…
- We give alcohol way too much credit for being the fun provider
“People aren’t born with a bottle-shaped fun deficiency.” –Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol
I remember after turning 21 noticing and being thrilled by how people were drinking in all manner of occasions and times of day. Movie theaters where you can drink?! Champagne at breakfast?! Beers at the end of 5Ks?! I used to love these little guest appearances of alcohol at otherwise wholesome events, but now I can see how strange it is that people can’t seem to enjoy a single activity without feeling the need to enhance it with booze.
In the last year, I’ve learned a lot about being present in the moment and enjoying an activity for what it is – enjoying a movie for the sake of watching a movie. Enjoying brunch with friends because of yummy food and fun conversation, not because I have an excuse to drink at 10 a.m. In fact, I have more fun because I’m present in the moment, not distracted by my craving for the next drink.
Is it really the alcohol that’s making the occasion fun? Or do we just think it is? Don’t you think it’s really the atmosphere, the people around you, the conversation, the music? True, there are things I used to think were fun when I was drinking that aren’t fun anymore – but all that means is that those things were never actually fun. I just thought they were fun while under the influence of a mind-altering drug. Now I don’t waste my time doing unfun things or making myself trapped, unable to drive, at a boring bar or lame house party because I’m trying so desperately to enjoy a situation that’s not enjoyable. I’ve gotten really good at figuring out what things I actually like and what things I actually don’t. And with my free time cleared up, I’m finding so many more new things to try.
Annie Grace also says: “Fun people are going to be fun, cool people are going to be cool, and boring people are going to be boring, whether they’re drinking or not.”
That statement really resonated with me and has been so true and so helpful. If you want to be a stick in the mud, you’ll probably be a stick in the mud, even with a few drinks in you. If you go into a social setting with a positive attitude and willingness to have a blast, you’re not going to need alcohol to make it happen. Sometimes there are awkward moments, that is true, but it’s so much easier to deal with a couple minutes of awkwardness than a massive hangover the next day. In short, we can all live our lives with a childlike sense of wonder, enthusiasm and zest if we just allow ourselves to.
- Alcoholism & Sobriety look a lot different for women
When most people think of an alcoholic, they probably picture a (male) bum on the street with a brown paper bag, but the truth is that alcoholism affects all kind of people … and it’s affecting more and more women. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, female alcohol use disorder in the United States more than doubled from 2002 to 2013. Gallup pollsters have consistently found the amount of college educated, middle/upper-middle class women out there hiding drinking problems is staggering.
And women drink for different reasons than men. Studies show women are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders as men, and they are more likely than men to treat their symptoms with alcohol.
It’s like Kristi Coulter says in her book, “Nothing Good Can Come From This,” which chronicles her sobriety journey:
“This is the summer I realized everyone around me is tanked. It also dawns on me that the women are super double tanked. … The women aren’t the kinds of beleaguered, downtrodden creatures you’d imagine drinking to get through the day. They’re pretty cool chicks — the kind people ridicule for having first world problems. Why did they need to drink? Because cool chicks are still women. And there’s no easy way to be a woman, because there’s no acceptable way to be a woman. And if there’s no acceptable way to be the thing that you are, then maybe you drink a little. Or a lot.”
That’s why we see all that wine stuff marketed for women… the “mommy juice”, the pithy wine quotes on T-shirts, the cutesy mimosa bars at brunch. All these things prop up our drinking habits and normalize excessive drinking. I used to love all that stuff because it made me feel normal when my drinking was anything but normal. Who knows… maybe I would’ve quit sooner if my culture wasn’t constantly telling me that drinking a lot was akin to eating too many carbs or taking too many naps – a cute, lovable flaw.
Women drink for different reasons than men and women recover differently than men. Alcoholics Anonymous was designed for men. Don’t get me wrong, AA is a terrific organization and lots and lots of women have gotten sober in AA, but Holly Whitaker, author of the Hip Sobriety blog (my Bible) points out that the 12 Steps don’t always align with women’s needs.
“Successful white men created AA in the 1930s, which is clearly demonstrated in the 12-steps where almost every one of them has some aspect of ego-deflation. This works if you are an ego-inflated masculine individual addicted to alcohol. However, if you are a woman in the 21st century who is addicted to alcohol or struggling with a chemical substance, you will most likely not need to be broken down any more than you have already broken yourself down or have allowed others to break you down. I didn’t need to admit to anyone the nature of my ‘wrongs’ and make amends for them – I had been admitting and apologizing to everyone for as long as I can remember for everything I had ever done and been.”
There are a lot of women out there like Holly Whitaker and Annie Grace leading the sobriety movement with a new methodology that doesn’t say you’re “powerless.” It’s about seizing your power and learning to take control of your life. The real OG of this methodology is Allan Carr and his 1985 book, “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking” (this book is how I quit smoking). But Whitaker and Grace have redeveloped it for the 21st century.
- Sobriety is not a sad consequence, but a happy choice
Please don’t feel sorry for people who do not drink. Choosing to not drink makes someone powerful and strong, not powerless and sad. In our society, we have this idea of sober people living these blah, boring existences, white knuckling it through life “one day at a time.” For me, and for a lot of sober people, not drinking is a proud, happy choice. For people who’ve broken the chains of addiction or dependency, quitting is something to literally jump for joy over (because now you have enough energy to jump lol)! We’ve learned to squash the desire for alcohol at its core and we’re not white knuckling anything. The key is to see alcohol for what it is – a poisonous, addictive liquid that tastes terrible. I don’t want to drink alcohol any more than I want to drink motor oil. I don’t look at sobriety as weakness, I look at it as being rebellious, subversive, and breaking away from the pack. Choosing to not dull myself, but to live with strength, health, and authenticity and to really give it a good shot at reaching my full potential in this one life, is a decision I’m beyond happy to have made.
Most sober people are extremely happy about their choice so please don’t tell them that “they weren’t that bad” or give them tips on how to moderate. This diminishes their monumental accomplishment by assuming they wish they could still drink.
- Sobriety = Self Love
“In a world that profits off your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.”
One of the most wonderful things about not drinking anymore is the miraculous absence of self-loathing. Do I still get down in the dumps? Of course. Do I still cringe at things I did when I was drunk? Most definitely. Do I still cringe at things I did when I was SOBER? Haha, yes! But for the most part, I like myself. Hell, I’ll even say I love myself. I wouldn’t trade places with nobody, no how! Part of my journey in the last year has involved this strong desire to find my real, authentic self and get in touch with my inner-child and honor that person. I have my natural hair color again for the first time since I was 14, and guess what! It looks great on me! I started doing things that I enjoyed as a kid. I ride my bike a lot. I wrote two short stories. I like waterslides. I like rollercoasters. I even started listening to the Harry Potter series on Audible. It has been nice to get reacquainted with the person I was before all that shit dimmed my sparkle.
It’s also AMAZING not living a double life. When your words and actions are not in line with who you really are, it’s a painful way to live. It feels amazing to not have to hide anything, to not have to lie to anyone on Monday about what I did over the weekend, to not be afraid of the terrible things my alcohol-fueled alter ego is capable of doing. I am 100% my real self all the time and it feels really good to actually like and accept the real me, flaws and all.
- As a society we’re way too chill about alcohol
“The ugly side of alcohol is so much uglier than the pretty side is pretty.”
Ok, I lied… soapbox for 1 minute. As a society, we are way too dependent on alcohol for fun, and we stick our heads in the sand about the consequences. According to several studies, alcohol is the most deadly drug on earth.
We don’t have to accept this.
For many years, I thought of alcohol as a need. I saw embarrassing drunken behavior, soul-crushing hangovers, and spending massive amounts of money as inevitable, unpleasant parts of life, like waiting at red lights or deleting junk email. Par for the course and just something everyone has to deal with. But no, we don’t really have to deal with it. You don’t have to lie in bed feeling like you’re going to die while a beautiful summer day passes you by. You don’t have to send cringey text messages to your ex. You don’t have to say hurtful things to the people you love. You don’t have to deal with any of that shit.
Drinking does not have to be the default.
I’ve seen lives destroyed by alcohol, and I’m guessing you probably have too. My dad had a massive brain injury when I was six-years-old from a drinking and driving accident. When I was in high school, I lost a friend who was only 19 to drinking and driving. We have to stop acting like drinking is not a big deal, and I’m not talking about tougher laws, I’m talking about socially, as a people, we have to know and accept that alcohol is the most dangerous drug on earth and stop assuming that people who don’t use it are the weird ones. The fact that we treat alcohol so much differently than other drugs is what’s weird. Nobody apologizes for not being able to use heroin responsibly.
I’m not sure what the future has in store for alcohol in our culture. I have a feeling it will never go away completely, but I do think our viewpoints are shifting. Millennials drink less than previous generations. The amount of people who’ve confided in me that they too wish to drink less or quit entirely has been very eye-opening.
If you are thinking about quitting drinking, I can promise you that once you get past the rocky first few weeks, life gets so much better and easier. Also, please know that you do not have to have a Rock Bottom Experience like I did. If your drinking is holding you back in life, that’s a good enough reason to give it up. I promise you it’s worth it, you are worth it, and your life is worth it.