I recently shared my getting sober story within a fitness group online. It was a conversation that was real and honest and vibrantly highlighted the lessons learned in early sobriety, from the vantage point of where I am now. It was a great experience to be able to articulate why I find sobriety important and how it has positively affected my life.
“So because you got sober, your life is all rainbows and unicorns, right?”
Uh, no. That is not what I am saying at all. And it doesn’t work that way. (Like, at all.) During our conversation, we discussed the idea of the “Before and After”. Everyone loves before/after shots depicting dramatic transformation, be it fitness, dramatic weight loss, or a massive makeover. (Hello Biggest Loser and My 600lb Life) The dad-bod that gets ripped, the former addict gets sober and then healthy in the after picture, and even my own before and afters with fitness and sobriety show tangible evidence of change.
We look at photos like these and two things happen. One, the person viewing them thinks, “Wow. That’s awesome.” Then privately thinks “Good for them, but that’s impossible for me.”
What fails to show up in a before and after is the truth.
The truth in the before and after comparison is that the part that no one sees is the little line that divides the two photos. THAT is where the magic of the messy middle happens. The thin line that separates pre-and post- life – that is where all the blood, sweat and soul excavation happens. In sobriety and fitness, that’s were the real work BEGINS. It’s where the lying to yourself stops and the dealing with your stuff happens. It’s hard workouts, and meal planning and no more justifications on why you ‘deserve’ a break today. It’s where we discover what we are made of, and that we can, in fact, do hard things. We can swim against the current of a culture soaked in booze. That little dividing line that no one pays much attention to, needs to be widened to reveal what it really takes to get to where you want to go. The after shot? That’s a lie, too.
There is no after.
There is no “after,” no arriving at a mysterious destination of pink cloud bliss. Thinking that “one day I will…” fill in the blank with whatever goal is on the horizon. There is no after because once you achieve that goal, it becomes, “Okay, what now?” In our conversation, we decided to not call them Before and Afters, but Before and Durings, and I love that. Before and Right now….but no after.
Another big take away was a truth that has been thrown at me in various ways over the years, but took a long time to penetrate. I first read it in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements. It was the second agreement to take nothing personally. When I began navigating social situations sans alcohol, there was a fading of some friendships. I wasn’t invited out with friends anymore…..and, it sucked. There’s a grief that happens with the loss of some friendships (more of that dividing line content). Whether it’s sobriety or fitness or some other choice – when we choose a path that we know is our next right step, some people will not join us for the journey. It’s not easy, and can be heartbreaking, but the truth discovered is that I am not responsible for other people’s reactions to my choices. Additionally, those reactions usually don’t have anything to do with me. It’s not my job to make other people okay. It’s my job to do the next right thing that brings me into integrity with who I am.
The universe (God, our conscience, that small voice inside – whatever you want to call it) nudges us in the direction we know we should go. We are really good at burying it. We numb that voice out with substances, ignore it with distractions, consumerism, endless scrolling and all the ways we stuff it down and shut it out. One of those nudgings that kept increasing in volume until I could no longer ignore it was this uneasiness with not only my drinking at the time, but also who I was versus how I was outwardly presenting. Whenever we’d have get togethers, I would come home and exhale – as if I’d been holding my breath all evening. I wasn’t showing up as myself in an authentic way. An introvert by nature, using alcohol gave me a coat of armor to be the extrovert I thought I needed to be. When I first decided to stop drinking, the people I told laughed. Seriously. They laughed in my face and thought I was joking. It ticked me off at the time, but now it makes me sort of sad. The reality was, they couldn’t see a life without alcohol. It was simply preposterous in their minds. By one simple (and difficult) choice, to no longer partake, I took one step into the direction of authenticity. Those friendships I discovered were not to be long lasting, and while it hurt, the chips had to fall where they did. Getting to acceptance of this didn’t happen over night, but it did happen, and over time, I learned that I would be okay.
This led to a chasing of authenticity that I continue to embrace. We all put on various armor to do life. For me, it was “putting on” extroversion. People do it in all manner of ways – artificial nails, make up, hair dye, fancy cars, designer labels, keeping up with the joneses – all the ways we project that the grass must somehow be greener somewhere else. As we take off the armor; lay down the booze, grieve friendships that were not meant to last (and in my case, that included no longer dying my hair and wearing makeup) we become more authentic with who we are. We continue to become who we were meant to be all along.
Stopping a destructive habit isn’t the end point. It’s just the beginning. It’s the spot where we exhale. Where we can be at peace in our own skin and excitedly ask “Okay! What’s next?”