On Finding New Happiness in Sobriety
A few days ago, I got up at five in the morning; I chucked my yoga mat in my bag, stuck on a podcast, and headed down to the park. At sunrise, I laid out my mat by the pond, where the first ducklings of the year were fluffering around and the sun was bright but wasn’t quite warm yet, and did some yoga. It was peaceful, quiet, that special little corner of time and space where the world belongs just to you. I thought about my mum, who sends me yoga practices to do after my runs; I thought about the smell of the crocuses and bluebells and how excited I am for summer to come into full bloom. I lay there for about half an hour, watching the sun rise, and realised that I’d been sober from alcohol for five years.
I don’t think I really figured out how much of a problem I had with alcohol until I was a good way in to being sober. It took me a long time for it to really click how I was treating it in my life – as this delivery system for small pockets of happiness, spaced out amongst general drudgery. Feeling bad? Drink! It’s fine, no need to think about the fact that this has gone from being a social lubricant to being a happiness lubricant to just being your only direct track to happiness.
It wasn’t until I stopped and cut off that route to happiness (or, at least, what I thought was happiness) that I realised how much alcohol had been propping up in my life. It honestly was kind of a shock; I was never an alcoholic, never physically dependent on alcohol, but I’d become dependent on it for relaxation, relief, comfort. I was living my life for the next chance I had to drink, and they were coming closer and closer together and becoming heavier and heavier in the process.
And the reason I realised how long I’d been sober then, as I sat by the pond and did something nice for myself, is that I could never have imagined doing something like this when I was drinking. When you find your happiness in substances, or one specific person or thing or time, you kind of forget how to cultivate happiness elsewhere in your life. Why would I bother with that? If I wasn’t happy now, if I was sad or hurt or anxious or depressed, I could just wait till I got drunk again. Consistent comfort didn’t feel like something I needed, because I had it in a bottle – when I wasn’t drinking, I could think about when I would again, how much I would have, what I would drink when I did. That felt close enough to happiness for a while that I couldn’t tell the difference.
And yeah, taking that away was fucking hard. It feels like tearing away the one supporting beam to your well-being, and it sucks. I was better for not drinking – less destructive, impulsive – but not happier for it, not for a while.
Not until I started finding ways to seed happiness throughout my life in smaller ways. No, I wasn’t going to get blind drunk and detach from reality completely, but I could, I guess, make cookies? I could start crafting again? I could start going for walks more and brushing my fingers over the blossoms in the trees like I did when I was a kid? I guess I could.
When I stopped relying on this one specific thing for happiness, I had to find it elsewhere. And, when you start looking for it, and when you start building it in to the fabric of your life in a way that doesn’t hurt you (as drinking did for me), there’s a lot of it. I started finding it, and I kept finding more – little corners that I would never have thought of unless I’d had to consider how I was going to be happy without drinking. I found I like mornings, sunshine, ducks (a lot of ducks, actually), yoga, the smell of dew on grass. I found myself down by the pond, happy.
If you’re early in your sobriety journey, I want to tell you this, and I want you to know that I mean it, even if it sounds like a platitude: it does get better. It gets so, so much better, even if you slip up, even if you struggle with it, even if five years sounds impossible, even if five minutes does. When your happiness expands beyond the confines of a bottle or a glass, your life becomes so, so much more full of it than it ever could while you were drinking. I hope you find your own sunrise by the pond soon.
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