I am one year sober today.
Typing that sentence feels absolutely surreal because 365 days ago, the idea of not drinking alcohol for just one week was totally unfathomable, let alone one entire year.
On April 12, 2021, I was so in the grips of alcohol addiction that I truly believed having to remove it from my life was a removal of joy, a removal of happiness, a removal of comfort. As dramatic as this sounds, it felt like a death sentence at the time.
Fast forward one year, I can say confidently that getting sober and being sober is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Brené Brown said that her sobriety is her superpower and I feel the same way about mine. Sobriety has allowed me to become the woman I have always wanted to be, but couldn’t because of alcohol and everything that it masked.
It’s my single greatest achievement, the most precious thing to me, and the reason I am as confident, happy, self-aware, and whole as I am today.
The Stigma Surrounding Substance Abuse
In this post, I’m going to tell my full history with alcohol and I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned in sobriety so far. I know some people may read this and think, “Isn’t this TMI? This is super personal. Why would she talk so openly about her struggles with addiction?”
I am sharing it because, even while over 14 million people suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder as of 2019 (that stat is pre-pandemic and doesn’t include those who don’t report) and nearly 50% of people know someone who struggles with addiction, it is still a topic that is relegated to dark rooms, hushed voices, and total secrecy.
Let’s consider these facts: 1) Alcohol is legal, 2) Alcohol is an inherently addictive substance, and 3) Unhealthy drinking is all but encouraged in our society. Just go into any Home Goods and take a peek at the mugs that say “breakfast wine” or the sign that declares “my doctor says I need glasses” with a drawing of 5 glasses of wine.
Mix those 3 facts together and it makes perfect sense that a certain portion of the population would become addicted to an addictive, widely-available substance that we all basically shove down each others’ throats.
But if you do develop unhealthy drinking patterns, words like “addiction” and “alcoholism” come into the mix, and all of a sudden a big fat stigma enters the picture. I can’t think of anything in our society (other than perhaps certain mental disorders, like schizophrenia) that is stigmatized quite like addiction.
There is a stereotype for what an alcoholic “looks like.” I’m sure we all have the picture in our head – the older woman with 5 DUIs whose drinking tore her family apart or the man under the bridge drinking from a bottle hidden with a brown paper bag.
This stereotype keeps people who are struggling in denial because they don’t “fit that picture,” a picture that is totally inaccurate to begin with. This false characterization is perpetuated by mainstream media, so no wonder it’s so pervasive.
This stereotype creates a stigma that prevents people who need help from asking for it. It is so, so harmful.
I am sharing my story because, like many others, I do not fit the stereotype.
I am a young woman, a founder of a multi-million dollar business and have been featured in Bloomberg and Forbes. I have incredibly supportive friends and family. I bought and own my 2-bedroom apartment in New York City. I have a zero on the ACE score. And I’ve struggled with alcohol addiction.
It is in secrecy where stigma & shame is born, and I want to use my platform to bring this topic into the light so the people who need help are more likely to seek it out because they are less ashamed.
And this conversation isn’t just for people with problematic drinking habits.
I think we can ALL become more aware of the role alcohol is playing in our lives. There’s nothing wrong with asking, “Is alcohol doing me more harm than good?”
How I Knew I Needed to Get Sober
The short version
The question most people ask me when I tell them I stopped drinking is, “How did you know you needed to get stop drinking? How did you know you had a problem?”
The short answer is that my symptoms for the 3 years prior to getting sober aligned with the DSM-5’s Severe Alcohol Use Disorder. My tolerance was high to the point where I really couldn’t feel drunk anymore, I drank most nights and couldn’t moderate, my work & personal life was negatively impacted, and my mental health deteriorated. I hid & lied about how much I was drinking and I manipulated those around me into believing I didn’t have a problem. My relationship with alcohol was entirely unmanageable.
(Side note – If you are questioning your relationship with alcohol and just read that, thinking “well I’m not THAT bad,” you shouldn’t wait until your house is on fire to stop a gas leak).
The long version
Looking back now and knowing what I know, my relationship with alcohol has never really been a healthy one.
2009 – 2011
I first started drinking in high school and from the moment I had my first sip, something clicked in me. I knew it immediately – Alcohol was it. It gave me the confidence that other people seemed to possess naturally. It numbed away my massive insecurities and removed my inhibitions.
My favorite part? It allowed me to deal with feelings in my then-preferred way — by doing anything to NOT feel them.
But the other thing that became clear pretty quickly is that I had no ability to moderate. Once I had two drinks, all bets were off. Maybe one day I will talk about specific situations I’ve been in because of alcohol, but suffice it to say I got myself into a variety of life-threatening and just straight-up embarrassing situations.
2011 – 2015
In college, I joined Greek life and surrounded myself with a group of people who drank pretty similarly to me (some of which are still close friends). Looking back, I know I subconsciously found people who didn’t make me question my drinking habits. That’s the thing about heavy drinkers – They surround themselves with other heavy drinkers so as to avoid looking in the mirror. Nothing makes a problematic drinker more uncomfortable than a sober person.
So in college, “party girl” was my persona. I drank, swallowed, and snorted pretty much anything that would get me out of my head and body. And listen, I’m never going to be that sober person that tells you drugs and alcohol aren’t fun. They are and they can be. (In fact, the people I relate to LEAST in sobriety are the people who choose not to drink or use drugs because they don’t like the taste or the feeling of being out of control haha!)
Some of the best times of my life have been partying. They are some of my happiest, funniest memories that I do look back on with fondness.
But also, some of the worst times of my life happened as a result of using drugs and alcohol.
Post-Graduation in NYC
Graduation came and I spent the next couple of years in New York City partying with my friends on weekends. It was around this time when I finally began to consider that maybe I wasn’t in control.
I was still 4 years away from sobriety, but I started to entertain the possibility.
I Googled “Am I an alcoholic?” a laughable number of times. (Spoiler alert: If you have to Google this, you probably are).
I ordered a popular sobriety memoir called Blackout in 2017, but like anyone with a substance use issue, I quickly decided I was “still in the clear” because in a sea of evidence that I had a problem, I found the tiniest detail that didn’t apply to me and tossed the book. I decided I was fine.
Yep, almost one decade into extremely problematic drinking, despite hundreds (and I mean do hundreds) of blackouts, countless life-threatening situations, and the complete destruction of my self-confidence, self-worth, and sense of self, I still didn’t believe I had a problem. My behavior was justified by similar behaviors of those around me, a whooping heap of self-delusion, and a society that normalizes NOT normal drinking.
Over the next couple of years from 2017 to 2019, my drinking habits gradually got worse. My family was expressing more concern. I tried moderation. I would make deals with myself to try to limit my drinking. I tried only drinking hard liquor because wine was my drink of choice. I tried only drinking on Fridays and on weekends. I tried cutting myself off at two drinks. I tried not drinking alone. None of it worked.
At the height of my delusion, I would even force myself to moderate by buying a bottle of wine right before the store closed so that I couldn’t go back. Then I would pour half of it down the drain so that I couldn’t drink more than half of a bottle. I knew if it was there, I would have zero say in drinking the rest.
I even Googled one time to see if a lock existed that I could put on a wine bottle to keep myself out of it. (Not surprisingly, this does not exist). That is how delusional I was to the abnormality of my behavior. I am a strong & smart person, but that is how little control you have in addiction. It completely takes over your rational brain.
Starting in 2019, drinking by myself became a nightly routine. The lying and hiding started. My mental and physical health suffered. You can only imagine how bad this got once the pandemic started.
I would wake up hungover daily, telling myself I wouldn’t drink that night. Then 5pm would roll around and I’d think, “What’s just one glass?” ignoring over 10 years of evidence that it would never just be one glass. Because again, rationality is out the window.
It was Groundhog day over and over and over and over again. I have a memory of sitting on my old apartment’s bathroom floor drunk and along, hitting my head and saying over and over again, “What is wrong with me? What is wrong with my brain?” It was a type of hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
My “Spiritual Moment” in 2021
This continued until February 2021. I was in Tulum, Mexico and checking out of my hotel. I had ordered 4 glasses of wine to my hotel room every night I was there because they didn’t sell bottles. When I checked out, I saw every single glass of wine on the bill. Then when I was walking away, I was called back to the desk by the guy saying, “Oh, we forgot some wine from last night. You need to sign this updated bill.”
You can justify any behavior to yourself when you’re alone in your apartment, but it was at that moment I saw my behavior reflected back at me. I was exhausted and defeated. I was beaten down. I was powerless. I was done.
This was my so-called “spiritual moment,” the moment I woke up to the truth and started to at least be willing to consider that alcohol was the problem, not the solution, and that my relationship with it had become unmanageable.
I rode back in a taxi to the airport crying and promising myself I would get help when I got home. When I got back to NYC, I found a therapist – who I still work with to this day – and weighed my options of inpatient rehab, outpatient therapy, or doing it at home with her support. I decided to do it at home and finally stopped drinking a couple months later on April 12, 2021.
One Year Sober: What the First Year Was Like
Once I quit drinking on April 12th, it wasn’t like it was all smooth sailing from there. Not even close. The first year of sobriety is a lot. It’s challenging, it’s beautiful, it’s mind-blowing, and it’s excruciating — all rolled into one. The best way I can describe the intensity of it is to say that it’s like having a 20-year mental & emotional growth spurt condensed into one year.
I’ll break down my experience for anyone who wants to know what to expect, like I did in those early days. Though, of course, everyone’s experience is different.
7 days sober
For about the first 7 days, I felt like a shell of a human being.
I was incredibly irritable and depressed because my body was going through alcohol withdrawal and my mind couldn’t comprehend or want a life without the substance. The mantra of these early days was “survive, not thrive”; the only goal was to just get through them without drinking. I relied a lot on hour-long hot baths before bed to calm down, but still my sleep was horrendous.
30 days sober
Within the first 30 days (probably somewhere in week 3), I started to feel better. I had more energy, my skin cleared up, I was sleeping better, and stubborn fat started to fall off. I read a LOT of books and listened to a lot of podcasts about sobriety. I downloaded sobriety apps to connect with a community and started following sobriety accounts on Instagram. I became obsessed with learning about the neuroscience of alcohol, which helped me tremendously to understand what was happening in my brain and to realize I wasn’t alone or weird.
60 days sober
After 60 days, I started feeling happier.
What the average drinker doesn’t know about alcohol is that it artificially raises your dopamine to incredibly high levels and, with continued, heavy use (and potentially other factors – scientists haven’t quite worked out addiction yet), can lead to addiction. It becomes the only thing that makes you happy. You become totally dopamine deficient, meaning that nothing else hits the bar like alcohol does. And even then, the pleasure you got when you first started drinking is gone. All that’s left is pain and a compulsion to keep using — this is how all addiction works. (This is similar to how social media impacts our brain, by the way).
Around 2 months in is when I started to notice my brain recalibrating a bit. Other things were making me happy again. I remember I was on a run at 8 am (which never would have happened while I was drinking) and I stopped to look around. I noticed the birds chirping, the kids playing, the heat on my skin, and the bright blue sky. I remember tearing up because I felt fully present to life around me. It was like the vibrancy and color was coming back into my life again, the color that alcohol took away.
90 days sober
After 90 days, I went to my first group dinner, my first party, and my first bar with friends. I avoided them for the first 3 months because I needed to stay sober and didn’t want to put myself into potentially triggering situations until I felt solid. In therapy, I started to dive into why I was drinking in the first place and started to heal those root causes using EMDR and somatic therapy, which I am still doing to this day.
I also began to admit to myself that the goal was not to go back to drinking. At the beginning of all of this, there was part of me that thought if I just took enough time away from drinking, that I could go back and have a healthy relationship with it. I learned to accept that this wasn’t the case for me. I started to identify with words like “addiction” and “alcoholism,” words I didn’t accept applied to me at the beginning. It’s a process and acceptance is the key to all of this.
6 months sober
At 6 months, sobriety started feeling pretty easy. I went to my first wedding, my first vacation, my first Christmas celebration, my first New Years. And let me tell you — it is ALL better sober.
One year sober
At one year, sobriety feels very normal.
I rarely think about alcohol. And when I do think about it, I am able to identify why and address that root issue to eliminate the craving. I don’t need or want alcohol to do anything, including going to parties or bars. In fact, I enjoy going out a whole lot more now because I am in control, remember everything, and always act in alignment with who I am.
I am also SO much more confident. Addiction takes a sledge hammer to your confidence because you lose all control and constantly break promises to yourself. My confidence took longer to build back (and I still have work to do on it), but it’s one of the more noticeable changes I see in myself.
What I Learned in the First Year Sober
So now, here’s a breakdown of the main things I learned in my first year sober! I can’t wait to look back on these in another year to see how my mind has expanded even more.
It’s not about the alcohol.
“Wait what? Didn’t she just spend this entire post talking about alcohol?” Yep, plot twist! When I first got sober, I thought alcohol was the only problem. I thought once I removed alcohol, everything would fall into place. This isn’t the case.
Remember earlier in the post when I said my first sip of alcohol made me feel confident, made me forget my massive insecurities, and allowed me to avoid feeling my feelings? Yeah, those issues didn’t go away. In fact, they really just compounded. And because alcohol removes your inhibitions, the things I did and that were done to me under the influence throughout the 12 years I was drinking created an array of other traumas as well.
Alcohol shielded me from facing all of those things and for awhile, it worked. Then, having to remove alcohol took away that shield and forced me to face everything I was numbing and ignoring.
The hardest thing about sobriety isn’t not drinking; it’s facing and healing all of those underlying issues. It’s also the most important part of lasting sobriety. So many people quit drinking and go back to it immediately because instead of healing those root causes, they rely on willpower to resist alcohol. Willpower exhausts the brain and it will not create lasting change.
That’s why my biggest piece of advice to anyone who wants to stop drinking is to seek out therapy and/or a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. This is where you will start the healing and forgiveness process.
“You don’t get over an addiction by stopping using. You recover by creating a new life where it is easier to not use. If you don’t create a new life, then all the factors that brought you to your addiction will catch up with you again.”
Sobriety involves a grieving process.
This is another one I didn’t expect. I experienced an enormous amount of grief in the first few months of sobriety. My entire life I had been the “party girl,” the girl who loves red wine, the fun friend that you went out & drank with. That’s who I had been since I was 16 years old. I grieved the person I’ve always been.
Plus, the ideas I had for my future also involved alcohol. I grieved the girl that would have had champagne at her wedding and red wine on vacation in Italy. No matter how much I knew I absolutely needed to leave her behind, it was really hard.
But the beautiful thing about this is that once I was done grieving, I had an opportunity to reinvent myself. I could now make a decision to be exactly who I’ve always wanted to be, but couldn’t because of alcohol.
Relationships will change.
This is an unavoidable part of getting sober, but also a really important part in order to create lasting change.
When you get and stay sober, you change drastically as a human being. Your brain is literally rewiring. You find different hobbies, you spend your time differently, you value & enjoy different things, and your goals shift.
You’ll get closer to some friends, you’ll lose connection with friends, and your romantic relationships may end. I experienced all of this.
There will also unfortunately be people that aren’t truly supportive of your sobriety, that say things like “I miss the old Christina” or “you were so much more fun when you were drinking.” Those people need to be cut out of your life to make room for new & deeper friendships with other sober people.
Those new connections have been a gift for me. I believe that people who experience addiction, get sober, and heal themselves are some of the most introspective, intelligent, interesting, and self-aware people out there. I’ve found that to be true of every single person that I’ve met in person or spoken to online in the recovery community.
I do not wish I could drink.
I get asked this all the time on Instagram – “Do you wish you could drink like a normal person?” If you asked me before I stopped drinking, my answer would have been a resounding “yes.” I literally remember thinking a few years ago that if a genie came along and granted me three wishes, that would have been one of mine.
Now? My answer is a solid “no” which, like so much of this, I did not see coming.
If I could drink like a “normal” person, it would mean I’d have a different brain and personality. My entire life, I have been a huge risk taker with an all-or-nothing mentality and a touch of non-comformity. I’ve always been incredibly resourceful with super effective communication & persuasion skills.
Those are traits with a double-edged sword that can lend themselves to a disposition to substance abuse and addiction, but they’ve also allowed me to lead an exciting, adventurous life. They also make me a great entrepreneur, business owner, and leader in general. I’d never give that up. I’d also never give up the personal growth I’ve experienced in the last year.
Plus, life feels a heck of a lot better without alcohol. Coming home at midnight from a party, doing my skincare routine, and waking up at 8 am feeling fresh while everyone else is in bed hungover until 11? Being able to go out dancing and have an amazing time, without needing alcohol to feel confident? There’s no way to describe how good that is. A sober life feels like freedom.
It is daily work.
At the beginning of all of this, my therapist told me sobriety would be daily work for the rest of my life. At the time, I hated hearing that. I didn’t want it to be a daily effort. I just wanted it to be part of who I was, no effort needed.
It turns out that she was right and, in the most surprising way, I’m glad she was. On a daily basis, I have to stick to a morning routine that includes not looking at my phone for the first hour, journaling, the AA Daily Reflections book, The Daily Stoic, and a long walk. I pay constant attention to my nervous system throughout the day. I go to therapy every week, consume a ton of sobriety content, and am constantly connected with other sober people. Most of what I do are wonderful practices for anyone, but I do them because I know that if I am not intentional and consistent about how I care for myself, I am more likely to slip.
I also have to be aware of when I’m not in a great headspace and aware of when I’m romanticizing alcohol so I can avoid being around it. I have to be aware of when I’m slipping — when I skip my morning routine for a few days, when I stop my daily walks, when I’m not calling friends as much, when I catch myself telling little white lies about random things. Those are all red flags for me.
While I am grateful for my sobriety and never wish I was a “normal drinker,” there are certainly occasional moments here & there that I am resentful of the fact that I have to be so constantly aware of myself. It’s in those times I bring myself back to the Serenity prayer and switch to an attitude of gratitude.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
What’s Next in the Second Year?
Heading into my second year of sobriety, I plan to finally work the 12-step program because of the healing the steps can bring and to be in an environment & with people who remind me of the harm alcohol caused (especially important the further I get from my last drink). I plan to continue therapy to continue healing and improving my relationship with myself. I plan to make more connections and friendships in the sober community.
More than anything though, I want to do more to break the stigma. Through experiencing addiction myself, I’ve learned that the opposite of addiction – the solution – is connection and love, not punishment and “otherness.” The way our society deals with substance abuse, addiction, and drug use is misguided, ineffective, unjust, and completely disconnected from science.
I can’t end this blog post without saying a “thank you” to my best friends, family, and ex-boyfriend who have been the best support system I could have asked for in the last year. Thank you for always answering the phone, for checking in, for being willing to listen, for telling me you are proud. I could never, ever have gotten and stayed sober without you.
I’ll wrap this up by saying, if you know you are struggling with your relationship with alcohol, I commend you. It takes an enormous amount of strength to recognize that something is wrong and want to change it, especially in our alcohol-obsessed society. Just know – You are not alone. I promise you it gets better. Seek out therapy and/or an AA meeting near you.
Cheers to another year!
Thank you for reading.