Next month, it’ll be two years since I sat with my back against a wall in my apartment, wringing tension-filled hands I’d wrapped around my tucked-in legs. I remember crushing my spine into that off-white plaster, knowing that if I unglued myself I’d march to the kitchen and hit the bottle. I needed to stay put ‘til the urge passed, until I internalized an abrupt decision to cold-turkey sobriety.

I sat from late morning into evening and I’m glad I did.

It’s an odd position to be a sober twentysomething, though, and I find myself staring into the eyes of strangers as they leave conversational space for an explanation I don’t owe. I tend to offer a half-truth and say I stopped for health reasons unless I feel comfortable opening up. What’s of interest to me lately, though, are the reactions I get when I share that I’ve been white-knuckling for two years. Eyebrows tend to raise. “Wow,” typically precedes, “I could never do that,” or — more recently, from the mouths of alcoholics and addicts: “Why have you been doing that to yourself? That’s not a good idea.”

I found this annoying. It’s an ephemeral but rewarding high to hear reactions of awe and I’d always told myself it proves I’m kind of hardcore. A woman reading my tarot last Friday publicly yelled at me for self-flagellating, though, and I realized I’d been missing the point or at least failing to enact healthy, fulfilling changes in my day-to-day.

Sobriety isn’t a simple matter of not drinking, a mere extension of coping through avoidance. Real growth is about what you’re willing to do instead of drink. If you find yourself frustrated and your social life disintegrating, I promise it eventually becomes rewarding to figure out how you will spend your time on this floating rock without alcohol. Eventually, the sting of lost relationships fades and you direct your energy into cultivating the ones that remain and the ones yet to come.

To those who’ve continued reading — and for whom every sentence is a trigger or hint that change must come — I see you and my heart goes out to you, but I’m not here to shame you or to tell you that everything will be okay. I’m writing now because this is my second holiday season without booze and I know how much physical and psychological restraint it takes to resist temptation when an unknowing family member hands you a glass of red. If you pull back now, January will be a comparative breeze. Emotional eating will not land you in the emergency room.

Whether you’re ready or not, please don’t punish yourself on the sly. The line between self-forgiveness and discipline is thin and hazy. Remember, too, that you don’t owe anyone your story when they ask you: Why?

This is your liberation, on your terms. And you deserve to heal.

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