Five ways to win in early sobriety

Since getting sober, I've often been asked how. The answer is not always welcome, because 3 months into sobriety I began attending recovery meetings. And that tends to freak people out.

Recovery meetings sound...cult-ish. In early sobriety, I couldn't enter a friend's house without the formal pat down: absolutely zero pentagrams were allowed on the premises, nor were the severed heads of goats. If I began chanting, I was asked to leave. Can't be too careful.

I understand the skepticism. At recovery meetings, new people are typically brutally attacked. No, there aren’t technically any shovels or pitchforks, but there is a veritable onslaught of attention, empathy, and helpfulness. As an introvert, I’d take pitchforks over the welcome committee any day.

If you can tolerate the cheeriness, the tips really are helpful. Most of us recall early sobriety quite vividly, so we remember exactly how we made it through - what we ate for breakfast, what movies we watched, and who we reached out to. When a new person walks through the door and is clearly struggling, we can’t help ourselves: "CAPTAIN CRUNCH!" "THE BIG LEBOWSKI!" "MY EX-BOYFRIEND!"

We just want the newcomer to stick around, after all.

That being said, recovery meetings are not the only way to get sober. And they were not my only way, either. I frequently have to stop myself from giving tips - mostly because tip-giving is consistently inferior to experience-sharing. But that doesn't mean I don't have 'em. I got tips for days.

Without further ado, here's a list of five ways to win in early sobriety:

1. Find a community.

If meetings aren't your thing, they don't need to be. But you would benefit form finding at least one other person (ideally more than one) with the same goal. Join a meetup group, recruit a friend or family member, scour the dark web. Self-reliance is perfect for picking cereal, and not much else.

There are all kinds of valid social-sciency reasons that social support facilitates the change process. People yammer on about accountability, but I tend to think it has more to do with loneliness. It's lonely to do the hardest thing ever alone. I also think there's something distinctly woo-woo about social support; god (or if you prefer, the universe; or if you prefer, not you ) presents him/it/not yourself best through other people.

2. Stop texting your ex-boyfriends.

Especially if you drank with them. Especially if the relationship was facilitated by alcohol.

When I first stopped drinking, I felt really guilty. I knew that my exes bore the brunt of my alcoholic behavior. Within a month of getting sober, I wanted to text them all and apologize profusely, perhaps even demonstrate the extensive wisdom I'd gleaned over the course of four weeks.

If I was going to stay sober, I needed to be finished once and for all with that hazy, guilty feeling - constantly apologetic, constantly unsure, constantly seeking emotional safety in another person.

My dramatic (but usefully dramatic) self came to understand texting an ex as a "relapse." A bit much, maybe, but you can't go somewhere new with old behavior.

3. Read sobriety memoirs.

Or listen to them on Audible, if reading actual books puts you to sleep.

In early sobriety, it was really important that I read the stories of other people in recovery. Whenever I began to doubt that I was really an alcoholic, I'd read a passage that I could have written myself. Oh. Right.

The best sobriety memoir is Drinking: A Love Story. I wish I could say "in my opinion," but I'm afraid I mean this objectively. Caroline Knapp spoke precisely to my experience. It was impossible to read that book and not believe that I too am an alcoholic. It's exactly what I needed. In fact, I first tried to read it while still drinking, and it gave me a sick pit in my stomach; right then and there, I saw my drinking career die an early death.

Other good (but not as good) sobriety memoirs are: Drinking to Distraction (by Jenna Hollenstein), A Happier Hour (by Rebecca Weller), High Bottom (by Tammy Roth), Unwasted by Sacha Scoblic, Smashed (Koren Zailckas), and Girl Walks Out of a Bar (Lisa Smith).

4. Take trips.

Now, I'm not usually the biggest fan of leaving my house. I've been burned before. Anyone who "loves to travel" gets a hard pass from me, and I've never swiped right on anyone who described themselves as "adventurous." Please.

Perhaps what I mean is: change your environment. Occasionally. Prove to yourself that you can not drink in places other than the comfort of your own home. In the first year of sobriety, I toured Wisconsin, flew to Puerto Rico (twice), road tripped to Arkansas, and visited friends and family in DC, Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, and Colorado. It was all a little harder because I wasn’t drinking. It was all possible sober. Turns out, when drinking is no longer an option, I get creative.

5. Write stuff down.

Mom, dad, you're lucky I found this one.

People with kids take pictures of their kids when they're still cute. Kids who grow up and can't find any pictures of themselves wonder whether their parents really loved them. So let's start with that.

In early sobriety, you are birthing a brand-new baby. Record her first steps. Write down her first words. She's not going to be cute forever, and she might not even really be cute right now. But one thing is for sure: soon she'll be demanding La Croix on tap and a progressively early bed time, and you'll be missing the girl who was just happy to be sober.

I journaled nearly every day in early sobriety, and I love looking back at my "firsts." It's called the "pink cloud" because you can look at yourself for the first time. And if you squint your eyes, she's pretty cute.