My sobriety date is January 24th, 2016. It could have been two years earlier.
In late August of 2014, I went for about a month without drinking alcohol. I even attended a couple recovery meetings. Less than two weeks after my 21st birthday, I woke up in the middle of the night and said aloud to my boyfriend at the time, “Are you awake?”
“I think I need to stop drinking.”
I can’t remember how he responded; I can only remember how I felt. It was loss. It was a sense that the thing which had been helping me through life, providing fun and relief and a semblance of community, was going away. On one hand, sharing this intention with my boyfriend was dangerous; what if he held me to it? On the other hand, in that moment, the feeling was too heavy not to share. I wanted to offload it. I wanted to grieve. Maybe I even wanted him to contradict me: “You really think you couldn’t just cut down?” If my memory serves, he didn’t try to.
The first time I quit was unlike the second. I was still in college, and felt as if I had very little control over my life, my surroundings. It was impossible to control where and when I would encounter alcohol. It was not so easy to buy a book or find a new show on Netflix and shut the world out. Even if I created a brand new workout plan and just focused on my fitness goals, I was still seeing the people I used to drink with in the gym and in the cafeteria. I turned off my push notifications on weekends to avoid seeing invitations to drink. The barrier between me and alcohol was as paper-thin as the walls of my college dorm. The world felt too close.
I lasted for about a month, maybe six weeks. I cut out alcohol and sweets concurrently (do not recommend), and had daily headaches from sugar withdrawal. But, when I ultimately picked up again, it wasn’t because I felt like bad physically. It wasn’t because I was lonely, either. When I sat in recovery meetings at the time, I told myself I couldn’t relate - and so I couldn’t. I simply wasn’t done drinking.
Undeniably, the right environment helps. When I quit (for good, I hope) about two years later, my world was more conducive to recovery. I lived in my own one-bedroom apartment, I had a couple of friends I could spend time with sober, and I had the opportunity to meet new people who had never seen me drunk. My job was easy and stable. No one was looking at me, and I could choose not to look at them, either.
If you’re physically or even just psychologically addicted to alcohol, quitting drinking will always be a learning curve. Even if your external environment is beautifully conducive to change - and I would advise going out of your way to make sure that this is the case - it takes a while to find your footing in an unfamiliar internal landscape. Your brain is like a studio apartment. Even if it's surprisingly nice in there, there's still nowhere to hide.
In short, the reason it didn’t “stick” the first time was not because external conditions were bad. It was because internally, I just wasn’t there yet. I was a skeptic, I was lonely, and I hadn't yet bottomed out. It would have taken a lot more conviction (or fear) to fight the uphill battle posed by my college environment.
Do I regret going back out? Do I wish I had nearly 5 years of sobriety, rather than just over 3? Of course not. My brain doesn’t really permit thoughts like that. Many of the experiences I had between October 2014 - January 2016 just provided further evidence, ammunition: Yes, things are getting worse. No, drinking will never be like it was in the beginning. God willing, I’ve now collected enough evidence to last a lifetime.