On the morning of January 1, 2017, I sat on the living room floor, slightly suffocating from the previous night’s long-sleeve sequin dress that required too much energy to remove. My phone laid face-down to hide the glow of incoming text messages I was too anxious to read. I wasn’t sure what Champagne and Vodka were capable of saying, and I didn’t want to know.
I finally flipped it over, scanned the senders and found one missing a name.
“Happy new year!! How is your first day of 2017?” It was a text from a dating app match who I had not yet met.
“Happy new year! It’s great except I lost all of my belongings on the dance floor last night and am kind of dying of a hangover.”
“Haha fortunately I haven’t felt that way in a couple years.” Wait, he doesn’t drink? A slew of subconscious assumptions were quickly made, and I wasn’t sure which was one to choose.
- He’s no fun.
- He’s super religious.
- He’s a health freak who can’t handle carbs.
“He’s a recovering alcoholic” entered the list but was quickly dismissed as I recalled photos of a cute, young guy traveling abroad and smiling with groups of equally cute friends. That can’t be it.
The number was saved as Sober John.
Coffee Shop Meetup – January 2017
A week later, at 7:30 am, I slowly walked towards Metropolis coffee shop, clutching my umbrella and wondering if I could request a literal rain check. Not only was it one of my earliest first dates, it was also the most sober. I was scared my nerves would render me a mute without wine, and that my anxiety would be debilitating without beer to self-medicate.
When he sat down across from me, I assumed his sobriety would be a topic of conversation, but between marathon running, Crossfit, and what we really want to do with our lives, it never came up. In fact, within one cup of coffee I had completely forgotten.
Upon arriving at work, I actually skipped down the hallway, and it wasn’t just from too much caffeine. When coworkers asked me how coffee went, I answered, “It’s like he’s so happy that it makes you happy. I think maybe he doesn’t drink because he’s just high on life.”
On December 10, 2014 he woke up with a dull hangover and a familiar feeling of guilt and shame. Remorse was felt for things he remembered and fear over the things he couldn’t. Alcohol had become a part of his identity, one that allowed him to be social and made him feel powerful. However, it had also become the part that was a social liability, knew no limits and led to 10 years of apologies that became diluted over time.
On that morning he knew he was at the end of his rope. He knew he couldn’t go on being known to friends as Drunk John.
Coffee Shop Meetup – January 2018
At 8:30am last week I quickly walked towards Metropolis coffee shop, waving towards my friend who stood at the entrance.
“Good morning!” I said, quickly giving him a side hug. He seemed as naturally happy as our last coffee, and somewhere over the past year, between first date to becoming friends, I started to see why.
- I watched his friendliness extend to everyone at weekend Crossfit workouts
- I witnessed his Instagram profile filled with adventures, from kayaking in Thailand to hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa
- I saw that alcohol didn’t hold him back and that sobriety seemed to drive him forward
Without him knowing, I began to question my own drinking habits that included nightly wine to relax, weekend beers to have fun and an uneasiness without them that I was too scared to face. Meanwhile, without knowing his full story, I became mildly jealous of his ability to live life so freely and shame that I wasn’t doing the same. Why couldn’t I be Sober Annie?
Becoming Sober John
“It was the easiest, hardest decision I’ve ever made,” said John, sitting across from me at a long, wooden coffee shop table. We were finally discussing the reason behind his sobriety which ended up being the one reason scratched off my list.
“’One was too many, and a thousand wasn’t enough.’ That’s my favorite quote,” said John of his alcohol consumption. “I do everything obsessively, to the extreme.” In many aspects of his life this is a good thing, including Ironman races and a well-worn passport. However, as the drinking increased, so did the consequences, which led to the morning John decided it was enough. That first sober day in December 2014 turned into 1,140 more – and thousands more reasons to keep going.
The Benefits of Sober Living
Despite the disclaimer in social situations and inevitable assumptions that are often made, the advantages of sobriety have outweighed a desire to drink and introduced a new, healthier way of life.
1. Being present
In the absence of alcohol, John has found mental clarity. “It forces you to be present in every decision you make,” he said. “You no longer have that crutch. And the sooner you realize that, the more you’re able to live outside your comfort zone.”
2. Building self-awareness
“In sobriety, you’re forced to be comfortable with yourself,” John explained. “Either you can isolate yourself or you can be comfortable with yourself and positively influence those around you.”
3. Creating space for good stuff
From running the Chicago Marathon each year for a Children’s Hospital to 7-day hikes, John now has more time for things that matter to him. “You run out of excuses to not to do certain things – and to do certain things,” he said. “It creates a lot of space for good stuff in life.”
4. Connecting in other ways
Learning how to set a volleyball and practicing photography with John have shown me that fun can be found without liquid courage. “I would rather play volleyball or grab coffee instead of attempt to engage with friends in the middle of a bar,” he added.
5. Being a better version of yourself for others
Some of John’s favorite moments include officiating his sister’s wedding, being co-godfather to his nephew and being best man in his best friend’s wedding. “I’m able to be a better version of myself for people,” he said. “And I think most importantly, I’m able to be intentional. It’s just genuine; not filled with bullshit.”
Advice for Those Struggling with Addiction or Drinking
“What would you say to someone who is struggling with drinking?” I was partially asking for readers who face addictions and partially for myself, who pours a glass of wine just to write, read or fold laundry.
1. Make a decision
“Be confrontational with yourself and talk to others,” John said. “So many people just yo-yo and try to find a healthy relationship with something they’ve never had a healthy relationship with.” I thought back to my attempts at Dry January and wine-free Whole 30. “I tried the ‘I’m only drinking beer,’” he said. “And I managed to drink 30+ beers.”
Instead of reaching for an IPA to deal with the day, John suggests meditation. “It’s the single most difficult thing,” he said. “Attempting to keep your mind quiet is hard, but it’s important and something I try to practice.”
3. Give thanks
“Create a gratitude list at the end of the day: 3 things that went well, and 3 things that could have gone better.” John recommended buying The 5-Minute Journal to track them each day. “We’re all good at focusing on our flaws and shortcomings, but if you do that every day, you’re changing the way you deal with things. We can rewire the way we think.”
When I returned to the office after coffee, I quickly ordered The 5-Minute Journal. And a few days later, as I made the final edits to this article, I knew the first thing I was thankful for from the day. It was the thing that made me feel less alone and could help others feel the same.
Completing the story about John.
Not Drunk John, not Sober John… just John.