What It’s Really Like to Be In Your 20s and 4 Years Sober

Read what it's really like to be young and sober from this 20-something who's been sober for 4 years.

In November 2017, I had my fourth anniversary of sobriety. When I truly think about it — what my life was like then and what it is like now — I am brought to my knees in awe.

Before my last drink, my main deterrent from quitting drinking was that I couldn’t fathom my life without alcohol. In New York City, where I lived, that’s what people did to socialize and what I did to wind down after a long day at work.

I couldn’t imagine dating or going to parties or sitting on the couch watching a movie without drinking.

Those first years were the hardest

The beauty of the 12-step groups is that in the beginning I just had to show up. Don’t drink and show up to meetings. Then slowly, over time, I found a sponsor and worked through the 12 steps with her. It’s one of those things where you don’t have to understand the process for the process to work — a recipe passed down from person to person that just has to be followed to start seeing the promises.

I was lucky enough to be in a big city so I would wake up on weekend mornings feeling refreshed (instead of my usual hungover and not enough sleep) and would go on solo-adventures. I would go to morning yoga and visit museums. I would eat a donut from a fancy donut shop with my coffee on Saturdays (figuring I was saving so many calories from not drinking)!

I managed to still go to bars with friends — club soda and lime for me, please! But would generally head home pretty early once everyone else started getting that glassy-eyed look. I found that I was still able to have a good time until 9 or 10 p.m. — and nothing good happened after that, anyway.

A better use of my time

I needed something to occupy my time in the evenings. I used to come home from work, go to yoga, and then come home and have a few beers while I cooked dinner. By the time I was done with dinner, the beers were lulling me to sleep. Without that, I found that I had a lot more energy in the evenings.

I began teaching myself calligraphy. Instead of grabbing a beer out of the fridge at night, I’d grab my pen and ink, and I’d practice. The rhythmic nature was a meditative practice for me, which helped relieve some of the anxiety that I was once drowning out with Sam Adams.

Over time, my calligraphy hobby turned into my calligraphy business. The trust that I had learned to have in my higher power to relieve me from my need to drink was the only way that I had enough faith to take the leap.

As I gained more clarity, I was able to see that the life I had built in New York was not heading in a direction that I wanted to go. Through some discernment I decided to move to Los Angeles to be closer to my family on the West Coast. The anxiety of a move across the country without a job lined up was so overwhelming.

I threw myself into the 12-step programs in LA and quickly made a group of girlfriends. They took my hand and walked me through so many hard steps. They held me when the panic attacks were so much that I crumpled to the floor. They said, “it will get better.”

And eventually it did. It got so much better.

Life today is full and joyous

One of my favorite promises is, “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” This is not only true in regards to drinking, but in almost every aspect of my life. It’s not that my life is now void of any suffering or difficulty. But now, I am able to deal with the moments of hardship rather than try to escape it.

In a key developmental stage — that of leaving home and managing my own life, paying the rent, getting myself to and from classes, making my own schedule, making big decisions about the future — I chose to drink to cover up the feelings of anxiety, the depression, the fear that I felt. So as I grew and things just got harder, that was my primary coping mechanism. Being sober is literally relearning how to cope with everyday life.

On the flip side, I am also able to savor the joyful moments.

Drinking wasn’t just a way to stuff down the uncomfortable feelings, the hardships, the anxiety, the things that rushed through my body and that I wanted to not feel. It was also a way to celebrate! Attending a wedding? Let’s drink! New job? Let’s drink! Friend in town? Let’s drink!

I have now done so many things that, previously, I couldn’t fathom. I have gone to weddings and had a great time, without drinking. It was amazing to be able to be of service to the others having a good time. I went to my grandfather’s funeral without drinking; it was hard and sad to feel the grief of his death. I have gone on countless dates without drinking, been to parties, gone on vacations to foreign lands, given talks in front of large audiences.

I have been amazed at all the things I have been able to do in the past four years — even without alcohol in my life.

One day at a time

The thing about sobriety is that it has to be a one-day-at-a-time thing. What I have today could easily be gone tomorrow. It is only a daily reprieve so I have to choose to continue on the journey every single day. It is sort of like a shower — I cannot take a shower today and still be clean in two days. I take daily showers, and I must tend to daily practices to keep my mind in check.

This past New Year’s Eve, I remembered how I used to wonder if that holiday would ever be fun without drinking. I remember in my first year of sobriety wishing that I could have a champagne glass like everyone else.

But these past few years have been different in that my desire to drink has totally been lifted. I no longer desire that tingly feeling as the first sip goes down. I love to have all my senses intact and be able to make all decisions of the night with a clear mind.

I am finding more and more that there is a presence in being fully present for every single moment. And there is no regret the next morning.

Now, my life seems normal

Today it feels as though I am like every other 29-year-old woman. I am running my own business, and there never seems to be enough hours in a day. I struggle to ever do my laundry and hate grocery shopping. I hang out with my friends and love yoga. Health insurance and paying bills overwhelm me. I struggle with expectations and juggling my personal life and my work. Life is always happening and it is my choice if I want to be a part of it.

It just keeps getting better.

I am constantly dreaming of bigger goals and possibilities. My higher power is a God of so many surprises and, at least just for today, I say, “I am here.”
A quote graphic by Be A Heart Design that reads, "My higher power is a God of so many surprises and, at least for today, I say, 'I am here.'"

Be in the know with Grotto