This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.
I’ve been sober for a year and nine months. The app I use to monitor my progress says today is my 685th alcohol-free day – that’s 16,440 hours, or 986,400 minutes.
I don’t know what to do with these numbers, exactly, I’m just happy I was determined enough to make this decision for myself. It feels like I’ve started a new life. Everything is different: how I feel, how I work, how I go out and, conspicuously, how I date.
Giving up alcohol was the easy part. Giving up unhealthy habits and relationships I formed while I was drinking was the hardest. But now, I don't wake up feeling guilty because I drank, having told myself I wanted to take a break. I don’t wake up and try to remember what I did, who I talked to or who I kissed. It’s an extremely liberating feeling.
The app monitoring Claudia's sobriety.
I don't know how other people do it, but, for me, quitting drinking wasn't an impulsive decision. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friend Ileana, who told me she was worried about me and that I had to do something about it. Eventually, I realised she wasn't trying to shame me – she was right.
On a Saturday in July of 2019, at noon, I opened up to Ileana about my alcohol misuse while drinking a beer. My stress levels increased as she told me about an addiction clinic, before asking if I wanted her to schedule an appointment for me. I asked for another beer.
It took me a little longer to accept I was an alcoholic. I met my therapist on a Friday and, a few days later – while, once again, drinking a beer – I decided I would stop the next day.
From then on I didn’t touch booze, but I started eating a lot, and gained six kilos in the first month. When you’re addicted to alcohol, drugs or food, it doesn’t necessarily mean you love those substances, it can also mean you just don’t love yourself.
Without the drink I slowly started to get to know the real me, and tried to learn to accept myself for who I am. Still, over those first six months, I was a zombie: the only things keeping me in touch with reality were my friends and my work. Breaking up with alcohol was as painful as breaking up with a lover. Previously, whenever it came to negotiating with my worries or fears, I’d turned to alcohol – and there are moments when these negotiations happen much more regularly than I’d like. It’s been hard to stay positive, or even neutral.
After I gave up alcohol I started going out more often, because I was too anxious to stay home. I couldn’t stand being alone. But getting to know myself better helped me figure out where those fears came from, and to set boundaries. The Roman philosopher Seneca said we suffer more in our imagination than in reality. I think he was right – when you start fighting your demons, you realise they aren’t as fierce as you imagined.
During those first six months, I also went on my first sober date. I had mixed feelings about it, but now I’m glad I can date without drinking. Dating sober is so much better: what you see is what you get. Maybe emotions distort reality sometimes, but not as badly as alcohol does. If a date is boring, I know it’s not because I’m sober. It’s normal for dates to be boring at times; you can’t always have fireworks.
Some guys I went out with reacted pretty weirdly when I told them I wasn’t drinking. One date ended the moment I ordered a non-alcoholic beer. Another time, a guy came to talk to me in a club at 2AM. He noticed I was talking normally and that I was very relaxed, so he checked my bottle and saw I was drinking non-alcoholic beer. He turned around and left.
I understand. They have insecurities I’m very familiar with, and everyone reacts the way they do in that moment. I don’t mind – I like that I can filter those guys out so quickly now.
The first time I had sex sober, I was very self-conscious – which is a shame, but it’s the best I could do at the time. Some things came naturally, others didn’t, but the guy was too wasted to realise. The cool thing was that, when he asked me if I wanted to go to his place, I consciously made the decision. Maybe it sounds crazy – I know you should always be fully cognisant when you decide to sleep with someone, but for me it was new.
Almost two years into my sobriety, I’ve learnt I can’t blame alcohol for everything. Booze shielded me from facing my real issues and destroyed my ability to take care of myself. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand that, if something went wrong in a relationship, it wasn’t necessarily my fault. Now I can.
Yes, there are people who still doubt I can have fun without drinking, but I don’t need to convince them. I don’t get bored if I don’t drink, and I’m actually bored less often since getting sober. I feel better. If you think quitting can change your life, too, I can only encourage you to try. You might understand something important about yourself.