Before I decided to stop drinking, I spent so much money and headspace trying to find my zest, my spark, my “special something” held hostage in an old version of myself.
Although I got different kinds of advice about what I should or shouldn’t do from the people in my life, no one questioned my drinking at the time. But I knew I was dancing around the real issue. By cultural standards, my drinking habit was nothing to worry about, which is perhaps why I silently struggled in the gray area for so long. But when I quit alcohol, a fascinating domino effect of positive shifts naturally followed suit. My husband noticed my light turn back on and, after a while, I felt it too.
I asked several other contributors for specific ways they noticed their spark return after they quit drinking. Most people describe a new crystal clear lens on life. But sobriety also creates more time, space, and energy to live into our authentic selves.
In our culture, a sober lifestyle is by no means easy. Bad days still exist and struggles are still real. But there are payoffs. Here are nine surprising and almost accidental ways you’ll find that your spark reignites when you stop drinking.
1. Accept the full spectrum of the human experience.
Social media platforms are designed to sell our attention, and before I quit drinking, these networks had mine captive. Sobriety gifted me the awareness that scrolling was making me feel itchy and anxious. The influencer’s outfit of the day made me feel drab. The boss babe’s latest accomplishments made me feel lazy. So I quit social for a minute. I created distance from what works for other people so I could zoom in on what works for me. And I learned that my version of a good life is not always Instagrammable. It’s messy, tangled, and never camera-ready.
Halie Devlin, the founder of Embodied Recovery Community, says it beautifully. “In many ways, it feels as though my life didn’t truly begin until I got sober. Recovery has granted me the gift of being alive in this world rather than numb to it. To have the capacity to feel the full spectrum of what it is to be human—in all its beautiful complexity and messiness—without needing to fix, fight, or run, is the ultimate superpower.”
2. Reassess your career path and prioritize your values.
If you had told me six years ago that I would be homeschooling my daughter, selling my art, and writing freelance, I would have choked on my beer while I laughed in your face. Before I stopped drinking, I was trying so hard to be successful that I lost sight of the vision I had for my life. My numbing with chaos and busyness was the next layer that sobriety peeled off. I reassessed what matters most to me and found family culture, creative expression, and the spirit of adventure at the top of my list. I had to do less, slow down, and ask for help. I needed some breathing room, so I could realign my trajectory.
Content and Sobriety Expert at Tempest, Irina Gonzalez, had a similar experience. “After I quit drinking, I did what I never thought I’d be able to do: devote my life to my writing. Before getting sober, I was a journalist but working more as an editor and in social media, and not really writing the kinds of things I wanted to write. But getting sober allowed me to embrace a new kind of vulnerability that has led to my biggest growth as a writer for the last six years.”
3. Actually start doing things on your bucket list.
I made so many plans when I was drinking. So many plans that even as I spoke them out loud, I bored myself. I was aware of my inability to follow through. I planned to revisit Charleston, my old stomping grounds. I planned to hike the coast of Spain. I planned a girl’s spa weekend with my far-flung friends. I planned to host a storytelling club and house concert. None of it ever materialized.
But here I am, one year sober, and I actually booked a trip I have been planning for a decade. In April, my husband and I will spend our anniversary hiking in Havasu Falls. The permits for this hike are the main source of income for the Havasupai tribe and are only released once a year. To pull off this excursion, you have to be serious and plan ahead. When our permits were finally secured, I cried happy tears, relieved tears, and almost disbelieving tears that I had the courage to stop talking about living and start doing it. Nothing feels better.
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4. Look back so you can move forward.
I mentally rejected motherhood early on for fear of disappearing into obscurity. My sober lifestyle allowed me to start facing the shame I carried from my daughter’s first years and the birth trauma that kept me from bonding deeply with her. Sobriety was the surrender that allowed me to stop Googling and seek out real parenting help, which ultimately allowed me to settle into my most important work. My children have revealed my own inner-child wounds, taught me which edges I need to soften, and pointed to all the places I need to loosen my grip.
Tracy Murphy, a member of the sober community, shares another retrospective insight. “I can look back now and see that I was keeping my life small. In the smallness of my life, I was also creating a swirl of manufactured importance that allowed me to ignore the daily boredom I felt. This looked like working all of the time to put out ‘fires’ that weren’t really burning. I can see now that this manufactured importance was twofold: it kept me in a state of distress that ‘earned’ me drinks and it kept me from seeing how restricted I felt in my life. I no longer have to manufacture importance in my life because my life is so big and beautiful now that anything manufactured feels puny.”
5. Take care of your underlying health issues.
I live with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that convinces my immune system to attack my gut lining. Drinking, hangovers, and second-day hangovers made me far less diligent with my gluten-free diet than I need to be to feel good. My sober lifestyle has created more space to do my own research, find nutritional deficiencies, and other food sensitivities. The gut is considered the second brain and hosts 90% of serotonin production. So taking care of my body was also taking care of my mental health. My brain fog lifted and my depression eased up.
Michelle Yang, mental health advocate and writer, chose a sober lifestyle as a pre-emptive strike to support her mental health, a radical act of self-care in a culture that teaches us to self-medicate. She shares, “Every doctor I’ve ever had advocated a sober lifestyle for me. From undergraduate school, through my MBA, and into the advertising world, the culture was ‘work hard, play hard, and if I didn’t partake in drinking and the happy hours, it was easy to feel excluded. Though I never had more than 1 or 2 drinks, it would throw off my sleep or trigger anxiety. Because I live with Bipolar 1, this risk was just not worth it. I had to put my health before my career and my desire to fit in. So being able to stand firm and say I don’t drink without making excuses is part of my journey of becoming stronger, more self-actualized.”
6. Find your strengths and take up space as your authentic self.
After I quit drinking, my therapist challenged me to write a list of accomplishments or character strengths that make me feel proud. I dodged the task for months because even the asking of it made me squirmy. As an echoist, I struggle with being confident in my strengths for fear that I come across as narcissistic, attention-seeking, or just plain arrogant. But acknowledging my strengths is an important facet of knowing who I am. And in doing so, I can confidently move away from my false self, which left me feeling drained and empty and live into my true self, my sparked self.
Life coach and mindset mentor, Amanda Kudu illuminates a perspective shift she experienced a couple of years into her alcohol-free lifestyle. “I’d been so certain that I’d taken on drinking as an adolescent in order to fit in. When I took a closer look, I started drinking because I was afraid of standing out. I didn’t know how to shine and show up as my mystical, magical self. What better tool do we have to dull ourselves down than alcohol? As a result of being alcohol-free, I’ve been able to step into my authenticity and show up as the unique being I was born to be. The feeling is tremendously liberating and also gives me a competitive edge that cannot be matched. In a culture that is filled with people trying to ‘fit in’ standing out is an act of bravery.”
7. Recognize your limits and stop trying to be all the things.
I want to be on the TEDx stage and write a book. I want to be an emotionally available mother and be a fun, spontaneous wife. I want to go to grad school, visit all the countries, start a podcast, speak Spanish, and be an expert harmonica player. I want to take the trash bag out of the can before it rips again and buy more sparkling water before I grab the last cold one. I want to have a beautifully decorated home and a porch free of debris. And I want to make it all look easy.
Some women can do all the things in high heels and still be a loving presence to the people around them. I am not that woman. It feels good to finally acknowledge that I have limits, and if I ever want a chance at a fulfilling life, I have to accept it or learn to delegate. Either way, my priorities have to be organized. By doing so, I can be present in the life that is happening, trust the timing of the life that is not here yet, and let each boundary intentionally push me in the direction I most want to go.
8. Become more spiritually connected.
While spirituality is by no means a necessary path in recovery, it’s something that has been comforting to me. But before I gave up drinking, spiritual discipline was far beyond my reach. Some Sundays I would make it to church hungover but most Sundays I slept in and spent the rest of the waking hours babbling about how church is a formality or how I find God in nature. I wanted a spiritual life, but I didn’t want to be associated with all the ways the Western church gets the Bible twisted.
My holier-than-thou attitude created a lot of false starts in my spiritual journey. Acknowledging my inability to moderate my drinking helped me grasp counterintuitive wisdom. Richard Rohr describes the similarities in Christian theology and sobriety in Breathing Under Water, “We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it.” I can now clearly see God’s timing in my story. I found a church community that is rich in diversity—economic, racial, ability—and doesn’t shy away from social issues and hard topics. And through contemplative prayer, I allow myself to come out from hiding and receive love—the ultimate healer—from God, from others, and from myself.
9. Play more often and find small joys.
Before sobriety, I missed all the good stuff. You know all that stuff that happens right in front of your face while your head is in the clouds? That stuff. When I quit drinking, I also quit sitting on the sidelines. I first noticed this shift on a walk with my daughters. They stopped to roll down a big hill, dead grass clinging to their fleece jackets, laughing the whole way. I stood there watching for a minute, then layed on the ground and started rolling and laughing with them. For too long, I had been a spectator of fun, worrying about getting my hair wet. Now, I dive in.
Writer Jacqui Hathaway Levin found joy by dusting off her creative confidence to fully express herself. “Eventually, drinking took away my ability to write, dance, and choreograph. But getting sober brought clarity to my creative side. It’s been one of the most profound joys in my life so far. Sobriety helped me find my authentic writing voice. I’m confident in what I have to say. And I don’t need anything outside of myself to take me further because I’m interesting enough as I am.”
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Confucius said, “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” Sobriety has opened the door to my one life. And I’m so glad I walked through. That door has opened for countless others and can also open for you.