My Sobriety Required These Sacrifices
What are you willing to give up to overcome your addictions?
I’ve overcome two huge addictions: drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Neither of these substances was easy to quit.
The unfortunate reality is that in both cases, I had to make serious sacrifices to avoid a relapse.
I faced many hard decisions when I quit drinking at the end of 2016. I often had to ask myself how far I was willing to go to protect my sobriety. Then, I wrestled with similar decisions three years later when I quit smoking.
The clearest example of this comes from that latter experience, so although I normally focus on my alcoholism in this letter, I want to start this edition by looking back on how I quit smoking.
I had been a pack-a-day smoker for well over a decade, and so had my best friend. Both of us had tried to quit countless times, but we never had any long-lasting success.
I hate to admit it, but the truth is that when it came to smoking, we dragged each other down. We both smoked way more cigarettes than usual while hanging out with each other, and we were both guilty of ruining each other’s quit attempts.
A couple of years after I got sober, I decided that I was going to take quitting smoking more seriously. I told myself that if I could quit drinking alcohol, I could lay down the cigarettes for good too.
I told my friend about my decision, and to his credit, he was incredibly supportive. I think that he could tell that I really meant it this time around in a way that I never had before.
We used to go hiking together nearly every day, and our trips always followed the same pattern. We’d each smoke a cigarette in the parking lot, then we’d walk around a trail, then we’d smoke another cigarette before leaving.
Once I decided to quit, my friend stopped smoking around me altogether. We continued to go on our hikes, but neither of us would smoke before or after. He even made sure to put on fresh clothes beforehand so I wouldn’t smell the cigarettes on him.
The trouble was, this still wasn’t enough. Just seeing him each day was enough to trigger my cravings. I’d end up begging him for a cigarette before and after each walk. When he said no, I’d get angry at him. (Which was ridiculous of me but sadly unsurprising—I was not a nice person when trying to quit smoking.)
Then, even though I didn’t actually smoke with my friend, I’d end up buying a pack of cigarettes on the drive home. I’d always tell myself that I’d just smoke one and throw the rest away or stop by my friend’s house and give them to him.
Sometimes, that’s really what happened. But, then, I’d buy another pack, and another, and eventually, I’d be back to smoking.
This went on for a couple of years, but at the time I couldn’t piece together what was happening (or maybe I was just in denial). I thought that I needed to use different nicotine patches, stop using patches altogether, or maybe just get in a better mindset. The truth was that the number one thing killing my quit attempts was simply going for hikes with my friend.
Finally, after literally a year or two of going back and forth trying to quit, I admitted to myself that there was just no way I’d ever stay off cigarettes if I kept hanging out with my best friend every day. Despite the fact that he had done everything right and was totally supportive, he was still my single biggest smoking trigger.
So, I made the incredibly hard decision to stop hanging out with him. This really wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t have a ton of friends at the time, and our daily walks were an important part of my life. They made me happier, they helped me with sobriety, and I know that he enjoyed them too.
It was a tough judgment call. I gave up something that was good for me in many ways. But, I was finally being honest enough with myself to admit that it was the only way I would ever really quit smoking.
Sure enough, it worked. I stopped smoking for good. I haven’t had a cigarette (or any nicotine for that matter) in over two and a half years.
I’ve focused on quitting smoking in the account above, but getting sober required similarly hard decisions that led to even bigger disruptions in my life: The end of a relationship. Quitting a job that I had worked incredibly hard to get. Moving back in with my parents at the age of 30.
None of these decisions were easy. In certain ways, each one had a major negative impact on my life. And, I certainly felt like a complete loser by the end of that first year without alcohol.
However, in each case, I realized that without these changes, I wouldn’t have been able to stay sober. I couldn’t have stayed sober while in an awful relationship, while working the most stressful job of my life, or while living in a new city with no support system.
Here’s the simple, hard truth: Life isn’t fair, and neither is addiction. To overcome my alcoholism, I had to make real sacrifices that hurt me in real ways.
I wasn’t in a position where I could get everything that I wanted, so I had to ask myself what was truly most important to me. Trying to make my relationship work, or quitting drinking? Sticking with my high-stress job, or quitting drinking? Maintaining independence from my parents, or quitting drinking?
In each case, I chose quitting drinking, and I am incredibly grateful that I did. To me, sobriety was simply the most important thing for me to focus on because I knew that if I kept drinking as I had been, it would eventually be the death of me.
When I think of my alcoholism in those stark, honest terms—as a struggle between life and death—the hard decisions always become much easier.
I want to end with a note of optimism. As hard as it was to quit drinking, when I now look back with over half a decade of sobriety, I can see that all those sacrifices were easily worth it. They ultimately led to a far better life than I had as a drinker.
Sometimes, the hard decisions even had unintended benefits. If you’re wondering what ever happened with my best friend, that story has a happy ending. Inspired by my success, he actually ended up quitting smoking just a month after I did. We were able to go back to our daily walks, this time around with neither of us smoking.