By Vanessa Royle

Celebrating Three Years Sober

Three years ago, I quit drinking. 

I cut out alcohol to curb my growing anxiety during COVID and never looked back. The reality was more nuanced, but you can read more about that here

I’m thankful that as I was coming to terms with my sobriety, a movement was picking up steam. When I first quit, I was peppered with questions like, “Why don’t you drink?” “Are you pregnant? “Are you an alcoholic?” With awareness growing around mental health and wellness, and the rise of NA options like Tilden, more and more I’m hearing responses like, “Oh, I’m trying to cut back too,” or “my daughter also doesn’t drink…good for you!”. I did have one person tell me the other day that my life without alcohol must be so boring, but I digress. On the whole, it feels like folks are catching onto the idea that you don’t have to drink to be part of social society, and you don’t have to have a diagnosed “problem” to decide that alcohol isn’t serving you anymore. 

As I reflect on the last few years (!), here are a few things I’ve learned about the world and how I operate within it:

  • Alcohol is everywhere and elevated NA options are not. You don’t notice how ubiquitous alcohol is until you’re the one getting giddy over the free Sprite in the ‘Designated Driver’ section at a concert or turning down a glass of champagne at a 10 am hair appointment. 
  • I’m not as alone as I thought. I started going to therapy in undergrad and did everything in my power to hide this fact. I would lie about where I was going, wear a nondescript hoodie on the bus, and turn the other way if I recognized someone on the street of my therapist’s office. Little did I know that I wasn’t the only one. Fast forward to business school where I’d regularly recount therapy appointments to new acquaintances and openly discuss mental health with professors. I’m so thankful that discussing mental health has been normal and even welcomed. The same is now happening about drinking. Owning the fact that I don’t drink has allowed me to connect with people in my past and present and open up in a way I hadn’t been able to before. 
  • I’ve built social confidence. I started drinking at the end of high school, so for nearly 12 years, I had some form of alcoholic beverage in-hand as I built my social circles and networked with colleagues. As an outgoing introvert, alcohol was a great asset for getting me to loosen up and show more of my personality. So much so that I viewed myself as a social butterfly. Wrong. Without alcohol, I’ve had to consciously push myself to be social, converse with strangers, and get out of my safe bubble. 
  • I live for my weeks, not my weekends. I used to plan every week around my Fridays and Saturdays—my moments to dispel the stressors of the week and let loose. This often led to days-long hangovers that spilled into the next week and started the cycle all over again. Now, I focus on what I can do to relax and have fun during my weeks, whether that’s hiking with a friend before I log on for the day or trying a new restaurant after work. I don’t plan my life around hangovers or prevent myself from doing something because it’s a “school night”. When you don’t drink, the mornings are fine. 
  • People can be judgy (and I should know). I’ve learned to brush aside snide comments, obnoxious questions, and rude judgments over the years. If someone is actively making a point to put me down for not drinking, it’s because they have something of their own going on. I realize that whatever they’re reacting to has nothing to do with my choice to not join them for a round of tequila shots. I know because I used to be that person (projection is real, and so is karma!).
  • It’s okay to mourn. Going out to bars and restaurants and sipping on sparkling water or a sugary mocktail can feel lackluster. I sometimes feel sad to be missing out on the warm buzz from a well-crafted alcoholic cocktail or a glass of wine. But I've learned something important: I can own that the loss is real, while also owning the benefits of the tradeoff I've made. The upside is just as real, and that feeling of waking up clear-headed sans hangxiety, for me, is worth it.
  • Not every activity is for me. As a kid, my favorite things were playing sports, reading books for hours on end, and fighting with my sister over who got to play The Sims on our shared family computer. After college, my interests shifted toward events centered around alcohol: bar hopping, clubbing, wine tasting, sloshball, etc. Quitting drinking at 29 in the midst of a pandemic, I reconnected with what I love to do: being active by playing pickleball and ice skating with friends, reading and socializing around it (my book club went virtual during COVID and we’re still going strong!), and planning game nights with great food and drink.

Three years have flown by and I’m enormously grateful to have quit drinking when I did. Some of the best memories of my life—earning my MBA, starting and growing Tilden with Mariah (which truly wouldn’t have happened for obvious reasons), and getting married to my best friend—were made even more special because of my sobriety. 

Cheers to three years (with a warmed up glass of Tandem, of course!).