I've Been Sober For My Entire 20s, And These Are The 5 Things I've Learned

by Abbey Finch
Sam Hurd Photography

My adolescence was riddled with substance abuse and insanity. I got sober at 19, thinking my life was over. Little did I know I was in store for a much more powerful ride by not drinking or drugging.

Being sober, I've made plenty of terrible, impulsive, typical 20-something decisions.

I've spent too much money, ate too much candy (my dentist would agree) and I've made some horrific dating choices.

I've acted like a total asshole at times.  But I've also learned a lot, maybe some different lessons than my drinking counterparts have.

Here's what I've learned being 100% sober for my entire twenties.

1. Appropriate coping mechanisms are everything.

Life's rough. Backstabbing besties, daily existential crises, money woes, and a revolving door of heartbreaks. Plus, the daily stress of just trying to live.  

Instead of turning to the bottle, I had to learn appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with life's ups and downs. I meditate, exercise, eat pretty healthy and talk about my problems with trusted confidantes instead.

I had to learn appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with life's ups and downs

Therapy is similarly fabulous. I also have fulfilling hobbies and activities — volunteer work is a great way to feel better because I'm focusing my attention on solving someone else's problems and not obsessing about my own misfortunes. 

It really puts shit in perspective.

2. How to spot a waste of time.

It's so much easier to realize how fucked up a relationship is when you've got a clear mind. It's easy to start a romance in a drunken haze and then realize six-months later you don't even like the person.

In sobriety, I give people a couple dates to woo me and if I'm not digging it, I move on immediately. I can also make clear-headed decisions about whether I want to sleep with a person or not.

3. Be picky about friends.

There's a big difference between actual friendships and having a group of drinking buddies. Since I wasn't drinking, I had to be super choosy about who I was spending my time with.

My gal pals are people that I not only enjoy spending time with, but that are similarly ambitious and proactive. They're positive influences on me.

4. Short-term hard work is worth the long-term rewards.

I freed up a lot of time not being drunk and not being hungover. I've had what seems like boundless energy to put my work towards more fulfilling endeavors and achieving professional goals.

I moved up in my career, started a business and I'm 5 weeks away from finishing a Master's degree. I've been tackling super ambitious projects like a writing a book and pursuing a long-desired career in journalism.

I've learned that I can give up temporary fun and pleasure for some serious long-term benefits. So, I missed out on a few clubs and pub crawls. That's definitely not something I will care about in 10 years.

5. Have zero tolerance for intolerable situations.

When a relationship is a drain, whether it be romantic or otherwise, I've gained insight on when it's time to move on.

If a job isn't working out, I look for new opportunities. If I'm in a rut, I make moves to change it.

By having to experience every thought and emotion sober, I've become super intuitive about when something isn't working.

And since I'm not dulling those emotions with any substances, it's gives me more incentive to leave behind a person or situation that is causing me distress.

Here's the disclaimer: these aren't universal truths and they aren't everyone's experience. Not everyone needs to be completely sobes 100% of the time.

But, if you're hitting a wall in life career-wise, family-wise or relationship-wise, maybe it's time to step back and examine how much time you spend at the bar.

Are booze and illicit substances holding you back from realizing your full potential? Do you use drugs and alcohol as a regular escape or coping mechanism when you could be making moves to change your life?

Maybe it's worth stepping a step back from boozy brunches and Wino Wednesdays and see where there is room for self-improvement.

Often we use alcohol and drugs to numb feelings and make our lives seem better than they actually are. 

Without the bottle, maybe you can discover some interesting truths about yourself — and do what you need to do to change the stuff that isn't working. 

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, have more questions or are looking for help, click here for additional resources.