Sobriety is like a little car


Sobriety is like a little car.

Picture a light blue Ford Escort, rust on the doors.

When you first sit in your sober car, everything is new. You haven’t done this before. Pedals and signals and steering and changing gears all at once? Seems about as impossible as socializing and sleeping and having ‘fun’ without alcohol.

Which is to say that it all feels quite strange.

You remove your regular coping mechanism (booze) and you’re confused, no map, not even sure how to start the sober car let alone drive it. To top it off, you’re in Maine where it is decidedly foggy and grey, and you need to drive to San Francisco where it is sunny, warm, sober, and beachy.

(I have nothing against Maine in real life; do not send me letters.)

You set off in your sober car. It may have taken a push, jumpstart, and some fuel to get you going, but you are now on the road. All of the planning to begin is behind you. All of the dithering about whether or not to go is finished.

You are underway.

Being in your sober car requires a lot of concentration. You put your hands firmly on 10-and-2.

You have no idea where you’re going, although other people have assured you that there are good things ‘coming up’. All you can see for now is despair.

You have smartly asked a sober coach to sit alongside you. She is well dressed, nice sunglasses. She needs the sunglasses because she’s been to San Francisco and she knows what it’s like. Future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades. You admire her smile. She doesn’t look exhausted. Which is to say that she looks better than you feel.

Sober coach girl gives you tips. You only have to check your rearview mirror every few minutes, she says. Move away from Day 1, leave it behind, don’t look back so often. Keep your eyes on the road in front of you. Focus on where you’re going.

She guides you to move into the left lane to avoid an upcoming difficult situation. With a light touch on your arm she suggests that you begin to brake now, to ease up, to avoid overwhelm.

You’re doing well, she sings. I know that it seems like a lot of things to focus on at once, learning to drive this sober car, but it gets easier.

You drive.

The windshield wipers aren’t where they should be. You smack the horn when you mean to change lanes. You’re nervous. It seems like everyone has a drink in their hands except you. The voice in your head that says “drink now” has been there so long you didn’t realize it was coming from the Drink Now radio station, the one that broadcasts shit messages like “it’s time to celebrate, you deserve it, just have one, you don’t have a problem, here have another.”

You arrive in a new town, the weather is a bit better, you go through drive-thru and get a snack (homemade banana bread and coffee).

The sick and tense and headachy feeling has started to ease. The worst of panic seems to have passed for now.

You can see the sky is clear ‘over there’ and so you keep driving in that direction. You realize that you’re further away from Maine than you thought, and you trade in your Ford Escort with the rusted doors for a Volkwagon Golf, old model, but it’s in pretty good shape. The stereo is better. The Drink Now radio station is less clear, intermittently staticy.

A routine develops. The unknown hotels and pit stops now seem quaint. You see things you’ve never seen before, views you didn’t know existed. The waitress who drops off your tonic water, has a glass of wine on her tray that she’s taking to the table beside you. The smell makes you feel ill.

I used to drink that, you think.

In your sober car, you enter a tolled highway. The towns flick past, the landscape changes daily. There are other small joys. A t-shirt from the convenience store. A popsicle. When the Drink Now radio station is louder, you replace it with singing, with books on tape, with sober podcasts. You learn to change the channel. You regularly stop and get treats and t-shirts and clicky pencils and flip flops as sober treats. There is carrot cake. There is an early morning run in a strange town. New things.

Many days later, when you stop to get lunch (vegetarian tacos at a road side taco stand — made with roast potatoes instead of meat), you are startled to see someone who looks just like you.

Nice hair, looks well-put-together but something is off. Pale face. She stands beside her sober car, refusing to get in. Her coach is saying: you can try it, you might like it. Woman refuses. I want to walk to San Francisco my way, she says.

You watch.

You think: I was just like her. I walked around the outside of my sober car for SO long, refusing to get in. I wanted better things to happen in my life, but couldn’t figure out how to travel to the new place.

Watching someone else on Day 1, you realize that — for you — there will be no u-turns, there will be no more beginnings. You want to see what happens next, the city under the trees, the one coming up, around the next corner.

You’ve done plenty of drinking research. You’ve been in Maine long enough, now you want to try something different, a period of sobriety research.

(Nothing against Maine, nice people, good lobsters, it’s a metaphor. Don’t email me.)

There is a day, sooner than you think, when the Drink Now radio station is far out of reach, and there is barely a signal. You’re on a straight road, a flat patch of land, silent prairies. Great Plains. Land so flat you can watch your dog run away for three days. Views and sunsets and things you haven’t seen in a long time, if ever. How long were you in Maine, dreaming of getting out. Now you’re here. Holy. You’re actually doing it. On your way.

You can finally drive and drink coffee at the same time. You can socialize with a glass of tonic in your hand. Driving doesn’t take as much concentration as it used to. That first part is shitty. And then it isn’t.

In a better town, the lunch counter serves tiramisu in small glass dishes. It is made without alcohol. The cake is soaked in coffee. You sigh with relief.

You upgrade your car. Blue Volvo station wagon. The one you’ve wanted forever.

It all seems possible.

tired of thinking about drinking:

anonymous support to quit drinking


I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • Belle, this is brilliant and just what I needed on day 5 of my sober journey…You have simply been an inspiration I am just about to finish your month 2 you kindly emailed. It’s like you get it when no one else in my life does. I have tried for the past 2 years and I do not wish to say failed (as I am on a particular high today) on numerous occasions-yes just 1 drink, moderate drinking, drinking with others, drinking just with husband, just with dinner no it does not work like that in my (our) world and I am so so grateful to you and Catherine Grey who told me about you! I realised it’s not about the time of day who you drink with etc its how we drink and why (childhood) I am scared of the future , the ‘bad’ days that I keep harping on about but right now in this moment of time, IT IS ALL GOOD! So glad I found you!

  • I LOVE the imagery of the car, the road, the treats along the way, etc. Finding new ways to deal with difficult feelings has been one of the big challenges of sobriety for me so far (on day 96). I have been finding that visualization is a helpful tool and I would like to use it more intentionally and more often. I will definitely be adding this car imagery to my “bag of tricks” 🙂

  • Great analogy Belle! I love what you say and how you say it. I’m 8 days sober and it’s been really easy – not one craving even though my husband drinks every day. The last time I was sober was for six months two years ago because I was on medication, so not the same thing as taking the decision not to drink (perhaps it’s just early days and Wolfie will arrive any minute but I don’t think so). So it can be done, and it can be easy – deciding to be sober doesn’t have to cause pain and suffering and white-knuckle gritting of teeth. It was just the right time. I had three go’s at Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking and succeeded on the third try while reading his book because I finally got it. I finally got the revelation that the “benefits” of cigarettes (and now read alcohol) were a paper tiger, a lie, and once I got the revelation the house of craving and need and false enjoyment I had constructed around myself just fell into dust and blew away on the wind. Just my two pennies worth… xx

  • Thank you for your book and your posts and blogs. What you say makes perfect sense to me, I love the Wolfie concept. Yesterday was day 2 for me, on the way home from a friends house he kept saying “you have been sober for a day, see how easy it is to stop drinking? Go ahead and get a bottle of gin, you’ve just proved that you can quit!” What BS! I haven’t been sober for more than 6 days in a row in the last 10 years! I CAN’T stop when ever I want, it’s time to start the journey and keep on the path. So I came home, had dinner, a half hour later Wolfie was gone.

    Today I begin day 3, it’s amazing how wonderful I feel. I went out to my garden and cut fresh flowers to put all over my house, a reminder how wonderful and beautiful life can be. I am truly looking forward to this journey, for me it’s like a vacation, I’m excited and looking forward to new experiences and perspectives.
    Thank you Belle.

  • Just wanted to stop lurking and write something. I am on day 4. I always struggle with day 4. Went shopping with my son having stayed at home for days 1-3 to avoid temptation. Managed to buy healthy ish foods in the supermarket, including a diet ginger beer (alcohol free) for the evening cravings. I don’t usually have a sweet tooth but that’s probably because all the wine I was consuming was satisfying that need without me realising it. I have to watch the extra sugar from my sobriety attempts as it plays havoc with my hormones and then I get really crappy PMS which can send me back to the bottle to cope.
    Anyway, did the food shop then realised we were both hungry and it’s holiday time so why not pop in to the cheap chain pub for dinner, something I usually did with my son to legitimately have some wine ‘with dinner’, which usually then entailed calling in at the corner shop on the way home to fetch more wine.
    I can’t tell you how hard it was, being in that pub and seeing all those different types of alcohol on display. I was fascinated by all the different bottles of temptation. Usually I wouldn’t even notice them, just order my cider or wine. I scoured the drinks menu for an appealing soft option, considered the alcohol free beer but then decided that I didn’t need anything that tasted remotely like alcohol or it would tempt me to stray. I ordered an orange flavoured sparkling water. It came in a nice glass with ice and a slice. It felt quite grown up, but it wasn’t wine. I was incredibly tetchy and grumpy throughout dinner. My poor young son getting my bad mood, but I didn’t touch any alcohol.
    When we got home I mentioned to him that mummy was trying not to drink wine and that’s why I was a bit grumpy, but I was doing it to be healthier. He said he’d noticed that I hadn’t been drinking it. He’s 7. He’s a very emotionally intelligent 7 year old. He lives with me most of the time so has lived my ups and downs. For him and for me, I got through day 4.
    I know this isn’t related to the car analogy (I don’t drive so have to change the vehicle to a train or something!!) but it was the first time I saw there was an option to comment. I went on a bit, oops…..

  • Well, I’m on Day 41 and I’ve done a total of 8 years sobriety – 5 years sobre in my late 30’s then 3 years of sobriety, 20 years later (I’m now in my late 60’s) and I can honestly say that the smell of wine has never, ever made me feel ill. I love the smell, the taste and the effect. That first glass, if it’s a decent wine is delicious and, if it’s not, the taste is mitigated by the hit! So, although I’m so happy to not be drinking for all the reasons others have shared, and to not be thinking of drinking all the time, I know why I have loved drinking. I also know that I never want to start again! Pat

  • Hi
    I’m on day 10
    I’ve been in that car before , but I got out too soon !!
    This time I’m going to travel a lot further

  • I got in the car (again) today and it is all the things you described. Scary, confusing, a little exciting. I’m so glad I’ve found this community. I know this time I will make it to Inverness.

  • This message is timeless. And timely. And worth the time to read. Day 35 and feeling alive for the “dry”ve!

  • Thank you for the wonderful dose of inspiration and guidance. I’m on Day 4 of maybe my fourth or fifth try in the past year or so. I was 7 weeks sober and feeling so free but was doing it completely alone which means one day I picked up a drink. The cycles then started getting exponentially worse (quicker fall into heavy drinking, shorter periods of sobriety). I know the path I’m on because of all the beautiful women who have shared their stories and bared their souls. There is no question that I must figure out this little car and drive the whole way. Thank you for your guidance.

    • Bought myself a matchbox car…carry it with me. Couldn’t figure out how to post a picture of it…but I like it. The other day I pulled it out of my purse while people were getting drinks. There was a seven-year-old girl there who was immediately captivated by the little Matchbox car. She and I had a long discussion about Matchbox cars, as she had one in her pocket as well. Although hers was not a sobriety car LOL. But it got me through that point where people were asking about drinks! Yay Sobriety car!

      • Louise, what an awesome visual of you and the little girl! My kids are grown now and I miss so much being in the moment playing while other people attended to grown up things! 😉 And I have always loved engaging kids whenever I see them. Good for you! I’m so happy you made that effort and got such a sweet unexpected effect!

        I’ll enjoy getting a matchbox car for myself. Maybe I’ll ask my 15-year-old son to help me pick one out and tell him that it’s my sobriety car. I’ve never told anyone about my desire for sobriety because then they would know I have a problem and might be disappointed in me if I fail (thereby holding me accountable) and maybe someday I could moderate so they don’t need to know (I no longer believe this)… My son is such a wise and supportive soul. If I tell him, he will unflaggingly cheer me on and I can’t bear the thought of disappointing him so… there, I guess that’s my plan. I am scared but truly committed so that’s my plan. Thank you, Louise, for the inspiration. Hugs, Shelly

  • Belle! Your cool car analogy made me think of my own, while in my car today. I was driving home and there was nothing good on the radio and I didn’t have my MP3 player with me. I turned it off. All of a sudden the quiet was overwhelming, and I thought drinking is sort of like a car radio. Sometimes it’s playimg something decent, mostly not, but it just feels so weird to turn it off altogether, and then your mind starts hopping all over, if you’re anything like me…

  • I love this metaphor. It made me think about how I use my hazard perception skills to avoid danger related to alcohol and keep on my discovery journey into alcohol free life.

  • I have family in Plymouth. Happy to be on the road of sobriety and outta there! Day 46 for me. Last drink on March 18, 2018. Feeling momentum through gritted teeth.

  • I loved this post. I am on Day 6 and feeling very comfortable in my new car. Over the last 5 years I have fallen out of that car (feels more like throwing myself out of a moving vehicle to be honest) too many times to count, usually around Day 3. And my knuckles were white on the steering wheel. It’s easy for those false starts to feel like failures but I think they have been necessary to get me here and ready. Also, one of the differences this time is that I committed to 100 Days, not forever. It takes a bit of pressure off. My head couldn’t cope with forever, so I would go through this process where I would think of all the events where I would want a glass of wine, you know, my son’s wedding, even though he is a teenager and doesn’t even have a girlfriend…and I would think well, I can’t do this so I may as well have a drink now (it was a much longer and exhausting internal debate than that though). 100 Days is doable and exciting. Will I drink after that? Probably not, but I’m not telling my brain that at the moment.

  • What a great metaphor! Today is day 2 for me and I am going to keep that in my mind. Been able to do just under 30 days before but the obsession was the goal at the end – the day I could drink again. I am repeating to myself over and over – everything I read says it’s better, life will be better. Trust that. Hold on to that. Move/ drive to that. I want to see that.

  • Wonderful post as always, I completely recognised the girl who refused to get into her sober car and wanted to get to San Francisco her own way…..that has been me for 20 years. Thank goodness I have seen the light and am in my car, on my way 5 days out of Maine and steadfastedly focused on my journey to ‘Frisco
    Thanks for the support and posts – makes the journey so much more enjoyable and bearable

  • Day 9 – read your book…. listened to the audios . Day 2 and 3 were my worst. Went out walking yesterday. My husband joining me to support ( no booze ). However I almost resent him asking 20 questions about this site…. I need something that’s ‘just for me ‘. I can’t and won’t share this. Selfish me. I can’t be as open with him. It’s like I need a personal exclusive safe place. I’ve discovered alternative drinks and recognise my witchy hours are 6-8.30 pm. My future challenge will be returning to work in 3 days…. I used to drink as I got through the door to bed…

  • I’m on day 7. My little car is in gear and moving forward. The radio station is still playing–but I’m immersed in my own thoughts for the future and can barely hear it. The first few days on the road went slowly, due to a nagging headache, but I put on my sunglasses and I’m feeling much better now! I’m excited to see San Francisco! Just not Napa Valley–been there, done that! I’ve been stewing (aka thinking about drinking) for at least 3 years. I did a 30 about 4 years ago and barely made it. This time is different…headed to at least 100 days and we’ll see from there–but I’m thinking my drinking days are over. I’m taking one leg of the journey at a time.

  • Ughhhh!!!!…I’m really struggling to get in. I want desperately to get out of Maine and on the road to sunny San Fran. But my mind takes over and I just can’t commit to the journey. So sad about who I have become…

  • OK, I have just done two x dummy runs of 4 and 5 days in the last two weeks, whilst reading Allen Carr and Tired of thinking about drinking and Heya Monster and others. And I know now is the time.It was my birthday yesterday and I had two glasses of wine – the least I have ever drunk on my birthday in my life. Today, when the kids have gone to bed I want to do the affirmation in the Easyway – but even that is makign me think I am just doing it to have that very last drink…. Iand I know that I felt amazing botht of those 4/5 day periods when I didn’t drink. I am ready for day 1 tomorrow but I am scared, please wish me luck

    • I’m reading this sept 17 2017. I hope u are many days in ur sober car. I’ve been in for 20 days. Going to just get in and drive. Trusting the road leads me to the life I always dreamed I’d have alcohol free. Getting sidetracked by rear view mirror. It’s a bitch living with regrets.

  • Loved the metaphor of the car and navigating everything differently! I made it through day one and I know its sounds dumb but I am pretty proud of myself! There were a couple of moments where my thoughts were saying “oh you can just start tomorrow” a travel day isn’t a good day to start anyway… While we were at the airport the lady that was checking us in said,” You are free to use the lounge area” My immediate thoughts were “Oh great now my partner is going to want to get a beer and I would really love a glass of wine…” So I was toggling “Maybe I should just start tomorrow… travel days are the best day to start anyway… who will know…” I started trying to figure out what I would say or how I could get out of going so I could keep true to my goals… and then when we got up there the ladies at the register checking people in said,” Oh I am sorry only two can go in.” and as there were three of us this was my out! I said oh you guys just go in I’ll go look in the shops and get some coffee! Thanks Universe I say! Then as we are sitting in the gate my partner comes up to me and says “look at all these drink vouchers I didn’t know i had…” and again my mind starts spinning “should i just drink and start tomorrow, he knows that I said I wasn’t going to drink but as I never stick to this he probably doesn’t think I will this time either..” I just smile and say that’s great! Then on the plane the flight attendants are coming buy with beverages and he says to me “are you drinking anything” and I say “no i’m not i’ll just have tea” hearing myself say this was such a huge relief. Its so funny just feeling okay enough to take care of myself, to do what feels good to me and being able to verbalize this takes such a big weight off of me. I wonder if thats why I carry a few extra it for all the stuff I am stuffing and not saying? maybe its not the diet or the food I eat maybe its all the emotions weighing me down… well food for thought. Thanks for the opportunity to post and get my thoughts out there I don’t usually do stuff like this that is being vulnerable in an online community and even though it feels scary to me it also feels very freeing. xo