What Does ‘Soberista’ Mean?

This post is about what being a Soberista means. The definition of this word has changed for me since I first came across it four years ago. Back then, my outlook on being a non-drinker was a little more simplistic than it is now; this is to be expected, as in 2012 I’d only been sober for about a year, now it is almost five. Time affects how you perceive things, and time changes you on the inside – you grow in strength and wisdom as a result of dealing with challenges. You learn.

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In 2012 I was very excited to first read the word ‘Soberista’. I thought it summed up beautifully all that it is to love not drinking. Its positivity shone out, and when I saw those letters together they conveyed something to me about being proud.

In the last four years, ‘Soberista’ has developed for me in its depth of meaning. Yes, it is still an optimistic take on being alcohol-free; yes, it still has nothing to do with gritted teeth and willpower; yes, it’s a way of life, and a really good way of life at that.

But then it’s all of these things too. Being a Soberista is not simply about quitting drinking. It’s not someone who is dull and doesn’t know how to live; it’s someone who recognises what life is really about. A Soberista is a brave person who’s been able to identify alcohol as being problematic for them, and set about conquering the fucking stuff. It takes guts to take a stance and stop drinking when everyone around you is downing gallons of booze. A Soberista means being willing to walk through miles of emotional crap because there’s a tiny glimmer of light at the other end that you believe is surely better than where you are now. Being a Soberista is being brutally honest with yourself, cutting through delusions and denial and drinking lies, recognising when enough is enough. And being a Soberista means sticking up for yourself and following your heart, even when you’re faced with unsupportive and unhelpful comments.

To me, ‘Soberista’ now also denotes community. I never imagined the thousands of wonderful people all coming together like a warm cloud of friendship and love who make up the Soberistas worldwide community, when I first saw that word. Truth be known, I was a bit down on humankind back in 2012.

But not anymore. Today, ‘Soberista’ means kindness, courage, love, friendship, and, as was the case right back at the beginning, it’s all about loving a life without alcohol.

There’s No Such Thing As Superhuman

I’m sure I’ve written about this topic before. In fact, I know I have, several times. But I’m going to write about it again, and it goes along these lines: You Are Stronger Than You Think.

I was a tough kid. Nothing fazed me. I was the leader in my gang and the one who defied convention and rules without a second thought. But as I grew older and progressed from my teens to my twenties, I developed serious self-doubt and consequently spent many years trapped in a cycle of alcohol-induced Dutch courage followed swiftly by deep regret and the desire to crawl under a rock. Low self-esteem artificially, and temporarily, corrected by the fake crutch of a bottle of Pinot.

And then I quit drinking. This was the first of several hurdles in my sober life that I initially suspected I would not be able to manage successfully. How could I, the woman whose kitchen was rarely seen without a bottle or two of wine casually positioned on the side as if they’d been bought almost as an after thought, for whom a night out was not complete without drinking to the point of blacking out, possibly switch to a life that was completely alcohol-free? But I did it. It took many months of experiencing emotional pain and excruciating shyness and fear over exposing myself as a ‘problem drinker’, and what felt like an eternity of wanting to run away from myself, but in the end, I did it. And it made me feel proud.

When I returned to university aged thirty-four to study law, I was so crippled by my lack of self-confidence that I found it close to impossible to stand before my twenty classmates to deliver presentations. I clearly remember sweating and clasping my clammy hands together nervously before shuffling to the front of the room for ‘my turn’. Since I launched Soberistas just two and a half years ago, I have spoken to hundreds of people at conferences and been on live TV several times, talking in front of millions. In the beginning I was scared. The sweaty palms and fast-beating heart lassoed my self-belief and almost got the better of me. But over time, I’ve managed to rein in the irrational fear and these days my pulse barely quickens.

Recently I went away abroad for a couple of days, unintentionally by myself. This was originally meant to be a break for a friend and me, but the friend was unable, at the eleventh hour, to come along. So I decided to go it alone. I’ve learnt the value in jumping headfirst into a situation that might terrify you if you were to consider it for long enough. I didn’t ponder my predicament as a result, and only really wondered if it was going to be OK as I buckled my seatbelt on the aeroplane.

Mallorca sea

I ate on my own, hiked on my own, slept on my own, barely spoke to another human being for three days, explored on my own, worked out my travel arrangements all by myself (not easy when I was staying in a remote place in the middle of the mountains and I don’t speak the language), and sat with my feet dangling in the Mediterranean Sea on my own.

And it was fine. In fact, it was better than fine. It was brilliant: an opportunity to prove to myself what I am capable of. A chance to spend some time with me, and to filter out all the external influences that we are bombarded with every day, and which make it so difficult to just exist. A time free from worrying much at all, apart from over things like, ‘Where does this path lead?’ and ‘Have I brought enough water on this hike?’ and ‘How shall I spend the next few hours?’

Bliss.

I wouldn’t have taken that trip a few years ago. I’d have been petrified by the very thought of it, stricken with irrational fears over what might happen and all the things that could, and no doubt would, go wrong. I’d have bottled it and stayed at home drinking instead, a frightened woman with no idea of her own strength.

The thing is, is that human beings are inordinately good at adaptation. It’s what we do best – throw us into any new situation and once the early discomfort has been dealt with we get on beautifully with the revised status quo. Nothing is as scary as our wild imaginations would have us believe – including living without booze. It’s the anticipation that fixes our feet in wet concrete, rendering us too terrified to venture into unchartered waters. But if we can leap over the vacuum of not knowing, springboard ourselves with a blind and total faith that everything will work out fine, then, inevitably, it does. And we grow stronger for facing our fears.

When we push ourselves, we galvanise our sense of exactly how much we are capable of. If we don’t try, we’ll never know.

To conclude, if I ever do feel the fear, I remind myself that there is no such thing as superhuman – we are all one and the same. If one person can do something, then I damn well can as well. This philosophy is a good one to adopt if you ever find yourself struggling to taste the unknown…