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One Year.

I passed a year sober on Nov. 13, 2022, and wrote this to reflect on the year that had just ended. 


In two days, I’ll mark a year since I quit drinking. I’d debated saying anything, mostly because it’s not something I love talking about. But if sharing this helps even one person who’s feeling like I was a year ago, it will make it worthwhile. And if anyone is wondering whether you can share this with someone else - don’t worry about asking, you absolutely can. We’re all in this thing together. Warning: it’s a very long, very tough read. Here goes…. 





I spent the night of my son’s third birthday in detox. I passed the time with rotating bouts of crying and praying and promising myself that I’d get right, whatever that even meant. But if nothing else was accomplished during that dark night of the soul, I did make a deal with myself - that no matter what, I was never going back there. I already knew how it felt to ruin events or have my behavior hanging over how they were remembered because I was drinking, but this was different. I was so alone, and so acutely aware of where I was and why. And in every direction I looked, with other people there for whatever their reasons might have been, I just kept thinking, “This isn’t who I am.”


This isn’t who I am. Sigh. I probably had said some version of this to myself fifty times over the two or so years that led up to my son’s birthday. I’d always felt like the troubling fact of my drinking was an outlier to the actual person I was, that I was a flawed but mostly decent guy and “Hey, who isn’t, amirite?” But being in that stark room on what should have been a night for celebrating had an effect of flattening the two versions of me into one official version who was impossible to ignore, and who there just wasn’t any hiding from anymore. I hated that person so fucking much, I can’t even tell you. I wanted more than anything to be a good dad and husband, the kind that most people probably assumed I was. But good dads and husbands don’t spend their son’s birthday in detox. They just don’t. 


And so I made the deal - more of a promise, really - that has gotten me through the last year. I’d tried to quit or lessen the amount I drank several times, but always found myself right back where I started, only a little weaker than the time before. And this time would only be different in one major way - this time, I was going to really, truly fight for myself, and I wasn’t ever going to stop. I’d tried guilt, I’d tried bargaining, I’d tried “forgiving” myself (lol) - nope, nope, and nope. My own confidence in my ability to “win” in any lasting sense was nonexistent. I didn’t have a whole lot to lose by giving it every fucking thing I had. And if I truly was never going back there, that’s what I was going to do.


If that sounds intense, that’s because it was. My dad, no stranger to hard conversations, would reliably deliver truths that were probably harder for him to say than they were for me to hear, which is saying something. One thing he said was so all-encompassing that I even saved it in a note in my phone: “Ty, I will never give up on you, but your wife is tired. It’s not too late to save everything, but it’s close. I know you can beat it, and I’ll do anything I can to help you, but I need you to fight.”


I won’t belabor the process that got me through; what worked for me might not have worked for everyone. The short version is that I took a leave of absence from work, lucked into a tremendous therapist who will receive a Christmas card until my kids have kids, and put my full energy and attention into getting and staying sober. I went to lots of therapy sessions and prayed more than I ever had in my whole life, staying in my own bed at night but putting most of my daylight hours into the task in front of me. Rather than approaching it as me giving something up, I tried to think of it in terms of reclaiming something that was mine and had been taken from me - my pride, my future, my talents, a hundred other things. I didn’t make any excuses or concessions that didn’t require that I quit drinking entirely. Every morning, my first Wordle guess was SOBER, which has never been the correct answer, and I know this because it’s been my first word for 363 mornings in a row. (I’m going to be so stoked when it finally is.)


First I got through the holidays (kinda like fighting Bowser in the first level of Mario, but okay), and then got through 60 days (kind of a magic number psychologically). Then I got through traveling (hard because drinking in airports is fun), followed by summer (hard because drinking in boats and at weddings/concerts is fun), and then one day, without me even really noticing, I kinda just stopped thinking about alcohol. The “pull,” which is a very real thing, had just sort of vanished. I live in my own head a lot, and slowly over the last year, drinking stopped being a topic of conversation in my internal monologue. I’m not healed and I’m not done fighting, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about myself either.


Crucially, neither does my wife. I don’t even know where to start with my feelings about Erin after all of this. All I ever wanted to do as I worked on myself over this year was give her the partnership we signed up for, to make good on her never giving up on me even when she probably wanted to. She didn’t have any reason to believe this effort would be any more successful than the half-dozen other times I said “I think I’ve got it figured out.” There were times when our house wasn’t all that pleasant of a place to be, even if it took me way too long to really see it. 


Truly, I would have been content for her to merely acknowledge that I was a better version of myself than before; she also would have been totally justified if her mindset was, “You’re doing great, but the damage has kinda been done.” So when I began to sense that not only was she incredibly proud of me, but also was beginning to let go of some of the hurt and anger and tension from when I was at my most unreachable, it was like we were suddenly living in a totally different house. She endured a lot, and it was impossible for her to be her easy-going self when she was conditioned to worry about me. There isn’t a worse feeling than knowing that you’re snuffing out the joy and hope from someone you love so much, and some part of me will be merrily making it up to her until we’re old and gray. But to know we’re clawing back what we lost, and that she’s happy, cheesy, life-loving Erin again…let’s just say, not only do I have my life back, so does she. She’d carried that sense of dread around her neck and shoulders like a sandbag, and that’s gone now. So in a very real way, we also have our marriage back. The feeling of knowing we could have lost every single bit of it - our bond and our happiness and our future together - but that we both fought like hell to keep it is its own reward. And I guess if I’m making it up to her forever, at least that means we’ve had the good fortune of making it that long.


In terms of what I’ve gotten back on a personal level, goodness, it’s a long list. My life is just better in every area that matters, from my career to my sleep quality to just the peace of knowing I’m not white-knuckling it through life at all times. Living a lie is fucking exhausting, and beating back a problem that’s always had you over a barrel is satisfying in a way that few things are. It definitely leads to a lot of inner “if I can do that, why not do this?” conversations. I’m more creative and ambitious than I’ve ever been in my life, and I also feel more confident in everything that I make - this new hubris could definitely be misguided, but even if it’s misplaced, it’s a confidence that was only conspicuous before for its absence. My brain just works better, if that makes sense, and without spending any of my time drunk/hungover/sneaking around/crippled with guilt, my brain’s had a lot of time to run wild and do its thing. I honestly didn’t know what I was missing.


I also feel the effects of knowing that I’m not hiding this terrible secret, a shame that used to infect every conversation, every relationship, every single day. The shame that makes you lie to people you love and shrink away from your life. That ghost doesn’t haunt my house anymore. As a result, it feels like the outlook within our home is pretty damn sunny - not perfect, not without other stressors, but this one factor isn't there to gum up the works. 


The surprise I never saw coming is that at no point did I truly think I’d be “happy” as a non-drinker; I assumed that even if I got sober and stayed that way, I’d still feel that little tinge of punishment, like the benefits were incidental to the pain of withholding something I enjoyed. I’d be happier in the general, macro sense, but moment to moment, I’d be at least uncomfortable and at most hostile to the whole endeavor. But though it took a few months to notice, and though I might miss seasonal beers or Old Fashioneds from time to time, I just like myself so much better this way. I can actually LIVE with myself this way. I try not to fight too often with regret, and I have lots of fond memories that involve drinking. I still tell those stories, and I always will. My friends and family can and do drink around me. I truly don’t care - this is Wisconsin, after all. But that part of my life is in a past that’s gonna stay there.


For anyone who might read this and be where I was when I started the climb, I’ll just say this: asking for help is incredibly difficult, but most of what happens after that is probably less stressful than you think it will be. What I mean by that is, if you’re worried what people in your life will think, believe me, the people who care about you most will ONLY be supportive. Your friends might not know what to say or do around you right away, but they’ll still be your friends and you’ll all figure it out eventually. Saying out loud that you’re suffering is so hard, but it is also freeing, and no one who cares about you wants you to suffer alone. 


You will also be shocked by the people in your life who have struggled in the same way or know someone who is. It’s isolating to face this stuff on your own, so it’s a good thing you really aren’t alone at all - literally everyone you know has experienced this in some way. Even if you feel alone, you are in so much more close company than you could ever know. You’ll likely even begin to have people coming out the woodwork with olive branches, because anyone who’s made it out the other side wants to help other people get there too. It’s kinda beautiful, to be honest. Gotta do the hard stuff first, though, to get to the beautiful stuff.


If there’s one thing I think back on and I guess you could say is a takeaway of some sort, it’s that very, very few people knew how much I was struggling, and I’m telling you, I was fucking miserable. Yes, I was dealing with a pretty textbook drinking problem, but I also was in agony on the inside with such guilt over what I was permitting to happen to my own life (and to Erin’s and my kids’ lives as a result). Virtually no one knew it. And that’s just the thing, we have no idea what people are going through most of the time, and it can be easy to make assumptions about people or think that they’ve got everything figured out. But it’s not hard to be kind, or to give people room to be wrong sometimes and just allow them a little grace anyway. The least we can do is meet people with a little compassion, even if it’s just a general graciousness toward the people in your life. They might really need it. 


A year ago, I didn’t know what to do to get myself better, so I just gave it everything I had. I leaned heavily on a lot of people who probably didn’t even realize how completely vital their support was, and I found that my faith is more important to me than I’d ever realized. In terms of my own health and long-term outlook, I think I’m getting there. My wife still loves me somehow and I’m pretty over the moon about that. We’re both getting the sort of support from each other - I call it “the butt-tap of mutual admiration” - that we hoped for when we got married six years ago. We know we can handle a lot, and I’d run through a goddamn wall for her and my boys, who are incredible and beautiful and absolutely everything to me, and who I’m now a much more kickass dad to. 


And when they’re a little older, I’ll tell them that before they could remember, I was kinda sick and needed some help to make myself feel better. Mama and her whole family, my whole family and a lot of great friends put all of their faith in me, because they wanted to help me to be the great dad that they knew was in there somewhere. I’ll tell them how I intend to spend the rest of my days working to make good on the support I received, and thanking God for all the great people (cough, my therapist, cough) who I found on the path between then and now. I’ll tell them it’s okay to ask for help sometimes, and that facing your shit is so much better than letting it swallow you up. I’ll tell them it wasn’t always easy putting myself back together, but that I did it for them and for mama, and it was the best thing I ever did. And I’ll tell them I’d do it all over again and again in a heartbeat.


On every birthday after this one, Ellis can have his day all to himself. But just this once, I’m going to quietly share it with him as much as he’ll let me. I can’t even express how excited I am to finally and properly celebrate my sweet boy, to close the book on the unfathomable low that set a new course for all of us. And when Ellis blows out four candles tomorrow, for this year only, I think I’ll blow one out too.


I’m back, baby, and I’m glory bound. 


Tyler Sjostrom 


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