Kate's Blog

How to navigate the messy middle

You knew it wouldn’t be easy.
Nothing worth doing is ever simple, right?
When you first set out to change your drinking, it felt like a new beginning. It felt good to be taking action and you embraced the uncertainty. In fact, it was exciting!
But somewhere along the way, that enthusiasm has faded. Things haven’t clicked into place as quickly as you hoped. There’s no doubt you’re making some progress. You’re stringing together longer periods of sobriety, but for some reason, long term change isn’t forthcoming.
Maybe your friends are asking – again – when you’re going to stop being ‘boring’ and join them for a drink. Maybe you’re struggling to remember why you’re doing all this in the first place. There’s still so far to go.
Well, congratulations! This means you’ve made it to the middle.
And while it may not feel like it, the middle is a good place to be. In the words of Brené Brown: “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.”
Before you roll your eyes, check out these three things that you can do to keep moving through the messy middle and start creating some sober magic:
black1-2Let go of the need for certainty
Creating a sober life you love is scary, uncomfortable, confusing and unpredictable. And the middle is where this gets very real. You’re about to let go of your old, boozy life and step into something new, without being entirely sure what that new life will look like. It’s easier said than done, but it’s absolutely essential to keep resisting the need for certainty at this stage.
Remember, we all drink for a reason. You can’t just remove alcohol from your life without being open to making other changes too. It it were possible to simply think your way into sobriety then you wouldn’t be reading this right now.
The most important thing is to keep taking actions, however small, to move on through the middle. You don’t have to know exactly what comes next. So ask yourself instead: ‘What’s the smallest, simplest thing I can do today to keep making progress?’ And go out there and do it. It might be that you reach out and speak to a friend. Or you read a new book. Or pick a time when you’d normally drink and plan something completely new to do instead. Just keep on doing.
black2-2Keep up the hard work
Stopping drinking requires making a big transition from living in a boozy way to living sober. It takes quite a bit of work early on to shift your thinking and break ingrained habits.  But it can be done. It helps if you’re prepared to really attack your sobriety head on and focus on all the good things that not drinking delivers you. Over time, your way of thinking changes and you can stop relying on willpower to get you through, because not drinking is something you choose to do.
But you do have to put that hard work in at the beginning. The challenge is part of the experience, not something to be avoided. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
black3-2Get back up, again and again
Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, failure is simply part of this middle phase. You’re challenging your old habits and stepping outside your comfort zone. At some point you are going to fall. This can be a hard pill to swallow for the perfectionists amongst us, but it’s an essential part of making real change.
The trick is to get back up and start over. Jacking it all in now might ease the short term pain of failure, but at what cost to your long term dreams? You have to keep on trying and experimenting and bouncing back, because that’s how you find something that clicks. There is no one-size-fits-all, magic solution. You’re forging a new path – one that is as unique as you are.
Embracing the messy middle might feel uncomfortable right now, but it’s necessary. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Miraculous turns of fate can happen to those who persist in showing up.”

Hi, I'm Kate

I founded The Sober School to show you there’s another way out of your shame that doesn’t involve AA or rehab. 


6 Responses

  1. Great post. I’ve just been listening to a podcast about the middle (relating to life in general) so it’s nice to get another take on it. Loving Brené since I quit. Thanks Kate!

  2. This was a perfect posting today. I’ve been careening back and forth lately, should I keep reading blogs? do I need it? So what if I fall? Wait, what am I thinking??!! Stringing longer and longer periods of sobriety together but yes, still so far to go. I am exactly in this middle messy place and needed this boost today, badly. Thank you so much! Jolts of joy to all of us who need it right now. It’s very much time for a sober treat.

  3. I’m there in the middle. It’s rough but it’s worth it. Aiyaiyai. If anyone would like to hear my take, a good exercise if you’re feeling kind of gross or meh about sobriety is to write two lists. One is a list of all of the good things you have gotten from your time in sobriety–anything from a job (yep, that happened to me!) to a new favorite book you had the time and mental clarity to read to an epic nap. And the other one is a list of all the things you still wish to gain from continued sobriety. Helps to cultivate gratitude at the same time as you are acknowledging other desires and moving towards them.

    1. Great tip Viv! I know what you mean about feeling gross/meh about sobriety. It’s easy to get influenced by all the normal drinkers around us and lose sight of why we removed booze from our lives in the first place (especially at Christmas!) I’m going to give your list writing idea a go over the next few days 🙂

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