I woke up early and immediately felt that sinking feeling in my gut.

Cheers-ing with my coffee cup on my 3 year sobriety date.

Dammit, I did it again.

I drank too much, said a lot of things I wished I could take back, and hated myself for it.

I was so sick of feeling like this – so f-ing tired of disappointing myself. Promising myself I’d just have two to three glasses of wine, max – then forgetting that promise almost immediately as my third glass emptied.

Here’s the thing: no one around me thought I had a drinking problem. In fact, drinking a couple of glasses of wine every night is totally normal in my world. Many of my friends and family do it.

The problem was that I had somehow ventured past that magic “couple of glasses of wine” to a a series of 1/3 glasses, refilled many times, all night long. My main goal became not to hit a full bottle to myself every night, which I managed for a while. It wasn’t easy, which caused me great angst to notice each night.

The upgraded branding of box wine (or was it the downgrade in my standards?) made monitoring my drinking less stressful because I no longer had that emptying bottle taunting me. It also made drinking more than a bottle of wine a night – or just avoiding keeping track, at least – the new norm.

I don’t know how much I was drinking each night by that morning when I woke up with that sinking feeling, yet again. I do know that I had been in a mental war with myself for years about my drinking.

On that particular morning, it felt different. Mixed in with the shame and guilt of having hurt someone I love the night before with my words because my tongue was loose from drinking was this deep feeling of resolve.

This isn’t who I am and it’s definitely not who I want to be in this life.

We were staying at my mother-in-law’s house because we had thrown her a surprise birthday party the night before. The smell of coffee enveloped me as I walked downstairs into her sun-drenched kitchen. I stopped in the middle of the kitchen and stared out the window.

“This is it,” I said to myself. “I’m done.”

This is how my “alcohol sabbatical” began on September 15, 2012. I decided that morning that I didn’t know whether I would ever drink again, or if I was officially “an alcoholic,” but I did know that I was never going to live into my visions for my life if I kept drinking every night. And every attempt I had ever made to drink only occasionally was totally unsuccessful.

It’s been almost five years since that morning in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. I didn’t plan on the “sabbatical” being permanent, but it just kept working – every single day.

It’s hard to describe how much my life has changed for the better, how much more amazing I feel, since I stopped drinking alcohol. But that’s mostly on the inside. The outside still looks pretty much the same. I’m still married to my amazing husband. I’m a loving and imperfect Mama. I still run my speaking coaching business. But the way I feel inside is unbelievably different.

I’ll never forget those first few months of sober mornings. Waking up with such brightness and clean energy. I never had official hangovers when I was drinking, so it wasn’t about headaches and nausea. It was that the overwhelming anxiety I woke with every morning (and often in the middle of the night) was completely gone. I felt hopeful and excited about the day ahead in a way I simply hadn’t felt when I was drinking.

I love that I’m not fuzzy and slightly numbed out at night. I virtually never got “drunk” in the way most people think of it. I preferred the slow drip anesthesia approach. Which meant I was there-but-not-there. And nothing really productive got done at night.

I feel so much better as a Mama. When I was drinking every night, I hurried bedtime with my girls to get back to “my wine.” I held my breath when I kissed them goodnight in this ridiculous attempt to keep them from associating wine-breath with our nightly bedtime routine.

Now, I breathe easily as I hug and kiss my babies before they go to sleep.

While the “pink cloud” of sobriety has evolved and I now occasionally wake with anxious thoughts about what needs to be done that day, I know it is part of being fully present to my life. Sobriety has been my invitation to show up fully to whatever life brings, however imperfectly. I know for sure that a glass of wine isn’t the solution to any of them.

I sometimes wonder if I couldn’t just drink one glass of wine every once in a while. Who knows, maybe I could. Though I’m pretty sure it would be torturous, because the truth is I don’t really want one glass of wine, I want at least three.

I still hang out in some of the same circles with friends who drink and don’t have anything against drinking overall. I do know that more women struggle with their drinking than I realized and I find myself wanting to say, “Oh I so get it! Maybe you want to try sobriety for a bit? It feels amazing!” But I’m not into preaching. I also know that we make changes in our life when we are ready.

This is the first time I’m telling my own story so publicly. It’s scary to share this kind of story. While I have talked about my sobriety publicly a bit, sharing details feels like a whole new level of vulnerable. I have all the fears that most of us have when we share something deeply personal – being judged, rejection, removal of the “shiny exterior” image that probably doesn’t exist anyway.

Yet I believe in the incredible power of story. I believe stories connect us like nothing else can and they are a powerful way to show that we are not alone.

I also believe in the healing power of sharing our stories, especially when we share with the intention of serving others. Coming out of “hiding” – when we do it in a way that cares for our own needs, too – brings immense freedom.

So it is in this spirit that I share my sobriety story. I hope it provides hope and inspiration to anyone who is struggling with their drinking and considering trying out sobriety.

If there’s someone you know who is exploring drinking in her own life, please pass this along. There just might be some little nugget in my story that helps her think through her own.

And in case you have something you have been wanting to share – something that feels important to share in service of others, but scary to say – I encourage you to consider sharing it. In the weeks ahead, I will share strategies for how to share our scary stories in a way that feels safe, but also provides the freedom and service that only coming out of hiding can bring.

I’m a speaking, messaging and story coach, after all. The one thing I know for sure, deeper than all else in my work, is that stories are the most powerful path there is to service of our audiences and personal wellness. Let’s do this.