The Best Kind of Before and After

You know that photo? The one you kept because it’s a flattering shot, but you don’t really like looking at it because it also contains memories of hidden but unpleasant emotions? The one in which you’re smiling on the outside but crying on the inside? You know that photo, right? Go get it. (We’ll wait.)

I have a photo like that, too. It was taken on a trip to Catalina Island the year before I quit drinking, around the time that the urge to isolate was becoming overwhelming. We were hosting a number of guests at a happy hour in our condo before taking our convoy of golf carts to town for dinner (visitors drive golf carts, not cars, on Catalina – such a fun vacation spot!). It was the first day of the trip and everyone was excited, and in the photo (below) I am shown raising a glass to our guests.

Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside
Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside

My eyes are hollow in that picture, and behind them is an unhappy person. I want everyone to leave. I am dreading the days ahead with all these people; people I like, people I respect, people I want to hide from. I want to be alone so I can do things my way. This whole week is messing with my routine, my perfect cycle of when and how and why I do everything.

My hair is full, my arm doesn’t show the wobbly bits, and I am wearing that scarf I bought in San Francisco. By all accounts it is a nice enough picture, but it hurts me to look at it. It brings back so much sadness.

So you have your photo, and I have mine, and we agree that it was taken during a time when our outsides did not match our insides.

Now find (or take) another photo, a more recent one that shows how far you’ve come. A clear-eyed picture that represents freedom from that pain. A sober joy photo. A picture of authenticity.  (If you’re tech-savvy enough, spend a moment combining them into a side-by-side image. If you’re old school, a cork board and two pins will work, too.)

Before and After

Keep this before-and-after collage as a reminder of where you came from and why you love your new life. Look back at it when you start to wonder if you could moderate, or when someone asks you if it was “that bad”. Remember that you had the inside knowledge then and you have it now. The rest of the world may say we haven’t changed – they saw us smiling and toasting, they now see us still smiling. But only we know the rest of the story.


  1. It is funny, I can go through all of my albums and I can recall the memory of each function and what I had to drink at each. I would love walking into a room at a formal function where a waiter would be at the door with a tray of filled red and white wine glasses. My husband would take the white and I would take the red. As I finished that glass I would scan the room for the waiter to relieve me of my empty glass and hand me my second glass. We would then take our places at our table and not only would the waiters keep topping up my glass but they would station a red wine bottle in front of me. I would be pouring my own from the bottle throughout. I can remember not wanting to pour wine into any one else’s glass as I wanted to save it for myself.
    Photographers would come around and take photographs of all the couples at the table and on our way out of the room at the end of the night we would visit the display of photographs on the table. I bought so many of these photographs and occasionally now I look at them and I see a woman who looks haggard around the eyes. She stares back at me in a haze. I see drunken grin and a fairly sober husband. The hazy, crazy faces have now stopped as any photograph i have had taken in the last two years shows a lovely enriched smile and clear eyes. I remember that you used to be able to buy colours sands in a bottle as a souvenir. We were told never to shake the coloured sands in the bottle as they would lose their beauty. That is what alcohol did to me.


  2. I was two weeks into sobriety when I went on vacation to the Outer Banks this June. By Tuesday of that beach vacation I was back to heavy drinking. There is a picture of me on that Friday morning outside playing wiffle ball with two of the kids. I look tanned, fit, good… but I can see in my eyes that I am feeling desperate, sad, scared, hung over, and worried that I blacked out two nights in a row. I am going to put a picture of that up against a picture of me and my son a month later, when I maintained sobriety the entire month of July. My husband had told me “my light came back on.” I continue to struggle and if I put these pics side by side and print it out, I will look at it and remember why I went a month sober in the first place. And what a great month it was, despite how hard it was at first.

    Thank you for this beautiful post.


  3. Annie..thanks for commenting on my post. It’s a good feeling knowing you’re not alone. Logically you know you aren’t, but somehow the hold it has on you tricks you into believing you just might be.
    This original post with the before and after pics and thoughts brings hope.


  4. Day 24 for me. I feel so much power now that I refuse to compromise. No endless debates in my head about when to drink, when to cut back, “winning’ one day, losing the next. I’m having so many “first” without alcohol in these 24 days. I know my eyes must be brighter too! Thank you Jean and know that I’m still on my journey!


  5. Beautiful post from a beautiful person! Thanks for sharing.It amazes me when another fellow recovered person has an insight and it just resonates so strongly with me. I remember my drinking days routine and the stress and aggravation I used to feel if anything interfered,including vacations, guests etc. Things that should have been fun. I hope after November you keep posting more, maybe not daily, but I am so enjoying your writing.


  6. I have been sober for almost 6 months. I am very happy and proud of this accomplishment.
    I generally was a happy person (or so I think haha)…here is my question, do you notice, or have you been told by people who are close to you, that your personality has changed that there are no mood swings, and always find the good now in every situation, or.person


  7. I mostly don’t let my picture get taken at all, since a few years of boozing have really packed on the pounds and the camera doesn’t lie.


  8. Jean,

    Thank you, what a beautifully written and touching post. I look back and feel the same – so hollow inside and who knew? Always appreciate your honesty and insight.

    Linda S


  9. Wow, great post. I’m on day 4 today. I was thinking of a before picture…I’m going to look at some from our week long houseboat trip this past summer with friends. I drank all day, every day. Everybody did. Thinking about it, I think most of them are alcoholics, when I think about it. Geez. I’ll take a 30 picture in a few weeks.


  10. I found this site as a fluke. I subscribed and when the posts come through my inbox, I try to ignore them. I’m still drinking, you see. You know, that horrible world of being out of control, empty, and low. I’m still there. Still fighting the battle.
    I find myself reading the posts because I know someone will write about a world I ‘know’ and live in. I don’t feel so alone then.


  11. This post made me cry. Thank you for this! I have years and years of photos of me struggling through an eating disorder and alcohol addiction. Some of the photos pop up here and there through family and friends and in most only I know the secrets behind them, all the thoughts swirling in my mind. Those photos are really painful for me to look at. I was hurting so much inside behind the facade. Yet I just did what you said and looked at photos from this last year (mostly the last 6 months or so since I have been sober just over a year) side by side with some old ones hidden away in a box. What a happy release to focus on the present and to see how my eyes are singing now! Thank you for pointing this out. This post has really impacted me. Also, I read your blog regularly but have never commented and it has been such a treat to read you daily in November.


  12. This is so true – how so many things can look almost the same from the outside, but feel completely different on the inside. Sometimes it’s hard to explain now how unhappy I was then – I presented a good face to the outside world, did such a good job of hiding what was going on inside. I will look through some old photos this week – thanks for this reminder 🙂 xx


  13. Beautiful.
    My sister told me last week that my overall “aura” had changed. That she could feel peacefulness and happiness from me. That has been the biggest, most deeply inspiring compliment I have ever gotten.

    Liked by 1 person

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