This weekend, I sat in a beautiful apartment in NYC and looked out at an incredible view of the Statue of Liberty. The sun was shining and the sky was a slightly lighter shade of blue than the calm water. The serenity was such a sharp contrast to the feelings and energy surrounding my visit to this same city 2 1/2 years ago. New York is the last place I had a drink of alcohol. Well, not just “A” drink but dozens of drinks. And the irony of the crisp, clear, cold, sunny day I took in with great clarity did not escape me. I don’t remember what the weather was like when I woke up here in May of 2012, but I do remember that it wouldn’t have mattered or had any effect on the foggy, grey and dark cloud that enveloped me.

I think it is safe to say that I have grown more and learned more in the past two and a half years than I have in all my other years prior. It’s amazing what sobriety gives you. The gifts are too many to even list, but one of the biggest is time. Instead of your life passing you by in one big blur, you get to actually LIVE every day and be a part of your own life. Yes, there are days that are hard. Everyone has those. But to be able to feel those and actively participate in them is a gift as well.

Before one of my first sober solo-adventures, a trip to meet a friend and go skiing in Colorado, I remember worrying about what I would do on a trip if I didn’t drink. My travels always involved cocktails at whatever restaurants and bars we explored, cocktails while getting dressed to go out, cocktails after skiing, cocktails on the golf course, cocktails while dancing or listening to music, well, you get the idea. Going to a different city, state, country, whatever, always entailed researching what local culture we should experience. As I looked up restaurant reviews for the places I would be visiting, I noticed how many of them boasted about their specialty cocktails or extensive wine lists. And I started to sweat.

It turned out that I didn’t have to waste one droplet of perspiration. There was plenty to do that didn’t involve drinking. And guess what? It IS possible to enjoy great restaurants and bars—coffee bars maybe—and other places without cocktails. And even more enjoyable to wake up in the morning without a massive hangover.  It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t feel like total crap.

On that 2012 trip to NYC, I almost didn’t make it to the Broadway show we had tickets to because I was so miserably hungover  I thought I was going to throw up. I don’t remember any of the food we ate those few days because it was drowned out by all the cocktails and wine. I felt like crap, looked like crap and was probably pretty crappy company when I was hungover and shaking in need of a drink.

On this trip to NYC, I enjoyed every minute of the three Broadway shows we saw. I savored every single morsel of food at great restaurants. I slept like a rock and woke up clear-headed and able to appreciate the beautiful view of the river and Lady Liberty. Conversations with my friend actually made sense (for the most part) and will be remembered. And, hopefully, I wasn’t crappy company.

Sure, there were a few times I looked longingly at the cocktails that people at nearby tables were enjoying. And yes, I’d be lying if I said the bottle of vodka in the freezer and wine in the kitchen of the friend’s apartment we stayed at didn’t slightly temp me. But, as Ol’ Blue Eyes sang, I wanted to be a part of it, AND make a brand new start of it. I think I did just that.