It hadn’t happened in a long time. For the first time in years I made a daily choice to live without alcohol, and 11 days later, here is what I have learnt.
- Drinking takes up way more time than you would expect
Planning it, doing it, regretting it, recovering from it, planning it again, resisting, doing it anyway…. Buying it, choosing it, thinking about it. SO. MUCH. TIME of my life has been dedicated to the art of pouring ethanol down my throat. After 11 days with alcohol off the table – and recently, off of my mind- I feel like my days have been extended by 30%. This can be liberating (yay, new hobbies, productivity, free time), but also anxiety inducing, depending on what kind of person you are (gaaaah, boredom, the void, having to face the potential meaningless blob that your life has become and/or that you drank to forget/sugar coat). (In case you were wondering, I am a mix of both^^) When you are sober on a daily basis, you have to fill your day, not your glass, and do it with yourself, for yourself, by yourself, no excuses. And no more alcohol to soothe that unpleasant feeling, or cover up the fact that you’ve just been sitting in front of a screen for 5 hours. You own your actions, you can’t blame them on the booze. Sober life is a life that you compose, and stares right back at you and looks you in the face. You can’t run away from what you do with it.
2. Hello emotional rollercoaster.
After years of numbing my feelings with alcohol (and despite five years of therapy and working hard on myself) it was no surprise that my affective highs and lows got more extreme when I removed my favorite anesthetic from the equation. Yes, drunken drama is a thing, and can give the impression for some people drinking means being more emotional. And I must admit that drinking often allowed me to express feelings that I kept bottled up while I was sober. Most of this emotional turmoil however tended to disappear and be forgotten the next day. Regular drunken drama (liquid courage) is NOT the same thing as working though your sh***t (real courage). For me, druken emotionality was mostly just another form of entertainment, which distracted me from my core problems (like my alcoholism and alcoholic family, for starters). Without liquid lubricant, FEELING things feels completely different. Sober emotions hurt, burn, itch, and -urgh- stick around until you actually address the problem. That’s definitely one of the more difficult aspects of being AF for me. The lows were definitely more numerous during the first few days of not drinking, but once the physical and emotional hangover was over (after about 4 days), I started to feel calmer. Now, despite all the unpleasant emotions that I have to face, I also feel more solid, and capable of dealing with them, of sitting with them. I’m learning that I don’t need to run: feeling shitty is ok. and temporary, like everything else. (Prepare for a lot of shit to come to the surface if you have been avoiding it for a while. The good news is that this will give you something to do! See number 1^^)
I had always thought drinking made me sleep more, given all the time spent sleeping off the painful hungover headaches until noon. I imagined that being sober would magically involve me waking up at 6:00 and doing all the stuff that productive people do. #miraclemorning … WRONG! I found myself sleeping much better (yay deep sleep, yay REM), but also about 2 hours more every single night so far.
4. The magical world of (sugar free) soft drinks.
I realize now that I have spent the last ten years mostly drinking coffee and alcohol, and called it “hydration”. The only times I would drink water would be after exercising, and before bed after an evening of heavy drinking, to limit the pain of the next day. Now I find myself dying of thirst pretty regularly, and gulping down seltzer water -or regular water, or tea- like my life depends on it. I also got into brewing Kombucha, which is just as delicious as beer, and FUN to make at home.
5. Surf those cravings.
As the days go by, I am able to better identify the triggers which make me want to drink. My main triggers are: needing a reward after making an effort, feeling nervous, and feeling lonely. Now, I must find alternative ways to reward myself, soothe/encourage myself before I step out of my comfort zone, and give myself self-compassion/care when I feel alone in the universe. I find that H.A.L.T. (Hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is always a good reminder when a sudden longing for beer appears : making sure these four aspects of life are taken care of solves the problem 80% of the time. This is good because it means my cravings were 80% of the time related something other than alcohol: now I can actually tend to my REAL needs 🙂
– trigger warning for those who are on a “permanent” sobriety journey and still feel fragile – maybe don’t read this last paragraph – If you have read my previous posts, you will know that these 11 days alcohol free happened somewhat by chance, in an unplanned manner. I have set a date for my “3 month sobriety challenge” (that I might extend to an undefined sate once I am done, we shall see), which begins on September 4th. Tonight, I am going to dinner at a friend’s house, and bought a bottle of wine. This means I will be drinking, which makes me feel nervous and a bit guilty. On the other hand, the addict part in me wants to do SOME drinking before my official quit date. #FOMO This guilt and anxiety is making me crave a beer BEFORE going to the dinner party – but thankfully I am now able to identify the sneaky little bastard of a craving and I will NOT indulge in it.
I am worried about whether I will be able to moderate, and whether it will mess up my day tomorrow. Removing alcohol altogether has had the advantage of making things easier to deal with. But I am still obviously terrified that sobriety means “missing out on life”, since I could very well not drink tonight, but have still decided that I would.
We will see how it goes.
A part of me is eager to start practicing sober social life : I realize now that my 11 days of sobriety have mostly been spent at home or with my partner, who barely drinks at all. I don’t feel ready to attend a small event like an intimate dinner party where drinking is involved without participating. Being sober in a crowd at the couple of music shows I went to recently was on the other hand very easy, because I went with my non-drinking boyfriend. I HAVE announced my quit date to these friends however, so when September comes, there won’t be a problem with me being on my “sobriety challenge”. Rather, it’s making sobriety a (permanent?) lifestyle that is MUCH harder for me to accept. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now I will focus on being as mindful as I can in the present.
Wish me luck!