In one of the sobriety forums I’m part of, there are often questions from those in the earliest stages of kicking the booze about when they’ll start to feel better. This, of course, is impossible to answer as we’re all different, but there are some things that appear to be common when we get sober and stages most of us seem to go through. As we all know, I can only speak for me, so this is what I have experienced so far and look back on from where I stand at 330 days. Oohh! Nice round number, eh!
Breaking the habit
When I took my first trembling, Bambi-on-the-ice steps into my new sober life, the most overwhelming feeling was restlessness and a slight sense of being a little lost. I guess this was mostly down to the actual habit – after all those years of pouring a glass of wine pretty much as soon as I got home, I was suddenly at a bit of a loose end. What now? I’m not going to lie, it felt really weird and I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was the definite sense of boredom because suddenly I had all these hours that I wasn’t sure what to do with and they seemed to pass so slowly. Time felt like something I had to sit through, suffer through and be rid of – it’s like time was my enemy right at the start.
Hubby and I would go for long drives in the evenings those first few weeks. I’m sure those who know better will tell you that distractions aren’t the way to truly deal with a problem but it worked for me. I needed to occupy myself during the witching hours and it seemed like as long as I got to about eight in the evening without a drink I was over the hump. This was a little bit down to my old ways of thinking, in this case that I always got started early as it would mean I’d be passed out by 10pm and would therefore have more hours between the last drink and waking up, which in turn (to my alcoholic brain anyway) meant the hangover would be less severe. Yes, I planned my drinking meticulously, almost always with the objective to make the inevitable discomfort as bearable as possible. If I were to have the first drink at 8pm this would mean I’d probably still be at it at midnight and that would make the following day even more of a shit storm to battle through. That meant that initially I relaxed a little if I got through that crucial time window.
I suppose what this does highlight is the same sort of philosophy as the AA mantra of “just for today”. Don’t worry about tomorrow, just focus on today and in my case I focused on just getting to 8pm. If I got to eight, I was OK, because in my head it would have been so bad to start late that it’d be pointless anyway. A drunkard’s logic is madness in its purest form but this is the brain I have and what I had to work with.
Little by little though, new habits crept in. I rediscovered my love of long, brisk walks and a couple of weeks in I walked around the park every single evening. We signed up for a south coast hike, which kept us out walking long distances most days of the week. And little by little…. …the norm of pouring a glass of wine was replaced by the habit of pulling my trainers on and looking forward to walking for an hour and a half whilst listening to an audiobook. I may have used a bit of force to shift my thinking – fake it ’til you make it – but soon enough my stubborn brain capitulated and it no longer required conscious thought and effort to dodge that wine, it just happened. Eventually I discovered – and to be honest it didn’t take that long – that I’d be on my way home and feel really excited again but it wasn’t about drinking. That, I think, is still one of my greatest victories because I was scared that boredom and restlessness would last and it didn’t.
I want to point out that I don’t consider alcohol abuse a matter of habit any more than I consider nicotine addiction such as smoking a habit. Yes, in a way it is, but if it was all down to a habit you wouldn’t need to light the cigarette – you could just step outside and hold it for a while and go through the motions without inhaling smoke, right? If it was all habit, I could just put something else in the glass, like water. My drinking had other root causes but breaking the habit that surrounded it helped distract me and fill my new found time with things that enrich my life instead of destroying it.
In intensive care
My body must have been really suffering – the amount I used to drink was enough to knock out a horse and I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I am enormously grateful that I’m even still here. My drinking went on for many years, and I think my poor old body must have been exhausted from fighting to keep me alive. You know when you’ve been working your arse off and finally have some time off and the moment you draw breath and relax you get ill? Same thing, I reckon. When I stopped poisoning myself, all my defence systems could finally come off amber alert and take a much needed rest. Sometimes in medical emergencies doctors will put you in an induced coma and this is so that your body gets a chance to heal.
And no wonder I felt sluggish at the beginning! I cut out over 7,000 calories per week that I’d usually get from all that wine. I was so lethargic! I had no energy whatsoever. Still, I obviously felt amazing because I no longer had to spend my days hungover, but oh my Lord I was so exhausted. It felt like I’d been through war. I’m not a medical professional but I think those early days were my induced coma, when my body was simply on lock down to repair itself.
Need I even point out that even when I was feeling so tired I still felt like a brand new Anna because I was sober? Didn’t think so. It was blissful.
The immediate benefit that was almost instantly delivered was sleep. Oh, glorious, splendid sleep! Drunken sleep meant passing out solid but then waking up at 4am like clockwork with my heart beating out of my chest and sweating, then lying there with severe anxiety until it was time to get up. Obviously that’s really poor sleep and this no doubt added to how atrocious I’d feel the following day. Or every day, rather. Just a couple of days in I was getting a solid block of sleep. I’d read a book until my eyelids got heavy and my mind stopped whirring, then fell asleep surprisingly easily and quickly and slept like a log without waking up until the morning. Yes, I felt tired in the beginning due to aforementioned repair work but my GOD, the sleep I enjoy since I quit drinking is just pure luxury. Priceless. I suppose what I was going to do here was write about the things that take a bit of getting used to and are tricky but I can’t not mention the joy of sleeping well because it’s probably the biggest change I experienced and it was there straight away.
Sweets for my sweet
This must have something to do with those 7,000 calories that suddenly disappeared. You’d think I’d be super slim by now, but oh no! Instead I put weight ON. There is no fairness in the world, I swear. I’ve never been big on sweets and I’ve never liked cakes or biscuits. I’ve always been a big eater (I eat like a truck driver) but never used to order dessert, just don’t like sweet stuff. Roll on sobriety and I’ve turned into the Cookie Monster. And imagine this poor body of mine having a HUGE energy supply suddenly removed. It’s confusing for it. So it got me fat just as a precaution. Thanks.
A lot of people seem to lose weight though and I hear this all the time. It’s all the fucking time that someone who recently quit will tell us others how they’ve lost a stone in that first month without doing a thing. I do hear this a lot more often than I hear of people like myself who pile the pounds on, not off, so if you’re hoping to slim down you’re more likely to do so than swell up just statistically speaking. As with so much though, it’s so individual and it’ll also be to do with how much you drank and every other possible factor you can imagine. But even if you’re like me and you get a little squidgier, it’s so fucking worth it, I promise you. It does seem to balance out after a while though – things are bound to get a little crazy with such a big adjustment so just go with it. One thing at a time and when you start to feel strong in your sobriety you can always up the ante with fitness and getting those wobbly bits firmed up if you so choose.
The Pink Cloud
I capitalise it because as far as I’m concerned it’s my new home address. There are many, many views on this and I don’t think I’ve heard two people describe it in the same way. I also know people who don’t seem to experience it at all, so it’s all very subjective I suppose. In AA it’s often talked about as a tale of warning, that it’s something we should be wary of. What I suspect it is, is the sense of euphoria we feel at our new freedom and feeling so physically well. There’s probably a sense of achievement at having walked away from alcohol in there too, along with feeling virtuous about having made a good choice. Perhaps we feel brave and strong too because we’re doing something we were so scared to do yet now discover our wings can carry us and we’re flying.
For me, getting sober has quite literally meant that I got me back. In some ways, it’s like learning how to live and be me all over again and I’m not exaggerating whatsoever when I tell you that I feel such gratitude it’s making me giddy with joy. There are times when I go for a run and get a little choked up at the sensation of feeling strong and powerful. I’ve literally had to wipe away a few tears on the occasional run (and, irritatingly enough, have to stop because it’s hard to run when you go all sniffly). Right at the beginning I sat each morning on the sofa with my coffee and looked out of the window and whispered heartfelt thanks to I’m-not-sure-what-but-maybe-the-universe for giving me this life and for letting me feel this happy and well. Many of those times I couldn’t hold back tears of joy, not that I tried to. Four days shy of 11 months sober, I still feel this way – in fact I am welling up a little just typing this. And I think that’s what the Pink Cloud perhaps is – joy and gratitude.
…and the Pink Cloud neatly leads on to this, namely how getting sober does indeed deliver countless positive changes but doesn’t mean all our problems go away. Nor do we suddenly become someone else entirely. Yes, it’s accurate to say that Sober Me is in many ways a different person to Drunk Me, but in essence I’m still Anna and just because I stopped drinking doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly enjoy public speaking. For some reason, I think a lot of us sort of expect sobriety to be the answer to everything and the realisation that it isn’t has us crashing back down to earth with a thud. My theory anyway.
Yep, I’m still lil’ ol’ me. I still crave solitude, I still choose a book over a social event and I still prefer peace and quiet to chatter and stimuli. I’m still terrified of spiders and I don’t like heights. Having said all that, there are also many things my alcoholic brain constructed in order to keep me trapped, things I came to believe that aren’t actually true and that I’ve only discovered in sobriety. I mean, at one point I even sat on a shrink’s couch and was more open to accepting that I might suffer some sort of personality disorder than even consider that my panic attacks and discomfort in situations other than home alone were anything to do with my drinking. Stuff like that.
What I’m trying to get at however, is that I sometimes hear people say how they feel a certain way and had somehow expected that sobriety would fix all issues. It doesn’t. If you had your heart broken, it’ll still be broken even if you put the drink down. What it means is just that you’ll in all likelihood cope much better. Oh, and you won’t make lots of insane drunk decisions to send text messages, make phone calls or whatever else to those exes or whoever else that mortify you later. Take it from me, I’ve drink’n’dialled many a time. Just look at poor Gazza – he turned up hammered out of his skull to an armed stand-off between a nutter who’d shot a bunch of people and police, hoping he’d convince the shooter to come fishing with him. This, to his drunken mind, probably seemed like both a realistic and helpful idea at the time as well as an entirely sensible solution to the problem. Actually, I just did a little fact check and it was cocaine and not just booze apparently – link here. Point is though, the problems will still be there (like Raoul Moat) but the way we deal with them are usually much better (I suspect Gazza might not have reasoned that a fishing trip was the answer – chances are he wouldn’t have got himself involved at all).
There’s also the issue with how some of us drank in the first place to escape our problems or feelings. I wonder if that makes us lazy when it comes to dealing with stuff – that it makes us just shut down because we balk at the idea of actually doing something about it? I never consciously drank to suppress how I felt, so this is pure speculation on my part but I do suspect that if we escape all the time it’ll be really quite scary to have to face problems head on.
Well. Each to her own, but all I can say is that being sober means I get to be the best version of myself. I still occasionally freak out over stupid stuff and sometimes I’m a real arsehole – just ask hubby and Bambino and they’ll be able to tell you what a dick I can be – but overall I’m pretty cool and have discovered I’m actually quite calm under pressure. I swear, I never realised this but I’m actually really level headed, something I always used to make jokes about because “it’s just not me”. It’s very me, as it turns out.
Anyway, because stopping drinking is such a big deal, I think sometimes people fail to realise that life’s still life and we’re still us. The world is still the same as when we drank ourselves to shite but now we can see it more clearly. It’s not a bad deal though, in my view. Going through life living under a heavy wet blanket is no life. I think this might be what people refer to when they talk about the Pink Cloud as something that’s just temporary: the realisation that we still have the same problems as before, that despite how good we feel we still have to deal with our issues.
Can you feel it
Here’s a good one! For yours truly it was probably a good thing no one told me this when I first stopped drinking because I think it might have frightened me right back into the bottle. Alcohol is, as we all know, an anaesthetic. It numbs our senses and it numbs our minds, which includes how we feel. No matter what reason we had to pour that glass, this is an inevitable fact – booze numbs us. And so when we stop drinking, the numbness is gone and taah-daaaaaaah here are all our feelings again! Fuck me, it’s exhausting! My mother has always said that I have “an artist’s soul” and by this she means that everything I feel, I feel strongly. Yep. Tick that box. That sums me up. So even though I never realised it, I now wonder if the fact that booze slowed my mind might have registered in my subconscious as a benefit. Perhaps subconsciously I craved the melty, floaty veils of alcohol because it took the edge off? The more I think about this, the more plausible it seems.
Then we kick the booze and now we get to feel all our emotions on their own merit. No shortcuts, no shutting stuff down. We get the feels – big time. Truthfully, this has been yet another blessing for me, not least due to newly discovered ability to calmly deal with problems, but also because sober I can be rational and balanced. Hahaha, who knew?!
Now, if we drank because we couldn’t stand how we felt, I imagine stopping drinking is really difficult for a whole bunch of additional reasons. Still. Even though it might get you pleasantly numb, alcohol is of course also a depressant so when the anaesthesia wears off you don’t just get the pain back, you get it back tenfold. It really isn’t a very good deal, OK? Not at all. I mean, it numbs you so yes it does conceal the bad stuff for a short while, but it also numbs the good stuff. And THEN it gives you the bad stuff back massively enhanced and souped up. Eesh.
That’s really what sobriety is though: just feeling everything the way it is and in its true form. Even with shitty stuff that’s surely better. Sure, I get that in that moment when you sit there drinking it’s hard to believe but it really is true and there will never be a better decision you can make for yourself and those who love you. Put that drink down, it honestly doesn’t do you any good whatsoever. Even the brief respite when you’re numb isn’t worth it because you’ll feel so much worse when it wears off. That respite or relief is literally like wearing a pair of shoes that are a size too small all day and how good it feels to take them off. How good that feels isn’t a good reason to do that though, right? Or hit yourself with a hammer and then enjoy how good it feels when you stop? Equally pointless. Please trust me on this one.
No one gives a shit
I didn’t massively stress about this I don’t think but I do remember worrying a little about what to say in drinking situations. I was quite open with people from the word go whether they’re in my family or circle of closest friends or people I barely know. Also, it’s worth pointing out that I’m not a social butterfly so I actually find myself in that sort of situation extremely rarely. For that reason, I’m not best placed to account for how to go about declining those drinks when you get sober. I guess all I can say is that people don’t tend to give a flying fuck about what you drink or don’t drink. No one fucking cares, alright? So don’t stress about it. Wear it loud and wear it proud – the only reactions you will get is respect. If someone makes a silly comment or jibe, you can be sure it’s because they feel bad (or jealous perhaps!) for some reason that’s nothing to do with you. Just remember that you’ve made the BEST CHOICE EVER and even people who claim to love alcohol will recognise that. Make no mistake there, my friends. Yes, it might feel a bit awkward initially, but I swear it’s no big deal.
Truth be told, I’m sure some people might also consider people who don’t drink boring or even feel we miss out. So what? Let them!
If you’re not ready to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – don’t. A “no thanks” is perfectly acceptable and if someone asks you why you don’t want to drink a poisonous and highly addictive substance, it doesn’t matter if you say you’re on a health kick or have joined a cult which prohibits drinking. It’s a harmless little fib and if it helps you, use it. It’s none of anyone else’s business anyway. I do promise you though, I’ve rarely heard of anyone who got a full interrogation. My friends have asked me things out of curiosity and told me “well done” but that’s been off the back of me being pretty blunt about my drinking and my reasons for stopping. You’ll be fine, I promise.
It’s not all, folks
You know, I will have missed out lots of things here and will no doubt read this back and think of something really obvious that I should have included. I was just trying to pick out some of the main things I’ve experienced in sobriety and the stuff I hear others talk about too. I’ll come back to this often, I’m sure. There’s just so much to say but I think this will have to be it for now, except reiterating that getting sober is the best decision I ever made. Nothing I have to deal with in sobriety could possibly be bad enough to go and poison myself over.
Today I’m not going to drink.