I’ve been alcohol free for 9 months. So, what’s the big deal? Does that much really change in the first year of sobriety?
Addiction hinders us from making positive and long-lasting changes. When you break free from it, a lot happens. But not everything generated from being sober leaves us with warm, fuzzy feelings. Being sober forces us to face the harsh reality of the damage caused by our addiction(s), trauma from our pasts, and unhealed resentments – that’s the downside.
The upside is that as we face our demons, we allow ourselves to start healing.
Every Month is a Different Story
In my experience, every month seems to come with a different theme. The first month was one where I did nothing other than not drink. That was all I could or needed to do at the time. I also became a total sugar fiend and was exhausted 24/7. If you’re wondering why, it’s because alcohol messes with your blood sugar levels. When you stop drinking, your body still wants its sugar fix. In the early days, it’s better to just give in and get a handle on it a few weeks (or months) later. The exhaustion is simple – our bodies heal during sleep, and it takes a lot longer than you’d imagine for your body to heal from drinking.
In month 2, I started to question everything. I felt sorry for myself, wondered ‘why me?’ constantly, and the internal struggle between thoughts of going back to drinking or sticking it out were overwhelmingly powerful.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I hit ‘The Pink Cloud’ stage of recovery. This usually happens somewhere around the 90-day mark. Simply put, The Pink Cloud is a shift that we experience in our perspective towards sobriety as a whole. Suddenly, we feel as if we’ve discovered a beautiful secret. We realize that we’ve been enslaved by our addiction, and how much we were actually missing out on. We feel as if we will NEVER drink again - a thought that may cause us to become overconfident in our sobriety, which in turn, can lead to risky situations that result in a lapse (which is a short return to drinking) or relapse (which is a mid to long return to drinking).
Thankfully, I didn’t lapse or relapse. I relied on my support system a great deal during this time. Having support is of the utmost importance – especially for grey area drinkers.
If you’re someone whose entire world has fallen apart due to your addiction, then chances are your friends and family will support your sobriety without question. You’ve had enough, they’ve had enough – it’s a no brainer. 🤷
However, if you’re a grey area drinker like I was, you may find that many people in your life think you’re overreacting or completely out to lunch for wanting to quit drinking. Typically, this says more about them than it does about you. You know yourself better than anyone…just do you.
In the months that followed The Pink Cloud, I felt so many emotions (as I tend to) and discovered a lot about myself. Sometimes I felt bored with sobriety or like something was missing from my life. I realized that those feelings meant that I had to do more by finding additional outlets to help me get to the root cause of my issues. Those feelings also led to my 'coming out' in sobriety, and contribute to why I started this blog – which came to be when I was 5 months sober.
Although I’m not entirely sure how many people read these posts, I’ve had quite a few individuals get in touch with me directly to chat about their drinking. That alone fills my cup!
Firstly, there are others out there, close to me, who I admire, who I know personally, who I never would have known struggle with their drinking! It’s not that I’m happy for them, but I find solace in the fact that I truly am not an exception to the unspoken rule that suggests everyone should be able to moderate with ease. And now, after this much time, I know that’s a backwards theory, anyway.
Secondly, to be able to provide others who are struggling in silence with an opinion from the lesser-known side of the coin is absolutely empowering. Knowing that by being open about my journey, I may help others out of the same deep, dark, hell that I found myself in is without a doubt the greatest gift to have come from this.
So, coming back to what’s changed as of right now – 9 months later.
So Long, Brain Fog
First of all, imagine dumping water all over your computer and then hoping that it'll work as expected. That’s what alcohol essentially did to my brain – drowned it. When I drank, my mind was always cloudy. If I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about drinking. If I was drinking, I wasn’t doing much thinking.
We all know someone who lives in the Land of the Bunnies...🐰🚬
Well, drinking too much has a similar effect, but instead of just making you slow, it also makes you anxious, angry, agitated, and depressed. It’s certainly not a blissful form of ignorance.
The great news is that our brains are capable of a wonderful thing called neuroplasticity – which is the brain’s ability to adapt, change, build, and rebuild itself during times of growth and/or healing. I’ve definitely noticed that everything runs a bit smoother nowadays. I don’t find myself constantly searching for the right words or forgetting everything. I've also found that I'm able to problem solve a lot faster. Everything has begun to run more *seamlessly*.
The kicker to my last point is that having a clear mind comes with more self-awareness, and since I hadn’t practiced much of it in the past, it caused quite an awakening in me.
Suddenly, things started to make sense. What made me the way that I am came to fruition via tiny bits and pieces of information. I started to remember things (so many things) from my childhood, drinking days, the worst and best moments of my life so far. I continue to recall impactful moments from my past that have been buried deep in my subconscious to this day. It can be overwhelming – but it’s necessary.
These Days, I only Drink in my Dreams
Then, there are drinking dreams…which occur for most individuals in sobriety. They typically revolve around dreaming about drinking, being drunk, committing stupid acts while drunk, accidentally finding yourself drunk, etc. When you awake from this nonsense, it takes a few minutes to gather your thoughts and determine whether it actually happened or not.
When an individual develops a substance abuse disorder, they're essentially using alcohol as a method of self-harm. All the while, the user believes that it’s 'helping them' – which is a surprisingly common association with self-harm tactics. As bad as it feels, it always seems to provide temporary relief.
Post traumatic stress surfaces from a variety of events (domestic abuse, loss, childhood trauma, etc.). Drinking dreams are indicative of a response to self-sustained post-traumatic stress - mainly stemming from the guilt, shame, and poor decision making that took place when using. And this is yet another example of the impact that a 'harmless' or 'small' drinking problem can eventually make on your life.
Developing Coping Mechanisms
I haven’t written in depth about mental health just yet. I firmly believe that everyone struggles mentally in some shape or form. To this day, many individuals still have a misconstrued perspective on mental health, the importance of it, and what it entails. Although we’ve come a long way, stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental health conditions are still prevalent in our society.
I struggle with generalized and social anxiety and have for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall any part of my life that didn’t include feelings of anxiety. I also suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder and have dealt with depression too. I’ll delve deeper into this topic in another post. But, in terms of becoming self-aware in sobriety, I also became more capable of coping with my mental health.
I hoped that my anxiety would be erased concurrently with becoming sober. Many, many, people who stop drinking find that this is the case – and it’s a wonderful side effect. For me though, it was a hard no, and I was disappointed but not surprised. But that didn’t mean I was shit out of luck.
I used alcohol as medication for these exact problems:
To ease my anxiety;
To mask my depression;
To block out my intrusive thoughts;
And to turn off my mind.
Alcohol only worked great on the surface. On a deeper and more crucial level it amplified my issues and created more chaos in my life.
Ditching my crutch forced me to start problem solving.
So, instead of:
“I’m feeling anxious…maybe I'll drink an entire bottle of wine, feel instantly regretful, and be a hungover bag of crap tomorrow.”
I graduated to:
“I’m feeling anxious. Why am I feeling anxious? Oh, because of this, this, and that. Okay, let’s make a plan and deal with it.”
That plan might include self-care type things like going to therapy, journaling, reading self-help lit, or getting an extra hour of sleep. Or it might involve action fueled things like exercising, making lists, deep cleaning the house, hunkering down and working without any distractions, or, putting work away altogether and enjoying time with my family. It’s about acknowledging what you’re feeling and sitting with that feeling long enough to get to the bottom of it. And then you can act accordingly. If you instantly drink/smoke/eat/self-harm all the feelings away, you CANNOT DEAL WITH THEM. Did I say that loud enough?
Ending the Cycle of Self-Destruction
Self-awareness isn’t the only aspect of sobriety that allows you to evolve into a better functioning human. There’s also the end to what I call The Cycle of Self-Destruction.
Any of you been here before? Maybe it starts with a night out, a wedding, a hot vacation, a week-long camping trip, or Christmas holidays. Drinks flow freely, everyone’s encouraging each other to drink more, let loose, relax, etc. You deserve it because you’ve been good… following your diet, reaching your exercise goals, working hard for a living. And you have money to spend and a beach-ready body to prove it. What better way to commemorate all that hard work than with empty calories, acts of stupidity, and regret?
Once the fun ends…more begins. Hangovers for days – weeks, sometimes! Feeling sluggish, unmotivated, irritable, and depressed. You fill up on junk food because the thought of eating anything other than sugar or sodium nauseates you. Gatorade replaces water, existential dread replaces your will to live. Exercise takes the back burner because you’re ‘exhausted’, and for some weird reason, even after doing all that drinking, you STILL feel like drinking. Why? Because bad habits are easy to keep, and good ones are hard to maintain. When you add insult to injury by abusing chemically (and psychologically) addictive substances, it makes it even harder to reverse the cycle of self-destruction.
Doing Trust Falls with Myself
Now that I don’t drink, I don’t ride the same downward spiral over and over. Being alcohol free has allowed me to develop trust with myself. I know that I won’t self-sabotage to the extent that I did whilst drinking. I know I can trust me to take care of ME. When I went on a bender, I had no idea who was going to take care of me – I guess it was still up to me, but I was in no condition to take on that kind of labour of love.
Self-trust is important because it signifies that you’re consistently remaining true to yourself, your morals and principles, your values and needs. When we look at the foundation of a strong relationship, it’s typically built on pillars of trust and respect. If you can’t achieve those with yourself, don’t expect that your relationships with others will either.
Stay Puft No More
On a lighter note, if you’re considering going alcohol free, I can guarantee you that you’ll notice it in your face (and probably everywhere else too). Drinking doesn’t necessarily make you fat, but it does stop your body from burning fat altogether. That’s why drinking sugar free, zero calorie drinks aren’t really doing anything beneficial for you. Sure, they might help a little if you drink in (the true form of) moderation. But over time, if you drink enough, alcohol will obliterate any semblance of a metabolism that you may have had. When I drank, I was puffy, bloated, and couldn’t lose an ounce, but continued to gain weight constantly. I became so frustrated, tried everything, dieted, whined about it to my doctor, worked out religiously 7 days a week for nearly a year straight, annnndd womp, womp, womp…nothing.
By the time I quit drinking, I couldn’t even wear my wedding rings anymore. I truly couldn’t stand the sight of myself because I knew that I had gotten myself there, and I felt a lot of shame over that. I value living a healthy lifestyle, and drinking completely went against that. My drinking was destroying my mind, body, and soul.
In 9 months, I’ve ditched some weight and I don’t miss it! But it didn’t happen overnight, so if you’re expecting it to for you – be patient. Change and healing takes time! I saw a dietician when I was 3 months sober (and off the sugar train), and she helped structure an anti-inflammatory diet that works for me.
I had no shame in seeing my dietician like I would have if I were still drinking. This is because I didn’t have to:
Lie about how much I was drinking;
Downgrade how much I was drinking;
Or listen to her tell me that I had to stop drinking so much.
The point is, I couldn’t even begin to truly tackle these things until I became sober. Drinking held me back from everything. It left me caged, and I knew that I’d never feel fulfilled or accomplished in my life if I kept it up.
Arriving at the point of saying ‘enough is enough’ is the toughest part. The best piece of advice that I can give anyone who may be questioning their relationship with alcohol is: if the thought of sobriety crosses your mind – take it and run with it. You’ll never regret not drinking.