“The best feeling in the whole world is watching things finally fall into place after watching them fall apart for so long“
One of the things that helped me get a handle on my drinking problem was hearing other people’s stories. I’m going to tell my story framed by the things I’ve gained through extended periods of time without alcohol. My first extended period was Dryuary 2018.
What follows is not an infomercial selling you on all you can get for 31 easy payments of one sober night. This process plays out differently for everyone. I highlight these things for you all this Dryuary because I didn’t think they were possible for me until I heard the stories of others who achieved things they didn’t think possible for themselves. The understanding that things really could get better helped me through some of the tougher times without alcohol.
The following is far from an exhaustive list, but it captures the most surprising and meaningful things I’ve gained over the past year.
A feeling that I’m whole unto myself
For most of my adult life, I didn’t feel right in my own skin without alcohol. This is why going without it was at first so tremendously difficult. Just being with myself seemed unbearable.
Any new situation requires an adjustment period, and “unbearable” turned out to be inaccurate—I lived! Giving myself time to be with myself, without that alcohol buffer, got me to a place where I can be in my own skin, unadulterated, without that overwhelming discomfort.
It means the world to me to be able to leave my house without stowing away a bottle or basing my plans on where the whiskey is flowing. All I need is my body and my mind, and those things are always with me.
Being able to enjoy things and people in themselves
While I was drinking regularly, I was more interested in drinking than any other aspect of an occasion. I knew that I still cared deeply about people, but how was it that I was more interested in where my next drink came from than in anything else?
I realized eventually that my enjoyment of people and things for their own sake hadn’t died. It was always brimming under the surface, intact from childhood. But it was covered over by discomfort in my own skin. How could I enjoy or appreciate anything when I felt like a hollow sack or imploded structure? Once I no longer needed booze to feel whole, the unadulterated enjoyment of things and people was effortless, just sitting there waiting for me to return to it.
The realization that alcohol contributed to my anxiety and emotional instability
For years, I hadn’t had enough space from alcohol to notice how it was affecting my anxiety. Now, having something to contrast those years of drinking with, the pattern is clear. I’m a significantly less anxious and more emotionally stable person outside the drunk/hungover spiral.
I haven’t had a full-blown emotional meltdown in over a year. I also haven’t experienced nearly the same level or frequency of panic I had when I was drinking. I still have plenty of anxiety, but it’s more manageable.
Anxiety can have a way of making your world smaller. The boundaries of my world budged further and further over the past year. I made meaningful progress in one area in particular: Travel anxiety. I’ve avoided airports and planes for years. But I flew twice in 2018—once, home from a work conference, and then again in October for a vacation. I’ve always known the world was big, but for the first time, I feel like I can go out there and be a part of it.
Being motivated more by values than by short-term urges
This a big one.
While I was drinking frequently, it was hard to understand how I could consistently choose over-drinking over things that were important to me, like avoiding a hangover for an important job interview the next day, or spending time with my family instead of needing to sleep it off during visits, or not blacking out and behaving erratically and ruining relationships.
Behaviors that ran counter to my values often led me to question the strength of my values. But that judgment is based on a misunderstanding of what’s really at work. I think people choose to sate a short-term urge because it’s much more immediate and visceral than the thing we’d get from not sating it, even if that thing is coming up the very next day. We feel urges in our bones. Values may be deeply held, but aren’t often felt in the same way as an urge—there’s a reason “burning desire” is a common expression and “burning value” isn’t.
But urges have less sway on decision-making when they weaken in intensity, and that can happen with space from alcohol. “The only way out is through” proved true for me here. By leaving the gnawing urge unsatisfied at times and getting to experience the longer-term payoffs, the latter became a much stronger influence on my decision-making.
Another approach here, to make the “through” part of the “way out” less hellacious, may be to cultivate feelings that make your values more visceral and immediate—that put them on a level playing field with urges. At the beginning of Dryuary 2018, a Moderation Management member shared this op-ed on the group’s forum. It delves into the different influences of short-term and long-term rewards on our decision-making and has some interesting ideas for tapping into feelings that help us more effectively resist urges.
You’ve taken a step toward seeing if time away from alcohol improves your life. It’s not an easy step, and I hope you’re genuinely proud of yourself for taking it.
Post Submitted By: May, Moderation Management Member