what to expect when you stop drinking

What to Expect When You Stop Drinking

I’m not going to sugarcoat stopping drinking and say it was a walk in the park.  It wasn’t.

But, it was and is WORTH IT.

Quitting drinking was the hardest thing I’ve every done.  Without a doubt.  It was tough.  It took several attempts.  In fact, after a decent amount of sobriety, I returned to drinking for a short while.

Every experience is different

Some people had an easy time getting sober.  Other people, people like me, had a heck of a time.  I really did.  But my drinking was sending me down a fast track to jail and death.  I knew it.  I was a blackout drinker, which is awful.  The hangovers were getting so bad that I knew my liver and other organs were wearing out.

With respect to what you can expect when you stop drinking … I can only report on my experience.  I’m not a medical professional.  I don’t work in the addiction field.  I can only share my experience, which I’ll do here.

0 to 6 months

1.  Physical withdrawal

I didn’t have the tremors, but I ached for alcohol by 3 pm every day.  My brain fixated on having a beer or glass of wine.  It took every ounce of my determination to go to an AA meeting instead of a bar.

BUT, and there is good news, this lasted only a few months (it’s still a long time, but my white-knuckling did stop).

Please consult your doctor when quitting drinking.  Professional help, a treatment center and/or detox programs may be necessary.  Alcohol is addicting and withdrawal can be physically painful and dangerous.

2.  Loneliness

When I quit drinking, most of my friends were big drinkers.  Many alcoholic.  When I quit drinking, I had to make new friends.  AA helped tremendously, but it was still a lonely time.  Note, I was not married and had no kids … I was in my twenties.

Loneliness and a craving for booze is a deadly combination.  AA at least provided me a place to go.

SIDENOTE:  I don’t maintain the only way to get sober is AA.  Alcoholics Anonymous was what worked for me so I mention it.  I know some people in AA advocate it’s the only way.  I don’t agree.  Many people sober up with non-AA treatment centers, religion and other means.

3.  Self Pity

Self pity sucks.  My loneliness and craving and lack of career direction was a recipe for self pity.  My brain spit out recurring thoughts such as “why can’t I drink?”  Why am I broke?”  Why don’t I have a great job?”  ”Why am I single?”

4.  Boredom

After spending at least 30 hours a week drinking for years, I had all this time on my hands.  I had no hobby.  I wasn’t into my job.  I had few non-drinking friends.  I didn’t own a home I could work on.  I had time that I didn’t know how to fill.

Yes, I went to AA, but I still was bored.  My solution was to get into fitness, which was motivating and helped a lot.  I had something to do for an hour or 2 each day.  I liked the immediate results.  It was healthy rather than destructive.  I did go overboard at first, but then I had nothing but time on my hands and brain … fitness filled those gaps.

5.  Emotional Roller Coaster

Booze pushed away or washed away emotions.  For a long time alcohol worked really well.  I got blitzed and didn’t have a care in the world.  As long as alcohol was available at the end of the day, I’d get by.

But, when I sobered up, I was hit with emotions like I’d never experienced before.  This was frustrating because I thought I’d feel better by getting sober.  I didn’t feel better … I actually felt worse some of the time.

Emotions such as anger, resentment, sadness, self pity and fear welled up often.  It was a foreign experience for me because for so long I drank which felt great and enabled me to avoid such emotions.

6.  Confusion

I was confused about a lot of things, most notably what I should do career-wise.  I wanted something I enjoyed, but that also was prestigious (this was a mistake I write about here).

I was also confused about whether I should bother getting sober.  I doubted whether it was worth it.  Fortunately, drinking got bad enough where it was something I really wanted to stop, even if it wouldn’t make my life 100% rosy.

7.  Desire to radically change your life

Actually this can happen up to a year after getting sober.  You might feel inspired to enter the addictions field.  You might want to quit your corporate job and enter a more altruistic or healing vocation.

You might want to move half-way around the world and dispose of all your worldly goods.

My suggestion is don’t do anything radical during the first 12 months.  Talk to someone about it as well.  Let the alcohol and/or drug haze clear.  I realize sobriety can be hugely freeing, but you don’t want to make a huge change that you’ll regret.

8.  Dealing with invites to events where alcohol is served

Some people early in recovery go.  Some refuse all invites.  I suggest you discuss this issue with a sponsor, mentor and/or professional.  I went if there was a reason to go (such as a wedding).  Each of us handles this differently.  Do what you must to protect your sobriety.

My approach was to leave respectably early.  I didn’t dine and dash, but I didn’t stay for the heavy drinking.

9.  Don’t expect courts to take it easy on you

If you’re charged with a crime, don’t expect courts to take it easy on you just because you’re sober.

Yes, many courts when sentencing for crimes consider one’s sobriety.  However, depending on the crime, don’t expect a super lenient sentence.  In your mind getting sober may seem amazing and momentous, but courts see people getting sober and relapsing all the time.

The same applies if you’ve lost your kids.  Again, it takes time to demonstrate your new responsible you.  Courts may not give you back your kids (or grant unsupervised access) all that quickly (or at all, depending on the circumstances).

Get sober for yourself, not somebody else.

What about the pink cloud?

I never really had the pink cloud.  I don’t doubt it happens, but it didn’t happen for me.  My first 6 months were tough.

6 to 12 months

I’m referring to my latest sobriety period.  I did have a previous 3 year sobriety period, but returned drinking.  The following 6 to 12 months after quitting drinking is my second significant sobriety period (and I’ve been sober 9.5 years).

Life started working again for me.  I was still aimless career-wise, but I was evening out emotion-wise and was in a graduate program that would lead to a career of some sort.  I didn’t crave alcohol nearly as acutely as I did.  I had new friends.  I was in fantastic shape and felt healthy and well.  Self pity wasn’t a daily ritual.  I had finished the 12 steps (probably not a coincidence that I felt better as a result).

Looking back, having good friends in AA helped tremendously.  It made staying sober easier.  It reduced self pity.  I had fun again and it didn’t require drinking.

I eased up on the health kick, but maintained a great fitness regimen.

What to expect (and not to expect) generally speaking

1.  Don’t expect everyone to embrace you back into their lives

If you have a family when you get sober, don’t expect them to forgive and forget immediately … especially if you’ve sobered up many times before (or promised to get sober).  Trust needs to be established which takes a long time.

Although this wasn’t a big issue for me (I was single with no kids), I know many people for whom it was an issue.  They expect to have their kids returned to them, spouses to embrace and trust them immediately.  It’s not always going to happen.  But, be patient and know that drinking again is certainly not going help matters.

Relationships

In the cases of relationship breakups, divorce or separation, getting sober may not result in reconciliation.  Don’t expect it, especially if much harm was done.

However, many relationships are healed and restored with sobriety.  Don’t expect it, but certainly try … and the best first step is staying sober.

Employers

If you lost your job, don’t expect to get it back.  You might, but you might not.  I discuss getting a job after getting sober here.

2.  Don’t expect to improve your finances over night

Many broke alcoholics have gone on to earn fortunes and enjoy abundance (sorry about the corny word).  I’ve been fortunate in sobriety to earn a good living loving what I do.

But, my road to improved finances was not overnight.  It took years.  I’m not rich, but I have what I need (and probably a lot more than had I continued drinking).

Just because you save money by not drinking doesn’t mean you’ll get out of debt in a week and be a high-roller in a month.  Building up sound financial footing takes time, just like carving out happy sobriety.

One way I like to look at sobriety is to realize drinking didn’t wreck my life overnight.  Well getting sober won’t improve my life overnight.

And certainly don’t expect to get rich.  Grandiosity afflicts many alcoholics (it did and does me).  Getting sober is not a ticket to wealth.  In fact, you just might change careers to something that fulfills you, but pays much less.

In fact, the best aspiration money-wise is to aspire to lose financial insecurity.  This means you aren’t a slave to money and materialism.  You accept your financial circumstances.

3.  Life will not be perfect

Life is messy.  It can be chaotic.  I’ve especially learned this by having a child with my wife.  As I write this, we’re in the midst of moving, which is great, but order doesn’t exist.  My wife and I are working hard and taking care of a 1 year old child.  Our life is messy.

The hard truth is even in sobriety, massive challenges and problems arise.  You can still lose a job, file for bankruptcy, get divorced, get ill, have a loved one become sick and/or die … this is life and sobriety will not solve or prevent these problems.

However, zen sobriety can help handle these challenges in a healthy way instead of a destructive manner.

I have problems in my life.  Quitting drinking didn’t end problems.  However, I deal with them differently.  In fact I deal with them.  When I drank, I didn’t deal with problems … I just created more.

4.  Don’t expect drinking friends to quit drinking or even understand

Many recovering alcoholics and addicts take the sobriety message to their drinking comrades.  It’s not a bad thing to do.  However, don’t expect any of them to jump on board.

My approach to sharing the message is the soft sell, which is living my life sober.  Whenever somebody is curious about getting sober, I’m more than happy to share the sober message.

5.  Expect the odd alcohol craving and/or drinking dream

I don’t dream much (or at least I don’t remember my dreams).  But, once in an odd while (about every 6 months) I have a drinking dream.  It’s weird. It’s scary.  It happens.

Also, once in a while, usually out of the blue, the thought of a cold beer or cocktail enters my mind as a good idea and “wouldn’t that be good right now?”  However, I dismiss those thoughts immediately with “I’ll lose everything” and “it’s not worth it” and I take myself back to what happened when I returned to drinking after having 3 years of sobriety … drinking again did not help.

More importantly, just because you have a drinking dream and/or a craving doesn’t mean you have bad sobriety.  It happens to people with awesome long-term sobriety.  It’s natural … just don’t act on it.

6.  Expect people to ask you why you don’t drink

Most people don’t ask when you decline a drink, but some people will blurt out in front of everyone “why don’t you drink?”  I bad in this situation.  I don’t like to advertise the fact I’m an alcoholic, especially when among people I don’t know closely.

I usually use the driving excuse or I say “I don’t care for alcohol.”  This works 99.9% of the time.  Everyone appreciates designated drivers who don’t touch a drop.

You don’t have to say what I say.  Some recovering people freely admit they’re in recovery.  Some people say that alcohol doesn’t site well with them.  There are many ways to handle this situation … it’s a good idea to develop a response.

7.  Don’t expect to fulfill all the promises in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous perfectly and/or quickly

The promises are lofty and sound great.  It’s a terrific passage.  I enjoy reading it.

However, don’t expect to fulfill them in their entirety perfectly and/or quickly.  These are grand life ambitions.  For example, “we will know peace.”  Sure, I have many times of a peaceful feeling, but I’m not an enlightened being.  I still get angry, impatient, fearful, etc.

In response to the promises, I suggest embracing “progress, not perfection” which is something all of us can pursue and achieve every day.

8.  It does get better

It took me a long time to finally believe that being sober is better and that my life improved.  I was pissed off, full of self pity, lonely, confused, broke and aimless for a long time.  However, I’m really glad I hung in there to the point where I ended up with a good life.  It’s not perfect, but it’s great and I’m grateful.

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