[AUTHOR NOTE: I started writing this post a long time ago, but only now felt like I had enough perspective to post it. If you have tons of sobriety under your belt, or are actually in your first 30 days, please comment to add or correct anything here. Hope it’s helpful!]
I have noticed that there seem to be common experiences among all who stop drinking (bottomed out drunkards and secret weekend “high functioning” drinkers alike).
As for me, I’ve just been trucking along, and am now at 450 days sober (woot), minding my own business, and diving deep into my relationship with my body and food.
However, I think some of my observations might be helpful to people (even if they are duplicated on many – and many better – blogs). So I’m posting this today to be helpful and give back a little.
Hopefully this will not discourage anyone from stopping, but rather help prepare you for common feelings and hurdles (and good things!) that come with stopping drinking:
You will be very optimistic and calm until around 4pm. Then you will wonder if you actually have a problem with alcohol. You will list the reasons you aren’t that bad (don’t need booze in the morning, don’t drink every day, still have a job/partner/children that are alive, etc.) You will begin writing your “I’m not a real alcoholic” storyline in your head.
People who aren’t dependent on alcohol don’t think these things. At this stage it is going to be hard to just get past 4pm-8pm. If you can truly take it or leave it, you could leave it right now without any effort whatsoever. You can’t. It’s not your fault, it’s not a moral thing, and no, you aren’t living on the streets with a needle in your arm. But it’s a real boulder on your back, and it’s hurting your life way more than you know.
You will understand this later. You will want to KICK yourself HARD for not stopping much sooner.
Your rationalizations re your drinking (that weirdly coincides with happy hour) = the reason why you need to knuckle through, if only to experience the other side.
This feeling appears to be common among high and low functioning drunks. The very worst off drunkies (like, even if they are sitting in a jail cell) still convince themselves they don’t have a problem at 4pm on Day 1. The closet mommy drinkers do the same. Almost literally, word for word. The voice and the words are the same. It’s not a coincidence.
If you are committed to a set number of days, which I recommend, you will power through the witching hours (4pm – 8pm), at the end of which you will feel exhausted and disoriented. You will comfort yourself with thoughts of “that wasn’t sooo hard” and “can’t wait to wake up totally hangover free!” You may also wonder if you ever had any hobbies or interests, ever, and why is early evening TV so boring and oh-my-god I can’t do this forever. FUCK.
Then you will go to sleep. It will very likely be SHITTY sleep.
YAY!!! No hangover. Shitty sleep, but no hangover. You probably woke up at least once feeling clammy and sweaty (or drenched in sweat). You might have had a weird dream, which is weird because you haven’t dreamed in ages.
You wake up without fear.Without shame. Without anxiety. Without wondering what you did or said. Without checking the bottle to see if you drank more than you remember.
This LACK of bad feelings gets you through Day 2. But you feel insanely tired. You go to bed at 7pm.
Days 3 and 4:
Seriously, how am I supposed to fill all this fucking time?
Sleep is slightly better.
Starting to forget why waking up is SO much better shame and fear free. Feel truly exhausted, almost like you have the flu. Want to crawl under the covers and hide for a month. Wish you had gone to in patient rehab.
Fuck. It’s the weekend. FUCK FUCK FUCK.
You can probably drink just on weekends. It wouldn’t be a big deal. You have a party to go to Saturday. Everyone knows you as a wine lover. It’s going to be so uncomfortable and awkward. Can you skip it? GOD, you think you can’t. Maybe you should start this next Monday so you can have one last weekend. You can’t do this forever. What do people do on the weekend that doesn’t include booze?
You no longer have anything to look forward to during the week. You will never have fun again. Your friends will not invite you to anything ever again. You will be BORING. You ARE actually boring. Your life is boring right now.
But, chocolate and candy tastes better than it has in years. You’re probably transferring your addiction, but we’re told anything is better than drinking. So dark chocolate it is. You will try to make dark chocolate your new thrill to look forward to at the end of the day. And new La Croix water flavors.
This is hard, you think. But to review: if it weren’t hard, it would mean you didn’t have a problem before. You had a problem with drinking. It’s an addictive substance and you, like many many other people, got addicted to it. Just be glad you stopped now. Don’t go back now. NOW you know, for sure, that you weren’t in a good place with alcohol. It was killing you.
OH MY GOD you made it a week. A whole goddamn week with a whole weekend in it. No one on earth is going to give you a high five for going just one week without booze, but wow it feels HUGE. You decide to check in on the Booze Free Brigade secret Facebook group. They will understand how huge it is. You do that, and people crowd your post with likes, loves and “wow”s and comments encouraging you to keep going. You feel good about that, but you can’t help feeling a little pathetic since it’s really only one week. You push that out of your mind. You have sober living to do this week. You have to figure out what to do with your time now that you don’t drink.
- You will go for a walk around the block with The Bubble Hour podcast playing in your ear.
- You will go for another walk just because you want to and you are crawling out of your skin for some reason. This time you’ll listen to Belle Robertson’s “One Minute Messages” or a HOME podcast, or Rob Bell… Or maybe music.
- You stock up on sparkling water, dark chocolate (or your sweet of choice), and whatever else strikes your fancy. You avoid looking at the booze/wine section at your grocery store. You make it through checkout. You post on BFB to that you did it. Exhale.
- You start madly researching hobbies and activities that can maybe fill your afternoons and evenings. You make a ridiculous list that you won’t ever look at again, but it feels good to think of a zillion non-drinking things you could potentially do or care about.
- You donate to a charity or volunteer.
- If you are an AA member you go to a lot of meetings to fill the time, and talk with your sponsor (I can’t give too much guidance on this because I haven’t worked the steps, but anyone in AA can help you get through these early days, and they will help you happily).
- You will breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth.
- You might try yoga. My favorite at-home yogi is Adrienne’s 30 day yoga program — free on YouTube. Highly recommend. Very easy to follow for non-yogis (like me).
- You might try meditation – Insight Timer app or Headspace app are both wonderful.
- You might binge-watch great TV and eat ice cream.
- If the weather is crappy, you might find an indoor swimming pool near you to go float and swim a bit to get your body moving but also relax, feel weightless, and forget your troubles for a little bit.
- You might get a massage or a pedicure that includes leg and hand massage.
- You might, as I did, decide you need a new job and start job hunting online and updating your resume.
- And so on…
These are kind of the critical days, in my opinion. Two weeks was my upper limit in all my early attempts to quit drinking. Getting past two weeks felt herculean. It was when I started to really grapple with “forever” vs “today”. This is HARD. Really hard. Here’s what I’ll say about this phase: you will never understand how it feels to not want alcohol until you string together at least 100 days of sobriety. Give yourself that gift. At least once in your life, believe everyone else and push through. Not only will you be so proud of yourself when you hit 30 days (a whole fucking month!), but you will feel it in your bones. You will somehow understand that there’s something to this. You won’t be sure that you want to do this forever (I’m still not 100% sure). But you will get a glimpse of what life could maybe be like without the yoke of alcohol addiction. This is important.
My assignment to you in days 14-30 is to write everything down. Write down the shitty things, and write down ANYTHING good that might be new to you. I wrote things like “I feel like I’m remembering and storing information better… can’t quantify it, but it’s like my brain has turned back on.” Do I know for sure that quitting drinking had such a quick impact on my brain functioning? Absolutely not. But, it was exciting to monitor changes. You write the bad things down to remind yourself that you actually do have a problem. People without a problem with alcohol don’t miss it like you do. They don’t rationalize “needing” it to handle life’s issues.
Here’s the other thing to remember at this phase: fitting in to our society’s definition of ‘normal drinking’ is a ridiculous goal. FITTING IN is a ridiculous goal. We are adults. In many ways we all stopped maturing when we started using alcohol to cope. Believe me, not everyone worries about fitting in to the degree that we problem drinkers do. If you’re anything like me, you started drinking to avoid feelings of not fitting in. You will learn to feel those feelings and let them go. It’s the single best thing that came out of quitting drinking for me: I don’t give as much of a fuck what other people think anymore. One day I won’t give a fuck at all (#lifegoals).
But right now, you are worried about that. So, try to reframe the fear: you are a real, *actual* rebel by not drinking. You see if for what it is: a drug. A socially acceptable addictive drug. Hold on to this for now. It’s just an idea at this stage. It will unfold and become a real thing as you clock hours and days.
And One last thing that applies to the entire 0-30 days: you might be eating a lot. You might be stuffing your face with sugar: candy, chocolate, bagels, pizza, and donuts. This is practically the norm for women quitting drinking, and can be extremely scary for anyone who has a history of dieting and binging and body hatred. Or, really, all women (on some level). This, for me, was one of the unexpected gifts of getting sober (more on that in every other post on this blog). Don’t take your eating habits in early sobriety as some sign that you are a glutton and slob and that, if you let go, all you would eat is sugar. It’s not true, first of all, and second of all, your brain uses sugar to deal with cravings for booze. This is a real thing and you MUST care for your brain right now. It won’t last forever, and maybe, like me, it may open the door to a deep journey into mind-blowing self love. But again, PLEASE DON’T OVERTHINK THIS. You are ok. You could eat a house and you wouldn’t change your weight significantly or in an irreversible way. Your body is designed to maintain your natural setpoint weight within a 10-20 pound range. RELAX. Deal with this shit later.
Readers: any other tips re the first 30 days?