I wrote a post a little while ago detailing how I felt in days 0-30 when I quit drinking. I experienced days 0-14 several (many…) times before it stuck, so it was actually pretty easy to write out the feelings I felt each day. To remember the waiting, and breath-holding and frustration and anxiety. I recalled clearly and easily the fears I held on to– the terror of “forever” looming over every quit attempt.
That post has gotten a lot of traffic, and I get why. I was always searching for a roadmap – not just a personal testimonial, but an instruction manual. What can I expect and why? AA provides excellent steps to freedom, but it’s not tied to where you are in the process, biochemically. And I always wanted to know what was happening to my brain and body and soul every single day I moved further away from my addiction. I wanted to know if anyone else had the same experience. I wanted hear from anyone else at my particular day count that they too had trouble sleeping or felt weirdly agitated and antsy, or could go for four days without thinking about drinking and then BAM… etc.
I also wanted to somehow codify my personal experience as universal and “to be expected”. Paradoxically I didn’t want to believe my experience was unique, even while I despaired daily that I was the only person on earth who was constitutionally incapable of quitting drinking.
Today I’m going to try to capture the experience of getting past 30 days. For anyone in their first month of sobriety this timeline might seem too far away to contemplate. Maybe don’t read it! Or click here for the first 30 days timeline post. I know that for me it felt like being sober for more than 30 days was a world away from where I sat at day 2, 4, 10, or 18. But if you are on day 2, 4, 10 or 18 stop whatever you are doing right now and give yourself a huge high-five because you have just done the hardest part. And tomorrow will be slightly less hard.
OK, here goes:
Day 30: I seriously cannot believe I made it to day 30. If you are in AA, go collect your damn chip. It’s a big deal. I don’t think there is a harder quit-drinking milestone to get to. In some ways it’s all downhill from here, folks.
But, milestones are TRICKY.
Warning: you will think you are cured. You will entertain many very convincing thoughts of re-integrating a glass of wine here and there (you won’t call it a “relapse”, you’ll call it “one glass of wine to celebrate” or “one glass of wine only on date night” or “one glass of wine at your friend’s dinner party”). You will believe and talk about the fact that 30 days was easier to do than you had expected and so you probably weren’t really an alcoholic. You will conveniently forget the first hundred 0-14 days that you tried to get to for the past year or two.
Here are some words of wisdom that I’ve received that truly helped me get past this (amazing) milestone unscathed:
- Plan a sober celebration for your 30 day milestone, and make plans to celebrate/reward yourself once a week (at least) for the next 30 days. Get serious about the business of treating yourself, because if you don’t you won’t make it. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the times when I almost went back to drinking were because I didn’t properly reward myself for my hard work and success and I started to feel like I was denying myself something good. I wasn’t, but logic isn’t going to save you when you feel deprived. My favorite treats are sobriety cliches, but whatever: a 90 minute massage, a 90 minute facial, a manicure, a pedicure, a long walk listening to a sobriety related podcast with a fancy ($5+) coffee drink at the end, brunch at Cafe Campagne (or your favorite brunch place), lunch date with a sober friend, get a tattoo or a temporary tattoo, take a day off from work to nap and watch crappy TV and eat ice cream… or anything else you like. Actually, please add your favorite sober treats to the comments if you have a minute. Any new ideas are a huge help to all of us.
- Write your own 0-30 day timeline. Remember every gruesome detail. Send it to a sober friend. Get your friend to send you her/his list. Laugh at the similarities (it will creep you out, I swear).
- Make a sober playlist on Spotify. Get super depressing, get super light (show tunes!) – whatever feels therapeutic to you. Share your playlist with sober friends.
- Before you attempt to re-integrate alcohol into your now fixed life, go on a sobriety focused private Facebook group (like the BFB, or SheRecovers Together) and give advice to someone in their first week or two of sobriety. Actually, give advice to as many people as you can. Spend at least one hour doing this. After that, see if you still want to drink again.
- Plan a big thing for your 60 or 90 day milestone. A trip. A yoga retreat. A class you’ve always wanted to take (language, sewing, knitting, painting, singing…) Just start planning and dreaming. No limits here.
Days 30-50: Days 30-50 are strange days. You’re not white-knuckling every single day and you are able to be a little more present in your life. But weird things crop up, and in some ways our experiences become a little less universal at this stage. But here’s what I went through, so maybe it will be helpful to you:
- You start to seriously over-analyze “why” you drank and got addicted. In days 30-50 I was convinced that being put on Lexapro caused my rapid spiral into over-drinking and addiction (which I still think may be a contributing factor). Others start to think hard about their childhoods or their marriages. Or what it means to be a mom. Or what it means to not be able to be a mom (my thing). Or maybe you had alcoholic parents. Maybe you had eating disorders before you turned to drinking to escape your evil body (me again).I say “over-analyze” because that’s what we are doing. We are searching for the villain who handed us the faulty map before we are even out of the forest. We are angry and rightfully so. We don’t get to be NORMAL people who can just have a NORMAL glass of wine with our dinner. I want to know WHY and I want to know NOW. (p.s. I no longer even want to be normal by any definition, but that’s what’s fun about long term sobriety!)
You might also get hit by an immense amount of guilt and remorse over the things you said and did when you were drinking.
The best advice I’ve heard for getting through this anger and guilt is to find a good, reputable therapist who specializes in addiction. Other options are to write out your anger and your theories. Post them on your secret Facebook groups. Confide in your partner or spouse if you have one of those and they are supportive. I’ve also heard that the AA steps and/or a sponsor are really helpful in navigating this very difficult phase.
Here’s what you don’t do at this stage if you can possibly avoid it: file for divorce, write a letter to your SO explaining that you are now asexual, go on a diet/cut out sugar, quit your job, get a puppy, or, of course, drink. You will want to do some or all of these things at some point. Try to hold off for now.
- PAWS – or Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. These are strange bio-chemical responses to alcohol withdrawal that hit at unexpected times after the critical acute withdrawal (early days) have passed. A complete list can be found here and on many other great sites.The most common PAWS symptom that I’ve personally experienced is general feelings of nothingness and boredom – nothing feels good anymore. This is because our brains haven’t readjusted to life without the drug (alcohol, in my case) and it just doesn’t function correctly yet. The euphoria of initial success (the “pink cloud”) has worn off and now we are just stuck with our malfunctioning brains. Ugh. It’s not fun.
Mood swings and general stupidity. I mean it, I had serious foggy brain and I forgot things all the time. Sometimes I was in a good mood and could celebrate my forgetfulness as the natural, human phenomenon that it was (and for once, NOT hangover or blackout related!) But being moody and stupid didn’t feel like much of a reward for quitting drinking, and I worried it would last forever. It won’t, I promise.
Other PAWS things to look out for: really bad insomnia, random intense cravings, depression, anxiety and seriously vivid drinking dreams.
Days 60-99: These days are even weirder than days 30-60. Hard to believe, right? But I wish someone had prepared me for these days.
When I hit 60 days I went public about quitting smoking and drinking (in a weak-ass “it’s about health!” way, but it was out there). I was cured and ready for the world to hear all about it. Yay me.
However, I wasn’t really ready for it and I felt completely stripped of my skin after I hit post. A textbook Brene Brown “vulnerability hangover” ensued.
Then days 60-99 hit, and it was like a mac truck slamming into my over-confident bundle of sobriety feathers. Here’s what happened to me:
- 60-70, Hard core anxiety: I felt physically jittery with anxiety. My head was spinning for at least a week. The only thing that helped me deal with this was 2 hour walks with Bubble Hour podcasts playing in my ears.
- 70-80, Euphoria, part II: after day 70 the anxiety broke and I was “cured” again. I felt perfectly normal and like I couldn’t even remember why I stopped drinking in the first place. I talked endlessly about how easy it was to ‘not drink’ and started writing this blog because I was so very ready to tackle my issues with my body and food. Ha.
- But this whole period was sprinkled with big disappointments: I started experiencing my year 1 sobriety firsts and they didn’t go well: Memorial Day weekend, July 4th, my birthday (for everyone this will hit at different times, but I quit drinking in April, so it took a little while for major holidays to happen). I thought I was totally 100% fine but then PARTIES and LIFE came at me. Former drinking friends I had avoided were acting weirdly around me when we finally got together. I wanted to leave parties as soon as I got to them. I stared at everyone’s wine glasses wanting to see if anyone else was an alcoholic. I brought multiple cases of La Croix with me to every event because I hadn’t brought enough to one party and I had run out, which meant I had to leave immediately. I thought I was ready, and I was not.My advice? Don’t rush this shit. Hide as much as you want to. Re-emerge into life as you used to know it very slowly and deliberately. You don’t owe anyone anything at all, and you owe yourself your sanity.
With all that said, days 60-99 are great days to hunker down and consider what you can give back to those who are in earlier sobriety. If you don’t do it now it won’t be fresh in your mind anymore. Yes there are MUCH wiser, longer-sober people in the world who know more than you do, but they don’t necessarily remember every aching minute of this weird middle-time in your first year of sobriety.
I spent the last ten days of this period getting my “100 days sober” post ready. It’s a sort of tradition on the BFB group FB page to write out your experience getting sober (usually with a detailed drunkalog prior to deciding to quit). It’s a beautiful tradition and it helps everyone in the group – long time and not yet sober alike.
At this point it’s good to reflect. And as much as I regret posting publicly too soon, in some ways I am glad I did it. Telling your story – to other sober people or to the world – is more than an accountability tool. You are helping other people. You are one more voice de-stigmatizing addiction. You will never know how much you have helped people, but you will know that you did. That’s a beautiful thing no matter what else you do with your days here on earth.
Obviously you know what I’m going to say about hitting 100 days: CELEBRATE AND GIVE YOURSELF A BIG TREAT. Do not pass go until you do this.
With that said, I don’t really remember the specifics of my experience after I hit 100 days. There were definitely moments when I felt, again, like I could go back to drinking moderately. But by then I had established some real life sober friends and they talked me down. And most days I felt like not-drinking was my default, which is a level of freedom that I never expected or even felt I deserved.
Speaking of real life sober friends, I wrote another post on that topic a while ago. I didn’t even hope to connect with new friends who were sober, but it happened. Don’t worry too much about this in days 0-100, but know that sober friends will find you.
And here’s how I felt at 1.5 years sober.
So, there’s a lot to look forward to.