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Un-Pickling My Brain

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I’m now reaching the five-month mark in my sobriety (and, EEK, pregnancy) and there is one benefit that I am luxuriating in right now: reclaiming my formerly pickled brain.

Even in the thick of pregnancy brain fog, I still find myself in awe of just how much room there is inside this dome that had been previously clouded by a booze, hangover, anxiety cocktail. Towards the end of my drinking days, I noticed that I had difficulty thinking clearly. I was no longer able to tap into my “zone” and produce interesting content when I sat down to write (which was almost never at that point), nor did I possess any motivation to try. I no longer got lost inside complex thoughts. In fact, I was actually starting to forget things regularly. I would have to write everything down because I was incapable of remembering something in the short term for longer than a few minutes. We often laugh about moments when we walk into a room and have no idea why we came in there, but that was becoming my normal. It didn’t scare me necessarily, at least, not as much as it should have. Instead, it just made me more depressed. Whoever “I” was, whatever construct of self I held previously, was slowly vanishing.

My brain was so fermented in alcohol and anxiety that I lacked the capacity for anything beyond going to work (a struggle in of itself) and coming home. There was no space for personal development or socializing. It was the saddest mode of autopilot I have ever operated under. I would soldier through the day, expelling all my energy on my teaching, and then race home to post up on the balcony, hop on social media or YouTube, and zone out in between sips of whiskey and drags of Marlboro’s. My husband and I would occasionally engage in banter, but it always devolved into the pair of us sitting outside, drinking, smoking, taking up space, fully engaged on our smart phones, but not each other – not in any authentic way. Every day was the same.

Whoever “I” was, whatever construct of self I held previously, was slowly vanishing.

The first couple months of sobriety were peppered with emotional ups and downs. I had peak energy days and total, depressive crashes. I was not stable, and with the additional hormones and pregnancy complications wreaking havoc on my body, it was no wonder. It is still hard for me to know what was anxiety and what was hormonal. Although it’s very unscientific to say as much, I felt like my entire brain and body was trying reboot. Some days I felt good, but many days I did not. I wasn’t drinking, but I was so wrecked from all the changes in my internal world that I often came home and retreated to my couch and would remain there until I went to sleep. I had a new balcony, and a new autopilot. In my lower moments, I began to wonder if this was it. I’d eliminated the hangovers, but was this exhausted, unmotivated woman crashed out on the couch my new, real self? I was depressed all over again.

And then things took a turn.

In the recent weeks, I’ve noticed marked improvement, even on days when I’m feeling otherwise stressed or frazzled. My hormones are still all over the place. I cry VERY easily. My head aches every day and I still can’t wake up and function properly without special medication to keep from vomiting (I’m in my second trimester but nobody told my morning sickness that). Still, something is BETTER.

Despite everything making me feel exhausted, driving me to bed before 9 PM, I am still able to read for at least thirty minutes a day, usually more. I’m writing almost every single day. I’m backing away from my smart phone little by little, reducing time on social media. I’m craving real information, not just mindless entertainment, and outlets for expression again. Books are exciting me. Ideas are catching fire and I feel better than I ever have, EVEN though I’m nauseous 60% of my day and have ceaseless headaches and pregnancy eczema that makes wearing clothes a small torture in itself.

I cannot believe just how switched off I’d been.

When I was drinking, even when it was mostly social, I generally used all my large chunks of free time for socializing (aka getting drunk) with friends at the bar or somebody’s apartment. It was almost always light, laidback chit chat. We weren’t getting to the root of any of life’s mysteries or core problems (even if we thought we were). In retrospect, it’s likely that many “intense” conversations over beers were not, in actuality, that interesting or useful. I lacked a lot of personal motivation and drinking was a way that I got to continue to check out of the growth process. Why spend nights at home reading a book, learning from someone else, or attending an interesting lecture, when you can shoot the shit with some cool people at the local watering hole?

I recognize there are PLENTY of people who can, and do both. I just wasn’t one of them.

When I first stopped drinking, my mind still craved the mindless escape and there were plenty of ways to find it, usually via the world of Netflix or HGTV. But the most curious little flip has switched for me once again. I’m not interested in checking out like I was before. I want to DO things (ironic, considering I am restricted in what I can do physically and want to go to bed by 7:30 most nights). I’m not content to just go to work, come home, and exist for a few hours before going to bed. I’m craving knowledge and projects and insight.

I’m fully aware that as somebody who suffers from depression and anxiety, I may just be in the midst of an upswing in mood, but regardless of what is fueling my new appetite for growth, I’m going to indulge it and maximize the motivation to the fullest, working to sustain it as long as I can. Maybe it’s the extra space in my head finally clearing up. Maybe it’s the baby and her impending arrival driving me to do and be better. Or maybe, as I first stated, it’s an uptick and the pendulum will inevitably swing back when I least expect it. No matter what it is, I’m grateful for the headroom and I’m not looking to the future with quite as much fear of uncertainty as I did before. The things that once paralyzed me are beginning to drive me forward, and that is a beautiful feeling.

7 thoughts on “Un-Pickling My Brain

  1. Eight ish months sober and I am feeling the exact same way, minus the pregnant part, lol… I just watched my seventeen year fly the coop only months ago :/ so at the other end of the journey so to speak, but yeah, I have so much more space in my head dying to learn new things. I often find myself, if only for seconds, wishing I had been sober for the last thirty years so I could relive them, sober! but I can’t so onward and upward from here, I’m still 47 years young, it’s definitely a winding road, here’s to our new found sobriety, still enjoy reading your blog so much and look forward to it every day, hope you continue to feel better and better physically now that you’re into your second trimester….

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    • Thank you so much! I love your perspective of being 47 years young. I catch myself feeling like I’ve lost critical years every now and again, which isn’t a useful feeling. Trying to be more positive about what is possible now and let go of what didn’t happen.

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  2. It’s like some literature I know says: we get to handle situations that used to baffles us. It happens slowly, over time. We gradually find space in the mind to think, contemplate. We heal, over time.

    I think the hard part is the immediate needs we feel. It happens to me all time. My brain can convince me that some short term solution will cure me. It’s usually not the right move to be thinking in terms of instant gratification. That’s not the right head space for me to be in.

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  3. Yes, I can totally relate (apart from the pregnancy bit). I love how much our time, focus and space for possibilities opens up once we stop drinking all the time. I’m really starting to realise that the drinking life is a life half-lived but nobody could have told the drinking me, I had to find it out through experience. I’m happy for you that you’re finding great things in sobriety. I revert to feeling about 5 years old when I have to barf so, eek, I hope the morning sickness clears up asap. Take care, be well 🙂

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