When does this whole sobriety thing get better anyway?
I have heard (and felt) this question a lot along my sobriety journey. When does sobriety get better? Why do I feel so miserable all the time? Sobriety sucks. I hate it!
That’s the old me talking by the way. So if you find yourself nodding your head saying, “Yah, I know the feeling” you are certainly not alone.
What a lot of people get WRONG about sobriety. Including me at one point.
Drinking causes A LOT of problems.
It screws with our ability to make sound decisions, leading to risky and often embarrassing behavior. Occasionally, those bad decisions veer into the realm of irreparable damage to our relationships, heath or life.
Years of heavy drinking causes those bad decisions to accumulate. Sure, in the early days you could probably apologize your way out of poor behavior when you were drunk.
We’ve all been there, right?
But after awhile, people don’t want to hear it anymore and they start to disappear. Often, they get replaced with people who are just as dysfunctional as you. That only ramps up the drama factor in your life.
So it is natural to believe that once you stop drinking, eventually these problems will all go away and you get to feel better again.
But you’re only half right.
Sobriety doesn’t solve your problems.
Not completely, anyways.
It will instantly solve the problem of crippling hangover cycles, alcohol induced anxiety spikes, and regrettable calls or texts made while five drinks into your evening.
Once your body adjusts, you’ll notice you have more energy and an ability to think clearly. You forget things less often. Hell, you’ll probably smell better, too.
But what sobriety cannot do is take away your pain.
We usually start drinking alcoholically because we are trying to hide from something. Maybe we feel lonely or lost an important relationship. Or perhaps our life isn’t going the way we wanted it. We’re stuck in a miserable job and have lost hope that anything can change.
So we drink.
And when we self-medicate with alcohol, we enter into a vicious cycle of drinking to avoid our problems and then causing new ones because, well, we drink. Before you know it, you’re drinking to avoid the fact that you have a drinking problem.
It’s a twisted, horrible place to be.
Sobriety gets better when you do.
When I was a teenager, I struggled with terrible acne. Every time I went to the doctor, I’d get told some version of the same thing: “Here’s a treatment plan. Expect that it is likely to get worse before it gets better.”
Sobriety is kind of like that.
Depending on your individual circumstances, past, and mental state, there is a good chance that your internal world gets a little worse before it gets better.
That’s because sobriety breaks you open and leaves you raw, vulnerable.
You’re not drowning that pain in alcohol anymore. Rather than have mercy on us and disappear along with the booze, it will often come flooding back with a vengeance.
It’s a hard, gut-wrenching thing to take on when you’re newly sober and it has hurled a lot of strong, well-intending people back into relapse.
Sobriety can be complicated.
The early days of sobriety are a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.
It’s completely normal. If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re at the point now where you wondering if sobriety is even worth it.
The answer is: YES!
But it’s not the end goal. It’s just an incredibly challenging and necessary step to the ultimate end goal which is to have a happy, fulfilling life that you can be proud of.
If you’re burying your problems in alcohol, you’re not going to get there.
But you gotta trudge through the muck to get to the good stuff. Those are the challenging times when sobriety feels like the dumbest decision you’ve ever made.
I mean, really? I’m miserable. My life is stalled. I can’t get my best friend to talk to me. And I can’t even drink, now???
I hear you, friend!
But the thing you have to constantly remind yourself is that alcohol won’t fix any of those things either. In fact, it will likely make them worse.
It’s on you to care about that.
Self-pity is a sobriety killer.
Hi, my name is Alicia and I used to host pity parties.
When you’re faced with the difficult parts of sobriety you have two options: 1. get mad and feel sorry for yourself because it’s not working out how you envisioned, or 2. see it as a problem in need of a solution.
Which is not to say that #1 isn’t a normal, emotional experience in sobriety.
It’s extremely normal. Everybody’s situation is different, but if your past comes with heavy baggage, you are likely to feel a range of emotions: anger, guilt, shame, resentment.
There is nothing wrong with feeling those things.
What you can’t do is let them dash any hopes of ever getting your life together. Guilt, shame, resentment, all of these things will hijack your internal world if you let them.
We have to stay vigilant. And one way to to do that is to take responsibility.
I feel pissed off and have a mountain of regrets because of things I did in the past when I was drinking. Right now it feels like too much to bear, but it’s on me to ask for help to get through it.
The above mindset is leaps and bounds ahead of saying:
I feel pissed off. Look at all the shit I’ve done. I’m never going to get this right. I don’t deserve to be happy. Look at me. I’m such a loser.
And hey, maybe you ARE a miserable loser right now, but what are you going do about it? Because we do have the power to change ourselves if we really want to.
How do you get better in sobriety if you have no idea where to start?
First, find a support system. Give AA, Smart Recovery, or Refuge Recovery a chance. If there is an alternative program to those that interests you, go for it.
You need to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and could use some help. That step alone will lighten the emotional load significantly.
If meetings and group programs aren’t your thing right now, try counseling with someone who specializes in alcoholism.
There are online support networks as well that can help steer you in the right direction. We’ve got a fabulous private Facebook group for Soberish that you are welcome to join.
Don’t let the fact that you don’t know what to do paralyze you into doing nothing at all. That’s no good.
Try something and give it your honest, 100% best effort.
That means no eye rolling and thinking something won’t work for you before you genuinely try it. This process can be really weird and uncomfortable, but hey, what if it works?
And let’s be honest here. If we knew what works we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with, would we?
To get better, you have to BE and DO better.
Baked into a lot of these programs and therapy sessions are things that will push you to accept full responsibility for your past and then provide you with the tools you need to move forward from them.
Sobriety comes with a lot of negative dwelling. I still struggle with this one.
It is easy to get swept up in regrets and negative thinking, sometimes before you’re even aware you’re doing it! One minute you’re cooking dinner and the next, you’ve lost five minutes to daydreaming about that one time you threw up on your mother-in-law’s new rug.
Shame is sneaky. And normal.
Sobriety can’t vanquish all shameful memories from your brain, but it can teach you how to handle them. Negative emotions are part of the human experience, my friend. You have to forgive yourself.
Change the narrative in your brain.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth repeating. If the story in your head is that you are a terrible, good-for-nothing person of no value: 1. that’s not true. Stop it! and 2. Prove that you’re not.
The ability to develop mental toughness and take charge of your internal world is a lifelong process. It takes time to get good at it. Hell, it takes time to get just sort of okay at it.
If you’re starting from zero and struggling to find something positive about yourself to genuinely believe, I recommend forgetting about yourself for a minute and think of others.
How can you be of service to someone else right now?
Go volunteer. Help serve meals at a homeless shelter. Volunteer to work with animals at the Humane Society.
Hop on Google and find something to do in your area. And then show up!
There are so many emotional benefits to volunteer work that you could use right now. Let’s also acknowledge that most of us who drink alcoholically are self-absorbed. We are obsessed with our own pain and shortcomings, but rarely think of others.
Learning to help people without expecting anything in return will humble you and help you see that yes, you are capable of doing good things and making a positive impact on the world. It’s also a wonderful respite from the shame parade in clamoring around your brain.
Be proactive. Learn HOW to feel better in sobriety.
I’m a stubborn, recovering know-it-all which means I don’t like asking for help. This quality has not served me well, particularly in sobriety.
My past relapses were fueled in large part by sobriety’s inability to solve my problems for me. Instead of reaching out for help, giving AA a shot, or opening up to friends and family, I tried to Google my way to emotional stability.
Shocker! It didn’t work. At all.
Every day, I felt sad, unmotivated, lost, and unworthy.
When I quit drinking, I felt those things more intensely. I’d have some good days where I could say, “Hey not waking up with a hangover is pretty friggin’ sweet!”
Those were the days I’d make it to the gym and think that things would turn out okay after all.
But, inevitably, a bad day would sneak in there. And it would hit me…hard. I translated bad days into personal failures. If I’m still feeling these horrible things in sobriety, something is wrong with ME.
I must be broken. It will never get better.
(See that self-absorbed thinking? We heavy drinkers have a tendency to believe that we are special unicorns for whom all problems are uniquely unsolvable.)
And so it became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Down I’d go into a depressive spiral, usually all the way into a bottle of Jack.
Ask for help. And then actually do what you’re told.
Does that sound harsh? Bossy? Brainwashy?
It’s not meant to be.
But the thing is, sometimes when we ask for help, we aren’t REALLY open to hearing the advice because we either: A. want to believe that we are special, hopeless creatures, or B. think we know what will or won’t work already.
I’ve actually been dumped by therapists in the past for having a bad attitude and not being receptive to their suggestions.
Now, not every program or therapy approach is going to work for you. That’s true. But you don’t know until you try and you have to genuinely try.
Give it your God’s honest, 100% best effort and then decide if you need to make an adjustment.
Sobriety will get better when you are actually open to LEARNING from other people how to be a happy, stable individual. Because the thing is, we don’t actually know. It’s why we drank so much.
Do better things with your time.
A lot of people in recovery become fitness buffs and it makes sense. We gotta find new avenues to channel our energy and work out our stuff.
Why not take your anger, fear, and resentment out on a punching bag or a heavy barbell?
It works for some folks and has the added benefit of pumping your body full of endorphins, creating new neural connections in the brain, and helping reduce depression and anxiety.
You’ll start to transform your identity into someone who shows up, does the hard work, and looks smoking hot in a swimsuit.
Not into gyms?
It’s fine. I’m not a gym bunny either, though I do work out at least five times per week.
You can find something else – yoga, pilates, pottery, horticulture.
The point is to find activities to fill your time that help you become a better person. And then stick with them. Prove to yourself that you can finish what you start and be reliable. Push through and show up, even on days you don’t want to.
It will change you.
Sobriety gets better in its own time.
It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re running on a treadmill, getting nowhere, but feeling emotionally and physically exhausted.
Sobriety is really hard work! It’s messy. There are ugly parts to it.
But one day, you realize the clouds have lifted a little bit. For the first time you notice just how much has changed.
Maybe you’ve been more positive lately. Or perhaps you had a bad day and managed to handle it in a healthier way, and now you feel really good about that.
Whatever it is, if you keep working on your sobriety and believing that you have the power to change your life, you will do exactly that.
You’ll reach a point where you accept that there are some difficulties ahead of you, but you’re not afraid of them. You don’t feel defined by your past as strongly.
Or to put it another way, you have hope.
Sobriety starts to get better when you stop living exclusively in your painful past and start caring about a future that has potential.
But you have to create that for yourself and trust that if you REALLY commit to it, that you’ll get there eventually.
Some people get there faster than others. It’s not a race. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Their recovery is none of your business and vice versa.
You WILL get there.
And one day you’ll look back and think, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I was ever like that!” You just have to faith that you can.