I feel like I’ve crossed a threshold. At seven months sober, I have experienced the joy of blissing out on the “pink cloud” of sobriety, especially from around 6 weeks sober to around 5 months sober. I felt so proud of myself; solid in my decision, determined, certain, inspired, resolute, if not just a little self righteous. I did it! I managed to quit drinking alcohol. I slayed The Booze Bitch. I, who would never have thought my life could possibly be happy without the celebratory/rewarding/comforting glass(es) of whatever-booze, succeeded in letting go of the hold it had on me. I took control over alcohol. I loosened her grip and escaped the alcohol-induced hell of hangovers. I overcame anxiety, depression, and lethargy, self loathing, lack of productivity, shame. I felt like I had been reborn. My world was so full of light- colors appeared more vivid, emotions very tender and intense, flavors more profound. Everything was touched with magic to me, life was golden, magical. Then…I found myself, for the past couple of months or so, experiencing a lack of inspiration, motivation, excitement, joy. What happened?
All the reasons I quit drinking are still my most motivating factors for staying alcohol free, but I admit I found myself floating in the pond of nostalgia about my drinking days. Recently a group of four close women friends came into the restaurant at lunch time and ordered a bottle of wine to share. They were very friendly, in a giddy mood to be together. They revealed to me that this happy hour(s) together is a regular occurrence. Every Friday they come together to enjoy a bottle or two of wine and catch up on one another’s lives. I felt such a pang of longing as I heard them laughing and carrying on, reminded of all the times I have experienced the same with dear friends. Over these past few months, I have been struggling with discomfort. My mind and body have been feeling more burdened with heaviness that wasn’t there previously, while I am challenged to find the inspiration and joy that was bursting out of me not that long ago. If I entertain the thought of taking (drinking) something to feel better, temptation can quickly arise. If I allow nostalgia to sweep in and cause me to dwell on all the happy times I enjoyed while drinking, I start going down a dangerous path. I so understand now how and why people return to drinking after a length of time sober. The “high” of sobriety can lessen as real life returns us to our daily rounds with emotional, mental, physical and/or financial challenges. When feeling these uncomfortable emotions, the fantasy of an escape, the process of numbing them, is alluring.
My communities of sober folks help me stay on the sober path. We are all Cheerleaders for one another, such a beautiful thing. As I read the regret expressed when someone falls back into drinking after weeks, months, sometimes even years of sobriety, I imagine how devastating that would be for me. I can actually feel the pain, the agony, the remorse, and the shame. It is harder to stop again each time we go back to drinking because we reinforce the dependence our brain has developed on the substance, we intensify our internal sense of failure, and we lose trust in ourselves. That happened to me over years of telling myself I could be a moderate drinker, so I know those feelings all too well. What a crazy hamster wheel to be stuck on, a dangerous trap supported enthusiastically by our society, our culture of boozers and the ever powerful alcohol industry.
The secret to getting past the fantasy of how wonderful a glass of wine would taste, how delightful the blissful buzz of intoxication would feel, is complex. First off, it is a fantasy, not real, not true. The most successful way to stay sober, to say no to that first drink, is to immediately associate that glass of wine, or cocktail, or beer, with the after effects of withdrawal. If I drink a glass of wine, I will love the feeling for maybe twenty minutes. Then, I will want another as the happy, sedative, relaxing effect wears off. I will want to continue this feeling of letting go of whatever concerns or worries might have been plaguing me, and I will make sure I have another. The second drink will further sedate me and start increasing my hunger as it decreases my impulse control. I will want to have something to eat along with my drink, and this will lead me to make less healthy decisions about what I put in my body, along with a lack of motivation to cook a healthy, balanced meal followed by a thorough cleaning of the kitchen post cooking. Maybe by this time I am on drink three, sleepy and now beating myself up because I allowed myself to give in to this intense craving, this evil temptress. And now what?
As I associate the pleasures of drinking with the agony of alcohol dependence, I can beat the cravings. Boom, nip them right in the bud before they take me to a place I never, ever want to revisit. Every time I stop nostalgia from shining her rose-colored lenses on my memories of drinking, halt the tendency to forget the risky behavior, deny the anxiety and depression that were so intense and debilitating, I win. Memories of past relationships with almost anything, including former loves, can be delusional, with only the happy times playing vividly in technicolor as our hearts long for the best of what we shared, dismissing the painful periods. It is so important to retrain our minds to relate our drinking to all that happens with it. Our drinking culture makes this especially difficult with the emphasis on how pleasurable and celebratory life with booze is presented to us, all the brainwashing we experience from media, advertising, movies, perhaps even our home environment. As we come to accept and understand the truth, the facts of what alcohol actually does to our body, our brain, and our spirit, we take control and we win. My body, mind, and spirit deserve the very best I can give them, and so do yours. Sobriety requires being fierce. We’ve got this!