There are a few things you realize after quitting the booze. Perhaps the first is just how different life feels. There was your life while drinking, and now there’s your life after, where everything feels muted, as if you’ve just broken the surface after years of being submerged. There is a period of self-estrangement where you wonder if the person you were before and the phantom you are now are one and the same. Social interaction becomes exhausting. The anxiety and depression you were merely tempering with alcohol reaches hellish depths, until you find yourself days or weeks into a black hole, binge watching TV (my pick was Homeland, perfect for misery viewing), ignoring phone calls and otherwise voluntarily secluding yourself from the world. The people in your life, for all their good intentions (if that can even be said), can’t or won’t understand what this is like. And anyway, you wouldn’t even begin to know how to explain it to them.
You may find yourself physically tormented as well, bloated and constipated for days or weeks at a time. Insomnia may become a fact of your life. You’ll be highly irritable, angry, and guilt ridden for who knows how long. But you’ll have to take care of yourself now, because no one is coming. Even if you are lucky enough to have support, you’ll still have to do the heavy lifting yourself. You’ll have to get up out of bed when you’d rather lie there. You’ll have to brush your teeth, take a shower and eat a meal, do your laundry. If you can get these basic things done, then maybe next week you can get to the gym. And the week after that, to your doctor (I know you’ve been avoiding this forever). In this game of getting better, time is on your side. If it takes a month or six, so be it.
Slowly, you begin to surface. Sometimes, you just have to keep yourself alive and functioning. And so that’s what you do. You try to get to sleep at a normal hour and wake up before half the day is gone, with mixed results of course. Many a night will be spent wide-eyed, hovered over your laptop tinkering with various projects, hate reading, misery reading (two different things entirely), ruminating, masturbating, and cringing at the memory of past indiscretions. You’ll have entirely too much time on your hands with no idea how to structure it.
What this experience does for you, this psychic and physical purging, is immensely valuable in ways that you can’t see while you’re in the midst of it. Years of drinking have numbed you to your anguish, have prevented you fully confronting the facts of your life, and placated you with an illusion of control, when really you’ve only been holding on. The emotional withdrawal that comes upon quitting a reliance upon any toxic crutch, whether that be booze, drugs, or a bad relationship, forces you into a deep intra-personal conflict that has probably been delayed for some time, maybe even your entire life.
Life will feel hollow and joyless for a while. I’m not even sure how long to be honest. The friends you had whilst drinking are gone, and the friends you had before are hard to relate to, especially if they’ve got their shit together. You’re still unemployed or underemployed, or worse, forced to show up to a job you can’t meet the demands of. At this point, you can barely run daily errands without wanting to run back home and retreat to the comforting glow of your laptop. Life sucks just as much sober as it did when I was drinking, you think. What’s the fucking point? But then you realize something quite amazing. In the three weeks or months since you’ve stopped drinking, you realize that you don’t need it anymore. Sure you might have an urge to drink still, but that’s all it is, an urge, and soon even that disappears. You no longer need alcohol. Those weeks and months of violent turmoil and turbulence ushered in a sea change of some kind. Even if you’re still miserable, at least you’re not compounding your own misery anymore. If life isn’t necessarily “better” sober, it’s at least a hell of a lot more authentic.
Becoming sober is almost like being an infant again. You have to learn how to talk to people again, how to read social cues, how to wait, how to be comfortable standing in your own skin. Social interactions become daunting to get through, because the booze and drugs made them too easy in the first place. Life is hard, and alcohol and drugs can at best temporarily relieve the stresses of the day. Sobriety means a lot more than putting away the blunt or beer. It means looking at things, perhaps for the first time, with clarity.
I don’t want to be one of those people who swears he’ll never drink again. There’s nothing more annoying than a zealot who insists that anyone who has ever had a problem with alcohol should never, ever, ever drink again or their lives will surely end in misery and death. I do think that one should stop drinking if they find their reasons for drinking change. If you find that you are no longer just drinking socially or even because you enjoy it, but you are drinking to maintain yourself, you should stop. If you are drinking even though you hate drinking (and every drinker reaches that point), maybe it’s time to stop. I don’t subscribe to the ways of the Big Book or AA or any of that fuckery. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been sober. It doesn’t matter how long you will be sober. Whether it’s another two days or two decades, you’re sober now. That should be enough.