Q: How long will it take before I can go out and feel confident and happy about not drinking? It’s been 6 weeks since I stopped drinking and I still feel crap. I feel like I’m missing out and I’m getting frustrated that it’s still hard work and I’m still not feeling this sober amazing that everyone talks about.
A: Hi MomoBean, lovely to hear from you and thanks for the great question – this is one that will help lots of people who are in a similar position to you. I want to answer it in 4 parts:
Firstly, well done on your 6 weeks sober! This is a GREAT achievement and I hope you’re celebrating this (soberly 😉) and acknowledging your strength and how far you’ve come.
Secondly, go easy on yourself. 6 weeks of being sober is very early days. If you’ve spent years training your brain to reach for alcohol as an automatic response to certain emotions, situations or triggers then it’s going to take some time and commitment to retrain it. When we first start living life sober after years of using alcohol, we’re literally learning a new skill. We’re learning how to live life sober because we don’t know how to do it yet. Like learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new language or learning to dance, it’s going to take practice before it becomes “automatic” in the way drinking was automatic before. You need to do lots more practising of new, healthier habits in all those situations when you used to reach for alcohol to rewire your brain to get comfortable with doing things differently.
The good news is, it does get easier with practice and, with the right mindset and some commitment and focus, you do reach a point where you are happy and confident living life sober and you’re not thinking about alcohol or drinking at all – it doesn’t cross your mind.
Thirdly, how long does it take to get to this point? It varies from person to person. I felt amazing after 3 months sober, dipped into feeling crap at about 6 months sober (when I started dealing with the anxiety issues that surfaced because I was no long using alcohol as a “medicine”) then got back into an even keel after about a year. I know people who have reached confident and automatic sobriety after 6 months and people who have got there after 2 years. Different people, different timescales. What helps is having the right mindset and the right tools to help you along the way. Having a positive approach to living life sober and imagining it as a huge gain that liberates you and gets you what you want is helpful here. Check out these 2 blogs for some ideas about this: What story are you telling yourself? and An Easier Way.
Fourthly, what is this “sober amazing” that you’re referring to? Life is so much better when you’re living it sober because you’re more connected with yourself, with other people and with the world around you. You get to live life fully without the barriers of hangovers, anxiety, shame, paranoia and low self-confidence getting in the way. You get to live your aspirations and be the best version of yourself.
But even though there is much joy and liberation and marvelling at life to be had when you’re sober, even though you can deal with life’s ups and downs more easily when you’re sober, even though you’re more in control of you when you’re sober, life isn’t always amazing. I still have awful days. I get to feel more pain, more anxiety and more fear because I’m not numbing out to it any more. But, the flip side of that is that I get to feel more joy, more connectedness and more satisfaction too.
The truth is that the good bits are better and the bad bits are better because you’re not dealing with them through a fog of alcohol, but there are still good and bad bits. There is no wondrous “amazing ever after” when you’re sober – you just get to be present and in control for it all.
However, what there is, after a certain amount of time (as I said before, different timescales for different people) is a happy confidence in your sobriety and a point where alcohol doesn’t feature in your thinking. When you can go to pubs, parties, social gatherings, weddings, family events, barbecues, picnics – even weekend evenings at home – and enjoy them completely sober without concentrating, without feeling bad, without feeling like you’re missing out and without giving any energy to alcohol. And, it’s less of a magical line that you step over suddenly and more of a gradual merging from one way of thinking/feeling/being to another. And, this gradual merging takes practice and time.
So, go easy on yourself. You’ve done an amazing job so far! You have the strength to keep going and to keep practising until it all becomes automatic. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not feeling deliriously happy yet. Protect yourself, take it easy, hide from the world when you have to and don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure or strain because you’re judging yourself against an imaginary criteria. Your journey into living life happily sober is as long as it needs to be and you WILL get there if you have a clear idea of your destination in mind.
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