My parents have joined me for a couple of weeks' holiday in Spain. We're having a great time - we've travelled about, gone hiking, gone to beaches, had some lovely meals out, visited towns and cities.
While we're out and about, things are great, but... we rarely spend this much time together and, even though I get on well with them and we have plenty in common, there are aspects of their outlook and behaviour that are totally alien to me, especially when it gets to the evening and we're all cooped up trying to get cleaning and cooking and general chores done in a small space. Spending time 24/7 with them is proving challenging at times and I have no doubt they are feeling the same at times.
In the past, I would have dealt with the stressful moments by numbing out with alcohol. Alcohol would have provided instant relief and would have given me a sense of relaxation, happiness and peace whenever I felt irritated or stressed. That first glass of G&T or lager would be like a sigh of relief and I would instantly find the patience and good humour required to help create a happy atmosphere and my stress would dissolve.
The problem was that I was hiding the stress under the alcohol and next day, not only would I have the original source of the stress to deal with but I’d also have the depression, anxiety and hangover on top. This would result in even higher levels of stress and a heightened dependence on alcohol the next evening to deal with it.
Being sober doesn’t mean you never experience stress. In fact, without alcohol you end up staying with any stress for longer because you’re not running away from it. But you find ways of dealing with it, you ride through it and when you’re out the other side, you don’t have the hungover symptoms to contend with so you can get on with your life. You recover quicker.
So, for example, today has been a particularly stressful day in that the weather hasn’t been great and we’ve been stuck together inside for long stretches of time. I’ve been getting irritated with my mum’s endless polite questioning, faffing and worrying, to the point where I’ve had to work hard to not snap at her, I’ve pretended to smile and be interested in stuff I’m not interested in and I’ve had to walk out the room to get some space so I can breathe and re-set myself.
And now I’ve ridden through the stressful moments, I’m drained and tired. I’ve managed to have a rant with my partner to get some frustration out, I’ve vented some energy and frustration on a high-intensity workout and I’ve laughed at some comedy to release any remaining pent up energy. I'm drained and tired but I feel calm and relaxed and know that I will sleep well and feel fine in the morning.
All alcohol would have done would have been to disguise the frustration and stress. It wouldn’t have allowed me to feel the emotions and find ways to get through them. They would simply have been buried and might have come out in inappropriate ways when I was drunk or hungover. While those feelings were buried, they would have grown bigger and darker.
As it was, I felt some uncomfortable feelings for a while, found ways to help along their way and will now wake up in the morning clear-headed and fresh.
What staying sober also does is allows you to figure things out logically and healthily. So, I’ve been able to work out what I need to do tomorrow to avoid getting to the high stress levels I got to today. If I’d been drinking, I wouldn’t have any strategies in place and would have felt ten times worse tomorrow.
Although staying sober might seem like the tougher option in the moment, it makes life so much easier in the long-run.