When I think about my life now compared to my life when I was drinking, a sea of realisations washes over me in waves. The biggest and strongest is this: that life sober delivers everything that alcohol promised and then denied me.
The promises alcohol made me were empty.
Alcohol promised me confidence. But my feelings of guilt, shame and paranoia when I was drinking led to a drastic drop in my self-confidence and self-belief. The lack of quality sleep that heavy alcohol consumption led to and the impact on my brain function meant that I was feeling my way through a thick and heavy curtain that weighed me down. I’d stopped being able to stand up straight and look people in the eye.
Alcohol promised me escape from stress. But it just plastered over the stress for an hour or two and then the issues causing the stress were still there. Only they were still there with the added stress from my hungover and anxious state the next day.
Alcohol promised me enjoyment and happiness. But, although it felt a bit like happiness for the first drink or two, it ended up feeling like I was chasing something elusive or non-existent – always looking for the next drink to bring me that feeling and never quite getting it. Until I’d drunk so much that I felt out-of-control and slurry. As far from happy as I could get. And, then I felt terrible the next day and would have to go through at least two days of “recovering” before I would feel normal, let alone happy. And, this is no surprise when you consider that alcohol is a toxic depressant and, after an initial and brief high, leads to a heavy come-down.
Alcohol promised me relief from anxiety and panic. But, although I felt relieved and more relaxed with the first drink or two, my anxiety and stress levels for days after drinking would be worse. The number of anxiety attacks I experienced gradually went up over the last couple of years I was drinking. This makes sense because research shows us that heavy consumption of alcohol leads to higher rates of poorer mental health and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Partly because neither the brain nor the body get the quality sleep they need to refresh and restore themselves and partly because of the effect alcohol has on brain function.
For me, this was also about my shame and paranoia. Feeling like I had a problem made me feel bad about myself. This affected my self-confidence and anxiety kicked in harder and harder. While I had been plastering over the issues that had led to anxiety attacks, I hadn’t given myself a chance to address and heal them.
Alcohol promised me a more uninhibited version of myself. But the more I drank, the more I curled in on myself and the more inhibited and fearful I became in my everyday life.
Being sober, on the other hand, has enabled me to get more of everything I wanted from alcohol.
My self-confidence has returned as I become more of the person I want to be. Life sometimes still hands me stressful situations to deal with but I handle them better. I can control my responses and manage my emotional states so that I make better decisions and behave in ways that are healthier for me so any stress is short-lived. I have experienced more joy and happiness in just a few years of being alcohol-free than I did in the last decade of my drinking days. It’s not a drug-induced superficial high, it’s a natural joy in simple and easy things that make me happy, things like spending time with loved ones, laughing with a friend, appreciating the beauty and magnificence of a natural landscape or giggling out loud at a book I’m reading.
Since ditching the drink I have had the clear head I needed to be able to address some of the issues that led to fluctuating levels of anxiety. I rarely experience anxiety attacks now and, if I do notice that I’m feeling an unhealthy level of anxiety, I can easily diffuse it with healthy techniques that I have learnt. I’m generally much calmer, happier and in control. I’m more relaxed and uninhibited in my approach to life because I’ve built a healthier and more loving relationship with myself. Because I’m happier with who I am, I can express myself more and am much less self-conscious than I was in my shame-heavy drinking days.
All the things I wanted from alcohol were only attainable without it.
What is alcohol promising you that you know is a big fat lie?
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