The 4 Emotional Stages of Sobriety

I stopped drinking in April 2011, embarking on a journey that began in the early hours of one spring morning and which has taken me on a convoluted and emotionally turbulent ride, finally allowing me to climb off into a place that resembles contentment and emotional stability. For anyone who has recently ditched alcohol, I have written the following; it outlines my experiences of the different emotional stages I travelled through in the 23 months between my last drink and today, and I hope that it might help those of you who are new to sobriety by giving you a bit of a heads up of what to expect in this new and exciting chapter of your life.

alcoholic

Stage 1 – the joys of the natural high

As an alcohol-dependent person who had felt terribly out of control of her own life for many, many years, the first few weeks and months of living as a non-drinker were a breath of fresh air. The joy of waking up each day and not immediately running through a mental checklist of who I had insulted/let down/hurt the night before was beyond compare. I literally jumped out of bed each day, a massive weight of anxiety removed from around my neck. Gone were the fears of developing breast cancer or dying of liver failure; the dreaded guilt and shame that I suffered as a result of doing something stupid and/or irresponsible when under the influence were gone – I felt free as a bird. Going out socially was a wonderful experience, as previously I had always felt butterflies in my stomach as I feared how the night ahead would unfold, never knowing how drunk I would get and where that state of mind would take me. Instead I knew that I was finally calling the shots – I would decide who to talk to, what I said, whether or not I chatted someone up/allowed myself to be chatted up; this was me, and not that idiot who I became after too much wine. This first period was characterised by a sense of freedom, lightness and joy.

Stage 2 – boredom and why me?

OK, nothing lasts forever. After a couple of months, I became beset by a black mood and the doubts began to creep in. The little devil on my shoulder grew in his boldness and whereas the angel had definitely ruled the roost in the early weeks, the voice of addiction became louder and more assertive in this second phase. The following are examples of the conversations I had with my devil; what if I’m not addicted to alcohol? What if I just need to learn how to moderate? Could it be that my boyfriend would prefer me to be more under control to suit him better, and that’s why he professes concern at how much I was drinking?

Who is he to think he can control you? Doesn’t he see that you are a free spirit – you don’t run with the crowds, you are different, untamed; alcohol is a part of who you are. Everyone else in the world is allowed to drink and get drunk – why the hell can’t I? It’s not fair.

In the midst of this period, I initiated a blazing row with my boyfriend (now my fiancé) and told him in no uncertain terms that I was planning on drinking that night. He tried in vain to convince me that it was the addiction talking, but how could it be? It was so convincing and powerful – that was me talking, the voice was coming right from within me. We stormed up to the pub together and he ordered himself a pint and sat outside. I scuttled up to the bar after he had taken his seat, my heart beating ferociously and my cheeks burning.

I ordered a lime and soda.

Every tiny piece of me wanted to buy alcohol except for the tiniest voice, hidden somewhere deep inside me. It told me that I would never change if I bought a glass of wine now; this moment was definitive – it would determine whether I stayed on the road to self-discovery and a better life, or if I returned hell for leather to that old path of destruction. I couldn’t let myself down, and I stuck to my guns.

Stage 3 – resolute but bitter

I turned a corner that night and all doubt was removed. The devil fell away from my shoulder, but nothing replaced him for a long time. There followed months of falling in a vacuum; I accepted my lot as a non-drinker but I wasn’t happy about it. I missed alcohol terribly – I wanted to sit outside pubs in the summer, laughing gaily over a big glass of icy cold white wine. I wanted to get glammed up and drink cocktails in a fancy bar, enjoying the sense of relaxation, of throwing caution to the wind and forgetting my cares for a night. At times, I hated other people for being ‘allowed’ to drink. This was a very difficult stage.

After several months of this, I read Jason Vale’s book, ‘How to Kick the Drink…Easily!’ and my life changed. I suddenly saw alcohol for what it really is, and I knew that all those voices and cravings I had felt over the last year or so were as a result of slowly weaning myself off a very powerful and prevalent, socially acceptable drug. I gave myself a break – began to let go of the regrets and shame that I was still carrying around with me. The bitterness slowly dissolved into contentment; the sun began to shine once again.

Stage 4 – understanding me, as a non-drinker

The final stage is the best. Over the last couple of years I have worked through many emotions and feelings of regret, sadness, anger, bitterness, sorrow, remorse, jealousy and fear. After a good year and a half, the negativity became noticeably reduced; as my self-esteem grew and my appreciation of the world and everything in it was heightened due to the clarity that comes from not poisoning your body with alcohol on an almost daily basis, it was as though the bad thoughts were mopped up one by one by my new found positivity and optimistic take on life.

I stopped experiencing wine envy when I walked past a pub full to bursting with drunken, loud revellers, but I didn’t huff and puff either – drinking is their choice, just as not drinking is mine. I love my life and I am grateful every day that alcohol no longer plays a part in it. I never have moments on a Friday night like the ones I had in the early days – DVD, nice bottle of wine, oh how wonderful it would feel to just kick back and slowly feel the alcohol ameliorating all my anxieties. It simply isn’t a part of my consciousness any more – I drove it out and replaced my addiction with happiness and good health.

It would have been perhaps easier to jump straight from Stage 1 to Stage 4, but the journey has allowed me to learn so much about who I really am, minus the veneer of alcohol, and I wouldn’t have missed it out even if I could have. I had no idea that when I stopped drinking it would be necessary to undergo such emotional turbulence; to feel as though my old self has been through a seriously intense recalibration before being reinstalled with a new lease of life, eventually leaving a turbocharged version of me back in the driving seat of my future. I didn’t expect any of that, but I am 100% happy that it happened.

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44 thoughts on “The 4 Emotional Stages of Sobriety

  1. Great post I relate to all of it. Congrats on almost 2 years! I will get that book you mentioned. Sounds like it has good insights I could use. Thanks so much! I will roe log this.

  2. WOW, great post. Totally boils down what I’ve been experiencing, that’s for sure. I’m in my own version of stage 3–not 100% resolute (a part of me still thinks I can and wants to drink in moderation…some day soon) and bitter! The more I keep coming back to “still thinks I can and wants to drink in moderation,” the more I keep wondering: But, what does it MEAN to drink in moderation and most importantly, how could it improve my life? Sure, the temporary buzz might be nice (or would it?), but it’s all for nothing if I’m hung over for 2 days after, right? Right. There is nothing, in my mind these days, “healthy” about drinking, whether it’s one glass or three (I guess, my idea of moderation)! NOTHING. Thank you for this, it really spoke to me. GREAT post! xx

    • Thank you – I was stuck in that stage on so many occasions before I gave up drinking for good. I just couldn’t accept that I couldn’t learn to moderate. If everyone else can do it, why can’t I?!! But in the end, I think you have to weigh up the negatives and positives, and my list of negatives was growing longer by the day. Good luck on your journey, I wish you all the best. Lucy x

  3. SR says:

    Wonderful story! Though I loved all the points you made here, the one which really made me think was jumping from “stage 1 to stage 4.” We like to get ahead of ourselves all the time, without remembering, “We did not get like this in a day, and we are not coming out of it in a day.” It is like losing weight. It took years to get over weight, but we want to see twenty pounds off the next day. Good post and God Bless, SR

    • Thanks so much! I’m really pleased that you liked this post. I just know that so many people try really hard to give up alcohol and then give up after a few weeks when the amazing sense of clarity and freedom fails to materialize…I wanted to let people know that it will, but it takes a bit of time. It’s a journey that is well worth taking! Many thanks again, Lucy x

  4. Lozstar says:

    Thanks Lucy – you desribe me and the internel conversations I have when I go AF. Today I have started day 1 (this is my third attempt) and thinking now about these stages is helpful. Can I ask how long was it from stoppping to reaching stage 4? My husband can moderate having only one or two glasses I can’t and I fear that I am going to get breast cancer or damage my relationship with my husband and son. I don’t remember the arguments the night before and I seem to wake up nearly every morning regretting something. My memory is suffering and I am out of my training plan to run my first half marathon. The crazy thing is I stopped smoking 4 years ago (although I used Champix for 10 weeks whcih was a big help) and last year I lost 3 stone and took up running and in six months went from couch to 5k. But when it comes to drinking I cant stick with it and apply some of the strategies that worked for stopping smoking – has anyone else used medication to support been AF? I am going to look for the book you mentioned although I have Alan Carr’s easy way to control alcohol which helped me in my first attempt in 2009 which I lasted 7 months. Any tips as I still yean to moderate and not 100% confident that I want a AF life – it seems too big an goal. Thanks x

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. I stopped drinking in April 2011 and I reached Stage 4 in the summer of 2012 – so just over a year. Well done for stopping smoking, and for the weight loss – you obviously don’t have any trouble with will power! Personally, I believe that to kick an excessive drinking habit, it probably is best to go the whole hog. When you are sober you have all the best intentions and then as soon as you have a couple of drinks, your resolve weakens because alcohol is a drug. However, unless you can get to a place where you really WANT to live without alcohol, and you don’t feel in any way that this is something that has been forced on you, you won’t succeed. I would get Jason Vale’s book – there is no better place to start in my mind. I too have tried Alan Carr’s but it didn’t get into my conscience like Jason did :-). Are you a member of Soberistas.com? You will find loads of support and like-minded people on there, and it’s free to join. Also, can you take up a hobby as a means of distraction to get you through Stages 2 and 3? It worked for me. Good luck, stay in touch and let me know how you get on. Lucy xx

  5. This was a really great explanation of the four stages. I’m on a journey to be “poison-free”. In the past, I completely eliminated it, but then found that if I slipped, the perfectionist in me would beat myself up so much that it was tough to get back onboard. I’m taking a different approach this time, and doing a lot more thinking and analyzing throughout the process. I’m working on reducing with an overall goal of elimination, and I do see a glimmer of hope to get there. Anyways, excellent stuff and I’m glad it was re-blogged as I may not have seen it. 🙂

  6. Hi 🙂 just read your story and that’s so damn great – 2 years without the devil that’s what I call it. I’ve been without the devil now for 3 years. My life now is AMAZING it’s had it’s fare share of downs than ups in the first year or so, but my life now is in Technicolor. I relate a lot to that honeymoon period then SLAP in the face the devil appears from no where, overwhelming, powerful and damn right cunning. What helped for me was I handed it over to my angel and she Protected me & still does. Went to AA but wasn’t for me. Am a big believer that we HAVE to live Amongst drink as its a drinking Culture we can’t hide away the AA way. I love The Soberistas Ways they are far more healthy upon the mind. Love your story. Life’s great and I never ever thought I would say that xx

  7. Thanks so much for your wonderfully upbeat response to my blog! I can just tell how happy you are and how much you are relishing living without the torment of alcohol addiction lurking in your mind. I am so glad that you banished your demons, and that you took the time to share your experiences here. All the best – wishing you a very happy and healthy life! Lucy xx

  8. Shirl says:

    OMG never read anything so true to my situation, thank you so much. I am not AF but wish I was, it is so destructive in my life…. Arguments …. Oh why I drink so much …….. But there is hope in your words, thanks x

    • Thank you for writing this – you’re not alone! If you are looking for some extra motivation in giving up the demon drink, you might want to take a look at http://www.soberistas.com – it’s free to join and you will find loads of support and advice on there (if you aren’t already a member that is!). Thanks again for taking the time to comment on my blog – really appreciate it, and glad that you are able to relate.
      Lucy xx

  9. I just read your running entry as well as this one. I love the fact that you have a Jack Russell, AND her name is Lucy, so maybe I should take it as a sign! XD

  10. Stephanie says:

    This is so true, about the two different voiced telling you different things. I have recently replaced weed with wine… But now that addiction might be taking over so maybe it’s time it cut all habit and addiction that are taking over us!! Though positive posts like these, it makes it very easy. I am just thinking its time for me too, to start a new journey. S

  11. Stephanie says:

    This was a great post to read. I really like how you broke it down into four stages. I am teetering between 2 and 3 right now. I was so broken when I went to my first meeting and then so proud of myself that I finally stopped drinking. But then what does one do if you don’t go out to eat and drink with friends, and who are your friends now. Thankful that I found yoga, i don’t drink, I go to meetings, I practice yoga. In a world that has so much to offer, I don’t even want to be bored. And now I miss the drinking part because i have to deal with all that’s lying underneath. Lots to work on!
    It’s a post like this that makes me happy I found soberistas. Thank you for sharing.

    • Lisa says:

      “And now I miss the drinking part because i have to deal with all that’s lying underneath. Lots to work on!” That’s me!!! Loved this post and this article!

  12. chelsea says:

    I am newly sober and definitely heading into stage 2, so I appreciated hearing about your experience. It’s so frustrating — I’m feeling better and so much more in control of myself, so there’s that little nagging voice that tells me that of course I can go buy a bottle of wine and not descend back into alcoholism, despite being an alcoholic for almost 20 years. I have to constantly remind myself to just give my mind and body a break — to go through the process of feeling bored and finding something productive to fill that space instead of running round for a bottle of wine or vodka to anesthetize myself. I’m slowly getting into a routine of sleeping and waking, which really helps. I’ve lost so much of myself to alcohol, and honestly, the thought of discovering myself again is both thrilling and terrifying.

    • Hi Chelsea, thanks for your comment. It is incredibly difficult in the early days, I feel your frustration! That voice of persuasion can be so incessant and sound so reasonable, it takes a lot of inner strength to stand up to it and say no. But with every time you do say no, it will get a tiny bit easier, until eventually it becomes your new normal. Stick with it, you’ll get there, and the new you will be well worth the fight.
      Lucy x

  13. New beginnings says:

    I just read your story and I have to say that it is very helpful. I just recently put the drink down for good. So I am very new at this new life. So far I couldn’t be happier. I still feel the urge, but I have made my mind up that nothing will allow me to go back to that lifestyle. I grew up in a family of alcohol abuse and then went into the military which added to the fun filled occasions of heavy drinking party nights. For the longest time I only drank on the weekends at night…but years later when life became extremely stressful, it became a nightly routine. Never during the day, but just those few hours at night. I never thought I would find myself trapped and craving drinks during each night years later. I downplayed it for a longtime. I felt it wouldn’t affect me or anyone else around me. I was 100% wrong. It was slowly building a black hole for my future and the possible loss of my kids and fiancée. For a while now I knew it was time to stop and finally I knew it was time. I was 100% sure. I was scared to stop. Now I couldn’t be happier. I am starting to know how good life really is without drinking. I’m gonna keep following the site and try with all my power to never go back. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so happy I found your story.

  14. Natasha says:

    I am newly sober for the 50000000th time. Reading this definitely brought things into perspective and helped me to relate to why I always fail. I always try & convince myself that I can learn to “moderate”, but I should know by now, by fault of repetition, that it is impossible for me. The insanity is that I will actually try & convince myself that I can. I think the part that bothers me the most, and is also why I cannot seem to move past the early stages of sobriety, is the whole jealousy factor and a definite fear of missing out. I think to myself “why can’t I just go out and drink? Everyone else is!” Or “maybe if I just try to have two glasses of wine instead of ten, I’ll be fine.” It always starts with two glasses maybe the first few nights then weeks later I find myself in the same familiar, dark, regretful hole; trying to brush it off by imbibing even more the next night. I’m hoping to just get past the jealousy of others’ drinking and the boredom long enough to maybe just be ok with being sober and not feel like I exist in limbo.

    Thanks for the blog. I find reading sober blogs especially helpful in times of doubt & self-pity.

  15. This is me, exactly. Really determined this time to get through to the final stage, but stage two seems to be a mix of hope and self-deception – the latter results in ‘just one glass’ and this of course sabotages everything. I love waking up AF and actually liking myself, instead of experiencing the awful rumination and self hatred (even small amounts now have this effect). Your articles are so valuable – a real light through a dark tunnel. Please keep writing! xo

  16. Betty D says:

    Jason Vale’s book has been my saviour. I’d actually stopped drinking for a few days before I started reading it and I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it! It’s still by my bed now 2 years on & I keep rereading chapters (not so much now but in the first 12 months especially). Would highly recommend to anyone considering giving up booze.

    I can certainly relate to the four stages you mention. Although 2 years on I still think about alcohol (it’s hard not to I our culture!) however it’s more in a thankful kind of way & I’m so grateful I’ve been given/made the decision to stop drinking for good. xx

  17. Patti says:

    Thank you for this blog, I’m going into my 3rd week of not drinking wine that I love so much. But this has helped me understand better of the feelings & cravings I’ve been going through. Thank you.

  18. Thank you for this post. It has helped me a LOT. I’m stuck somewhere between stage 2 & 3 at the moment – furiously ANGRY, frustrated, bored and irritable. It is REALLY nice to know that I am ‘normal’ – it gives me strength to think that there is hope , and things will improve. I hope you dont mind if I reblog this on my site ?

    https://wordpress.com/alcoholfree2016.com

    • Hi Lily, thanks a lot for this and I’m really pleased that this post has helped you! You are totally normal for feeling all those things – we can’t fix it overnight but it does get much better with time :-).
      Thanks for the reblog and stick with it. Lucy xx

  19. David says:

    I loved reading this story. I am just seven days into my journey of no alcohol. My first aim is to get through the month – and I genuinely don’t know what will happen then. I hope that I can continue. There are some serious ‘trigger points’ coming up over the next week or so – mainly when I am working away from home for a couple of nights – which has always been an opportunity to drink without having to face any criticism at home. Any tips on how to deal with this situation?

    • Hi David, first of all well done for getting started on a brilliant booze-free lifestyle! I know triggers can be make it really tough and there are a lot, in the first year especially. The things that got me through in the early weeks were running, avoiding social events where I would traditionally have got very drunk (including seeing certain friends in the daytime only for coffee – the pub was too much of a temptation initially), and reading Jason Vale’s book, How To Kick The Drink…Easily! which really worked in terms of changing how I perceived alcohol. Soberistas.com provides a platform for talking to thousands of other people who are also striving to stay alcohol-free so well worth checking it out if you haven’t already. Good luck with it all, Lucy

  20. Great post Lucy! Stage 4 is the best, is a bit like coming out of a long tunnel and finally seeing the light and knowing that it was all so worth it. I gave up 10 years ago now, and blog about my experience as well.

  21. ELLJAYPEE says:

    Lucy, Thank you for this. My sobriety is in the infant stages at only 3 weeks, but the clarity and raw emotions are sometimes so heavy, I’m not sure how I got to this place. I’m not giving up my sobriety to deal with the feelings; I’m learning new ways to handle emotions I never let come to the surface as a drunk. One day at a time!

  22. Congratulations on your New life! Thank you for sharing your experience! At this time I am writing my dissertation and enjoy reading and learning what it takes to become sober and remain. Please advise to new material and expert in the field of study. Please forward additional information to mrssample22@gmail.com.
    Blessings to you and all that regain their vision of life and sobriety!

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