Alcohol-free but still waiting for the benefits?

There’s no doubt it’s easier to stay sober when things are going well. Not only do you feel more hopeful and have a higher degree of faith in yourself to stay committed to an alcohol-free life, but you’re far less likely to hit the self-destruct button when you’re feeling happy.

When things are looking less rosy it can be all too tempting to throw the towel in and get submerged in booze as a way of blotting out the darker aspects of life. For those who have successfully cut out alcohol but are yet to notice any earth-shatteringly positive results, read on…

Life doesn’t become great simply because you stop drinking (at least not for everyone). Many heavy drinkers will have developed their alcohol habit directly because they are attempting to disguise an element of their life which they are fundamentally unhappy with. This may be a bad relationship, a job which is unfulfilling and/or stressful, or a painful bereavement. Alcohol, despite its numerous and severely damaging consequences, does work well in the short-term in numbing emotional suffering thus it’s an obvious choice of self-medication when times are tough.

When you quit drinking, the cushioning and fog disappear leaving the raw truth; this may not always be what you want as your reality.

So what’s the answer; continue drinking and cover the problem areas up (but also have to cope with the untold additional traumas that arise from heavy drinking) or stay alcohol-free and change the factors of life that are less than satisfactory?

There’s no definitive answer – the choice, as always, is down to you the individual. Being told that you should stop drinking by anyone is never going to be effective for your successful sobriety.

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A few years ago when I became alcohol-free there were areas of my life that I didn’t particularly like and that all of a sudden seemed to slam up close, impossible to ignore and demanding attention – any kind of attention. One such problem was that I suddenly realised I desperately wanted a second chance at being a mum and to be a part of a happy family following my acrimonious divorce and the subsequent years of single-parenthood. (The above photograph is of me, four months pregnant with my baby, Lily. To reach this point I had to work through my issues of low self-esteem and depression, both of which took a great deal of effort and time).

As I had spent 20 years blotting things out, covering stuff up and burying my head in a large glass of red I was somewhat unaccustomed to considering difficulties, developing tactics to deal with them and then putting my plans into action. One thing I really noticed as a newly alcohol-free person was that I craved instant gratification – I didn’t want to put any effort into working through issues. I just wanted them to go away, and NOW!

But real life isn’t like that. The big problems that may rear their ugly heads in a newly sober person’s life will not disappear at a click of the fingers. Such matters usually demand a reasonable amount of thought, effort and time (and sometimes a lot of heartache) if they are to be conquered and/or banished for good.

But the benefits to be derived from putting in this extra effort are;

a) reinforced self-confidence

b) increased self-esteem

c) the resolution of whatever the problem was in the first place

d) strengthened commitment to sobriety (because you have proved you can get through the bad times minus the booze).

There is nobody but you who truly knows whether it’s worth staying sober to fight the fight. But there’s nobody but you who will experience first-hand the full rewards of an alcohol-free life either – in the end, it’s a choice only you can make.

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Happiness

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Does it sound evangelical to say that I felt complete joy and happiness last night, as I pushed the baby’s pram up a steep hill in the driving rain, no hood or hat protecting my head from the downfall and howling gales, and the baby unable to see me or anything else owing to her rain cover being totally misted up with condensation? If I’m honest, I did feel a momentary pang of ‘urrghh this is utterly horrible and miserable and I want to be at home in dry clothes, under a blanket in front of the TV.’ But only for a minute, and then I reminded myself that I am living and this is what life is about sometimes; taking the dog for a walk in cold, wet weather in the dark.

Everyone tells you that alcohol is a depressant, and you know it’s true but somehow it’s easy to push that to one side and imagine that your lack of real happiness stems from life just being a bit rubbish.

When you stop drinking alcohol for good, you can experience something akin to an evangelical awakening – moments of happiness that border on delirium, as you realise that you are alive, and lucky for all that you have, and that you’ve survived stuff and emerged out the other side strong and full of vigour.

I feel joy at seeing the sunrise, listening to the baby wake up, gurgling and burbling to herself in her cot, hearing a song that I love, going for a good run and knowing that I am growing in strength and stamina, having a coffee and a chat with a friend, cooking a new recipe and eating the results.

I am happy nearly every day, at least for most of every day. I do get a bit grumpy or tired, occasionally a little stressed if I’m having a particularly busy and fraught day, but that’s just the normal human experience – I would be a robot if I never felt those things. Generally though, I am on an even keel and happiness is the mainstay of my emotions.

I know that’s because I don’t drink alcohol. It’s as simple as that. Drinking turned me against myself and created an internal battle of depression, anxiety and self-pity versus normality. Giving it up has allowed the real me to emerge, and the real me is happy and optimistic, calm and centred, full of creativity and determination and passion.

I am eternally grateful that I gave myself the chance to discover who I really am.