monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking

After quitting: can you be cool and sober?

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So it’s 3 ½ months since I quit drinking.  It’s an experience which feels like it’s taken ages – but in reality it’s a fairly short period of time. I’ve been reflecting on some of the different stages I’ve been through:

  1. Day 1: The miserable decision – I reached a stage of being so miserable about my drinking that I made a decision that I would quit – permanently, without hesitation or conditions. It was a profound experience and I still can’t explain why (compared with so many previous attempts) that I just knew that this time was for real.
  2. The first couple of weeks: The initial detox – for the first week or two I felt strung out, anxious, jittery, headachey, brittle & on edge. It wasn’t like a dramatic detox scene in a movie but it had me pretty preoccupied. I wasn’t tempted to drink but alcohol still dominated my thoughts. I remember compulsively checking a phone app to see how many hours it had been since my last drink during this phase – it’s been 85 hours now… it’s been 88 hours now… by the time I wake up it will be 96 hours.
  3. The first month & a bit: Endless questions  – After my body started to calm down from the physical addiction, my mind started to ask a lot of questions like: how will I deal with social situations?; what if there’s booze in food?; how will I tell people?; what will I do with all this spare time? etc…  Again – my attention was still on alcohol and what I’d given up.
  4. The last couple of months: embracing new routines – by this stage alcohol started to fade into the background, I wasn’t thinking about it all the time & I started to lose track of how long it had been. I threw myself into doing things to replace the void. Fitness & rebuilding my body has preoccupied me – admittedly I’ve been a bit fixated.  I’ve also focused on visually reinventing myself – I’ve lost weight & I’ve bought new clothes with my alcohol savings (Ummm ‘cos my old pants were falling down). I’ve felt really good about my appearance & even had a new haircut to top it off.  I know it’s superficial stuff – but it reflected the changes which were happening inside me.  Almost every day someone makes a comment about my weight, that I look younger, that I’m looking really fit, that they like my shirt and I admit that I’ve enjoyed it.

And now I feel like I’m getting close to a new chapter – it’s not here yet but it’s in sight.

I suspect I’ve got a bit of internal stuff to do as well as external stuff. I was a  particularly geeky kid – and by my late teens, alcohol had become part of a new, edgier me. Pushing boundaries, risk-taking and ‘swimming against the stream’ were intertwined with alcohol (and sex, drugs, piercings, tattoos, where I lived, what I ate, who I hung out with etc).

Recently I was in a situation where I told some cool & edgy people that I don’t drink. I felt like I have to justify that I’m still cool & reassure them that I’m not a member of the local Lutheran temperance committee.  Part of me even wanted to tell them that my drinking was so hard core that I had to quit (but that’s really lame). Even at work when people joke about getting drunk, I still join in and don’t mention that it’s been months without a drink.

Can you be sober – and cool?  As I see it there are 3 options:

  1. I could start doing some bizarre extreme sports or try to be hardcore in a different area
  2. I could give up trying to be cool and edgy and just be comfortable with myself
  3. Decide that it’s counter-cultural to be sober in a society which celebrates excess alcohol

Or maybe it’s a bit of all three?  I probably will need to replace some of the thrill and relaxation which alcohol gave me, get comfortable in my own skin, and get used to pushing against the pressure to drink.

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