Sobriety: The Gift that Keeps On Giving

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I’ll always remember how angry I was the day someone suggested I give up drinking. I had gone out with some friends to celebrate my birthday. My birthday technically fell on a Monday, so we all went out for drinks the Saturday before. Things got a little crazy, as they always would with the crew. I don’t remember exactly how it went, but I was later told there was a point where I joined a girl up on stage, and as a result, we couldn’t go back to that particular club anymore. Sunday I mostly stayed in bed, recovering with a bit of the “hair of the dog” to stave off a hangover. Monday it was time to go back to work, and I continued the same “recovery” plan as Sunday. I wasn’t in good shape to work, but whatever, I thought. Today’s my birthday, they’re lucky I even showed up. It was around lunchtime, after an utterly unproductive morning, when my friend and co-worker, who we’ll call Mike in this story, confronted me. He had been with me Saturday night, and was apparently the one who made sure I ended up home safe after blacking out. I remember the conversation perfectly. “Listen, man,” he said, already obviously uncomfortable. “Saturday was a lot of fun, and it’s always a great time hanging out with you. But maybe you should lay off the booze a little next time. Things got a little out of control, and it’s not the first time.” I blew up almost immediately. I was apoplectic and in absolute disbelief, he’d come at me about what I wanted to do for my birthday, and that he would do it on my birthday. I remember exactly what I said to him, and most of it isn’t appropriate to repeat. He didn’t press the issue and just walked away. Mike and I didn’t talk much for a long time after that. He definitely didn’t come out drinking with me anymore. After I’d cooled down, I didn’t really understand myself why such a minor comment made me so upset. In retrospect, I get it: He was right, on some level I knew it, and I knew I couldn’t stop.

My Alcoholism and How Sobriety Changed Me

It took me months of denial, a lost job, and a lot of debt before I figured out something was wrong. Long story short, I went to alcoholic rehab in Washington State, didn’t really commit to it, relapsed after a few months, then went back to rehab. The second time it took. I felt like a failure at first, but I’ve since realized many people take many more than two attempts. I didn’t before, but now I feel really fortunate for that. I won’t go into the details of my recovery, but it wasn’t easy, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. It was a hard word, with some absolutely miserable days mixed in. Think of your worst hangover and then start hitting yourself with a hammer. That’s what it felt like. And you know what? I’d do it all again, with extra hammers if I had to. I’ve been sober for two years now, and really, I feel fortunate for a lot of things now. Things I took for granted before. Things I wasn’t even aware of when I was drinking. For starters, life feels different. I’m not talking about physical feelings, but immaterial things like “time” and “fun.” I know I’m not the only one to say this, but when you’re a regular drinker, you really underestimate the amount of time you spend each day just… drinking. It’s a huge time sink! I feel like I have twice as much time every day, and it’s so much fun just figuring out how to fill it. That’s not to say I’m going out hang gliding every weekend or anything. But even simple stuff like watching TV and movies is more fun now. I did that stuff before, but always with a bottle in hand. Guess what got more attention, between the TV and the bottle?

How Sobriety Makes Me Happier

See, my alcoholism had gotten to a point where alcohol wasn’t just a “warm-up” to doing something fun. Alcohol was the activity. Getting drunk was the point, not simply a by-product of some other activities. I wasn’t having fun. I was just drinking to drink. I’d binge just to prove I could do it. Hang out by the bar and do shots while my friends were actually out enjoying themselves. Even what I was with friends, I was alone. Now? People look at me like I’m crazy because everything makes me way happier than it probably should. I was never diagnosed in rehab with depression or other co-occurring mental disorders, but I always wondered if a second opinion would have turned out differently. I feel like an entirely different person now. How, you ask? For example:

  • If this wasn’t clear, I’m a much happier person now.
  • I got fired from a job I was indifferent about, and am now in a job I love.
  • I lost about 20 pounds in roughly the first 4-6 months after I stopped drinking, despite not making any real changes to diet or exercise habits. The “beer gut” is real, and science has proven that alcohol makes you eat more.
  • I have time for my hobbies now. Also, I have hobbies. I didn’t even realize it before, but all I did for fun before is drink. I basically didn’t have a lot of other interests. Now I’m learning jazz piano, because of whatever, why not?
  • I still have days when I really want a drink. I just… don’t.

Living With the Risk of Relapse, and the Best Birthday Gift Ever

That last point is important. Really important. Once you fall to alcoholism, it doesn’t go away. It goes into remission. It can relapse at any moment. I live with the constant threat of having a “harmless” glass of wine sending me right back in the bottle. I still want to drink. Right now, while I’m writing this, thinking about old times, a part of me misses it. That’s a sign of relapsing, you know. Glorifying your old drinking days, reminiscing about them. But as much as I may miss that, I’m also aware of how much happier I am now. On some level, I think that’s why I’m so happy with my life now. I have an underlying fear of going back to how I was before, and thinking about that makes me appreciate everything now that much more. You know why I called sobriety the “gift that keeps on giving?” A lot of people wouldn’t consider it a “gift;” not when you have to work so hard to get it! But I do. My sobriety is the best birthday gift I ever received. These days, I joke with Mike all the time about how he’s lucky it worked out that way, because he forgot to buy me a birthday present that year. It was his courage that day, his willingness to present the problem, that started the ball rolling. I’d never before even considered that my drinking was a problem. I wasn’t thinking about how addiction is a disease, or how it was affecting my decision making without me even being aware of it.. I was just doing stuff I thought was fun at the time. Mike planted a seed of doubt in me, and it was the greatest thing he could have done for me at that moment, even though he was rewarded with an explosion of anger and profanity. He wasn’t the only one, either. It’s tough caring for an addict who acts like they don’t even care about themselves. But he was the first to make me step outside myself and really think about what I was doing. Every person after him that confronted me about my drinking problem (and there were quite a few) cracked the armor of my denial a little more, and my protests got a little less indignant. Eventually, I came to accept it, and that’s when I looked for help. I truly believe Mike’s was the nudge I needed to get on the road to recovery. And believe me, the beginning of that road is rough, but what comes after is worth the trip.