The Downside of Sobriety: The 6 Things No One Tells You Might Happen If You Quit Drinking
I know, I know, this website is called “Recovery Connection” and it is designed to encourage those who are suffering the slings and arrows of addiction to get help. It is also an educational tool for addiction professionals and those in recovery, and I am here to tell you I had some unexpected lessons to learn when I became sober.
From the Recovering Alcoholic’s Perspective
You’re probably not going to hear this anyplace else, so I should get some points for candor, even though it is certainly controversial to talk about the negative aspects of something so overwhelmingly positive.
I share my experience because I do not want others to be blindsided like I was. Sobriety is not all roses and reggae, after all, and those who are in a position to help, will always stress the indisputable fact that being clear-headed is better than being a drunk.
Let me start by saying I actually thought my life would be picture-perfect if I quit drinking. I expected to stroll along like St Francis of Assisi, with sparrows trilling on my toned shoulders, small woodland animals scampering at my pedicured feet, a beatific smile, a celestial beam of light and a triumphant, musical “Waaaah” in my wake…
Perhaps I was naive.
As it turns out, I gained twenty pounds, lost all my frenetic energy and discovered I had been self-medicating a host of co-occurring disorders and syndromes which needed to be addressed. Understandably, I was disappointed and more than a little depressed.
I Am Not Alone
I have since learned I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. 65% of all those in recovery gain weight, and if you struggle with an alcohol problem, there’s a strong chance you may also be fighting anxiety, depression, mood swings or compulsive behavior. These unanticipated obstacles to wellbeing have the capacity to derail an otherwise smooth sailing recovery. I am very happy and grateful to be two years sober, but I wish I’d known then, what I know now.
The Downside of Sobriety
- 1. Weight Gain – Are you kidding me? I assumed that if I stopped consuming 3,000 wine calories a day, I’d look like a super-model. Not so. When I was drinking, I had no appetite for food and I did not develop the skills necessary to eat and live healthily. When I got sober, I got hungry. I ate sugary and fast foods as a “treat” for not drinking. Add to that, the fact my body was trying to heal from neglect and stored everything I consumed like I was a starving, and you have a recipe (pun intended) for diet disaster.
- Transfer Addictions – Fish gotta swim… It was like my body was looking for a new addiction: coffee, candy (see above), romance. Addiction is not all about the drugs or alcohol; there are underlying causes and reasons we overindulge. The brain chemistry is similarly affected by a host of “pleasures” we crave and I was exhibiting some of the same isolating, antisocial behavior I had shown with my alcoholism.
- Lack of Energy – What happened to all that crazy energy? As a problem drinker, it was nothing for me to get a couple hours of sleep after dancing all night and rise at dawn to sweep the front porch or alphabetize cans in the pantry. I learned that heavy drinking boosts levels of acetate ( a chemical found in vinegar) in the brain, that translates into extra energy for the body. Sobriety can make you tired.
- Muddled Thinking – Huh? Brain damage is a common and potentially severe consequence of long term, heavy, alcohol consumption. Even mild to moderate drinking can adversely affect cognitive ability. I knew that, but what I didn’t anticipate was the frustration my muddled brain, unclear thinking and inability to prioritize would bring in early sobriety. Suddenly, I knew what I didn’t know. And it takes several months (or years) to reverse cognitive impairment.
- Co-Occurring Issues – Alcoholism and OCD and Depression, oh my! I have always thought my extreme desire for making origami, toilet paper points and my irritation when data is presented in graphs, were personal preferences. In fact, I discovered that I had several learning differences and a disorder or two, I had been self-medicating with a daily dose of Chardonnay.
- Insomnia and Nightmares – Perhaps to dream? When you drink booze, you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply for a short while, but alcohol reduces REM sleep. The more you drink, the more pronounced these effects. It is why I was an insomniac for years. The surprising thing about sleeping sober, was that it took a long time to experience the positive effects – I had trouble sleeping in early sobriety, a complete lack of dreams for a year, and afterwards I had terrifyingly vivid, drinking dreams.
I love being sober
There were a few times during the early days of my sobriety when I said aloud, “This is NOT FAIR,” and like the old song about potatoes and tomatoes, I just wanted to “call the whole thing off.” When I was standing in line at the drug store, sober but with an armful of candy, shaking my head and lying to the person in front of me, “Those kids and their junk food,” I felt a lot like I used to feel buying an armful of cheap, white wine at my local gas station. And when I couldn’t seem to get ready in time, or when my purse was a tangle of wadded keys and gum wrappers I felt so bereft. So alone.
But the indisputable fact is that being clear-headed is better than being a drunk. And like all things worth having, the high value of sobriety is worth the price of admission. Eat three small meals a day; avoid processed sugar and stalking your old boyfriend; take a morning shot of apple cider vinegar; exercise your body your brain and your patience; get to the root of your problems; drink Sleepy Time Tea and above all else, if you are an alcoholic: