Year 3: Sober Thoughts From a Former Drunk

December 23, 2013 is the last time I had any alcohol. I’m not sure when exactly I will publish this, but it will be sometime within 24 hours of the beginning or end of my 3rd anniversary of sobriety.

To celebrate my 2nd year on the wagon, I wrote my internal and external observations of the world as reformed drinker. Many people resonated with the piece and found the post helpful in their own struggles to abstain from alcohol. This piece is going to be a little different, but hopefully no less helpful.

This year I will share thoughts I’ve had during my sobriety. I don’t normally do posts like this, with no actionable steps or advice. However, this has been an important transformation in my life. I know that somewhere someone is going to read this and it’s going to help them. I know that someone who reads this will know someone getting clean and sober, and this will help them understand what goes through their mind.

Maybe someone is just curious and wants to know what goes through the mind of someone that gives up booze. Whatever your reasons for reading further, I hope you get something out of this post.

When I decided I was going to give up booze, I wanted to enlist the power of every tool at my disposal to guarantee my success. I went to an alcoholic’s-anonymous (AA) meeting and afterwards texted my friends that I was afraid but I was going to stop drinking. What I feared was losing friends because I believed that drinking was such a part of my personality that without it, I wouldn’t be someone they’d want to be friends with. Imagine how ridiculous of a mindset one has to be in to believe that they’ll lose friends by eliminating consumption of a substance that makes you do dumb shit.

I only went to one AA meeting because of what I heard at the meetings. The people there were from all walks of life, but the one thing they had in common is that they couldn’t control their drinking. I’ve come to believe there is a big difference between someone with a drinking problem and someone that has problems while drinking. The latter is what most drinkers are, especially after they have too many. The former are people that need services like AA and can’t even have just one drink.

Sometimes I wonder if I was any more of an asshole when I drank than when I was  sober.  Everyone can be ornery, especially when drinking, but I wanted to know if drinking had a net positive or negative effect on my social life. I used a simple and unscientific method to answer this question.

I didn’t have my first drink until I was 18. I counted the number of close friendships I had at that age. Then I counted the close friends I have now and subtracted 2 for each friendship I lost and added 1 for each friendship I gained. Since I got a positive number, I concluded that alcohol did, in the long term, affect my friendships. It did, however, lower my tolerance for disingenuous displays of friendship.

So alcohol did not affect my friendships in the long term run. In the short run, I know for certain that I pissed a lot of people off. I know that there are some people that may have made great friends but they met me drunk or they met my drunken reputation and wanted no parts of me. Surprisingly, the missed relationships don’t bother me. I’m aware that the following is a weak justification, but I believe there is a enough truth in it to be valid: I don’t think any friend I would have made under the pretense of heavy drinking is someone that I’d like sober anyway.

If your head space isn’t right, alcohol is going to bring it out very quickly. It’s easier to contain personal problems while sober, but having personal problems makes it more likely that you’ll get drunk. Any personal problem I had while sober go 10 times worse when I drank. I wasn’t the type of person to drink my problems away, but when getting drunk is a regular part of life, I inevitably had problems while drinking.

Everyone that drinks believes they are capable of driving. I was no different. In retrospect, I see that my spotless criminal record is only a matter of coming up on the right side probability before the law of large numbers caught up to me. This is the thing I feel the worst about when I think back on my drinking days. I don’t feel bad pissing off people that were also drinking. They were part of the game of drinking and people acting foolish is to be expected. The innocents that are casualties in the game of drinking are the true losers and the only ones that suffer. My guilt about drinking is heaviest when I think about this.

A good friend told me that the thing that drove me to drink would drive me to be great at anything I put my mind to once I stopped drinking. It took me a while to figure out what this meant, but in this 3rd year of sobriety I think I fully understand. I got super intoxicated at places like parties or bars because I was bored. I enjoy socializing with small groups of people that I’m close with, but large groups of people annoy the hell out of me. The only way I could make it tolerable was by getting wasted. This helped me understand that I was never going to happy fitting in and that I needed a purpose to direct my energy towards. Or else I’d get bored and likely self-destructive.

When you don’t drink, it is impossible to not feel like an outsider. You become comfortable with the feeling, because it’s impossible to feel like you completely belong. This is because alcohol is such a fixture in our culture that by actively rejecting it, you are actively rejecting what has essentially become a tradition. Though you get used to it, this feeling never truly goes away.

You can’t know yourself while drinking. Alcohol is designed to alter your perception of reality. The more time you spend in an altered state, the less accurate your perception of reality is. This means you’re likely to have friends and activities you don’t really want to spend time on. Maybe you don’t like them but it’s far more likely that they aren’t a good fit for your true personality and how you most naturally relate to the world. You won’t know this until you spend a significant amount of time, across all emotional spectrums, in a sober state of mind.

Sobriety is a good way to discover which relationships are important in your life. The amount of people I no longer communicate with is expected so it’s not that surprising. What is surprising is the fact that I don’t miss the communication at all. Communication with my closest friends is all that I need. I see and communicate with them on a regular basis, and as we grow the conversation topics deepen but require fewer words to express.

Perhaps I’m merely at a point in my life where these relationships are even more important. Perhaps they always have been and I was ignoring them. All I know is that it’s very difficult to explore the depths of a connection via bonding over alcoholic consumption.

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