In May this year (2021), I reached the milestone of three years sober. What have a learned in that time?
I remember sitting alone in a bar one day with a pint of beer. I checked my banking app to see if I could afford another. I couldn't, but I maxed out my overdraft for one more anyway. In those moments, drinking another beer was more important to me than having money to buy food.
Managing my money better has been one of the more obvious benefits of sobriety. Sure, it helps when you're not spending half your income on booze, but the haze that alcohol caused would last for days. A haze that prevented any kind of financial planning and did not prevent any kind of impulse buying.
Drinking cost me more than money. What else did it cost?
- Stronger relationships
- Personal growth
My drinking got in the way of my closest relationships without me even realising it.
I never became completely disconnected from the people in my life, but my drinking, and the constant thought of drinking, prevented me from having deeper relationships. This goes for friends, romantic partners, and family.
I was only able to realize this after a prolonged period of sobriety. The conversations I'm able to have with people tend to go below the surface more often than before. I'm more interested in other people's lives. The conversations I have with friends, family, or people I've just met are much more meaningful since drinking lost its place at the top of my priorities list.
It’s ironic really, I drank to feel more connected, but I’ve been able to form deeper connections without alcohol altogether.
Perhaps my journey of sobriety and prioritising my mental health has triggered a lot of these more meaningful conversations. It could also be a side effect of my personal development and increased maturity. Or, maybe I'm just remembering conversations now instead of forgetting about the heart to heart I had at 3 am with Rick from Brixton who I met five minutes ago.
My relationships are stronger in every part of my life now. I forget birthdays less often. I call my parents, brother, and sister more often. I communicate better with my lovely girlfriend (besides the radio silence when I'm on the golf course).
I was 28 when I stopped drinking, but emotionally I was 23. At most. I was completely oblivious to this before getting sober.
My therapist refers to the deep sadness I was experiencing in my first two years of sobriety as "mourning the death of the child.” I wasn't willing to let go of the carefree life I had. To be honest, I'm still getting to grips with this today.
When you spend most of your free time drinking or thinking about drinking, things like; saving, exercising, planning your career, reading, having meaningful conversations, emotional development, and self-care go straight out the window.
I'm not saying I now spend my weekends listening to wellness seminars and meditating for eight hours a day, but I've noticed more emotional and spiritual growth in the last three years than the decade before that.
There were two main ways I'd lose time because of my drinking. The first being blackouts.
I’d wake up on strangers' couches and have no clue how I got there. I would have conversations with people and not remember one detail of it the next day. When I told people that I don't remember talking to them, they'd almost always reply, "but you didn't seem that drunk.”
Large chunks of time were deleted from my mind as if someone had dragged a few files into the recycle bin and clicked "empty". Studies show that I am not the only one who suffers from this. Thank you captain obvious.
...the blackout, characterized by amnesia during episodes of intoxication where the subject is conscious and able to carry on conversations or even drive a vehicle. [Source]
More recently, I've learnt that my frequent alcohol-induced blackouts could have been an early warning sign of my issues with alcohol.
...not all subjects experience blackouts, implying that genetic factors play a role in determining CNS vulnerability to the effects of alcohol. This factor may predispose an individual to alcoholism, as altered memory function during intoxication may affect an individual’s alcohol expectancy; one may perceive positive aspects of intoxication while unintentionally ignoring the negative aspects. [Source]
The more obvious way drinking cost me time was my horrific hangovers. After particularly bad binges (aka most occasions) I would spend an entire day in bed. In pain. Feeling sorry for myself. Depressed. Wondering how I was going to work the next day. Maybe this was my depression lurking on the sidelines that only properly introduced itself in the first year of my sobriety.
Knowing these things hasn't magically solved my problems (something I'll talk about in part two or three), but being aware of them helps me prioritize what's important in my life. Now, I prioritize reading more, writing more, speaking to family more, planning more, spending less, and not wasting days away fighting Sunday demons.
These experiences have all lead me to where I am today. I don't regret adding these costs to my life's balance sheet, but I must be aware of them and learn from them. That's why it's important I write about them.
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Peace and love,
Zen Beer is where I share my thoughts about life (and beer) without alcohol.
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