7 Benefits of Transformational Sobriety
“This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life!” claims the caption on Instagram. “Tap the heart if you are waking up sober!” The rainbows and unicorns approach to addiction recovery so popular on social media actually makes sobriety harder for me. I want to drink to settle my nausea from the transparent grovelling for likes and cyber-appreciation. “Since I’ve given all my troubles to God, I don’t want to drink anymore and I feel so free!” Listen, I’m all about prayer and repentance, and I feel like God is firmly on my side. But the idea that we can hand over the steering wheel and take a nap, and our addiction will melt away, is too much for me to embrace.
I’m not trying to pick a fight, and I am happy for anyone who can recover based on inspirational slogans and dogma. That’s just not me. And I’ve heard from enough readers on the topic to know that’s not helpful to many of you, either.
The benefits of permanent sobriety are neither instantaneous nor simple. But once I put in the significant time, made the gruelling effort and opened my mind and heart to the changes in my life, the enlightenment has far exceeded my wildest expectations of recovery.
I’ve described seven of the benefits of beating alcoholism here, and I want them for you. I’m not talking about perfection or comfort. The blessings I hope you can achieve are deep and lasting. And they are earned. Once you get there, nothing will drag you back into the pain of addiction.
1. No Self- Hatred, Disgust, Loathing or Shame
I could have been positive rather than negative, and described this first benefit as self-love, but that is dangerously close to the social media roses and lollipops crapola that I so despise. Whether I describe this as a lack of a negative, or an abundance of a positive, the message is the same. And it’s as unbelievably rewarding as it was completely surprising when it happened to me.
Think about this for a minute: When I was a drinker, I regularly drank too much, caused fights with my wife, drove when I should not have, sulked and fretted away precious time I could have spent nurturing my children, wasted too much money on alcohol, and ignored my own goals for health and performance. I was high functioning, and I did not display this sub-par behavior constantly, but I disappointed myself on a regular basis.
This is where the shame lives. There is the shame if you drive drunk and kill someone. That’s not the shame I’m talking about here. I’m referring to the nagging disappointment upon realization of opportunities wasted and things mistakenly done or said. No one else has to know. It is not the shame that comes with acute consequences. It is knowing you failed again, and aren’t the person you know you could be.
That kind of shame will kill you if you let it. Slowly, insidiously, it builds until it consumes you. Because it was dull, gnawing and ever present, I didn’t realize what an impact the shame was having on my alcoholic life. About a year into permanent sobriety, however, it lifted. Losing a burden I didn’t tangibly understand I was carrying was as freeing as anything I’ve ever experienced. It isn’t sunny everyday in my world now, but there are no days with the depressing fog of shameful self-loathing. If this was the only benefit of permanent sobriety, it would be enough to justify my decision to leave alcohol behind.
2. Listen More, Talk Less
One of the challenges to life as a high-functioning alcoholic is keeping up appearances and keeping things moving forward. Work, family, faith, free-time – I had a system down, and I wasn’t particularly interested in advice from anyone else. I think listening might have given me more than a glimpse of the destruction my drinking was causing, and I couldn’t afford that. Besides, I was too busy talking – being in control and keeping all the loose ends neatly trimmed – to consider the advice, suggestions or life-lessons of anyone else.
In permanent sobriety, I am fascinated with the stories of others. I am intrigued to learn anything someone is willing to teach me, and I love to absorb any pain anyone is willing to share. It used to annoy me to listen to others. I waited impatiently for my chance to speak. Now, I am completely content to listen and learn. Applying the lessons learned by others to my life is an exhilarating challenge.
3. Connection – A Different Criteria for Friendship
As a drinker, I never gave people who didn’t drink much of a chance, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I didn’t consciously eliminate nondrinkers from my life. I didn’t make a list of everyone I knew, and strike a red marker line through any name that abstained. But, I definitely surrounded myself with people who shared my love of the drink. In fact, that was really my only criteria for friendship when I was actively drinking.
Now, in permanent sobriety, I find deep and meaningful relationships in places I never expected. I have slowed down and gotten to know my elderly neighbor at the end of the street. I’ve always known her, but I never gave her any of my time because I was always in a rush to get to the end of the day when I could drink. I’ve developed relationships with people with different experiences, interests and backgrounds because I find them interesting. Interesting?!?! For 25 years, I was only interested in your interest in drinking with me. It is as though the world has opened-up as I explore friendships with people who can’t be bothered with alcohol, or who have made a conscious decision, like me, to leave booze behind.
I have also lost some friendships that I now see were based purely on our mutual love of beer. If I can’t find anything to talk to a person about, why bother? There are lots of other people in the world with stories to tell. I’d rather spend time with, and listen to, them.
4. Arrogance Evaporation
Addiction is humbling. I spent many years arrogantly believing I was stronger than alcohol and that I was smart enough to control my addiction. Admitting my weakness and defeat was terribly humbling. Humiliating, really. But that’s a good thing. Until I lost my battle to control my drinking, I didn’t realize what an ego I had developed. Succumbing to alcoholism was a blessing of sorts, because it knocked the arrogance out of me.
Arrogance was part of the denial process of protecting my secret drinking life. It served a purpose. It kept people at arm’s length and kept the truth of the severity of my predilection hidden. Arrogance was a tool I used to maintain my high-functioning alcoholism. Now that I’m sober, it is a tool that I don’t need. Humility is a reward of sobriety.
Drinking made me anxious and high-strung in a number of ways. I’ve written frequently about what I call Chaotic Mind Syndrome that kept thoughts and ideas constantly bouncing around my head, especially when sober, as an active alcoholic. The chaos, my fear of being discovered for how much I drank and the turmoil I was constantly creating in my marriage, kept me constantly anxious and worried. But it was even worse than that. Part of the neural-rewiring that alcohol accomplishes over time is just to make heavy drinkers into anxious people. From the moment I woke up, until I found relief in the first drink of the day, I was constantly on edge.
Finding patience took patience. It took a year or so of permanent sobriety before my racing thoughts stopped, and the constant anticipation of pending doom left me alone. I’m still working on this one. I’m still not the best at sitting still and waiting for what will be to hurry up and be. But it’s way better than the constant, nagging anxiety of alcoholism.
6. I’m Sad, but Not Depressed
The alcohol-induced depression that I suffered from for the last few years of my drinking was crushing. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I had days where I didn’t want to live anymore, and the only thing that would bring temporary relief was to drink more alcohol. What a vicious and devastating cycle.
A lot of brilliant things happen after a year or more of permanent sobriety. For me, the depression lifted and a general sense of hopefulness now occupies its place. I still experience sadness. In fact, the fluctuation of moods and emotions is one of the greatest challenges of permanent sobriety. But normal, comes-and-goes sadness is a far cry from the debilitating depression of addiction. Now when the darkness comes, I know it will go away. The last thing I would do is try to chase it away with alcohol.
7. I Don’t Care What You Think
Hiding alcoholism put me in a constant state of apprehension about what people thought about me. Did I slur my words last night? Did anyone notice how much I had to drink? It took a lot of effort to cover my tracks. In most cases, I don’t think other people cared much about the things that so concerned me. We humans are naturally selfish and self-concerned. My fixation on my reputation was probably unnecessary. But when I lived a life of denial, making up for cracks in the facade was of the utmost importance to me.
Now, I don’t care what anyone thinks about much of anything about me. It is so completely and totally liberating! If I don’t have time for a shower, or I say something controversial, I no longer wonder if people think I am dirty or crass because I am an alcoholic. I am just dirty or crass because I don’t care. What a blessing! Seriously, this one can’t be exaggerated. If someone doesn’t like me for me, why would I ever let that bother me. I am too busy learning from and listening to people who appreciate the person I am. I’ve wasted too much of my life on alcoholism to waste anymore of it on protecting my reputation. I’m a good guy, and I shower most days. If that’s not good enough for you, it is still good enough for me. The alcoholic version of myself wouldn’t even have understood that concept.
These are the seven transformational benefits of permanent sobriety that have brought unspeakable joy to my life. No rainbows. No unicorns. It is enlightenment with a side order of sadness, humility, patience and learning. It is hard work, but it is so worth it. This kind of contentment and freedom might not be worth a lot of likes on facebook, but it delivers a peacefulness that I found elusive in active alcoholism.
If you’re ready for peace, contentment and enlightenment from permanent sobriety, I hope you’ll consider enrolling in SHOUT Sobriety – our program to help people navigate the shark-infested waters of early recovery. We are all about connection, brain chemistry, bibliotherapy, building sobriety muscles and healing through patience. SHOUT Sobriety is a donation-based program, and we request a $25 per month recurring donation from our participants. To learn more, to make a donation or to enroll, please click the button below!
Matt, this one is a gem. Required reading. Thank you.
Brilliant! A lot of this hits home. I love #7.
Yes! Number 7 was a huge relief.
Sharing this….. this is perfect and says it all.
Thanks for this. The expectations about what will happen to you when you quit alcohol are exaggerated by the rainbows and unicorns thing. Sobriety IS wonderful but regaining more realistic feelings about self and the world takes time and unfortunately has no Unicorns leaving rainbow trails in their wake. If an advertisement for a trip claims that “Traveling to this place is the MOST exciting, MOST beautiful, MOST satisfying trip you will EVER take,” travel with someone else who extolls the wonder and beauty of the place in a more realistic way. That way you will be more likely to discover a wonderful new environment and not be disappointed by unreal expectations.
Absolutely, right on, David. I like the example, too!
Question, out of curiosity and experience: what do your dreams look like? In early stages of my version of sobriety, I am constantly struggling with the ashamed, selfish, self-concerned, and general animal-Instincts coming into being. I wake up puzzled and occasionally mortified and start to question the “who I am” piece. Do the dreams eventually align with the change in reality?
In early sobriety, I had some wild dreams, Anokhi. While my dreams have never made much sense to me, these were real doozies. I don’t remember if they were particularly shame related, but they probably were. The important thing is that they settled down eventually, and I went back to not really remembering them very much. It just takes some time for your brain to get used to the new you. Thanks for reading and commenting!