If you don’t fill the void left behind when you quit drinking, you’re not really recovering from alcoholism. You’re just a dry drunk, and if there’s one thing all dry drunks have in common, it’s that they all eventually relapse and start drinking again. This is very common knowledge in the recovery community, and something I’ve proven through my own failed attempts at sobriety dating back a dozen years.
But here’s the part that’s interesting to me. Where does the void come from? Is it really a void left behind when we stop drinking alcohol, or was the void there to begin with, and alcohol fit the emptiness just perfectly? I’ve written about it before, but my opinion is evolving as my experiences in recovery develop. I no longer think of it as a, “chicken or the egg,” conundrum. I believe when alcohol flows into our lives, it finds the vacant space and fills all of our nooks and crannies of our naturally occurring voided space. I receive a lot of emails from people struggling to quit drinking. The stories they tell me about the reasons they started drinking and became addicted to the liquid poison are as diverse and unique as your imagination. But when people tell me about their challenges with sobriety, it’s like their stories are squeezing through a funnel of sameness. Their lives go from different and unexpected, to predictably identical. Their stories are identical to my struggle to quit, too.
In fact, the similarities are not limited to alcoholism. People who struggle with sugar addiction, drugs, pornography, sex addiction, eating disorders and obesity have this in common: the reasons they let their affliction into their lives is unique and unpredictable, but the ways they use their void-filler-of-choice looks just like the way I struggled with alcohol.
I just returned from a vacation spent with friends and family. There was lots of time spent traveling and several nights with not enough sleep. In the interest of convenience while on the road, there was also lots of junk food and sugary desserts. I was tired and out of routine and enjoying the company far too much to stick to the food that I know helps me in my recovery, and I gorged on sugar and empty carbs for a week. As the days went by filled with a crappy diet and loss of sleep, my mood deteriorated. I felt depressed and sluggish – just like I used to feel after a weekend of drinking. The more junk food I ate, the more I relaxed my food standards which led to more sugars and potato chips. And the next day, I felt even worse than the day before.
While in Indiana, we went on several hikes in the forest. I was captivated by the size and the fullness of the trees. Our trees in Colorado just don’t grow as tall – probably because they struggle to get enough moisture to thrive. In Indiana, even on bright sunny days, there is enough moisture in the humid air to make the trees and the plants covering the forest floor vibrant and lush. The green canopy all but blocks the sun from reaching the ground. It is no wonder that so much of our food supply comes from the midwest. The growing conditions are ideal.
As an alcoholic in recovery, I now require ideal conditions in order to thrive. My heavy drinking used up my brain chemistry’s tolerance for abuse. Had I not grooved deeply destructive neuro-pathways with alcohol that sugar and junk food flow effortlessly into, I probably could better manage a week of eating like crap. But my tolerance for self-destruction has been pushed down the funnel to the small end where only constant attention to getting rest and putting nourishing fuel into my body can fit through if I want to thrive. It’s as if I used all my Doritos and cookies tokens on booze, and now eating that crap makes me react like I was on a three-day bender. I’m not alone. I think we dramatically underestimate the importance nutrition in recovery – whatever affliction we used to fill our void.
What do you think? Many people follow the harm reduction principle that says you can eat or drink anything you want, just as long as you avoid alcohol. Is that your philosophy? Do you dive into a bowl of ice cream every time the cravings to drink hit? Do you feel bad the next day when you indulge in lots of sugar and empty carbs? Are you struggling to stay sober, and want to try a recovery plan that includes pro-recovery nutrition as a core component?
If my experiences and these questions resonate, please consider giving our SHOUT Sobriety program a try. It is absolutely free to participate, and it is all about feeling better in recovery – physically and mentally. It doesn’t matter why your drinking developed into excessive overindulgence. What matters is that you want to change the conditions of your life to be ideal for your future growth. SHOUT Sobriety might just be able to help you reach that goal.