Ideal Growing Conditions in Recovery

Tree Canopy 100 Feet or More Above the Forest FloorIf 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 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.

SHOUT Sobriety

You’ll get All the Support You Need when You’re Dead
July 21, 2020
3 Reasons Relapses Aren’t OK
October 2, 2019
July 25, 2018
  • Reply
    June 6, 2019 at 9:38 am

    Good morning Matt,

    Thanks for bringing that to light. At my AA meeting this morning it became clearer and clearer what you say about sobriety vs. recovery. Being 4 months sober I spent the first 2 months thinking I figured it out and all I had to do was stop drinking and smoking herb…….. the lies we tell ourselves. This morning’s topic at my group a guy with 33 years recovering spoke of his work on one of his character flaws, which is mine as well – anger outbursts – the next gentleman (one month in) spoke of his how he realized that recovery is so much more than sobriety. Here I had two completely different alcoholics reminding me that recovery is more than sobriety and that recovery is a life long journey. Not to say that we don’t get better right away from being sober (I know I did/am) or that we don’t progress. Obviously the man with 33 years had shown progress, just that we need to be mindful that we are human and alcoholics and as such we need to work daily to recover and progress through life. Epiphany!

    SUGAR! – what?! I have a sweet tooth? Where’d that come from. When I drank I never or very rarely ate sweets. Do you know why? Probably – yep, I had made a deal with myself that I could have another beer or 3 if I didn’t order or eat the ice cream, the chocolate, the whatever. I do have will power! I don’t have addictive issues! Look at me, how in control I am. …… No thanks on the creme brulee I’ll have an IPA. Look at these people who can’t resist sugar, how sad. …… that is truly what I was telling myself. That is sad, so sad.

    To your question: I am struggling with the idea of letting sugar fill that void and am aware of transfer although I am also aware that a few chocolates every night don’t constitute filling a void or addiction. But to say I’m not concerned would not be completely accurate either, based on my track record.
    For me, eating healthy, reducing or watching sugar intake, exercise, meditation and SLEEP are all key components of my recovery. I understand and believe for some that harm reduction is where they are or need to be, but eventually we must peel back the layers and if I am to be the best version of me, then living a healthy food lifestyle is key. Even when I was drinking I tried to eat well, but failed more times than I care to count. I find it easier to eat well now because I am aware of how important it is. Your words and experience remind me of that. I guess I just care about myself more now than ever to let the fast food marketers affect me like I let the alcohol marketers/dealers affect me. I see there game now. It’s all around us. I can choose. Thanks for the reminder Matt.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 6, 2019 at 9:47 am

      Did you say you’ve got four months, Trace? You have the enlightenment of someone with four years or more in recovery. Well done with the introspection and listening to the recovery warriors around you!

  • Reply
    June 6, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    Something to think about. I’m on day 8 & decided that I need to quit drinking no matter what so my diet has gone to heck. I did the same when I quit smoking & the 1st 8 months were h***! However, now I have noticed fatigue setting in about 6:30 every night (the time I would pour a drink) but it may be my poor diet.

    Thank you, I’ve enjoyed your writings & wisdom. Coming here to read has been helping!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 7, 2019 at 6:28 am

      Congratulation on your commitment to quit no matter what, Emm, and on your first 8 days! I hope you keep going.

      There is so much that’s counterintuitive about sobriety. Your fatigue in the evening may or may not be related to your diet. It is actually quite common to feel tired in early sobriety. I like to think of it as your body asking for more restorative sleep because it is trying to heal. It will pass, but it will take time.

      I think it’s great that you are aware of the role diet plays in your recovery. Most of us are not, so you’ve got a leg up. Thanks for reading, and know that we are all in this together!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *