The Stark Contrast Between Alcoholism and Sobriety

The Contrast Between Drinking and Not Drinking is DramaticOften, the contrast between drinking and not drinking is dramatic and obvious. Like the time my next door neighbor called over the fence for me to come try a new whiskey he found at the mega liquor store. He found a winner this time, and he invited me to share it with him and his friend who was visiting from San Diego. I don’t remember the brand, but that would be beside the point, anyway. My neighbor bought it because it was distilled with liquid smoke, and it smelled like we were drinking a barbeque grill. It was delicious, but that was beside the point, too. The new and interesting blend and the friend from out of town were just excuses for the three of us to drink most of a bottle of whiskey, with some beers mixed in, and become numb to the rest of the world around us.


My wife and kids were home that night. We didn’t have big family plans for the evening, but my chair was empty at the dinner table, and I left the bedtime responsibilities to my wife exclusively. She wasn’t mad any more than she was surprised. My familial neglect was minor, but it was noticeable, and it didn’t do anything to strengthen my marriage.


Drinking like that had a really magical, euphoric period for me. There was about an hour between when I was finishing my second glass of whiskey, and when I poured my sixth, that I felt absolutely sensational. Every cell in my body was standing on its tip-toes and screaming with delight. But after five whiskeys, those cells went numb, and my cranial lighting started to flicker and fade out.


I probably spent six hours with my neighbor and his friend that night. One of the six was glorious, and the other five were filled with dull conversation, repeated stories and exaggeration. The six hours cost me most of the following day sulking and hydrating, full of anxiety and depression from another night of pointless overindulgence. It took a chunk out of my self esteem, and put another dent in my marriage. No disaster. No calamity. Just hours and hours of minor disappointment.


Staying home that night would have meant missing out on one euphoric hour. It would also have meant loading the dishwasher and watching something boring on TV. But here’s the subtle but important part of the contrast between drinking and not drinking that night. Staying home would have meant giving my kids a little attention as I listened to their stories at dinner and tucked them into bed that night. It would have relieved my wife’s parenting burden ever so slightly, and it would have made her feel just a smidge closer to me.


My alcoholism came down to this: would I choose an hour of euphoria with its necessary baggage of a hangover and a slightly neglected family, or would I pass on that utterly blissful feeling choosing instead the minor satisfaction of nurturing the ones I love the most?


For a long time, I chose the euphoria because the price I had to pay wasn’t that high. But eventually, the toll increased and the hundreds of little disappointments complete with snippets of shame and depression added up. They tipped the scale. Sobriety won because the “cons” list got longer than the “pros.”


I’ve dramatically oversimplified the excruciatingly painful experience of choosing recovery over addiction, but hurt aside, that is what it boils down to.


My reasons to stay sober are subtle and understated. I have to think about them. I have to make an effort. On the other hand, the reasons I loved to drink were loud and outrageous. They occupied my brain and were effortlessly ever present.


The contrast between drinking and not drinking is dramatic and obvious.


Do I prefer peace or excitement? Do I prefer taking two steps forward each time I slide one step back, or would I rather race full speed ahead unsure what direction I’m really going? Do I want to build something slowly over time, or do I want to roll the dice and see what happens?


It is no wonder why we glamorize alcohol like it is the answer to every last question. The contrast between drinking and not drinking leaves us no choice but to dress booze in a sequin gown with fireworks shooting out of its ears.


Some of my fellow recovery warriors glamorize sobriety, and frankly, I don’t understand. I see posts on Instagram and Facebook about how great my comrades feel in sobriety – how they wake full of thankfulness and energy, and every new breath they take is better than the last. Rainbows and unicorns around every corner. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, my sobriety is nothing like that.


My sobriety is full of relationships slowly improving through patience and effort. My sobriety is about learning to absorb sadness and quiet anxiety without the aid of my 80 proof medication. My sobriety means listening and learning and becoming a better version of myself one seemingly insignificant life encounter at a time. No rainbows. No unicorns.


Last week, both our dishwasher and refrigerator crapped out within a few days of each other. The dishwasher didn’t break as much as it sprung a hardly noticeable leak in the water supply line. I found it when water dripped on my head in the basement below the kitchen. It was Sunday morning, and my family was scurrying around getting ready for church. I got a flashlight, traced the drip in the basement ceiling to the kitchen sink above it and prayed that a pipe hadn’t burst in the wall. When I found the leak a few inches downstream of the valve under the sink leading to the dishwasher, I calmly turned off the water to the dishwasher and continued getting dressed for church.


If you think my story about dealing with my busted dishwasher in sobriety is dull, contrast it with what would surely have happened back when I was a drinker. When the first drop hit my head, I would have gone into a panic (regular alcohol consumption results in anxiety during sober times). I probably would have turned off the water to the whole house making finding the source of the leak impossible. I would have ushered my family out the door to church as I changed into grubby clothes for a full day of plumbing exploration. And I would have opened a beer. I would have needed it to relieve stress, and I would have deserved it because my Sunday – my day of relaxation – was ruined.


As a drinker, my fritzing dishwasher would have been much more dramatic and heart wrenching. I would have brought unnecessary stress to my family and surely spent unneeded time and resources remedying the situation.


Instead, in sobriety, I came back from church and spent $18.60 on a part on Amazon, and enjoyed my Sunday afternoon with my family.


A few days later, I took a swig of some nice warm milk from the refrigerator. It was Saturday night, and my wife and I were just settling in to watch a movie before bed. I pulled the refrigerator away from the wall, released about 10,000 dust bunnies from captivity allowing the compressor fan to spin freely, and went to bed without my movie.


Just like with the dishwasher, the scene would have been dramatically different back when I was a drinker. Being Saturday night, I would have had the alcohol content of five or six IPAs flowing through my body. I would surely have overreacted and begun putting food in coolers and barking at my wife to go buy bags of ice (and probably more beer while she was out). I would have cursed and slammed and stomped and snorted through an unnecessarily dramatic evening of complaining and feeling like a victim of the evil appliance gods. My wife would have absorbed all the snarling she could tolerate before going to bed, and I would have drank myself silly (think vodka, not beer) until I passed out for my kids to find me in the morning.


The contrast between drinking and not drinking was still dramatic and obvious in the bad times just like it was in the good times. Drinking was flamboyant and obnoxious while sobriety was calm and efficient. I can almost guarantee at least one of those two appliances would have cost me a $500 service call as a drinker, while the $19 valve was the total expense in sobriety. And my raised voice and exasperated attitude would have been unattractive to my spouse in the drinking scenario, while she actually bragged to a neighbor about my handiness in sobriety.


Sobriety is better for me and my family. There are no rainbows, and I’ve never seen a unicorn. I have no intentions of spouting off on Facebook about my plumbing awesomeness, and I don’t plan to post a beaming, smiling picture of me and my dust bunnies on Instagram.


But it’s better. The contrast is stark if I take the time to analyze it. I think my sober reactions are how we humans are probably designed to behave, while my alcoholic handling of situations drips with drama and turmoil.


This blog post was boring to write, and I’m sure it’s probably boring to read. But boring isn’t bad when compared to the alternative. The contrast between drinking and not drinking is pretty dramatic making my decision quite obvious – even without the rainbows and unicorns.


If you are ready to choose boring progress over dramatic backsliding, check out our new SHOUT Sobriety program designed to help high-functioning alcoholics navigate early recovery. It is built from my experiences and incorporates everything I’ve learned about leaving alcohol behind, and we offer it free of charge because we don’t think people should pay for their freedom.


In order to keep SHOUT Sobriety free for participants, we solicit donations from people who want to join the fight to end the stigma associated with alcoholism. To donate to SHOUT Sobriety, for more information or to enroll in the program, please click the button below.

SHOUT Sobriety

How do I Identify a High-Functioning Drinking Problem?
January 1, 2020
Grandeur of Insignificance
July 31, 2019
Evolution Series: Fear, Shame, Knowing and Growing
November 30, 2022
  • Reply
    Melanie PALMER
    June 26, 2019 at 6:59 am

    I love this! Thank you.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 26, 2019 at 7:15 am

      I’m glad, Melanie. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2019 at 9:28 am

    Great post. Thanks for writing. It’s not boring and is relatable.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 26, 2019 at 3:50 pm

      Thanks, Kieron. I’m glad this resonates for you!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    Yes, it is subtle for me too. So subtle that I must consistently remind myself. Thank you for sharing this perspective as it confirms my version of striving toward sobriety.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 26, 2019 at 3:52 pm

      Yep, I get that. Euphoria is memorable, while peacefulness is easy to miss.

  • Reply
    Brian Chenault
    June 26, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Another great post, Matt. I completely relate to your thoughts about the “everydayness” of sobriety.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 26, 2019 at 3:53 pm

      I like the consistency of the word, everydayness. Thanks for reading and commenting, Brian!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    I am working on day 17 & still find I have a LOT of anxiety. It’s centered around thoughts of drinking & my fear of failing – again. It seems as if everything is harder & bigger than life. I press on hoping for the mundane but most of the time I create my mundane by playing a little (sometimes a lot of) computer solitaire & then feel guilty that I’ve not gotten anything done. It seems the further into my sobriety I get the weaker my resolve is – so I journal & I read. Thank you for the reading material!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 26, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Congratulations on 17 days Emm! Listen, you are in early sobriety, and a lot of anxiety is to be expected. Your brain is literally BEGGING for alcohol. Play all the solitaire you need to along with reading and journaling.

      You are recovering from a disease. If you were recovering from cancer, you wouldn’t feel guilty about resting and healing. It is the exact same thing. And the repair takes a long time. Give yourself a break, and do so without shame. Please keep going!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks so much Matt – for your honest and so-not-“boring” most precious share on here! Please keep up your ever-so-open generous narratives of the details so important for us to know about – in both sides of the alcoholism – for those affected each moment living it, and all the effects from it…
    Knowledge is indeed power as you often remind us…and in this ever-so-human snippet or two of your personal life, you prove the truth that “all that glitters is not gold”…
    Thanks…just Thanks Matt! You write with your whole heart and soul – wanting so much to help us all as you would have loved to have around you when you couldn’t see “The Contrast” you so touchingly simply describe here…

    May you feel every best blessing and unlimited peace and bliss of the most “Boring Best” that life offers us for free – each moment of each day and night – if we but open our eyes and spirit as you have! Thank you for so lovingly showing us any and every possible bit and way of how you have, and the endless ongoing, “mundane” yet most awesome rewards beyond words to imagine…

    Thank you mostly Matt, for keeping it so Real… the Truth really does set us free….

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 26, 2019 at 4:00 pm

      Always so great to hear from you, Cris! Thank you so much for your love and encouragement!

  • Reply
    June 27, 2019 at 5:23 am

    Another great post, Matt! Love your honesty. Your habits are changing with a lot of hard work and determination, eventually you should and probably do feel something far better than the glamour and lies of alcohol, you are rebuilding yourself as a strong sober warrior. Someone your family must love!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      June 27, 2019 at 6:07 am

      Thank you, Debbie. I am grateful for your support!

  • Reply
    July 31, 2019 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for a great post Matt. What you have shared is so much of what I have been experiencing but was unaware of. Particularly how I respond to “everyday life” challenges. I am completing my first month of sobriety. It has not been perfect and absent of “setbacks” but the content of this post has been very encouraging because it made me “aware” that YES, although the first 31 days was not perfect, my life is already dramatically different. You are a true blessing and know the Lord is using you in a beautiful way. I discovered your work through a Medium article on day 2 of going without alcohol. You have been a primary source of strength and encouragement for me this first month. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      July 31, 2019 at 8:36 am

      Congratulations on your first month of freedom, Stephanie! It will never be perfect, but I’m so glad you already recognize sobriety to be better. Please keep going, and remember we are all in this together.

  • Reply
    Hal McAdams
    May 13, 2022 at 3:20 pm

    The tough times are when I am home alone for days, I make ice tea and try to get to bed not too late. I did have a weird experience, I poured ice cold filtered water in a bar glass with frosty cubes and drank it like it was vodka and I experienced the euphoria of actual booze. Two more and I was unsteady. The water came out of the fridge dispenser and the illusion went away after trying to light the liquid in a warm spoon. I have been sober for years, never before has this happened.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      May 13, 2022 at 5:13 pm

      The part of the brain that we don’t consciously control is powerful. Thanks for sharing this story, Hal, and congratulations on your sobriety!

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