This Is What It's Like To Be A Sober Alcoholic
The last time I poured myself a pint—yes, a pint—of gin with a few ice cubes and a splash of lemonade was July 23rd, 2017. Earlier that year in March, I had finally admitted to myself that I was an alcoholic. I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t fully realize how big the problem was until I decided to do a no sugar, no alcohol diet for two weeks under the guise of wanting to lose weight. I was testing myself to see how bad things were.
They were bad.
My mind craved and needed alcohol. My taste buds missed it. My skin crawled for it. My headaches and shakes were awful. I admitted my problem to my partner and a few friends. I reached out to other sober alcoholics for support.
I would go a few weeks without drinking, then I would fall. I kept going back to the thing that could ultimately destroy me because I missed it. And even though my last drink was over a year ago, I still miss drinking.
In some ways, I am glad I gave in to that glass of gin on that summer day. I was home with my twins and my anxiety was awful. I watched them play on the lawn and was bored. I hated how the heat made my shirt stick to my chubby belly and the body I have a hard time calling home. I was disgusted with myself. I couldn’t stand to be present. I wanted a drink. I thought I needed one. So I had one.
Actually I had several in a matter of minutes.
But my tolerance was still very high and all I got was a little buzzed. And then the shame and anger and fear set in. The negative feelings of drinking finally outweighed the negative feelings of not drinking. I had to make a choice: finish the bottle or dump it.
I dumped it.
I got up and started again.
I only promise myself to stay sober one day at a time. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s what works for me to string days, weeks, and months together. Looking into the future is too overwhelming. And I missed drinking too much in those early days and months to wonder and worry if I would always miss it that much.
How would I ever make it? What kind of life would I have if I was constantly struggling? If I looked beyond the day, beyond the hour, I would panic. I would sink deeper into depression. The panic and depression threatened my sobriety. They still do.
But then one evening while prepping dinner I realized it was the first time all day I had really craved a drink. I was shocked. I had made it until 5:00 p.m.? Holy shit, that was huge. It was also the reassurance I needed to know I could miss drinking but not be overwhelmed by my longing. Each day was different, but over time, the hold my addiction had on me lessened. I allowed myself to miss alcohol. I allowed myself to be an alcoholic.
Being sober doesn’t mean I don’t want to drink; it means I am choosing not to drink. I make a decision each day, sometimes multiple times a day, to stay clean. Sometimes this means I sit away from a group at a social gathering or a dinner party because the smell of beer and wine are just too much. I worry I will fall into romanticizing how good it would taste. I can close my eyes and taste the cold liquid on my tongue. I can feel it warm my belly and slow my brain. I miss that combination of sensations. And I miss drinking when I am dealing with uncomfortable feelings that cause me to be sad and moody. These feelings make me feel like a burden. The alcohol helped me push it all away.
I miss the ritual of making a drink. Sometimes I make a “mocktail” to satisfy my desire. I get out the cutting board and slice wedges from a lime. I clink ice cubes into a pint glass. I squeeze lime juice over the ice and drop the fruit in the glass before adding plain seltzer water. I stir my beverage with the lime knife the way I would have if I had made myself a gin and tonic, or a gin and anything.
The other day while driving home I almost pulled into a local beverage store. It was one I used to frequent, especially on Friday afternoons. I was surprised by my desire to pull in and park. I missed the selection process of what beer to buy. I missed carrying my treasures out to the car in a brown bag. But I forced myself to stay on the road. I forced myself home.
I miss drinking when I am playing with my kids, working for hours, or running miles at a time—not always or even usually, but even when things are good and healthy, I sometimes want to drink. When I’m feeling emotionally stable, my brain tricks me into thinking I can handle a drink. I go through stretches of feeling good and almost too confident. Of course I can control my drinking, I think.
No, I can’t. The desire to drink is still there, and it is very strong on both the best and worst days.
It has been over a year since I’ve had a drink of alcohol. I still struggle. I still panic. I still miss drinking. But in all of this I have learned why I struggle and panic and miss the thing that temporarily numbed my discomfort. I was avoiding getting to know myself. I had to acknowledge that my inner self was not being seen because I was afraid to show it. I was afraid to make changes that could alter relationships.
I had to understand my feelings of body dysphoria and learn what I wanted to do to make my body feel like home. I have had to embrace the panic to gain the clearest sense of self I have ever had. I am making changes. I am becoming me. If I were to give in to my cravings, I would miss out on getting to know my sober self.
So I choose sobriety. One temptation and one day at a time.
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