Updated: Oct 1, 2022
Drinking too much can lead to a lonely, shameful place. When I gave it up, I got more than I ever dreamed possible.
Long before I would actually admit to myself that I had a problem with alcohol, wine had stopped being just a tannic treat and had become my coping mechanism for everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Bad day? Get the wine. Something to celebrate? Woohoo, wine! Insomnia? Wine. Grief? Wine. A fight, avoidance, fear, Sunday...you get it.
Without divulging too many gory details, my drinking odyssey steadily and increasingly progressed from college party girl status in my twenties to full-on habitual drinker in my thirties to Omg-is this is a real problem? in my forties to Wow, I'm almost 50 and I'm drinking a bottle plus a day, 7 days a week. Now, this amount varied on the days that I was attempting to "moderate," but regardless of how much or little I drank, the hangovers were perpetual and the quality of life was pathetic. I was getting fatter and sicker and I was stuck in a habit that I needed to break free from.
Alcohol was not only not doing any of the things I thought I needed it for, but it was actually destroying most areas of my life. My love-hate co-dependent relationship with drinking went through so many lows and lowers, and a couple of lowests. There was nothing good coming from it.
When I finally broke up with my loser best friend booze, I started to embark on the most incredible journey with a new friend who I loved being around and couldn't wait to learn more about: ME.
Everything changed. I realize I am going to out myself here and I am relatively okay with that. Drinking too much leads us to a lonely, shameful place. Sharing my story is how to break those shackles, and let you know that you aren't alone. It's totally worth it to help other women say, "Hey, that's me too. I'm not alone." Going first helps other women go next.
Here's some of what I gained after I gave up alcohol:
1. More Money & Better Credit
If you already did a little quick math in your head, you beat me to this line: At one point, I spent $300 per month on wine. This is a car payment, a boss clothing / make up budget, or enough Cool Sculpting to lose a turkey neck after a few months of treatment. Your horrification pales in comparison to mine, trust me, but I "needed" it, I thought, and I justified it.
" I buy my clothes at Marshalls, I rarely get my nails done, I don't wear a lot of makeup, I don't have a shopping addiction," blah blah blah blah blah.
Currently my credit score is the highest it's ever been and there is enough in the budget to stay oceanfront (in the offseason) and take online education classes for things I've always wanted to do. Win win win.
There is a widely believed myth that alcohol will help you sleep. It does help induce sleep (this is called passing out), but it inhibits getting deep, rejuvenating, body-healing REM sleep. Your body can't ever get into the regenerative sleep cycles it needs to do its night work - the repair for the normal day to day stuff. And if it can't do that, it certainly can't even touch the alcohol damage repair.
As the alcohol starts to metabolize in your body, your body temperature rises, the diuretic effect kicks in and you become dehydrated and need to get up to go to the bathroom.
Once you stop drinking, it takes about two weeks to get into a beautiful rest rhythm. It will happen and it is absolutely glorious. And there's no more waking up at 3 a.m. with hangxiety. (If you know, you know.)
Use supplements like Calm and MagSoothe to help you fall asleep until your body can do it on it's own.
3. More Time
At the date of this post, I have gained back two months of life. And that's just what the app can see on the surface. Alcohol shortens your life span. The top three mortality stealers are smoking, drinking and diet. The health risks are exponential, contrary to what Big Alcohol would like you to believe. In elementary lingo, it strips your body of the good stuff and causes the bad stuff.
Without alcohol I have more time to do the things I want to do because I'm not drinking, thinking about drinking or trying to recover from drinking all the time.
I'm not late anymore, I'm early, I have the energy to actually go do fun things and I'm present for the all the moments.
4. Clear Thoughts
I blamed peri-menopause for my brain fog, but this was just another excuse I told myself so that drinking wasn't the bad guy. And honestly this is the one that was most jarring for me when I realized what was actually happening. I am a thoughtful processor as it is (I write so I know how I feel about things) and when I was unable to focus and accomplish my goals, this was yet another red flag that it had to go.
I hated losing complete control, not being able to remember conversations, and not expressing myself very well. Plus the confusion and forgetfulness that hung over me the day after drinking were maddening. I felt like I was Alice in Not-So-Wonderland going "this way" and "that way" with no clear purpose. And my family was having to repeat things that I couldn't remember them telling me.
Booze shrinks your brain. Literally. Alcohol damages complex structures of this beautiful organ. It blocks chemical signals between brain cells (called neurons), which is what causes the initial symptoms of intoxication, including impulsive behavior, slurred speech, poor memory, and emotional roller coasters.
For a long time, I just wanted to numb out and put everything on pause. I have a lot of trouble with all the hardness in the world. I'm a Sensitive-ite and it's much easier for us to escape from things than to deal with them. But you can't numb out selectively. If you aren't feeling the bad stuff, you also aren't experiencing the good stuff.
As I age, I become increasingly "mortality motivated." I want to contribute and serve and be fully present for what's left, and I couldn't do it if I was checked out. Drinking steals your time, your health, and your purpose - more reasons to show it the door.
5. Clear Skin
A few weeks after you stop drinking, your eye bags will shrink, the face redness will disappear and you won’t need to cake on foundation anymore. I love not hiding my self-diagnosed "rosacea" under liquid makeup. Your face won't give you away as a heavy drinker. After a few months, people will ask you what you are doing differently or do a side eye when you aren't looking to try to figure it out.
6. Desire to Exercise
I used to love to go to the gym and take the classes, but as my drinking increased, my motivation to exercise went the other way. When you are constantly in the cycle of drinking and recovering, there isn't a lot of room for much else. Self-care and self love are replaced with self-loathing and sloth. I would write "Gym" in the 6pm slot in my planner, but at 5pm, the Wine Witch would burst through the door loudly beckoning me to come drink with her. I was stuck in the quicksand habit of decompression drinking and I willingly obliged.
Exercise, in literally whatever form you choose to do it, is the remedy for so many things that are dragging you down. It will make you feel good about yourself, keep your muscles working for you, increase your oxygen and blood levels, and even help you find the sleep unicorn.
If science could bottle the feelings and health benefits that exercise gives us, the creators would be rich beyond imagination. This is impossible, so quit dreaming and get moving.
The good news: you don't need to spend an hour in the gym. You don't have to run. Anything goes. Moving is power. When you stop drinking you have new found energy.
Try these things if it's been awhile for you: Gentle or Chair Yoga. Biking on a flat trail. Good old fashioned walking to a podcast or audio book. Walking in the pool (great for arthritis), swimming or water aerobics.
I love to walk along the water in our neighborhood, ride the spin bike and am an avid pickleball player-my new healthy addiction!
Hobbies are the lifeblood of recovery. Replacing destructive habits with healthy ones is a main key to successful soberdom. Finding hobbies we love creates purpose and happiness. Plus, when you stop drinking you are going to have a lot of new found time on your hands and you need to beat the initial boredom. Don't worry, it will quickly turn in to a fervor for life.
When you have something that you look forward to doing and it makes you feel great or propels you to a new goal you're after-boom. Congratulations. You have just successfully replaced the reward of alcohol with a (hopefully) healthy one. And by healthy I simply mean something that is not self-destructive in any way.
It may be something you used to do and loved before alcohol invaded and claimed all your time and energy. Or you might find something new that sparks your creativity or pleasure center. I am currently addicted to playing Pickleball. My other favorites are writing of course, baking healthy sugar-free desserts that actually taste good, figuring out the perfect smoothie recipe, and going back to school to study Holistic Nutrition.
Side note: With all of that, I am still in the plus column on the money spent vs. the money saved by not drinking.
Here are some hobby ideas to help get you rolling if you're stuck.
8. Healed & New Relationships
About six months after I quit drinking, my mom said to me, "You're like a different person. You're a pleasure to be with." This hit me deep down in my soul. I have often wondered what it was like for my family to be around me before I got sober. "It was hard," she said. "You were...hard."
The ones we love struggle, too, just in different ways. They go through the worry, fear, anger, resentment, disgust and dismay. They are confronted with their own torment - should they give us tough or unconditional love?
When I stopped drinking and started living, here's what happened: I completely rebuilt my relationship with my now 21 year old daughter. She respects me, she is proud of me, she TALKS to me. This is gigantic and makes all the hard work worth it.
I am present for my mom as she goes through big life transitions, just like she always was for me. I have friends again. Real, true, I miss you-let's get together a lot and lift each other up-friends. I never wanted to do anything before so I always made up an excuse and then wondered why I didn't have a life. And with my husband I feel like I'm on an even playing field. I help, I work, I clean, I pay the bills. I contribute equally. Knowing I wasn't pulling my weight was a miserable feeling.
When you stop drinking, you start living. Everything starts to bloom again in your life when you nourish it with care and positivity instead of poisoning it with toxic behavior caused by alcohol.
9. Weight Loss & Health
This topic will forever be controversial in early sobriety, but it's the whole reason I'm really here writing all of this and bearing my soul...to help you and I figure all of this out. Listen, losing weight is not the holy grail here, it's long term sobriety, bar none. But shedding excess pounds is a byproduct of reclaiming your health, fueling your body with real food, and committing to moving daily.
Shedding excess pounds means shedding the junk that we eat, and the junk that we are taught. It's about choosing more for ourselves and our future selves. It's about gaining the knowledge that tells us to stop drinking poison and start choosing the best fuel for our body eingines so we can get the most out of it long term.
So I get crazy irked when I read responses in online sobriety groups to the sugar and junk food questions. See example:
Jane, 3 months sober: "I know sobriety is the priority and not losing weight, but I thought when I stopped drinking I would lose something and start to feel better right away, but I can't stop eating all the things."
Well-meaners with more sober time logged: "Don't worry about sugar, junk food, etc. right now. Give it a year. Just do whatever you have to do to not drink."
WHAT? A YEAR?!
I'm going to turn up the volume all the way here: YES-GETTING SOBER IS ALSO ABOUT GETTING HEALTHY. And releasing excess weight can be part of it. But feeling better is number one, and you can't feel better if you are green lighting refined sugar and processed food. These are inflammatory to our bodies (like alcohol) and are going to keep you feeling like a sloth with brain fog and poor mood. Getting sober means choosing your life and health over poison. I believe the the same mindset should carry over to everything we put into our bodies.
We are putting sludge into our bodies and then bullying them for not doing everything we want them to do. Our engines can't perform without premium fuel (whole food, animal products, organic produce, zero seed oils, water and sleep.)
When we start believing and owning that we are made for more than drinking ethyl alcohol, canola-oil-fried potatoes and hydrogenated shortening-filled pastries, the incredible power of a mindset shift takes us to an amazing place of well-being.
Example: "I get to stop putting toxic poison in my body and start nourishing it with incredible nutrients."
When I poured out the last bottle, I looked 6 months pregnant at 50 years old. Through low carb, whole food, protein-focused eating, habit changes and a clear-headed mindset shift, I shed 35 pounds at the date of this writing and that "baby belly." I'm not thin because I have more damage to fix on the inside, but I look better healthy and I feel exponentially better. That extra weight was tearing me down, it was visible damage. Now I get comments like "Hey, what are you doing? You look great!" This my friends, is another bright lining of the Pink Cloud.
When we decide to get sober on our own, focusing on not drinking does need to become the number one priority and I agree. You can't tackle two huge tasks at once because your efforts and resolve become divided.
But healthy food should be a weapon in our Sober Toolbox, not something to address after six months to a year. Recovery nutrition will help you feel better faster and stay here longer. When you feel in control and empowered physically, ain't no alcohol gonna break your stride.
10. Self Esteem
This, without a doubt, is the most profound and amazing gift that I have gained in sobriety. I didn't just wake up and decide to do Dry January and automatically stop drinking. Easy peasy.
I suffered with Alcohol Use Disorder, so it wasn't just as easy as doing Dry January and sticking with it long-term. I quit drinking to save my life.
Getting sober is the hardest, greatest, most bad ass thing I have ever done. It was dicey in the beginning(s) (of course it took me more than one go), but the dividends have paid off exponentially. I have done some cool stuff since my first sober birthday like actually getting up to watch the sunrise over the ocean, going back to school to study holistic nutrition, taking up a new sport at 51 and competing in tournaments, and launching this blog to help other women recover well. When you stop drinking you are really just getting started.
When I got sober, I thought giving up [alcohol] was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite. Mary Carr