One of the most surprising benefits of sobriety has been how it changed who I was when I wasn’t drinking.
I can admit it now, but “drinking me” was not so great. She lied, manipulated people, felt sorry for herself, and lived her life at a virtual standstill.
That all changed when I quit drinking.
If you’re stuck in a bad (or weird) place with alcohol right now, you are not alone. I’ll discuss why alcohol brings out the worst in people and how sobriety helped me become a better version of myself. It can do the same for you, too!
Let’s dive in!
Alcohol changes your personality:
On an intuitive level, we know this is true, right? We go out and indulge in some binge drinking and wake up the next day to a raging case of, “I can’t believe I did that.”
But what’s equally interesting is all the ways alcohol changes your personality even when you aren’t drinking.
When we drink, alcohol does a number of things to us, like:
- Impair our cognitive function
- Lowers our inhibitions
- Makes us more emotionally reactive
- Alters our mood
As a result, we can become overly flirtatious or more extroverted than we normally are or emotionally reactive and ready for a fight. Sometimes we become all of those things in the span of an evening.
Alcohol also changes who you are when you’re not drinking:
Chronic drinking of any amount of alcohol will alter your neurochemistry and impact your hormones, mood, and ability to regulate stress.
Chronic just means that you do it consistently. So if you consistently drink even one glass of alcohol per day, you’re going to experience effects.
But what if you’re like I used to be and drink heavily regularly? (Heavy drinking is defined as anything above one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.)
Long-term alcohol abuse will impair your brain’s ability to function properly. We’ve long known that it causes degeneration of the prefrontal cortex – the part of our brains associated with memories, thinking, planning, and regulating our primitive drives.
But recent studies show that even low to moderate drinking can cause gray and white matter shrinkage.
So when we drink, we experience a change in our brain structure and neural circuitry. We also experience alcohol’s inflammatory effects, which lead to disruptions in key body systems. The combined effect makes us:
- Less resilient to stress
- Experience diminished mood and low feelings of self-worth.
- More prone to anxiety and depression
I didn’t know any of this when I was drinking.
It wasn’t until I got some significant time away from alcohol that I realized just how many of my bad traits were connected to my drinking.
If you want to know how this all played out for me, here’s a brief synopsis from an earlier version of this post. I always found connecting to other people’s stories and experience helpful in the early days of sobriety.
If that’s not for you, you can skip ahead to the list. I won’t be offended.
How I used to be:
The budding alcoholic of my late teens and early twenties was incredibly book-smart and tragically lacking emotional intelligence. The gaping wound in my life (as I saw it) was that I’d never had a proper boyfriend, which meant everything to me.
The roots of that desire for a loving relationship ran deep for me.
Things happened in my formative years that forced me to carry some trauma into adulthood. For whatever reason, I thought that having a real relationship would wipe the slate clean.
It would make me whole.
There was no other passion guiding my life stronger than my desire to be romantically loved by another person. It colored everything I did until my early thirties.
And because I perceived myself to be an empty, unlovable shell of a human, I filled that space with alcohol, drama, lying, and manipulation. (Remember that whole part about a low sense of self-worth?)
Old me was in a constant state of hurt.
Why is my social circle so inconsistent? Why do men never want a relationship with me?
I flaked on friends, struggled to find purpose in my life, and lived in a constant swing of highs and lows.
I empathize with the old me, but I can’t blame anyone who rejected her. She was a mess – a bad friend, self-absorbed, and clingy.
She had no identity that could not be shaped or moved by an outside person, nothing that belonged to her exclusively that she would not willingly give away for external validation.
Thankfully, I’m not like that anymore.
Sobriety means I get to finally be who I could’ve been had I not decided to self-medicate my depression and neediness with alcohol.
Falling in love with myself has been the most incredible experience of my life, next to becoming a mother. Alcohol robbed me of the emotional and mental health I needed to take responsibility for my life.
It’s why I want to help other people see that life without alcohol is not only possible but significantly better.
So with that, I want to share with you some things I noticed I stopped doing when I quit drinking that has drastically improved the quality of my life and relationships.
1. I stopped gossiping all the time.
When you hate yourself, it’s easy to hate on other people, and that’s exactly what I did.
Even though I was a total mess, I was more than willing to pick people apart behind their backs. I’m witty, so much of my gossip would be shrouded in humor, but we all knew what it was.
My brand of gossip put a magnifying glass up to other people and blew things out of proportion. It was exhilarating, a rush. We’re all programmed to be drawn to gossip. It’s part of being human.
But I took it too far.
If there was drama to be had, I was in it.
Gossiping is insidious. It riles you up and fuels the worst parts of yourself. I did it ALL THE TIME.
Sobriety means I’m no longer a big-mouthed asshole. I mind my business. Because I don’t need to talk trash about people to feel connected to another human, the compulsion is no longer there.
Sure, I engage in venting sessions with friends and hear them out about who did what at work, but I don’t create or spread rumors, and I’m not drawn to conversations that are mean-spirited anymore.
It’s a total weight off my back.
2. I stopped lying.
Oh, I was such a good liar (or maybe I wasn’t). And I lied about everything, even stupid things that didn’t call for it.
At the root of my lying was a complete dissatisfaction with my life.
I didn’t like who I was, my roots, my experiences, none of it. So I frequently embellished, committed to half-truth versions of myself, and outright lies to dodge reality or give myself cover when I didn’t want to take responsibility for something.
It’s not uncommon. A lot of people who drink heavily are notorious liars.
And I’m sorry for it every single day.
Once I quit drinking, I stopped lying. I gave up the facades of who and what I was. And what a relief. Honesty is always easier.
For more on alcoholism and lying, I recommend this video:
3. I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
Drinking makes wallowing in self-pity incredibly easy.
It’s what we’re taught, right? How many movies or TV shows send us the message that when you’re feeling down, grabbing a glass of wine or a bottle of scotch is the remedy?
We’re all familiar with the archetype of the lone drinker sitting in a dark room with tears running down his face, and a sad melody playing in the background. For whatever reason, that appealed to me.
I leaned into that persona with all my might. You would think a halo of tiny violins enshrined my head.
What I did NOT do was take responsibility for my life by actively doing anything to make it better. I tried here and there, but I gave up quickly, which added to my belief that I was a dysfunctional loser.
I was also very stubborn.
The problem was I tried to DIY my own therapy with the self-help aisle and meditation when what I really needed was professional help and perhaps rehab.
My brokenness became my identity, and I did not know who I was without it. It was the only way I connected to anyone, by sharing my problems of who did what to me and when.
I don’t do that anymore.
If something happens to me, I deal with it the best I can (which is not always perfect), and then I move forward.
I’m proactive. I care about solutions. And I don’t have anything to feel sorry about.
I’ve created a life I love and own every bad decision I’ve made on the path to getting here, even if it turns my stomach to think about it.
Related>> How To Forgive Yourself in Sobriety
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
4. I stopped being afraid of everything.
From an outside perspective, it might not seem like I was playing it safe.
I’d left my home state to go to college in Atlanta, something a lot of people where I’m from don’t do. From there, I moved back to Indiana temporarily before heading to Miami, Florida for four years, then to Brooklyn, New York, and finally halfway across the world to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
But many of those moves were just my way of running from something.
After I graduated from college, I got into teaching and was miserable. But I was too afraid to try something else despite having so many opportunities.
By the time I’d finally gotten a job outside of the classroom, I was so heavy into daily drinking that it hardly mattered. Besides, I didn’t care for that job either.
It’s hard to find work you care about when you have no idea who you are anymore.
Once I got sober and had my daughter, I knew that I wasn’t going to keep living my life this way. After fourteen long years, I quit teaching and threw myself into my writing and this blog full-time, which has led to other professional opportunities.
And I have never been happier.
Taking a leap of faith meant our income was reduced to half. It meant learning to tolerate a level of risk and uncertainty that would’ve been impossible if I’d been drinking.
5. I stopped binge-watching TV.
In the age of Netflix, it is very easy to curl up on the couch and lose five hours to a riveting TV series. There is so much good content out there.
But I mostly steer clear of it.
It doesn’t mean I don’t watch shows. I do. But I don’t sit down and become a zombie scrolling on my phone while the autoplay does its thing.
For one, I have a child, and she’s not into The Marvelous Mrs. Maisal. Secondly, I have shit to do!
I fill my free time with learning, developing websites, and working towards building a better future for myself and my family.
But even when I’m finished working for the day, I’d much rather dig into a book before bed than a series (usually anyways). I no longer feel compelled to find ways to lose time.
6. I stopped being a quitter.
You know those people who are constantly starting things they never finish? Oh hey, you’re a vegan now? Cool. Two weeks later, they’re scarfing a burger.
That was me.
In my drinking days, I was flailing to find a redemption story. To my credit, I did look, but my search was misguided.
I tried yoga and hated it. Then I tried to get into meditation. (That one I DID stick with, but it was not, in itself, a solution.) For some delusional reason, I dropped $5,000 USD on this scammy “school” to become a certified health coach.
Maybe I would start going to the gym at 5 AM before work or start my day with green smoothies. Whatever healthy trend I wanted to hop on fell swiftly by the wayside.
In my defense, none of these things were going to work so long as I refused to get any kind of help for my drinking, but years of pulling these little stunts did create a terrible habit loop in my brain.
I became accustomed to my failure.
Once I quit drinking and got sober, I could start breaking down a lot of the “stuff” that drove me to feel like I wasn’t worth a damn.
Through online therapy, I learned how to deal with these feelings in healthier ways and not let them define me.
Eventually (although not at first), I got to a place where I could set goals outside of sobriety and stick to them.
The early days were pure survival mode. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke.
Being on bed rest and severely ill with morning sickness certainly helped this process, but I stuck to “don’t drink, don’t smoke” for almost a year before I was able to take on other goals long-term.
I’m sure my pregnancy impacted that timeline, but the point I want to make is that you may not experience this in the early days of sobriety. But you will get there, and when you do, your entire life will transform.
7. I stopped hating myself.
I love me some me. Truly. This relationship is new, mind you. I’ve only been here for about two years, but it is magical.
If you had told me five years ago that I would publicly profess to love myself and genuinely mean it, I would’ve called you a liar.
I have always tried to get to this point, but it felt so forced.
I tried it all – visualizations, affirmations, manifestations, gratitude journals. The problem is just like you can’t force a relationship with another person to work if there’s no love or connection there, you can’t force love on yourself.
I can stand in front of a mirror and say, “I love myself” 50,000 times, but if, at the end of the day, I’m drinking myself sick and accepting horrible treatment from others because I don’t see myself as someone worth defending, what good does it do?
I’m just a weirdo talking to my reflection.
You have to believe you’re worthy and start doing things to show you believe that before you get to this point.
A lot of us have buried that worth underneath a mountain of pain. So we drink. We become the type of people we would never want to hang out with.
Once I got rid of the alcohol, I could finally do that work. I could be a good friend, a better wife, and a good mother, which helped me see myself differently.
Sobriety changed my perspective:
Sobriety helped me have enough mental and emotional bandwidth to take on that mountain. The process of quitting helped me start. Every day that you stay sober is one you can finish and say, “I did that. I deserve to have this.”
It starts a ripple effect, which is why when we relapse, we take it so hard. It contradicts this new narrative we’re building.
Here’s the important thing to note – it doesn’t have to. Trying again is also a powerful act of self-love and self-worth once you are truly committed to it.
Not only has sobriety made me feel empowered to improve my life, but it has allowed me to see myself as someone who deserves it.
This might be the thing I’m most grateful for because, without it, none of the other changes are possible.
How long does it take to see these changes in sobriety?
Everyone is different, but I started noticing my personality and perspective on life shift around the 4-6 month mark. I’d made massive improvements before then, but in the first months of sobriety, you share a lot of mental real estate with cravings for drinking.
So much of that time was split between just not drinking and allowing my brain and body time to adjust to not having alcohol.
Once you get past those initial milestones, you start noticing the compounding effects of sobriety on other aspects of your life.
Interested in reading more? These resources can help: