How Sobriety Changes You From the Inside Out
Sobriety changes you to your core. Maybe not on its own, but it is undoubtedly the foundation.
There are the obvious things like:
- Not being sick and hungover all the time
- Avoiding drunk shenanigans and mistakes
- Looking and feeling better
- Actually holding on to a job or relationship
But beyond that, there is a deeper change that reshapes the core of who you are. Those are the less visible changes, but man can they be felt.
I used to be made of glass.
It didn’t take much to make me shatter into bits. And when that happened, I wanted to drink and smoke. To not feel anything, and be comforted by my “friends”.
There was no “brushing” things off my shoulder. I just let them pile on and tried to make a martyr of myself by carrying them around.
I couldn’t handle anything.
Not criticism, a remotely bad day, an unreturned call or message – nothing.
Looking back, I wonder if on some level I let myself be fragile because it made for an excellent excuse to drink. We learn, either overtly or subconsciously, that the way to take the edge off a tough time is to drink.
Isn’t that the last five minutes of every dramatic TV series? “We lost that patient in the OR today. Let’s sit down at the local bar and take shots of whiskey.”
If everything is a crisis, it makes drinking all the time more reasonable. (At least in our own minds.)
I reveled in the nursing of wounds I had mostly invented.
But now, I actually function.
Like in a significant way.
Not just in the “I manage to go to work and pay bills” sense. As in I can actually create, learn, be, and do things. I can respond to life’s ups and downs significantly better than before I got sober.
Take an incident from earlier today, for example.
My husband and I were out walking with our daughter. (Which is about all that keeps us sane these days.)
She looked up at me with those pretty brown eyes and asked, “Do you want go, Mommy?”
This is an invitation to race, which I gladly accepted.
She stuck her tiny fingers up, one by one, and started counting, “Oooone, Twooooo, Three, Go!”
And off we went, me at a moderate jog, and she at breakneck toddler speed, limbs flailing wildly. All giggles and come get me!
Her feet got ahead of her and she did a super scary, slow-motion fall face-first onto the concrete. Immediately, the screams, and tears, and quivering lip.
Related Post: Two Years of Sober Motherhood Changed My Life
The old me would’ve freaked out.
I went to pick her up thinking the spill just scared her a bit, and then I saw that she managed to scrape her face from the top of her brow bone down to the base of her eye socket. It was already beginning to swell.
She was more than just spooked; she was hurt.
I scooped her up and my husband and I traded turns cuddling and carrying her back to the house.
I felt horrible, but also met the moment.
She needed me and I was there for her 100%. My mind wasn’t wandering off about how her spill and scrapes made ME feel. I just wanted to be there for her and make her feel better.
There was no panic or emotion that took my attention away from her.
That’s not how drinking me would’ve handled it.
Kids fall and get scrapes and bruises. It doesn’t make our parental hearts flutter any less at seeing our baby crying and in need of comfort. But we can handle it.
Sobriety changed me into someone who can handle it.
In the past, I would’ve had a hard time balancing the urge to comfort my child and the urge to have a drink because I would inevitably be freaked out and flooded with sharp anxiety. It would become about me.
Everything used to impact me like a crisis. At least that’s how it felt in my body.
In an alternate universe where “drinking me” was somehow a parent, I might’ve come home and pawned her off on my husband for a couple of minutes so I could have a smoke. You know, “settle down” a bit.
Then I’d be flustered about it until nap time, which I’d be shamefully speeding up so I could drink. My baby hurt herself today while racing me. I’m a shit parent. I need to drink.
Sobriety changes how you react to the world.
The above scenario is a minor incident. There have been tougher, scarier moments before now. But it’s illustrative.
These moments matter.
My daughter gets to grow up with a mom who is there for her, both physically and emotionally. I could not have provided that five years ago.
Sobriety empowers me to tackle problems from a place of strength.
I used to just absorb the world around me. Everything was personal. I didn’t want it to be, but that’s how it felt and, at the time, my inner world was like the wild west.
Drinking, untreated depression, and distorted world views made it nearly impossible to see life objectively.
Everything is happening to you, even things that could not possibly have a thing to do with you – like a date canceling because s/he got stuck at work. You become a victim and the only way to placate your inner victim is to drown it in alcohol.
We can’t be there for anyone in any meaningful way because we’re too busy making everything about ourselves.
This is damning when you’re on your own, but it is downright impossible when you’re a parent.
Related Post: Learning How to Love Yourself After You Get Sober
Sobriety changes the way you see things.
I don’t automatically take things personally that aren’t personal. (For the most part; I’m only human.)
Luckily, sobriety means I can tell the difference. If somebody is an ass to me, I don’t immediately get bent out of shape or take their behavior to heart.
If something important gets canceled, I don’t immediately collapse with disappointment and start thinking the universe is out to rob me of joy.
Sobriety gives you emotional resilience.
Which is kind of a requirement. Otherwise, we don’t fare so well in the long run. It’s easier to let yourself get swept up in (or invent) drama when you get to drink about it.
Sobriety though? It’s hard enough. We don’t have the bandwidth to flip out over a mean comment on social media or who our ex from eight years ago is dating.
After you get some significant mileage on your sobriety, you’ll look back at things you used to get wasted over and think, “Wow, really?”
These changes have a ripple effect on your relationships.
Being less self-centered is great! For everyone.
You actually get to be a good friend, spouse, and parent. Imagine being able to listen to someone without trying to steer the conversation onto yourself or your own problems!
If a friend needs to meet for coffee after work, you don’t have to feel antsy about how much drinking time it will cut into, or try to rush the heart-to-heart so you can get back to your bottle.
You become emotionally available, learn to listen to people, and actually find joy in helping others. You’re not constantly worrying about how to introduce alcohol into a situation or find an escape route so that you can go drink.
Even better, sobriety stabilizes you.
You can transform from a person who is always getting worked up and emotionally unloading on people, to someone who is actually pleasant to be around.
I enjoy being able to offer people more than snarky, drunk wit, and unsolicited life history.
People can depend on me. I’m not going to flake because I’m too drunk to show up or too anxious from the previous day’s drinking to leave the house.
I’m someone people can take seriously.
Five years ago, I couldn’t say that honestly.
And really, deep down, isn’t that what we want in life?
To feel stable in a world that is inherently not? To make peace with ourselves?
For those of us who turned to alcohol in the past, I don’t see how we get there without sobriety.
It’s a gift.
My life doesn’t work without it.
And it’s cool because you used to wonder how you could ever live your life without some alcohol. Now, you wonder how you ever managed with it.
You actually enjoy having your wits about you 24/7. There are things in your life now worth protecting. And when you do have a rough day, you don’t see how alcohol could possibly make it better.
Not that the thought never occurs to you, but it’s more like when you see a triple cheeseburger on a menu with fried chicken for buns. Seems like an intriguing idea for half a second and then reason takes over.
(Us? Reasonable? Who’d have thought!)
So if that sounds good to you, I strongly encourage you to stay on this path. Even if you can’t see how you’ll ever end up in this magical place I’ve been yammering about, it’s there. Waiting for you.
Just takes a bit of work to get there.
Thank you, your article is inspirational.
It is day 43 of the lockdown in South Africa where the sale of alcohol and tobacco is prohibited by law since 27 March 2020. I have been a functional alcoholic for 20 + years but it is catching up to me. I have also been a smoker for 35 years.
Alcohol and tobacco is available on the black market, but for some reason, I have had no desire to nurture either addiction. It is almost as if my mind and body have been waiting for a reason to quit both addictions.
One can possibly argue this is the worst time to quit any addiction. Being confined in a house for 43 days with no end in sight is not easy. Our economy is ruined, and I had a 20% pay cut for the remainder of the year.
For some unknown reason, quitting both addictions simultaneously in incredibly difficult times like these seems ominously easy.
Sad thing though, there is no one that I can lean on for support. No one knows I am an alcoholic, and the two people closest to me deny that I have a problem. I think they are embarrassed to accept it.
Good thing I am doing this for myself and no one else.
I am also from South Africa. Well done to you! I hope you have maintained your sobriety, and if not I hope you are still trying. I am on day 8 🙂
A brief ipdate from my side. Its been 225 days and going strong! Hope its going well for you too.it does get easier.
Pretty awesome!! I could totally relate to taking things personally all the time. For example “what the fuck did you just say?!” The comment made may not have had anything to do with me but I take it personally anyway. Allows me to keep the drama & chaos going which I do not understand within myself but it is definitely present.
Have 3 years clean from alcohol.
Not a parent but can truly understand the importance of being sober & present to your little girl. I am so glad for you. 5 years of sobriety is a beautiful thing!!
I will keep checking in.