#4. Most of your dreams are delusional.
There’s no way I would have managed to quit drinking if I’d known what it entailed in the short term. But if I'd known how it would look long term, I would have been inspired to keep going. Staying sober day after day requires faith, that in spite of the struggle, it's going to be worth it.
We don’t all have the same burdens, psychological profiles and traumatic histories, but I can't help but believe that dealing with alcohol addiction (and the trauma underneath) is only going to lighten your load.
The only way you’ll truly know if your life would be better sober is if you try it. But you have to give it at least a couple of years - okay, maybe four - to have any idea how it will be. Trust me, it takes a long time to get clarity. To return to a life without extremes.
In the spirit of transparency here are some of the parts people don’t dare tell you, about what it’s really like to get sober, in case they put you off.
1. In a year, your life will likely look entirely different
You think you’re giving up booze, but actually, you’re becoming another kind of person. The new you might need a less stressful job. A more supportive partner. A less hectic weekend routine. It isn’t the same for everybody, but that’s how it went for me.
In early sobriety, you need to be surrounded by people that understand why it’s important you don’t drink. And you need a job that matches your energy levels now you can’t use wine to get you through. Personally, I found all this change exciting, because — spoiler alert — before I quit drinking I was miserable. But not everybody quits because they’re unhappy (apparently.) The sober curious crowd does it for the perks. Others do it as part of their spiritual path.
But for me, a year after I gave up, my life looked very different. And though I never would have admitted it at the time, that was because I wanted it to.
When I was drinking I knew my relationship was failing. I knew I didn’t enjoy my job. I knew I hated the drunken lazy weekends. But I couldn’t seem to fix any of it.
Then I got sober and I found that I could.
2. You will never have fun in quite the same way again
I know. It sucks. But tell the truth. How many more truly incredible parties do you think you’re gonna go to? How often are those nights out worth the hangover?
For me, the payoff wasn’t there anymore. It hadn’t been for years. That’s why I longed to be sober. At 33 I’d done the party years, the pub years and the student years to death. I was sick of chatting shite and chain-smoking when I would rather read a book and have an early night. I was desperate for something else. And yet, I kept getting drunk.
There’s nothing like an addiction to rinse the fun out of drinking.
It was tough at first. In my first year, I had to entirely reimagine what fun was. That’s how far I was from having any. I had to let go of the cool and silly and spontaneous drinking persona I had enjoyed (and hidden inside) for so long.
Gradually, I learned to accept and value my gentleness and sensitivity instead. I found ways to have fun that didn’t hurt anyone. Not even me.
3. You are about to do a crash course in growing the fuck up
As a kid, it looked like adult life was rubbish. I didn’t want any part of it. And so I felt no pressure or urgency to grow up. I was allergic to responsibility and determined to avoid it for as long as I could. Honestly, I had a good run. I made it almost to thirty. Then I realized that my life was empty and I was deeply unhappy. And so I began to reconsider.
The process of getting sober, and doing the work required to stay that way, allowed me to see that I was incredibly, shockingly, embarrassingly immature. Some of my ideas and beliefs hadn’t been reappraised since I was fifteen or sixteen. Many of them no longer served me. Some of them actively worked against me.
And so I learned to take responsibility. And my life began to fill up with things that mattered to me. As I took care of them and myself, life came to feel meaningful and precious.
I can still spin out and overreact when things go wrong, but mostly I’m happy to be an adult in the world. Excited to be able to make choices about how I want to live.
4. Most of your dreams are delusional
Drinking allows you to live a fantasy life in which you are cool and smooth and successful.
Everything is possible when you drink. Sinking that first beer you wonder why on earth you have ever been anxious.
The next day, your hangover is more or less noticeable, and the nagging dread returns. Stronger than ever. Because:
You are messing it up. Your chance at being a writer, your chance at living a life. You have messed it up before it even began.
It’s exhausting shifting between these two poles, but you do it, night after night after night.
Drunk me would talk excitedly about the future. All the books I would finish, and the retreat I’d build by myself! Sober me understood how out of reach my dreams were.
When you put the drink down, you are left with reality. This is why I drank, you realize. The limitations of your talent, work ethic, attention span. But you might recognize too how much you have achieved, how much you already have. That you are a survivor.
For the first time since I can remember, I was truly able to appreciate the gifts I had in my life. Basic things like sight and mobility, living parents and some solid skills. I started to validate myself, and to aim higher, and to make progress again. A lot of it was internal stuff: developing self-love and learning to have healthy relationships, but some of it was external too. I got a better job and lost some weight. I stopped getting into debt and started to save.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m no longer getting in my own way as much as I used to. Following through on your commitments because you aren’t hanging out your arse is a pretty effective way of getting things done it turns out.
5. You will have to do a lot of work on yourself to be able to live in the world without a drink
Being sober all the time in this world is tough. Have you seen it out there? Yikes. Sometimes it gets too much for me. I go to the GP to ask for help or I go to therapy (when I can afford it). I lean on community support groups like AA and ACA, and I’ve even started asking for help at work.
Life is hard and for me, drinking only made it harder. I mean sure, it gave me a break too. But once the booze wore off, my problems were still there. Some of them growing more complex as the months rolled by. Meanwhile, I was getting older.
Even if you never royally exploded your life while you were drinking, sobering up you will be struck by the time you’ve wasted. For the first two years after I quit I would be winded by regret. What on earth had I been doing with my one precious life?
The fact is that we all have reasons why we drink. To combat social anxiety or make intimacy easier. To soothe the pain of trauma or relationship breakdown. To ‘self-medicate’ our mental illnesses. After you stop drinking, you have to deal with the reasons that you drink. And this isn’t generally easy. But for me, it’s absolutely been worth it.
If I had known about the joy and self-acceptance and contentment that was waiting for me, my early recovery would have been so much easier. So if you’re in the process of quitting, try to have faith that it will be worth it. Believe that beautiful things are in the pipeline for you, because of course they are. How could they not be?
Life is suffering, but it is joy too. Sobriety is about learning how to live with all of it.
Chelsey Flood is the author of Infinite Sky and Nightwanderers, and a lecturer in creative writing at Falmouth University. She writes about freedom, addiction, nature and love, and is working on a non-fiction project about getting sober.
For more of her writing, visit her page at Medium.