The Real Cost of Your Drinking Isn’t Revealed Until Long After You Quit

My only regret about getting sober is that I didn’t do it twenty years sooner


In my first year sober I wasn't convinced my drinking was that bad. Five years later I have a very different perspective.

I never intended to quit drinking forever. Back in 2016, I just wanted a break. A year off alcohol seemed impossible, and so I knew it was a meaningful challenge. I used everything I could think of to make it stick.

AA, podcasts, sobriety memoirs, SMART, learning about addiction… I threw everything I could at my goal because it was the only way to achieve it. That was how hard staying sober was back then.

In that first year, I wasn’t convinced that my problem was that bad. After all, I hadn’t lost anything significant I told myself, so how could it be?

Five years on, I have a completely different perspective.

The fact is, after more than twenty years of drinking the way I did - an awful lot, and yet at the same time, not enough for anyone to tell me they were worried - I had already lost many, many things. My drinking blinkers simply prevented me from recognizing it yet.

So here it is, the real cost of my drinking.

 

Self-discovery

Life is about learning who you are, what your skills are, and how you can use these to make the world a slightly better, more equal and beautiful place. Childhood and adolescence are crucial times to discover this information and find where you fit in this complex, dangerous and wonderful world.

However, if you develop a drinking problem, this process of self-discovery gets derailed, and it can be tough to get back on track. The binge drinking habit I developed in my teens continued into my thirties.

Every weekend that I spent hammered was another weekend that I missed out on getting to discover who I was and how I could contribute, and build a meaningful life. Every weekend lost to drinking took me a step or two away from that goal when I could have moved towards it.

By the time I attempted a year sober aged 33, I felt very low, very lost, and very disconnected from the world around me. I had lost years of self-discovery and done a lot of damage to myself. There was a lot of work to do, in order to get myself to an okay place.

And I will never know what I could have achieved in my life if I hadn’t spent so many years cha-bongered.

 

Self-acceptance

Life is about learning to understand and accept your own gifts and limitations in order to make a life that suits you, in which you can feel ok about who you are and your choices. We are all imperfect, and the sooner we accept that the sooner we learn to be okay with ourselves and this whole being alive thing.

The years of self-discovery I missed out on, left me unable to know or accept myself. This impacted my ability to make healthy decisions. And when things fell apart, which they did, often, I drank to numb the pain, rather than truly feeling it, learning from the experience and being motivated to change.

For many years, I felt unlucky and doomed, without recognizing that I had a hand in the failures I was experiencing. Alcohol made me feel better (temporarily) at the same time as it prevented me from learning from my most serious mistakes and drove me to make new ones.

I wasn’t willing or able to take a serious look at myself, and so I was doomed to repeat my negative cycles and patterns.

This made me hate myself, which pushed me even further from self-acceptance. Instead, I craved self-destruction. I wanted to forget who I was. To disappear for a while. I was trapped for years in this damaging cycle.

And it isn’t only that I wasted hundreds of thousands of hours on hangovers and arguments and fun times that I can’t remember at all. There are also the things I could have been doing instead.

The art I could have created!

The friendships I could have nurtured!

The life skills I could have learned!

 

Honest, loving relationships with my family

This is a painful realization, especially in the wake of my father’s death. My inability to know myself (lack of self-discovery) and accept myself meant that I could not connect honestly with people—even my own family. And so, for years, I kept my distance from the people who knew me best. I was ashamed of where I came from and who I was because of so many years of dysfunction. I felt like a failure and so I wanted to keep to myself.

Relationships become more beautiful the more love and trust and kindness you put into them. And so I have a lot of catching up to do with my family.

At five years sober, my relationships are closer than they have been for years, and I am committed to improving them further. I hope one day, to have a family of my own and to create loving and honest relationships there from the start.

If I hadn’t gotten sober, I would never have known what was missing in the quality of my relationships. After all, you cannot know what you do not know. You can’t miss what you don’t have.

Getting sober was the beginning of creating better, more authentic relationships with all of the important people in my life. It is a beautiful and difficult process that I am so grateful to be experiencing.

 

When I got sober, I didn’t understand what my problem was

I had a lot of denial about my drinking and the damage it had caused because the damage was subtle. At least, it seemed that way at the time. These days, not so much.

I can’t tell you whether you have lost as much as I did through your drinking. But I can tell you that if you think your drinking is a problem, then it probably is. And the scale of the problem is likely much more severe than you currently realize.

I’m catching up on the self-discovery, self-acceptance and relationship building that I missed out on because of my drinking, but I can still feel grief over how much I have missed. Life is so obviously not about wandering around in semi-blackout.

What a waste of a good woman! It still hurts sometimes.

But we do the best we can, and as soon as we can do better, we do better.

So, yep. The only regret I have about getting sober is that I didn’t do it twenty years earlier. If you drank like me, then the best time to get sober was years and years ago. The second best time is today.

 

If you need help to cope, you’re not alone.

If you’re ready to try something different, read beautiful hangover and discover what I did to get freedom from alcohol. Do whatever it takes to stay sober for 30 days: go to your doctor, try Smart or AA or Hip Sobriety or Soberistas.

Listen to Recovery Elevator and SHAIR podcasts. Read This Naked Mind. Try Moderation Management.

There is a whole community of people waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting. Sign up for more from me at beautiful hangover

 

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 book about getting sober and a new YA novel.

She also has a fun comic/newsletter about autism.

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