And some solutions for how to navigate it.
Now I’m almost five years sober, the idea of not drinking being boring is laughable. But I still remember the agonizing boredom of early sobriety. When I suddenly had so much more time and no clue what to do with it. In those early days, the whole experience of not drinking sometimes felt like an unbelievable drag.
Life has improved ten times over since I quit drinking, and it feels a lot less boring since I stopped spending whole weekends at the pub. I have more time to focus on my relationships and hobbies and projects, and no longer feel restless, irritable or discontent so much of the time.
So here’s some of what I’ve learned about why early sobriety feels so boring, and what you can do to fix it.
1. You are used to being able to change your mood in seconds
Alcohol makes you feel good immediately after you drink it. It gives you a rush and quietens the part of your brain that worries about everything. After you quit, you have to learn ways of doing this without turning to beer.
At first, every alternative seems to take a lot longer to create the same effects to a lesser degree. This sucks. And there is no way around it, except to stay on the path of sobriety and learn new coping strategies and relaxation techniques.
I used AA a lot in early sobriety as it gave me somewhere to go at the time when I would ordinarily be drinking. Covid means that meetings are now mostly online, but they still work in the same way. They give you a focus as you make it through the witching hour, i.e. wine o’clock.
2. You falsely believe you need alcohol to do certain things
I thought I needed to drink to dance and be outgoing, but it turned out not to be true. Since I got sober, I discovered that I prefer socialising one-to-one. One to one I’m very outgoing! I also can dance whenever music that I love is played. It’s really not an issue.
Alcohol did help me to let go of my self-consciousness and dance, but I had to drink an awful lot to achieve it. More often than not, by the time I had drunk enough to feel like dancing the bar was about to close. Also, beer helped me to socialize in groups when it turns out I didn’t actually really enjoy that.
My point is that booze hindered me as much as it helped me. It prevented me from really getting to know myself and what I liked to do and what I was capable of.
You likely believe that you need booze to be able to do certain things, and you’re probably right about some of them. But some of them you will be wrong about. Getting sober is your chance to find out the truth about yourself.
Be proactive and set yourself challenges. Push yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and pay attention to whether it was worth it. I have had to learn to do so many things without the crutch of alcohol, and lots of them are much more enjoyable now. Find out for yourself.
3. Because you are not used to the way you feel
At first, the worst thing about being long-term sober (and this meant weeks, initially) was the sameiness of my consciousness. I got sick of my actual self. I was so worried and anxious all the time. Afraid of making mistakes and of what people thought of me. I ruminated over tiny things and couldn’t seem to just relax and let things go.
Your unadulterated consciousness may come as an unpleasant surprise to you. I was horrified by what a needy and nervy dork I was. It had been nice pretending to be relaxed and laidback for a few hours every day. I was devastated to discover I was one of the most uptight people I had ever met.
At first, I used sugar to help manage the strangeness of always being sober. Later I started to incorporate exercise. I tried meditation (though never quite managed to get a consistent practice.) Nature seemed to help.
Eventually, I learned to have self-compassion and to stop constantly berating myself for tiny and often imaginary mistakes. But there was quite a lot of therapy, 12 step work, trial and error with medication and, a couple of diagnoses along the way towards arriving at that.
Learning to be okay within yourself takes a while, but is well worth the effort. I mean, what else are we here to do? (Actually, lots of things, but this is important.)
everything else takes more effort than drinking.
Drinking is one of the quickest and easiest ways in the world to alleviate boredom. But it is also, in itself, quite boring. The conversations you have when you’re drinking are fun, but you can have them without drinking. And then, da-dah! No hangover.
I fought as hard as I could to keep beer in my life, but in the end, it simply wasn’t possible. I couldn’t stick to my rules around drinking, and so I had to give it up. This allowed me to learn that I had never really needed it in the first place.
If you need help to soothe your feelings, 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.
There is a whole community of people waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting.
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.