This post was originally published on August 15, 2014.
Full disclosure: I’ve been sober less than one year. That alone is hard for me to believe, since in some ways it feels like an eternity since I had my last drink (which I’m kind of proud to say was a swanky scotch I didn’t have to pay for). In other ways, the time has flown by. Here are three differences between my expectations of sobriety and the reality, for better or worse.
1. My social life didn’t take a hit.
Back when I was struggling with moderation, which made planning weekends difficult, I thought full-on abstinence would torpedo my social life. Surely when I broke the news my friends would stare at me like I had three heads, and they’d eventually stop inviting me out altogether. Not that I’d even want to come—going to a party, or even out to dinner, without at least getting a buzz could not have seemed less appealing.
Good news: though I may be more selective about what types of events will be healthy for me in sobriety, I attend as many parties as ever and usually even enjoy them more. After all, there are worse things than being able to converse with the confidence that I won’t say something completely asinine or wake up somewhere unexpected the next day. Meanwhile, I’ve discovered my friends are even more awesome than I’d realized because I can actually engage with them instead of with whatever’s on tap.
2. Managing my emotions got easier, not harder.
Before I got sober, the slightest twinge of a negative emotion demanded a drink. Anxiety, sadness, anger, fatigue—beer, wine, whiskey, margaritas. Without the panacea that is alcohol, I imagined I’d be miserable 24/7. And yeah, on my second day of sobriety, I found myself driving to work in Beverly Hills with tears streaming down my face just trying not to barrel through somebody’s wrought-iron gate.
But my emotional landscape brightened fairly quickly after the first month as I re-trained my brain to endure everyday discomfort. Without substances as a crutch, I had no choice but to feel my feelings and sit with them until they changed of their own accord. Once I discovered that the pain would eventually lift whether or not I tried to control it chemically, I gained a tremendous tool. I’m still a long way from zen, but keeping disappointment and frustration in perspective has never been easier.
3. I didn’t lose weight (yet), but that’s okay.
Sadly, sobriety has brought some disappointment as well. I figured that when I shaved that bottle of wine, that six pack or that ginormous scorpion bowl off of the daily calorie count that I totally wasn’t keeping, I was bound to drop a dress size. No such luck: immediately my addict brain informed me I needed to eat every truffle Lindor has ever produced. Alcohol metabolizes as sugar, so in its absence my body experienced a real physical craving for sweets. On top of that, my addiction latched onto a new way to Feel Better Instantly, even if the effect was only momentary. Fortunately—whether my metabolism adjusted or I simply got better at coping with feelings—the candy binges finally calmed down after about six months. I still have a raging sweet tooth, but I’ve managed to keep a half gallon of ice cream in my apartment for over two weeks now—which is more than I used to be able to say for a bottle of scotch.
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