Ask Schmutzie: Is There A Point Where It Won't Feel Like I Should Just Give In?

Yesterday, I asked you to ask me questions about my sobriety. This is my first answer in response.

13 days sober here. I did some serious binge drinking in the weeks leading up to quitting, way beyond my then-normal nightly drunk. I was using alcohol as a crutch after finding out my mom, (my best friend), has pancreatic cancer and is now receiving end-of-life care. Ended up scaring myself into quitting. But the pain that the alcohol took away is ever-present. Is there a point where it won't feel like I should just give in to the easy abyss of drinking?
     — Scared


Scared, before I say anything else, please know that I have been carrying you in my heart since you commented yesterday. And I don't mean that in an angels-and-daily-affirmations way. I mean that in a deep and honest and meaty way. Your emotional load is truly heavy and terrible, and I wish I could lift some of it from you.

First, and I'm going to assume that you're still sober since yesterday, fingers crossed, congratulations on your first two weeks sober. It's a bittersweet thing to say, because gaining your sobriety, especially in the earliest days, is a hard place to be, even without the other pain you are carrying right now.

You must know that you have immense strength to be able to choose your sobriety at this point. You maybe don't feel it, but you do, because you did it and you are here. You made that choice and you have come this far. That is powerful. Over the first few weeks of my sobriety, I knew logically that this was an ongoing act of strength I did not know I'd had before, but I felt naked and vulnerable. Nothing filled me up. I'd stripped away the only coping mechanism I thought I had.

I want to point out that I'd stripped away the only coping mechanism I thought I had. I found out that I had underestimated myself and my ability to find new ways to cope.

At the beginning, I was a raw nerve. I had so much sadness and anger and self-loathing inside me, and I spent a lot of time trying to eat or sleep it away. I had only ever felt joy when I was drunk, and I had no faith in my ability to find it sober. Something happened, though, during those first few weeks as I crawled out from under the hazy cycle of drinking and hangovers. Maybe it was that my body was finally stabilizing itself or that my brain was learning new ways to deal with the world, but my initially unbearable anxiety and depression started to loosen its grip on me. I still felt roundly terrible, but there was hope at the edges and something akin to happiness.

I remember the first time I felt really good, good in a way that drunk couldn't even do. It was late September. I had been sober for maybe a month, and I was up early in the morning, a first for me in a long time, sipping coffee at the kitchen table. Sunlight suddenly broke out from behind a building and hit me through the window, and I felt that light. I felt it there in my chest where the horrible tightness usually sat. I felt the joy that I thought I would never feel, that I thought I didn't have the ability to feel.

That first month was hard times, and then out of nowhere I had strong feelings completely unconnected to alcohol or the pain I used it to hide from. It felt brilliant.

It does get better. It absolutely does.

What I'm about to say sounds like it could be complete bullshit, but it isn't: actually feeling the pains in your life, genuinely touching them and wrestling with them head on while not numbing them out, makes your life a happier and richer place to be.

There is so much guilt and shame and weight that comes along with drinking it away, and what I'm slowly learning is that it is almost a relief to feel it all and even collapse under the heft of it sometimes, because then that pain is allowed to change, to mature, to become something else, and even occasionally to leave me. When I was pushing it all down with alcohol, none of the pain had a chance to become anything better. I was keeping it all for myself and stunting its natural movement through and out of my life.

I want to tell you that right now, right away, things will be easier, but I won't. It's going to be hard and it's going to be painful in ways that surprise you without the veil of alcohol to dumb it down, but this is how you get to the brilliant parts. This is how you start to find your way to genuine joy.

You are not alone in finding your way through, and there is a strong community of sober people out there if you look for them. If you haven't already and you feel you need more support, please check out Alcoholics Anonymous or Secular Organizations for Sobriety groups in your area, whichever group best suits your needs. Go to your doctor and talk about options for dealing with your new sobriety and the emotions that come with it. Reach out. I had no idea how rampant alcoholism was until I wrote about it publicly, and, believe me, we are everywhere. You can find us, and we will support you.

To answer your original question, at over seven months sober, I do still crave a binge now and again, but not all the time. The pull to do so is weaker already than I thought it could be, and it is completely out-matched by the happiness I'm finding outside the pint glass. There is a point where it won't feel like you should just give in to the easy abyss of drinking. There truly and honestly is.

And, on behalf of me, and I'm sure everyone else here, I'm sending what good thoughts I can to you and your mother. Be well.