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Addiction, Sobriety, and Exhaustion
My alcoholism wore me down, but when I quit drinking, things got even worse.
Addiction and Exhaustion
Addiction is exhausting.
I’m an alcoholic, and although I’m now an alcoholic in recovery, I was a heavy, daily drinker for about a decade first.
All of that drinking wore me down—both mentally and physically.
For one thing, I was exhausted from the process of organizing my life around alcohol. It took a lot of energy to constantly adjust my schedule to make sure I had time to drink. I felt like I was always rushing through work or playing catch-up the next day.
All the while, I was dealing with the mental toll of harboring this huge secret. I went to great lengths to keep my addiction hidden, from alternating between different liquor stores to sneaking my recycling out in the middle of the night. That was tiring too.
The most wearing part of all was spending hours every day debating with myself over my drinking habit. I was so tired of repeating the same mistakes day after day, year after year. And yet, somehow I couldn’t bring myself to quit drinking—or, when I did try, I’d talk myself into a relapse within a week.
Everything I’ve described above is just the mental toll of addiction, which is just one side of the coin. The other side was the physical toll. My alcoholism was exhausting me in a very literal, physical sense too: It was ruining my sleep.
During my drinking days, I would typically stay up until I had finished every last drop of alcohol in my apartment. It didn’t matter how tired I felt, or how early I had to wake up the next day. I simply felt a compulsion to keep drinking until it was all gone.
By the end of the night, I wasn’t really falling asleep as much as I was passing out. I rarely even remembered climbing into bed, and sometimes I didn’t make it there at all—instead simply crashing on the couch.
The quality of my sleep was terrible. I had trouble reaching a state of deep sleep and woke up constantly throughout the night to pee. I literally never slept through an entire night, normally waking up five or more times.
Getting out of bed in the morning was always a miserable experience. I couldn’t even begin to think until I’d had a cup of coffee and a cigarette or two.
In those drinking days, I was tired all the time. I was exhausted in every sense of the word.
Sobriety and Exhaustion
If my alcoholism was so exhausting, then sobriety must have been a huge relief, right?
Yes, my addiction was tiring, but here’s the ugly truth: I got even more exhausted after I quit drinking.
Remember, all of those internal debates that had raged in my mind when I was a drinker? They only intensified after I quit. I spent more time than ever going back and forth on my addiction. One minute I’d be thinking that sobriety was the best decision I ever made, the next I’d be telling myself that it had only made my life worse and I needed to go back to drinking immediately.
It is so, incredibly exhausting to rapidly change your mind, again and again, all day long. And this exhaustion was amplified by a worsened mental state in general. Quitting alcohol had increased my depression and anxiety, both of which made me feel even more tired all day long.
The physical side of my exhaustion also got worse. Since I was so used to using alcohol to help me fall asleep, I ended up having a ton of trouble with insomnia once I quit.
I’d lay in bed for hours and hours trying to sleep. I was never sure whether I should keep trying, tossing and turning in bed while feeling bored out of my mind, or just give up and watch television all night. Sometimes I’d end up crying from the sheer frustration of not being able to sleep.
Early in my sobriety, I often got by with just a few hours of sleep a night. My insomnia improved a little with time but still came back in waves throughout my first couple of years sober.
With sobriety causing so much exhaustion, sometimes I even started to think of relapsing as a relief. The alcoholic lifestyle that had been wearing me down for over a decade suddenly seemed easy in comparison to sobriety. I’d tell myself “I’m so tired, but I just need to have a drink and this exhaustion will disappear.”
This was a vicious lie.
Having a drink might have felt like a relief, but how long would that relief actually last? A few minutes? A day? Soon enough it would be replaced by the familiar feeling of shame. In the long run, one drink just leads to more drinks, and with them, more exhaustion.
Sobriety was initially more exhausting than my life as an alcoholic, but the important difference was that it offered a path forward and away from that life of constant tiredness.
The longer I remained sober, the easier it became. I stopped getting locked in endless debates with myself and learned to finally relax. And, although it took a long time, my sleep eventually improved too.
I was exhausted by sobriety, but the only way to escape that exhaustion was to stick with it. Going back to drinking would have simply drawn things out for even longer.
This experience reflects a broader pattern with addiction and sobriety. Both present serious difficulties, but addiction gets harder each year while sobriety gets easier. Sobriety didn’t instantly fix all of my problems, but it pointed me in the right direction.
Five and a half years after quitting drinking, my exhaustion is long gone. I sleep well at night, relax in the evenings, and am no longer wiping myself out mentally or physically. Instead of struggling to get out of bed each morning, I wake up excited to face the day.