The First Benefits of Sobriety
This is how quitting alcohol immediately improved my life.
Sobriety Took Longer Than Expected
I’ve been writing about my addiction and recovery for over four years. One of the most common themes—that I return to again and again because of its importance—is that it took far longer than I expected before sobriety started to feel like a positive force in my life.
Back when I was still drinking every day, I had the idea in my head that if I managed to quit, I’d immediately turn my entire life around. I spent half my time denying to myself that I needed to get sober, but paradoxically, I spent the other half daydreaming about how great sobriety could be.
My first year sober was a massive disappointment.
Sobriety was nothing like I had expected. It didn’t make me any happier, it didn’t fix everything going wrong in life, and I didn’t even feel proud of myself for quitting alcohol. Instead, I spent day after day wondering if I had made the wrong choice. Was all of the struggling worth it? Should I throw in the towel and go back to daily drinking?
I’m glad I stuck it out.
Year by year, my life improved. I’m now over six years sober, and there’s no doubt left in my mind that quitting drinking was the right choice. I’m happier, less anxious, healthier, and more well-rounded as a person. Sobriety has even led to other positive life changes, like quitting smoking and finding enriching hobbies.
Sobriety has been better than I ever imagined, but it took far longer than I expected before I started to feel good about it.
The Earliest Benefits
Did anything go right my first year sober? At the time, it rarely felt like it. Looking back though, I can see that there were some early signs of progress.
My two biggest motivations for quitting drinking were saving money and losing weight. [In case you missed it, last February, I wrote more about how these relatively superficial reasons led me to more important goals: “Do You Need a Good Reason to Get Sober?”]
Fittingly, these were also the two areas in which I saw the most immediate benefits.
During my final three years as a drinker, I gained about 60 pounds. During my first year sober, I was able to cut the vast majority of that weight.
Not everyone who quits drinking experiences weight loss. Some people end up snacking so much that they actually gain weight. In my case, however, even with increased snacking, the reduction in calories from cutting beer was huge. I was consuming roughly 1,000 fewer calories a day, just from not drinking.
Similarly, I saw an immediate improvement in my finances. I had been spending a minimum of $10 a day on beer. After getting sober, I was shocked by how low my credit card statements were. Within the first year, I estimate that I saved $4,000 or more. I have no doubt that I’ve saved tens of thousands over the entire course of my sobriety.
These were great, measurable, tangible benefits that both started immediately. I should have been thrilled. Why wasn’t I?
The trouble was that getting sober also exacerbated my depression. Even though quitting drinking had immediately started to address my biggest concerns, I wasn’t happy about it at all. Due to my depression, I ended up only focusing on the negative parts of sobriety and completely ignoring the benefits.
Depression truly warps the way that we see the world.
My first year sober was terrible because it led to skyrocketing depression, which hurt in two ways—the first was the feeling of depression itself, and the second was the way that my poor mental health prevented me from seeing how much progress I was making.
A great example of this comes in how I viewed my free time during that year. As anyone who has gotten sober likely knows, quitting an addiction opens up a ton of new time in the day.
I had been drinking for hours and hours every night. I was useless as a drunk—all that I could really bring myself to do was sit on the couch, surf the web, and watch TV. After getting sober, I suddenly had the entire world open to me during the evenings.
This should have been the opportunity of a lifetime, but instead, I saw it as a curse. I was bored out of my mind and thought nothing was worth doing. I truly just wanted to fall asleep as soon as I could each night so that I didn’t have to deal with the terrible burden of being awake.
Looking back at that time, with all that I know now, I can see that the free time was actually a blessing. To get through those boring hours, I was forced to find new hobbies. Some of those hobbies truly changed my life. At the top of the list was developing a regular habit of exercising, which drastically improved my mental and physical health.
As I struggled through those boring and miserable early days of sobriety, I was going through some of the most rapid personal growth of my entire life. I just didn’t realize it until years later.
Maybe it took that long because I needed more time to have a clear perspective on the changes. Maybe it was because the growth had to keep building to the point where I could recognize it.
But, I think that the clearest explanation is that my depression got in the way. Depression and alcoholism go hand-in-hand far too often. Although not every addict experiences depression, we do go through it at alarming rates. The two problems even feed off each other, often making one another worse.
For anyone who has recently gotten sober and feels like their life is more miserable than ever, I’d encourage you to talk to a therapist or doctor about whether you have depression.
I was finally able to get my mental health under control, but it didn’t happen automatically. I started going to a therapist every week and developed a regular exercise schedule. Those two changes, among others, reduced and eventually eliminated my depression, which in turn helped me to fully enjoy sobriety.
We often grow in life without even realizing how much we’re changing. Early sobriety can feel like treading water, but the truth is that with every day sober, we’re swimming at least a small bit more in the right direction.
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