Quitting Alcohol To Save My Life
I remember drinking was my catalyst to do just about anything. A pick up soccer game, movie night, party, whatever, it didn’t matter as long as drinking was involved. Even working was usually just a means for my alcohol allowance. It probably didn’t help much that my boss at the time would even reward us for covering shifts by buying us booze. “If you can cover Smith’s Friday shift, you’ll be getting a visit from the Booze Fairy.” I remember bragging to my friends about this before realizing I was getting the raw end of the deal.
I vividly remember being hungover and especially at work and especially for the early morning shifts, where I’d try to pull my uniform shirt over my head at 6:30am and it felt like I trying to do a handstand to get a giant mascot head over my face. I also remember showing up to work, thinking I was hungover, but really I was still a little bit drunk… and when the hangover hit around noon, it took all of my fellow co-workers to pick up my slack.
More than this, I remember feeling uncomfortable. I remember feeling insecure about how I looked when I was locked into a conversation with someone. I remember feeling naked when someone offered to remove my coat. I remember worrying that I would not be interesting to talk to. I remember feeling anxious with any social interactions and using alcohol to keep the anxiety at bay.
It was a long time before I realized I was always anxious and it wasn’t getting any better, and it wouldn’t until I quit alcohol altogether.
Drinking Doesn’t Stop Anxiety
Drinking never numbed my feelings, it just added a layer of crap over them. That layer of crap was usually the “talker” part of me. It’d mask my rapid thoughts while I chatted away, but as soon as the people I was talking to moved on, my anxiety would peep through my alcoholic-layer and present itself in full force. My anxiety immediately informed me that I’d sounded like an egotistical prick who may have made a discriminatory comment. My anxiety would then urge me to find those people and apologize, but – assuming I did – when I did apologize and they moved on, my anxiety reared its head again to let me know they didn’t think I was being sincere.
My anxiety didn’t stop just because I was drinking, the drinking just decreased my attention span. It was escapism, but not a very good one. My drinking kept fueling my anxiety no matter the outcome. If I thought I behaved poorly in front of someone drunk, then I felt doubly anxious seeing them again sober and would drink heavily to “hide.” If I convinced myself that I was a hoot when I was drunk in front of someone, then I’d feel doubly anxious to drink more and bring back that lively fellow.
The anxiety didn’t stop. And I slowly started to realize that if I wanted to stop that inner voice criticizing every interaction I take, something had to change.
Initially, I tried cold turkey. I quit drinking and went to a party. I felt sweaty, smelly, and sick, but I avoided beer. I tried to engage in a conversation but I was laser-focused on not drinking and my anxiety which felt immense. My cheeks were hot, my heart was pounding, and my skin felt itchy against my shirt, it was feeling unbearable and I was ready to head home, but then something happened. The guy I was talking to asked if I wanted a beer, and I said “No, I’m not drinking.” He then asked me if I was the designated driver, but I confessed I that I wasn’t, I just wanted to go to a party and try to not drink. Then the flood gates opened. He told me a lengthy, thoughtful, and helpful story about his brother who quit alcohol and cleaned up his act. Suddenly I wasn’t worried about conversation, I wasn’t worried about being anxious, I was completely engaged. I was engrossed in his story as it related to me, but I wasn’t an egotistical pontificator either, I was a good listener. I asked questions, got clarity, and offered my complete attention.
When the conversation ended, I felt elated. I felt confident that I’d made a friend and learned a few things to keep myself motivated. The constant criticizing voice in my head was silent on my way home, so much so that I questioned if I’d really spent the night sober. My anxiety, that evening, was gone and I slept better that night than I had in years. It wasn’t the last time I felt anxious (or the last time I drank), but it was eye opening. I tried one night, having a beer and trying to provide my undivided attention to someone and I couldn’t do it. Instead I got too caught up in my head about the fact that I was drinking and thereby couldn’t give anyone the due respect they deserved because I was too caught up berating myself.
Face Your Feelings
In a lot of ways, I found drinking to be my way of procrastinating working out my feelings. Similar to how someone might procrastinate an errand by doing something fun, but the thought that you still have an “errand to do” is constantly there. The drinking never made my anxiety go away, just distract myself from it. Once I got sober (for good), I explored my feelings and anxiety and it diminished slowly but surely. I had some help (some meetings and therapy), but my journey to conquer my anxiety was a personal one; I did it, not anyone (or any thing) else. And for anyone who drinks to push away feelings of anxiety, pay attention to how you’re feeling, because I doubt the alcohol is helping.
Quitting alcohol changed my life. It allowed me to hone in on what was broken and address it head on and it enabled me to articulate my emotions. Now when I ask fellow alcoholics, “Why are you drinking?” I end up hearing similar makeshift reasons I gave, “I get anxious at parties” or “I’m worried I won’t be interesting,” but so much of this is a result of low self-esteem and insecurities. When you stop drinking and practice a little self-care, you end up seeing your own value. Instead of reinforcing the drinking cycle, you can be proud of the fact that you’re sober and that pride is what increases your sense of accomplishment and self worth.
Now, my anxiety isn’t holding me back and I’m having genuine, meaningful relationships with the people I meet through parties and get-togethers.