You’d think after 5 years of sobriety I would be used to all the triggers, the cravings, and the guilt that comes with it. Even heading in to my sixth year, I still have struggles that come with alcoholism.
Alcoholism is something that doesn’t ever really go away. Addiction of any kind really doesn’t. It’s something a person has to battle with on a daily basis. No matter how long someone has been clean or sober from whatever their addiction is, there’s always a possibility of relapsing.
So what are the struggles of a recovering or sober alcoholic? In this post I lay out the things I deal with, not necessarily on a daily basis, but are the reminders that I will always be at the mercy of my addiction.
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Drinking dreams are a common thing for me, unfortunately. They normally include me either drinking or being slightly drunk but trying to convince myself and others that it doesn’t count, or more commonly, that I’ve accidentally gotten drunk by my drinks suddenly becoming alcoholic.
Drinking dreams are incredibly common, and even more so when someone is in their first few months to a year or sobriety. It’s like your brain trying to get hold of what it wants in a dream scenario where everything is safe. Unfortunately, in the beginning, these can be somewhat detrimental to your recovery because they remind you of how much fun you used to have, the reasons you used drinking to cope with, or generally that there is something out there that you absolutely CAN NOT HAVE under any circumstance.
Thankfully I don’t deal with this often, but they do still happen. However, sometimes the dreams feel so real that I will wake up thinking they actually happened and it takes a good 30 seconds after I wake up to realize it was all a dream.
Related: Let’s Talk About Addictions: Alcohol
Dealing with Triggers
Triggers are a real thing. They can be subtle or blatant, and sometimes you don’t even realize something is a trigger until it’s happened and you’re in crisis mode.
For me, my biggest trigger was my anxiety. You know how alcohol can be called “liquid courage”? Well, my anxiety made overly social situations a bit too much for me, so I would pad that anxiety with a drink or two.
However, I could never really just have “a drink or two” when out in a social setting. It usually turned into three or four, and even with the alcohol tolerance I built up in college, I was still 5’2″ and 130 lbs. I also have a slow metabolism. That’s something I’ve always known, but it was far more prominent when I was drinking. It would take until drink 2.5 for the first drink to eventually “hit me”. So by the time I was on the fourth, I was already far more drunk than I meant to be or thought I was.
I used to go to just about ever gig my friends had back then. I was their photographer. Once I became sober, I took three years before I was able to feel comfortable going to one of their gigs again. They’re an Irish band, so they mostly played at bars and pubs. I didn’t see my friends for over three years because I had to keep myself away from triggers.
Cravings for me come in two different kinds: the kind where I crave actually drinking alcohol, and the kind where I crave how I would be and act when I was drinking. Those things are wildly different.
As with most things, it get’s somewhat easier over time, but they are still a thing and they can still cause so much damage if you give in.
If I ever crave actual drinking, it’s usually because I’m in such a bad place, or dealing with a situation where I rather drink enough to forget about whatever it is that’s going on, if only for a few hours.
Cravings will come and go, just like with food cravings or any other craving, really. So you need to either distract yourself or find a way to give in to those cravings without actually drinking (harder said than done, I know).
Sober Social Settings
While I and many other sober alcoholics have no problem actually being sober during social settings and parties, it’s more about the reaction from others that causes a problem.
Everyone knows a pushy person who is either really curious or doesn’t take “no” for an answer. They tend to be magnets for sober alcoholics.
Constantly having to answer “why aren’t you drinking?” isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, it’s when that pushy person keeps probing, “why not?”, “it’s just one drink!”, “c’mon, you’re being a part pooper!” and other delightful sayings when you wish you had just stayed home.
Thankfully, I haven’t had this happen to me because the friends I would drink with I were friends with first. However, others aren’t as lucky.
Some people who drink on a more regular basis have a group of guys or gals who they tend to go out with all the time. They’re the people you call when you want to have a few beers, or go to the club, or head out to the bar.
So what happens to a friendship built on booze when you remove the booze?
More often than not, those friends will stop being your friends. If they’re still drinking to the degree you were, chances are they might have their own problems with alcohol and aren’t ready or able to admit that yet. You changing your life around for the better can make them uncomfortable.
Usually, drunk people don’t make the most logical decisions. Sometimes you wake up the next morning and find out you’ve done something really stupid. Picture that, but after years of drinking.
Becoming sober for good usually comes with having to face a lot of the stupid, terrible, and sometimes criminal things we did while under the influence. There’s also coming to terms with who you were and who you are now.
Some of us need to hit a rock bottom before our eyes are fully opened and we’re ready to change. Unfortunately, that can come with the crumbling of various relationships if things were bad enough. These are things that can be approached and dealt with in various recovery programs such as rehab and AA.
- Drinking dreams are the bane of my existence. There’s nothing quite like waking up thinking you were wasted the night before and threw 5+ years of work down the drain.
- Triggers are a constant battle for some of us. Anything and everything could be something to flip a switch and cause the “me want now” part of our brain to turn on
- Sometimes you crave an actual drink, sometimes you’re just craving the situations and how you used to act while under the influence. It’s usually the latter.
- That pushy person who wants to know exactly why you aren’t drinking and tries to push you to drink is the reason a lot of us hate going out in public. Don’t be that person.
- Drinking buddies are usually strictly drinking buddies. If you make out on the sober side with a drinking buddy as a friend, cherish that friendship.
- Regrets are a common occurrence if you’re a addict of some sort. Sobriety is the road to dealing with those regrets.
Have you had experiences like this with alcohol? What do you think about the struggles of an alcoholic?