Wanting to Be Sober: The Best Side Effect

Lisa Martens

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Three years ago, I drank every day. I was working in a party down behind the desk next to a bar. It’s not uncommon for people who work in service industries around alcohol to find more drinks at their disposal, but I have, strangely enough, encountered free alcohol in most of my jobs.

When I worked as a tour guide, security would share bottles of alcohol that were confiscated from tourists. When I worked in tech, there was an unlimited supply of beer, wine, and liquor. When I sold sunglasses and art, we frequently gave away wine to entice potential customers, and my boss liked when the people working the floor drank, because we tended to sell more. And, of course, when I worked in a party town, there was alcohol.

Alcohol is such a big part of our society, our social lives, and our coping mechanisms that we assume everyone wants to do it. We think it’s sad when someone “has to” stop. Sometimes we make strange jokes, implying it’s better to be sick or dead than to have to go through life sober.

Especially with the pandemic, this attitude resonates. Who could stay sober with “all this” going on?

However, after cutting alcohol out of my routine, I started to realize something strange: I wanted to be sober.

I first experimented with being sober when I realized just how much I was drinking, and how often. It was alarming. I knew I was, at best, hurting my body and mind.

For two weeks, I didn’t drink, and I was relieved to find that it was not too difficult. I seemed to have avoided, somehow, becoming overly dependent physically. I considered myself very lucky, but realized my drinking had still been problematic.

The hardest times were after a difficult day, or when I was out with friends. Alcohol was a reward, and a social activity. Alcohol was a treat at work, but also something one did while watching TV. Basically, any and all activities were an excuse to drink.

When I told people I wasn’t drinking, they seemed snide, almost. The attitude I received was “Well, you don’t have a drinking problem, so why deprive yourself?” The idea that I was voluntarily pausing even though I hadn’t hit a “rock bottom” seemed strange to them.

Is that how it has to be? Does one have to lose their job and destroy their relationships before considering drinking less?

Then lockdown happened. Surely, I would drink then? Having drinks and watching Netflix was to be expected during lockdown. Right?

I decided to stay sober through the beginning of lockdown, mainly because I didn't like the idea of drinking alone at home. It seemed, on its face, like a dangerous decision. Then, a relative died of COVID-19, and I doubled down. I had known people who developed alcohol problems to deal with grief, and I knew he would not want that for me. Overall, I went about three months without a drink, until I felt I had recovered enough from the death that I was not drinking out of grief.

But despite the overwhelming social opinion that alcohol is a bonus of life…until it isn’t…I started to notice changes in my body and mind that made me want to drink less.

The benefits were (and are) overwhelming:

The first was increased energy in the morning. This did not happen right away...in fact, I felt more sluggish without alcohol in the beginning. After a few weeks, I noticed that I could simply wake up, and start working, cleaning, getting ready…when I drank often, getting up felt difficult. I would slog through the morning, and I wouldn’t feel as productive or awake as I could. Once I realized that I could simply wake up and start doing things…even without coffee…alcohol began to appeal to me less. It was slowing me down.

This became increased productivity. One doesn’t realize, when one drinks often, how much energy and mental math goes into drinking. You must decide when you’re allowed to have it, and how much. You must do calculations, leave aside time for hangovers, and, usually, drinking will lead to poor dietary choices.

After a few months, I noticed changes in my body. I have not lost a lot of weight, as some people do when they stop drinking, but I notice I drink more water and I’m more in tune with my body and its needs. I can feel better, to but it plainly. It’s as though alcohol was clogging up the communication between my body and brain.

I’m more creative sober. Many people think you need drugs and alcohol to be creative. However, I’ve been writing (and earning through my writing) more than ever. Alcohol makes you sleepy, and with more energy, I can make more art.

My focus increased. When I was drinking regularly, everything seemed like a great, revolutionary idea. I mean, haven't we all talked about starting a business when we were drunk? But in reality, it's sober minds that make complex plans happen. With this new focus, I can work on my writing without being derailed by fantastic, unrealistic goals.

Problems don’t seem as overwhelming, and my anxiety is lower. I didn't realize how alcohol could actually raise anxiety levels. If I have a difficult problem, I no longer automatically think of having a drink. I’m okay with my negative feelings and anxieties. It’s easier for me to walk myself through my anxiety and panic attacks. My higher order thinking is stronger due to a lack of alcohol, and I no longer feel like my anxiety is in control. I am in control, and I am a person who sometimes has anxiety issues, but I’m driving, not my feelings.

My sleep has improved. I was plagued with nightmares when I drank frequently, and now, they have gone away. In fact, now, even when I do have a nightmare, the feelings of fear are nowhere near as intense as they were.

Last, but definitely not least, I prefer being sober. When I think about having a drink, I think about how confused and woozy it will make me feel. I think about how it will make me want food that is not good for me. I think about the potential dent in my wallet. Overall, I find it’s simply…not as appealing.

I still have a drink every once in a while, but hardly ever more than one. It simply no longer has any pull for me. My dad bought a few beers over a month ago, and they’re still in the fridge. When I see them, I legitimately just…don’t want them.

My friends may feel bad for me for changing my habits, but I don’t feel bad for myself at all. I no longer feel like I’m missing out by choosing not to drink.

The strangest side effect of choosing a more sober path? Realizing it was an improvement...not a loss...all along.

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