The book I’m [procrastinating] working on is a guide to surviving the initial week of sobriety. Why write this? Because Why the hell not? Sure there’s a few other reasons but that’s the main one. It’s always good to have some big project to dedicate yourself towards, and besides soap making, I guess this is good enough thing to work on.
That’s not the only reason though. Helping people is also a big motivator. Sobriety sucks, especially the early period, and if I can help a single person stumble through their first week it’d be worth it. My first week sucked and I ‘discovered’ a few things that helped, so why not pass that forward to other people?
A full book aside, the original idea was for a blog post. It grew outside the scope of a short blog post so I rolled it into a full(ish) book. Abbreviating it into a post is still a good idea and can help me brainstorm what the hell I’m actually trying to say so anyways here’s my tips on surviving the first week sober.
Why A Week?
I think a week is a good goal for not drinking. It’s long enough to learn to deal with life without alcohol but short enough that it seems doable; if you’ve been drinking for years the thought of an entire month sober seems utterly impossible. After a week most of the withdrawal symptoms should be bearable and you should have a grasp on life again.
Life is structured around weeks as well. You know, seven days, five weekdays, two weekdays, so running through a whole week sober covers the entire experience. With a week sober you learn to deal with the weekends, work, school, and whatever else usually happens in your life. Sure, things vary from week to week, but one sober week should leave you with some confidence to handle the usual stuff life throws at you.
Be Honest with Yourself
This is preliminary to doing anything big like not drinking. Drinking is a sneaky bastard that uses your own flaws against you. Drinking is both physically and mentally addictive so quitting is kind of a two part process. The physical part of quitting sucks, but the psychological part is a bit harder to work around. While you don’t need to analyze the shit out of why you drink immediately, you’ll have to tackle it eventually.
You’ll have to be honest with yourself. No lying to save your ego, no denying the hard truth, no whatever, just be honest. Sounds dumb to make that a step, but let’s get it out of the way. It’s hard to stop drinking if you continually construct a façade between you and your own mind.
Do You Even Want to Quit?
I’ve always wondered why my therapist never flat out told me I needed to stop drinking. She’d always dance around the topic, asked why I drank, suggested AA as a support network that might be a good idea, among other things. I now know why: People are stubborn as fuck. People don’t do anything unless they decide they want to do it. This is normally true but even more so regarding sobriety. You have to want to quit.
Sounds stupid to even say but it’s true. You can’t push the reason to quit on someone else like your kids, your friends, or your job; it has to be you. People like to lie to themselves –”I’m quitting for my family!” — but are you actually wanting to quit for yourself or are you only doing what you think you’re “supposed” to be doing? There’s a subtle difference here but it’s important. On one hand you can quit because you love your family and want to be a better person, and on the other you can quit because that’s what people that love their families are supposed to do. See? One is you deciding and the other is you putting the reason off on someone or something else. You have to quit because you want to, and it’s a lot harder to quit if this isn’t the case.
Alcohol withdrawal can kill you. Seriously. It’s one of the few things that can kill you if you stop too suddenly. This will take some honesty to know. Are you that seasoned of an alcoholic that you could die if you stop? If you might be, consider tapering.
Tapering with alcohol sucks as many of us have a hard time stopping once we start. One beer gets popped open and the rest of the case will soon follow. Tapering isn’t easy-mode, but it might be safer than stopping cold turkey. It will also make the withdrawal a bit easier to manage when you do quit, and might make your mental state easier to manage in the early parts of sobriety. Just know that tapering might be hard, and you might find more success stopping cold turkey. Just be honest with yourself (there’s that tip again) if you’re in danger of alcohol withdrawal.
Obviously none of this is medical advice and shouldn’t be taken as such. If you do a simple Google search for “alcoholism” you’ll find countless articles directing you to a proper detox or rehab facility. “Talk to your health are provider if you think you’d like to cut down on your drinking.“ Bullshit. That seems like the last thing an alcoholic would want to do, out themselves to their doctor about drinking, especially if they’re doing Google searches at 3 a.m. about drinking problems. Anyways, taper smartly and go see a professional.
Know Your Drinking Triggers
You don’t need to know all the deep-down and depressing reasons why you drink — that’s going to be a bunch of nasty bags to unpack so let’s not get into that now — but you should have a decent idea of the excuses why you drink. Obligatory “Be honest” again. For me it was boredom and as lame as that sounds it us one of my triggers. You probably have a bunch of different ones. “Unwinding after work.” “It makes social situations tolerable.” “I’m anxious about tomorrow so I need a few drinks to calm down.” It could be as simple as, “My mood is shit and drinking cheers me up.” It really doesn’t matter, just be familiar with how you justify drinking.
It’s obvious to see why: when you see why you drink, how you justify drinking, you can take steps to avoid your drinking triggers. If you like to unwind after work with a drink start plotting out a non-alcohol way to unwind. Boredom? Line up shit to keep busy with (I bought a bunch of books before I stopped). Depressed? Well, that one is a bit harder to avoid but if you’re going to stop you must learn how to deal with the things that cause you to drink.
You don’t have to have a clear plan for each trigger, just be aware of them. Write them down, brainstorm, do whatever helps, just be prepared to fight your triggers when you stop.
Stay Busy No Matter What
Another side effect of being alcohol dependent is that your system seems to upregulate itself to stay alive. When you constantly flood your body with a depressant — a drug that slows things down — your body reacts by upregulating stuff. Churning out all those good hormones and neurotransmitters to keep you from dying and all of that good stuff. I’m pretty certain this is why you’re jittery and anxious as fuck when you’re hungover. Your body is still vibing right along on all of those natural uppers to counteract the booze and of course you’re going to be shaking, have a rapid heartbeat, and have crippling anxiety. It makes perfect sense if you think about it.
When you stop your body is still upregulated, but there’s no booze to balance it out. Your body is expecting one thing — more depressants — and where the hell are they? It takes time for the body to adjust, and it’s adjusted over years to having booze only to have it gone one day so it’ll take some time to get itself back to normal. But for the time being you’re in for a hell of a time.
Antsy, anxious, panicky, jittery, bored, unmotivated, like you’re skin in crawling with boredom — can I please have something to do! — but there isn’t anything appealing to do. It’s miserable. About the only thing you can do is to keep busy. You won’t want to keep busy, but keep busy you must. Making matters worse is nothing will actually be fun. Video games suck, reading sucks, going to a park is boring, nothing seems fun so what’s the point? Keeping busy is the point! You feel like shit and about the most important thing you can do is pass the time forward. The longer you go without drinking the more your body will stabilize and you’ll start to feel ‘normal’ whatever that means (and during the first week sober you’ll wonder exactly who sober you is; it’s been so long since you’ve been that person). You can either sit around and sulk in the shitty physical and mental feelings or you can be somewhat proactive and try to pass time forward as effectively as possible.
Everyone knows that the busier you are, the faster time passes. Keep busy for the sake of keeping busy. Don’t let boredom set in. You might not enjoy what you’re doing — everything might feel like a chore — but keep busy even if it isn’t enjoyable.
Ride the Emotional Waves
My mood was all over the place in the first week. I’d be high, I’d be low, and obviously everything in between. One moment I’d feel so elated that I was on my third day sober only minutes later to feel totally depressed and in shambles for no apparent reason. It was shitty and I kept trying to keep that wider mindset in prospective: I was not going to drink. Keeping my eyes on the goal if you will. That was the goal so let’s just suck it up and make it through.
I’d imagine a surfer on a paddle board in the ocean. Totally out there where he probably shouldn’t be, paddling helplessly trying to get somewhere impossible. He’s being bombarded by waves. Anytime he thinks he’s making progress another rough wave will come up, knock him around, and then it’ll pass. Sure it’s only temporary — another wave is sure to fuck his day up — but for that moment it’s all okay.
That’s how I viewed the emotional rollercoaster during that first week. My mood was turbulent and I was well aware it was from the lack of alcohol. It was part of the journey I was on so might as well deal with it the best I could. What really helped was to detach myself from my mood swings. Instead of thinking the mood swings were real I’d blame the alcohol for fucking my stability up. I wasn’t really feeling those things, depressed or happy or anything, it was the alcohol bouncing me around. If I felt upset, depressed, anxious, or hopeless I’d tell myself, “Okay, the fucking lack of alcohol is fucking my mood up,” and do my best to ignore and disregard the feeling. I’d put the feeling off for later. “I’m pretty depressed but I’ll wait a week to see if I really am depressed.”
One Day at a Time, Exist in the Moment
Not to get too metaphysical here, but only the present exists. Sure, the future and the past are sort of real, but the only people that need to worry about if the past and future actually exist are theoretical physicists. As of right now, as you’re reading this, you are in the present, not the past or the future. You can remember reading it in the past or might read it in the future, but these are only abstractions or memories that aren’t part of your current reality. Sure, they’re useful abstractions — living your life without knowing lessons learned from the past or with no regard to the future is a bad idea — but existence is in the present. That’s where you are at all times.
The whole point of that is to narrow down your sober life/year/week/day/hours to the infinitesimal present. Sobriety only seems daunting when you think of the big picture. The future is scary because are you really going to never drink again? Never again is a long time to be sober. What if you’re at a bar with some friends (because it’ll certainly happen sometime in the future) and it’ll be a challenge and can you even pass that challenge? Are you really going to be someone who will celebrate their 1,000th day sober when each hour without alcohol is torture? Looking into the future is daunting and terrifying.
But if you’re sober in this moment, you’re doing okay. To hell with the next year, month, week, day, hour, or even minute. You’re existing sober in the present and isn’t that all sobriety is? Abstract it out a bit further. If you live each moment sober, the future will write itself. Sobriety isn’t a full thing on its own, you don’t define a decade by not drinking, it’ll happen naturally as time passes.
A saying that often seems to get tossed around with sobriety is “Take it one day at a time.” As bullshit as it sounds, it does help. If you’re feeling really bad you can always drink tomorrow, but for today, tough it out and stay sober. When you wake up the next day, do the same thing. Tell yourself you might drink tomorrow, and stay sober for just that day. String the days together, forget the big picture, and you’re good to go.
Have a Support System (and Use It!)
I said you must want to quit to actually quit and might’ve made sobriety sound like a purely solo effort. I suppose it is — you’re the one being sober and dealing with your shit — but it’s not as cold and as harsh as that. Sobriety is a lot easier if you have people to support you.
I don’t even think the support needs to be firm and direct support. I don’t think you need AA or a group of sober friends to have somber meetings with. I don’t think you need a therapist or professional help. If you want and need those, go for it, it can only help. Support systems come in many different ways and forms and you’ll have to seek out what kind of support you’d like to have.
I found a great support group on Reddit, the stopdrinking subreddit to be exact. It’s great for people like myself that don’t like social situations or strangers or anything too difficult to do. Stopdrinking is great for people who like to Google questions and browse on their phones. You can go there and even set a sobriety date so Reddit will count the days for you! This is a great passive way to count the sober days without actually counting (and stressing) about them yourself.
Friends, family, strangers on the internet, find whatever will give you the support you need. Professionals are always there to help as well and go crazy doing whatever you need to do to stay sober. Sometimes it doesn’t take much support to help you through the rough times. Sometimes just complaining to a friend who is sympathetic to your challenge and struggles is all you need. Someone to acknowledge that you’re trying to better yourself and offer up a simple, “That sucks…but you’re doing good and I’m proud of you,” whenever you’re struggling. Find those people that have your best interests in their hearts and keep them close.
Love and Forgive Yourself
No one is perfect and you might be kicking yourself really hard when trying to sober up. You’ll feel like shit and ask yourself, “Why the hell did I get myself into this situation? Am I stupid? What the hell is wrong with me to even be doing ‘sobriety?’ Did I really get this deep into alcohol? What a fuckup failure of a person I am. Why can’t I just be normal?”
Take comfort in knowing that you took the right step. I don’t mind people making stupid choices, all I ask is that they learn from them. It might take a long time but learning is growing. Love yourself enough to forgive yourself for your fuckups. Drinking is a drug of self-loathing and sorrow. It wants you to feel like shit, to feel guilty, so you’ll eventually pick the bottle back up. It works doesn’t it? But you can work too. It’ll be hard, dealing with your past and your endless fuckups, but everyone fucks up occasionally. Think of a friend who is a fuckup — you might love and forgive them frequently — and why shouldn’t you extend this to yourself? You fucked up, you’re an alcoholic, but you realize it and are trying to stop. If a friend did this you’d be super happy and supportive. It’ll be hard, but bring yourself into your circle of love and forgiveness. You owe yourself this!
Check out my YouTube channel about off-grid green energy setups!
Or my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics and shitty poems every whenever I get around to it.
Or my other blog where I sometimes post stories.