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When you quit drinking, the world doesn’t quit drinking with you.
That’s the first hard lesson that I learned over 2 years ago, and it’s a lesson that I still have to remember sometimes.
When I first got sober, I often missed the anticipation of the first drink. When I drank, I was always looking forward to the next time I could drink. Of course, I didn’t think of it that way. If I’d realized that’s what I was really looking forward to, I might have paused and evaluated it much sooner. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter now.
That anticipation of the drink, the excitement of promise, kept me in a constant vicious cycle.
Anticipate – drink – regret – forget – anticipate – drink – regret – forget – anticipate. I could forget the pain of the last bad episode, because this time would be different. This time, it would be amazing!
Sometimes, it was amazing. I’d drink a few drinks (never just one – what was the point, right?), dance, laugh, have a great time, and go home safely. Those good nights got fewer and further between in the last years of my drinking, though. Most nights started out great, and ended in a blackout. Maybe I had fun. Who knows? I couldn’t remember.
By the time I quit, the fun anticipation had mostly turned into anxiety.
My heart would race, my thoughts would race, and I would get grouchy and irritable if I couldn’t drink for whatever reason. The general, fun anticipation was a distant memory. It was replaced with necessity, self-medication, and compulsion. I had to drink. Even though I wasn’t a daily drinker, I had to drink. That was the only way I could ever truly “relax”.
Even though it wasn’t as much fun as it used to be, I still felt that nervous anticipation, that excitement. Without it, I got bored. Boredom doesn’t kill, but it is a relapse trigger that I had to work through.
Related reading: What To Do When Sobriety Gets Boring?
I haven’t been in a liquor store since before I quit drinking 29 months ago. Until this past weekend.
The circumstances surrounding it aren’t important, but it was a situation that I didn’t expect, and I was with a group of people who can drink like “normal people”. People who have that elusive “off switch”. People who can walk into a liquor store, buy some liquor, and sip on it for months or weeks instead of days or hours.
I’ve been feeling shaky and emotional this week. Our family has been going through a lot of difficult situations, and I’ve been struggling with my serenity. That’s important because when I’m spiritually fit, walking into a liquor store wouldn’t phase me. This week, I haven’t been all that spiritually fit. I’m hanging in there, and I’m reaching for my tools, but I’m feeling fragile.
In this case, I thought it would be fine. And overall, it was fine. I wasn’t hit with a wave of temptation, but I was hit with a wave of memories that I hadn’t expected. Memories of anticipation. That sense of excitement before an event, when you’re picking out “just the right thing”.
I just wandered around looking for regular soda, but I remembered when a trip to the liquor store was an exciting bonding moment with friends. Bonding over various liquors, wines, mixes, whatever.
I’ve learned that going into a liquor store when I’m emotionally fragile isn’t a good idea.
(Duh, Captain Obvious)
I’m ok. It’s not about the liquor store, or the party, or the open bar or whatever – it’s about my state of mind. I don’t put myself into difficult situations on purpose to “test myself” or because I think I’m immune to temptation. That’s just pointlessly risky. But I also can’t avoid alcohol in this world, and I don’t try. When I’m spiritually fit, I can go anywhere that I have a good reason to go. Concerts, weddings, parties, beach trips, I can go anywhere when the need arises.
Now that I’ve processed those initials emotions of frustration, and used the tools I had to get back to more solid ground, I started to think about a few things that now bring me that “anticipation excitement”.
These are the things that I anticipate now that I’m sober:
Planning the stops, reviewing the campgrounds, booking the campgrounds, packing the bags, mapping out the best local restaurants and sightseeing…I love it. I love all of it. I’m not an over-planner, or even particularly organized about this (yet), and oftentimes I’m planning the fine details as we’re actually traveling, but it’s always exciting.
Local events and explorations
When I drank, every event was mostly an excuse to drink some more. As a result, I went to a fair amount of outdoor concerts and community gatherings, but I didn’t really experience most of them. Again, this isn’t a wide brush – I had fun before I got sober, and I’m not going to pretend it was all terrible and black. It wasn’t. But in sobriety, I’ve opened up to events that don’t include alcohol. That wasn’t even on my radar for years.
We go to community races, pumpkin patches, museum events, and other small gatherings. I’m learning how to get more connected with a community locally, not just online, and build real relationships.
Dates with my husband.
Jay and I don’t often do the typical “date night”. We have breakfast dates and weekend trips, but we rarely get dressed nice and just sit at dinner and call it a date night. It’s not that fun anymore, to be honest. What is fun is riding motorcycles, driving down some old rural roads listening to music or just talking, and sometimes those local events that I mentioned.
An entire day to myself.
I initially wrote “time with friends” here, but I had to be real. Of course I enjoy time with my friends, but it doesn’t bring the same kind of anticipation that I’m talking about. Rather, I get really excited about the prospect of spending a day or weekend however I want. Not isolating, and sometimes it involves time with friends, but just having time to myself to do what I want. That, I get really excited about.
A warning: the flip side to anticipation is that expectations tend to be future resentments if things don’t go as well as I’d like.
That “day to myself” could easily be hijacked by a family emergency, for example. Everything is subject to the nature of life, which means that anything at any given time could either not happen or not happen how I want it to happen.
In that sense, I try to approach anticipation with respect to life on life’s terms. I look forward to a weekend trip, or a nearby local event, but I try not to put expectations on anything. It’s a lot easier said than done. That’s where the difference between sobriety and active drinking comes up. Before I fully embraced sobriety, I had expectations for everything. And a night out on the town, for example, rarely met the expectations I had for it.
It’s fun to look forward to events, but balancing anticipation with an acceptance of life of life’s terms is the real sweet spot.
When I can hang out there, looking forward to things without wrapping myself up in how they turn out, that’s when I am the happiest.
I’m typing this from my travel trailer, hanging out at a rest area along I-55 in north Mississippi. The great thing about traveling with a camper is that you can pretty much stop wherever you feel like stopping, whenever you feel like stopping, and explore whatever you want (mostly). We got tired, so I pulled over. We were going to stay the night somewhere, but now we feel like driving on home. Whatever. I love it. It may seem a small thing, but this little camper is doing wonders for me.
I’m learning to go with the flow, and it’s wonderful.
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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