6 Things I Wish I Had known When I Gave up Alcohol

My life improved significantly after I quit drinking in 2006. I’d been battling with addiction since the eighties, and it felt incredible to be free at last. It sometimes seemed like I had the golden touch as my situation improved in ways I wouldn’t have dared to imagine while still drinking. There have also been plenty of dark days since I gave up alcohol, but overall it has been a wonderful experience.

When it comes to the big questions about life, I’m strictly in the “don’t know” camp. It does feel to me as if things happen for a reason, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if things didn’t unfold as they did. I happen to like where I am in life now, so if I had access to a time machine, I wouldn’t want to interfere too much with my past. Still, here are six things I’ve learned that would have made my life easier when I first gave up alcohol:

Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.

1. Self-Hatred is My Biggest Problem

I’ve come to the conclusion that most of my problems in life, including my alcoholism, have been fuelled by self-hatred. I turned to alcohol as a teenager because I wanted to escape being me. I saw how it made other people witty, adventurous, and confident, and I wanted the same. I didn’t understand that by abusing alcohol, I’d only be taking my self-hatred to a new level of ferocity.

Even after I got sober, I continued to bully myself mercilessly. It was like living with the drill-sergeant from the movie Full Metal Jacket in my head. This inner-Nazi would turn even my most simple mistakes into a reason to berate me and treat me like shit.

Turning off this bully has turned out to be fairly straightforward, but I never realized I had the option up until a few months ago. These days I try to be my number-1 defender and source of comfort because that is the type of person I need living in my head – I think we all do. This doesn’t mean I’ve turned into some type of narcissist who refuses to hear any criticism, it means that I’m willing to face the consequences of my actions because I’m no longer afraid of my inner-tormentor.

2. I Can Only Be Happy to the Extent That I’m Willing to Risk Pain

I drank to numb myself against the pain in life, but it also meant that I became numb to happiness as well. I now know that I can only experience happiness to the extent that I’m willing to risk pain, and I can only experience love to the extent that I’m willing to be vulnerable enough to the pain of love. This means that anything I do to protect myself from the pain of life is ultimately self-defeating. The good news is that when I open my heart to pain, it is nowhere near as bad as the discomfort associated with resisting it.

3. Nothing Special Has to Happen for Me to Be Happy

All of the ingredients for happiness is available to me in practically every moment. I don’t need to wait for my finances to be sorted or for other people to tell me what a ‘great man’ I am. Happiness isn’t something that needs to be earned, it just needs to be acknowledged.

4. It’s Okay to Feel Bad

Sometimes my job in life is to feel bad. If somebody close to me dies, it is only human that I should feel bad about it. If a major client stops sending me work, it is okay for me to feel disappointed. This all seems perfectly logical to me now, but I didn’t always think this way. I used to believe that feeling bad was very wrong, and that something needed to be done to remedy the situation – my favourite fixer used to be alcohol. These days I’m able to just feel the pain, and the amazing thing is that it is far more comfortable than fighting it.

5. Thinking More of Other People is the Key to a Great Life

I used to think that dying in my sleep would be the way to go, but I now know that dying with the final thought being love for another person would be ideal. I’ve wasted most of my life treating other humans like they are just a backdrop to my amazing adventure – I now see them as the thing that gives my life meaning. I no longer judge my progress in life by my possessions, but by the amount of time I spend thinking about the needs of other people.

6. I’m a Normal Person and That’s Okay

One of my excuses for my overenthusiasm for alcohol was my disappointment at not amounting to much in life. I felt special, and I needed the rest of the world to acknowledge my specialness. I honestly used to believe that I’d be headhunted by a talent scout who could see some potential in me for greatness – I wasted years sitting on a barstool just waiting for this person to find me. I continued to suffer because of this feeling of specialness even after I became sober, and if anything it got a bit worse after I managed to get a book published.

Just over a year ago, I was on holiday back in Ireland, and I went for a walk in a local park. For some reason, I started thinking about how other people in the park must see me. To them I was just some anonymous middle-aged guy out for a walk, and this realization really hit me hard. I understood that I was just some anonymous middle-aged guy and that was perfectly fine by me. It felt so liberating to understand this because if I’m just a normal person, it means that I’m allowed to make mistakes like other people. I don’t have to achieve anything to become worthwhile, I already am worthwhile.

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2 thoughts on “6 Things I Wish I Had known When I Gave up Alcohol

  1. “but overall it has been a wonderful experience”.

    Thanks for that statement. I just read a post on another blog that talked about how miserable life was and how it had been this way for the 4 years they had been sober. The post stated that the person woke up and their first thoughts were of alcohol.

    I have been sober over 3 years and I rarely think about alcohol. On the occasions that I do I usually feel a little sad because of all the things I didn’t do because I was too drunk.
    I don’t know why people in general and Hollywood in particular make sobriety so terrible to maintain. I come when I want, I go when I want and I do very little to maintain my sobriety at all. OK, I don’t listen to Jimmy Buffet anymore. I just love the music too much and I think I should drink. Other than that, I do damn little.
    These people should stop giving the public the wrong idea. They are not special force operators. They don’t endure tremendous hardships in order to do the right thing and protect us. They are not heroic. They are just people.

    People who need to stop scaring the hell out of other people who want to get sober. If sober life is hell, why get sober. Wouldn’t it be better to be drunk in Hell than sober in Hell.

    1. Hi Mark, it is sad to hear that some people find life to be so hard without alcohol. I got sober for two years during the nineties, and it did feel as if my life revolved around alcohol. I never think about drinking. If they discovered a pill that could allow me to drink like a ‘normal’ person I wouldn’t be interested at all. I don’t drink because my life is so much better without it – I don’t need to put any effort into staying sober because no other way of living interests me. It sounds like you have a similar relationship to your new life and that’s wonderful.

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