How to Escape the Feeling of Emptiness After You Quit Addiction

I understand why even those of us who have suffered terribly as a result of addiction can still find sober living a struggle. I always experienced significant mental and physical improvements every time I quit alcohol, but this wouldn’t be enough to keep my motivated long-term. My life just felt empty when I wasn’t drinking, and eventually this feeling would trigger my ‘fuck-it’ button.

Sunday Is Gloomy

The Itch You Shouldn’t Scratch

A feeling of emptiness wasn’t ever going to kill me, but it did could make any reason I had for staying sober appear trivial. When life feels like it lacks meaning and purpose, why bother fighting for it? What was the point in making plans? My dreams and goals felt worthless when looked at from this vantage point. This itch in my brain was the opposite of the golden-touch – it meant everything I touched turned to shit.

I’d do my best to try to ease this empty feeling without drinking. I’d get spiritual, exercise like a maniac, get excited about new hobbies, and read every motivational book I could get my hands on. This could temporarily soothe the itch, but it would always return as soon as I stopped being busy.

When I was drinking, the feeling of emptiness never bothered me much. My life would revolve around alcohol, and I’d create enough trouble to keep my mind constantly in survival mode.

The Empty Feeling is a Case of Mistaken Identity

It took me years to realize that it wasn’t the emptiness that made my life so unbearable, but my need to escape this feeling. I’d never spent any time analyzing what I was trying to escape from – it just never occurred to me to do this. There would be the sense of something being wrong, and this would be enough to have me running for cover.

I now see that this feeling of emptiness was a just a phantom. I just didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, so I needed to stay distracted – alcohol was a fantastic distraction. If my mind became quiet, I’d interpret this as something being wrong, and I’d be off trying to fix myself. Even after I quit alcohol for good, I still continued to struggle against this feeling of emptiness, and it would lead to episodes of depression.

The turning point came when instead of just reacting to the emptiness by eating junk or wasting money on stuff I didn’t need, I decided to just sit with it. I observed where the feeling was coming from without making any attempt to fix it. There wasn’t much to it at all. I could feel a slight flutter in my stomach, and there was a definite flatness to my mood, but there was nothing unpleasant about the experience. I must have spent less than fifteen minutes like this before the empty feeling disappeared. I couldn’t believe that this was the horrible monster I’d been trying to escape for all those years.

Latest posts by Paul Garrigan (see all)

6 thoughts on “How to Escape the Feeling of Emptiness After You Quit Addiction

  1. Hi Paul
    Another great article from yourself, ive tried doing everything when the cravings ambush me, the best i could come up with for a long time was lie down and listen to music, because the feeling was so crippling, then i found that if it coincided with a meeting, id try and make it to that and that would sometimes help, but sometimes meetings make me WANT to drink, im sure im not the only one that happens too either, but oneday i had cravings and i just decided to accept them, and just acknowledge them as part of life without having to act on them, and that seemed to work really well for me, similiar to what you are mentioning, just accept and try to let go, but i have to practice it more because the last time i had cravings i just gave into them, a momentary lapse of reason, i was literally insane while i was in their grip and just gave in to make them go away, but it just led to one more distaster, if i only remembered what i had learned previously, i might have saved myself another go on the merry-go-round….. so its good to hear that you too, have found this method useful, im gonna print out this article of yours so hopefully next time i am ambushed by cravings, it will be easier to remember to try and just do that…. accept them, thanks very much for sharing your thought

    1. Hi Shane, I think it is definitely a case of ‘what you resist, persists’. I understand what you mean about knowing the right thing to do but forgotten to do it when you need to.

  2. Great post. This is SO important and often misunderstood. So many people seem to think I just need new hobbies and more go, go go without just being okay with being. One lady said to me last week that we are not human-doings, but human-beings… Silly, I know… but so easy to understand.

    1. You’re right. I think hobbies and obsessions can just be another way to avoid facing ourselves. This constant need to be doing something else always means that we are uncomfortable with what we are doing now.

  3. I am finding this too. Sober 2.5 months. Go to AA, see psychologist, counsellor, take A-depressant, exercise, read, journal, GP, sponsor. Read, do steps. I know it takes time, patience, prayer etc. I feel like crap. Family abandoned me last year when I ended up in hospital with such bad burns (from drinking) it nearly killed me three times. Had over 12 operations. Live by myself in a boarding house. No friends. I feel empty, am and will stay sober, but I feel like crap.

  4. Very insightful comments. have a relative who is struggling with the emptiness at the moment. Has had counselling and doing the meetings and finding them great, but life outside them is hard.
    Family are supportive, but just wondering if it would be a help to continue with counselling, every month or so to give built up feelings, emotions an escape route, as the alcohol was a by- product of low self esteem, anxiety etc?

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *