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.
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.