In my first month of sobriety a woman shared at a meeting that she felt like she had to grow up in front of everyone. I thought this sounded overly dramatic and I really had no idea what she was talking about. In early sobriety, I also saw a therapist who warned me I would start feeling emotions like I never had while I was drinking.
I still don’t understand how alcohol continued to affect my brain hours and days after my last drink. Sure, I get the calming effects a pint of beer or shot of booze has on the brain. But how on earth was it still making me numb 12 hours after my last drink? And why did it take six months for me to start feeling the full range of my emotions again? And I mean really feeling them.
I was a sensitive soul as a kid. I want to say that I felt things more deeply than most people, but of course that’s crap. It is true that emotions were discouraged in my family. I was taught through example and sometimes punishment that I shouldn’t cry or show anger. Happiness was an okay emotion, but even then my family expressed it coolly. I’ve carried this into adulthood. If I knew how the hell to play poker, I might be pretty good at not betraying my hand. Or maybe not so much anymore.
When I drank, I didn’t just drink to cover bad emotions. I drank after a long Monday, I drank to thank God it was Friday, I drank when it was sunny, I drank when it wasn’t. I drank every day that ended with y because I liked being transported out of my own head and possibly my own heart. I wasn’t comfortable with anxiety and pain, but even the happiness wasn’t enough. I wanted to be happier, and beer always did that for me. (Until it didn’t, but why else would I be here?)
Now that I’ve been sober a little while, I’ve started noticing how I still do this. All the time. This morning I woke up salivating for that first cup of coffee and caffeine buzz. Right now I’m really looking forward to going for a run this afternoon because I know I’ll feel almost buzzed afterwards. I’m looking forward to my meeting tonight because I really feel like I need it this week.
I don’t think there’s anything unhealthy or unnatural about looking forward to things. I do think it speaks to a certain restlessness and inability to live in the moment that will hopefully come easier with time. Right now I feel super tuned into every feeling and like I’m just trying to avoid the bad ones.
There’s good reason for this too. Yesterday I had a meltdown complete with tears over, well, nothing really. It came out of nowhere, though I admit I was tired from a busy (fun!) weekend and daylight savings time (the fucker!). But the sudden appearance and intensity of these negative emotions scared me. I haven’t felt that way in some time, and I actually went online to see if it was a full moon and counted days to see if I was PMSing. It wasn’t either. I did read about post-acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which has the most adorable acronym of PAWS, but I don’t know why I wouldn’t have started feeling this way until about 6 months into recovery. Shouldn’t that have happened within the first 3 months? Do the dizzying highs of the pink cloud prevent one from feeling the crashing lows?
I now buy the idea that my brain is still healing after decades of alcohol abuse. It’s making connections it didn’t before, for whatever biochemical reason I don’t begin to understand. I realize now that the feelings I had while drinking were muted variations of what I feel now. Maybe they feel harder now because I can’t escape them. They do ebb and flow and no uncomfortable state lasts longer than I can bear, but there is something really hard about just sitting with a feeling. I do feel like I’m growing up in front of everyone. So I run or I read or I eat or I do anything but take a drink because that’s the worst possible escape for me.