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.

7 thoughts on “Rollercoaster

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  1. Not sure about the timescales on that site with PAWS – I’ve seen that at all times through people getting well again – some quicker than others, some a lot longer. I’ve known people with months, even years in and then the emotional rockbottom hits and that is more painful to them than when they stopped drinking. Interesting though that it has at least got some recognition. My first year was a 3 monthly cycle – gradually up and up and up and then a crash – normally for no reason other than a thought “Is this it then?” That nagging fantasy that my life was supposed to be something outrageously successful and glitter filled in someway – slowly though I’ve realised even though I think have that life normally don’t have it at all – they have some same crap to deal with I do and some crap to deal with I don’t … etc. Life is what you make it to a large extent.

    All the time at the moment I’m reading, hearing, seeing stuff that leads me back to “live in the day” and good old Abe Lincoln’s quote “Most people are as happy as they make their minds up to be”. Must be something I’m being told here… well I know there is actually!


    1. I made a note in my calendar and if it happens again, I want to know if there’s a pattern. I’m sure there’s some pattern. Not that it matters, it would just help to know there’s a cause behind it. Even if it’s random outbursts, at least they’re not permanent!

      Totally agree with Abe on that one. Just sometimes I don’t make my mind up to be happy, ya know? That ones puzzles me.


  2. of course you feel things more deeply than others – that’s not crap at all! Rather than compare it to others, you could just say you feel all things deeply.

    Did you ever read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet that I’d recommended before? There’s so much good stuff in there. This excerpt seems fitting:

    “And about feelings: All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Everything you can think of as you face your childhood, is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, if it is in your entire blood, if it isn’t intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom.”


    1. I did read some of it, though honestly most of it felt over my head. I will go back and try again. It’s nice to read and digest a little bit at a time. I really like this passage. Thanks for sharing and not making me feel like such an emo mess 😉


      1. I hope it helps! I have another friend with just over 2 years now, and her sponsor is encouraging her to STOP eating sugar. There is even a program for drinkers to stop eating sugar now! I quit 20 some years ago and the sugar/alcohol craving connection was not known.

        There is so much more known now; thank HP!

        Good luck my Friend! Jen


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