Someone in the forums here at Spiritual River recently completed a 30 day trial of sobriety, and said this regarding her journey:
The intense cravings have stopped. I feel a lot calmer. I feel a certain lightness of spirit, as though a heavy burden has been lifted, and occasional moments of sheer joy.
I don’t have the extra energy that others have talked about, in fact I feel bone tired. But I know that I used alcohol to help me power through my tiredness. So I need to give myself time to catch up on rest.
As I said in an earlier post, I thought about drinking now that my 30 days are up, since the 30 day trial allows for that. But after planning out what I would do and thinking about it, I don’t want to do that. I’ve spent more than enough time in a drunken stupor.
So I declare an end to the misery. I’m so tired of all the work it took to get the alcohol I learned to need, all the consequences of drinking all that alcohol. I will not drink alcohol again. That’s a commitment forever. I don’t feel a sense of loss, I feel a sense of excitement as I move into recovery!
I’ve quit for 30 days before, so I think it’s important to take a moment to ask myself what is different this time. I see several things. First I always had in the back of my mind that I wasn’t sure I could see never ever having another drink. The result of a less than 100% commitment was that I did successfully stop for awhile, then drink only a little for awhile, but ultimately I was right back down at the bottom of the bottle. Second was complacency. When I wasn’t drinking for a while, drinking just a little sounded OK and then I did drink only a little and I was complacent about that. And then I was right back down at the bottom of the bottle. Third was I stopped drinking, but I didn’t start recovery. I didn’t even understand the concept. So what’s different? Yes, I can imagine not drinking again. If my daughters ever get married, they will have to have something non-alcoholic to substitute for that champagne toast. As for complacency, I now have this community to help keep me on track. And now I understand that there’s another phase of recovery to look forward to and create a better future.
A whole bunch of great stuff happens if you can stick it out for 30 days. This is true of just about any positive change that you make, not just quitting drinking. The key is that the 30 day time frame is long enough to pretty much establish anything as an automatic habit.
And the fact is that “quitting drinking” is actually a whole bunch of changes. If it were really just one change (to stop drinking) then it would be easy. But no, you actually have to rearrange your entire life, your attitudes, your ideas, how you relax, how you have fun, how you relate to other people, how you spend your evenings, and on and on and on.
Drinking defined our lives and being lit up on alcohol became a normal state of mind for us. Being sober makes every experience foreign and new again. We have to relearn how to live.
So if you say “I only need to make one tiny change, and that is to stop drinking”…..then you are seriously misled.
A better way to articulate the truth of it is to say:
“I am going to change my entire life by removing alcohol from my routine.” THAT is much more accurate.
So if you go for a few days without drinking, you may start getting uncomfortable, but you haven’t really made any permanent changes yet. However, if you stick it out for a full 30 days without a single drink, then you have actually established some new habits and some new routines. The 30 days is long enough that you had to figure out some new solutions…..you had to find new ways to deal with stuff, new ways to handle stress, new ways to relax, new ways to socialize, and so on.
When you do a 30 day trial, the longer time frame forces you to adapt and make semi-permanent changes.
The carrot on the end of the stick
Now if you actually do a true 30 day trial when you quit then it means that you are off the hook after the 30 days is up. This HAS to be the case for you, otherwise it is not a 30 day trial. You HAVE to give yourself permission to return to drinking at the end if you actually want to make it work as intended.
The reason you must do that is to give yourself that “out.” It is the carrot at the end of the stick that will help get you through the 30 day trial. Knowing that you can “treat yourself” at the end is part of what makes it effective.
But, you will notice that we do not make future decisions for ourselves in the present. (We can trick ourselves at times and believe that we do, but we do not). No, after your 30 days is up, you will be faced with that decision again (the same decision that is always present in our lives, actually) and that is “To drink or not to drink?”
But the bonus here is that after doing a 30 day trial and giving yourself full permission to do whatever you like at the end of it, you will have gained perspective and certain benefits from your sobriety.
Thirty days is not a huge length of time but it IS significant in terms of sobriety. The fog may still be slowly lifting but for the most part, you will already be enjoying many of the physical benefits of recovery. The person who commented in the forums mentioned that she was not yet feeling a huge boost in energy, but of course that will come with time as her body adjusts to a healthier state. Keep in mind too that when we are drinking we tend to mask a lot of the fatigue, and yet we are still largely ineffective due to our drinking. We just think that we have more energy due to the booze. When we are sober we notice just how zapped and out of shape we might really be. It takes time to heal of course.
The biggest benefit of the 30 day trial
What makes the 30 day trial so powerful is that it creates a habit.
So if you want to change your life, if you want to create powerful and positive changes, then doing a 30 day trial is a great way to implement those changes.
When you stop drinking for 30 days, the first few days might be a terrible struggle. You may crave the alcohol several times throughout the day. You may long for the buzz and imagine yourself “partying” and having good times with the drink. But after you make it through the first few weeks of sobriety, something amazing happens: you develop a habit. Not drinking becomes routine. It becomes the new normal for you.
What used to be a struggle is slowly becoming your new automatic.
And of course, this is what is so hard. As alcoholics, our drinking becomes normal for us. It is awkward for us to not be self medicating. So attempting to be sober for 30 days is a huge challenge.
And so generally we need to ask for help. Some people may go to treatment, some may go to meetings every day, some may seek support online, and others may even live in rehab.
Or maybe you do not need outside help in order to make it to 30 days sober. If so then that is great. The key is to actually do it though; to go through with the 30 day trial and give your body and your mind a chance to start receiving the benefits of sobriety.
So the big benefit is that you establish a habit of sobriety. Some of the other benefits include:
* Having real fun again.
* Showing real emotions.
* Connecting with others in a meaningful way.
* Significant health increase.
Having real fun again
I did not think that I would ever have real fun again in sobriety.
When I was still drinking, I thought I would be miserable and sad until the day I died. No fun ever again if I stayed sober (I believed).
But in addition to that, I did not care if I ever had fun again.
That is a distinct point. I could not bring myself to care about the idea of having fun again in recovery. It just did not sound exciting to me at all. “What is the point?” I thought. Life without drinking will be miserable.
But of course, even inside of the first 30 days, I had moments of real fun, joy, and laughter.
Sure, you may still have some cravings when you first get sober. But you will have moments of fun as well. And the difference? Now you can remember the fun times. Now you can appreciate the fun, because you can savor it and remember it. You can cherish memories again, rather than just living from one high to the next.
Showing real emotions
I never would have admitted that there was value in this. But of course I learned otherwise as I stayed sober.
What is the value in showing emotions? The value is that when you can laugh, cry, experience real sorrow and real joy, then you are truly alive. When you are medicating yourself every day with alcohol, you are not really alive in the same way. You are medicating your emotions. You are dead to the world.
Anger, frustration, or fear? We drown those out with booze. Even if you told yourself that you drank for other reasons (such as to have fun), you were also medicating your emotions. You were suppressing them with alcohol.
When you get clean and sober, the emotions start to come back (sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly….it just depends). But the emotions always come back.
And this is a wonderful thing. You are not truly alive until you are experiencing real joy and sorrow again.
They say that early sobriety can be an emotional roller coaster. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It can be a challenge to handle all the emotions, but it is also one of the greatest rewards of recovery. You get to feel again.
Connecting with others in a meaningful way
One of the things that I would not admit when I was still drinking was how shallow most of my relationships had become.
I clung to the idea that I was passionate while I was drinking and that I really cared deeply for others. The truth was that I only cared about myself and my buzz. I only cared about being properly medicated on drugs and alcohol.
While drinking heavily, I made the mistake of thinking that I was caring and passionate, when in reality, I was full of fear and desperately wanted to escape from myself through drinking.
In recovery, I learned to see the truth of the matter, and I learned how to start actually caring about myself and about others. Instead of the surface-level connections I had with drinking buddies, now I had real friends in recovery.
During my first year of recovery, when a sober friend was in a tough spot and needed help, my friends and I jumped in the car and went across town and took them to a meeting. We actually did stuff like that (and I still do). In recovery, we help each other to grow, rather than tearing each other down or using alcohol together.
Nowadays, my friends (and family) push each other to make real growth. We create things together. We achieve things together. We build things, new experiences. We add value to each other’s lives. This is the kind of real meaning you can find in recovery.
When I look back at my drinking days, it was all surface-level stuff. Sure, I had friends, and I did care about them. But what were my actions at the time? Did my friends and I really help each other to grow? Did we create real meaning and value in our relationship? Not really.
Again, this may not be something that you really care about if you are still drinking. But, you can look back after a month of sobriety and start to see these changes. Even after 30 days sober, you can start to see how much more positive and meaningful your relationships have become.
Significant health increase
If you are a real alcoholic and you stop drinking then this will have a tremendous impact on your long term health. It will also add several years to your life….statistically it is over a decade.
If you are a real alcoholic and you also smoke cigarettes, then quitting both smoking and drinking will have an even greater impact on your long term health. You will probably add over 20 years on to the end of your life.
And if you happen to believe as I do, and take an holistic approach to recovery and start exercising as part of your new life in recovery, then you will really experience huge gains in your overall health.
And this is exactly what happened to me. I was drinking every day in my addiction, and also smoking about a pack and a half per day of cigarettes. I never exercised.
In recovery, I have slowly changed all that. At first, I just stopped drinking. I continued to smoke cigarettes for a few years and I did not start exercising right away either. I wish I would have.
Later on in my recovery, I started exercising on a regular basis. But, I was still smoking cigarettes. I noticed that when I exercised, I felt much less desire to smoke, because the “feel-good endorphins” from the exercise seemed to replace the rush from a cigarette.
So I eventually gave up the cigarettes as well, and continued to exercise of course. Now I run marathons, and would not dream of taking a puff from a cigarette.
And, part of the learning process of recovery–and the challenge of recovery–is that I continue to try and improve my health in other ways. In particular, eating a healthier diet is something that I have struggled with, and have not made a lot of progress with thus far. It remains a challenge for me, unconquered.
And that is OK. Steady growth is the name of the game. I keep pushing here and there to make healthier changes. I build on my success. Sobriety remains number one in my life. Staying active with exercise is hugely important too. Remaining nicotine free is a top priority as well.
The decision to quit drinking–for 30 days or permanently–is a decision for better health.
Behind the decision to quit drinking is a more fundamental decision, one that says “I want to be healthier.”
And in sobriety, all of these benefits start to kick in as you remain sober, and your life keeps getting better and better as you become healthier and healthier.
This is the path to real recovery. It is a decision for better health.