Throughout my twenties, alcohol dominated my life. I was a daily, heavy drinker, and the habit affected everything from my hobbies to my relationships.
I finally quit drinking just a few months before I turned thirty. It was a relief to put the ruinous habit behind me, but at the same time, I often felt like there was a piece of me missing.
One of the reasons I drank so much was that I falsely believed that alcohol was the only way for me to relax.
I’m naturally an anxious, high-stress person. I worry too much, overthink small details, and get caught up in my head, spinning my mind through anxiety loops.
For me, downing a six-pack of beer after work was a way to unwind and turn off my anxious thoughts.
Alcohol is a bad way to relax. Drinking provides short-term stress relief but increases stress over the long run. When I was a heavy drinker though, I ignored the long-term effects because I couldn’t resist the opportunity for easy relaxation, even if it was short-lived.
When I quit drinking, I felt at first as if I had lost the part of me that knew how to relax. Without beer, how could I unwind after a long day? How could I stop thinking constantly about all the things that stress me out?
During my early days of sobriety, I was worried that I’d never feel truly relaxed again (unless I relapsed).
Now that I know more about quitting drinking, I’ve learned that increased levels of stress and anxiety are a common part of withdrawal, and often lessen on their own over time.
For me, they both did die down a little on their own, but I’ve also confronted the issue head-on, by finding new ways to relax.
Exercise has become my new number one way to reduce stress. Running is my exercise of choice, although I also occasionally lift weights, bike ride, do body weight exercises, and more.
Going on a run almost immediately makes me feel better. I find myself zoning out, and my thoughts turn almost meditative.
The best thing about exercising is that the relaxing effects last long after the exercise itself is over — sometimes I feel better all day. And, unlike alcohol, which increases stress in the long run, exercise seems to actually have a cumulative effect in reducing my stress.
Writing — whether it’s about my addiction or something else entirely — is another great way that I’ve found to relax.
I think that a lot of my anxiety and stress comes from getting too caught up in my own head. Writing gives me a way to externalize what I’m thinking about.
When I write about something, it’s my way of working through it. Often, just the writing process itself is enough to get the stressful thoughts out of my head.
Writing isn’t always relaxing though — it depends a lot on the mood I’m in, so I have to be careful not to force myself to write when I’m not feeling up for it.
I used to play a lot of video games as a kid, but I mostly stopped when I was in college. During the years that I was drinking, I’d play them occasionally, but not too often.
Even though I had enjoyed video games, I had started to think of them as a waste of time. I felt guilty when playing them because they were “unproductive.”
Now that I’m sober, I’ve started to play them a lot more, and I’ve learned to leave the guilt behind. Sure, they might not be directly improving my life in the way that exercise does, but they do a great job of relaxing me. One of the greatest things about sobriety is being able to leave behind feelings of “guilt” over minor things like the hobbies we choose to enjoy.
Trips to the Coast
One of the most relaxing things I’ve discovered is looking out over the ocean or the large sound in North Carolina. I’ve read that most people have a natural relaxed reaction to large bodies of water, and that appears to be the case for myself.
Unfortunately, I live about two hours from the coast, so I can’t just go out to the beach after work. I have friends and family living along my state’s coast though, so every month or two I make sure to go out for a visit.
I know it may sound like a small thing, but just waking up and looking out over the water is enough to keep me in a good mood all day. For me, it’s a big enough effect that I’ve even considered moving cities to be closer.
Alcohol was my only relaxation tool for so many years that I had a hard time learning to relax without it. Now that I have though, I’m even more grateful for my sobriety.
Alcohol may provide relaxation, but it’s a shallow, ultimately harmful form of stress relief. Without it, I’ve been forced into finding ways to relax that are actually helpful long-term and can be part of a healthy lifestyle.