A look back at one of the most painful transitions in my life.
I quit drinking on December 31, 2016, which means that as of writing this, I’m only three weeks away from hitting the two-year mark. It’s still hard to believe I’ve made it this far. As the milestone approaches, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot about the early days of my sobriety.
Sobriety has gotten easier over time, but I still remember how difficult the initial transition was. Getting through the first few days of sobriety was one of the most trying experiences I’ve ever been through.
One of the things that helped me through it was reading the experiences of other alcoholics that had gotten sober. Knowing that other people had gone through the same thing, and experienced the same difficulties and setbacks, helped give me the confidence to stick with sobriety.
Even though I’ve forgotten some of the details of my first few days of sobriety, I still vividly remember the many struggles I went through.
If you’re planning to get sober, then maybe reading about my first steps will help you know what to expect. I don’t have any magic secret, but I think it can help just to hear what someone else went through. If you’re already sober, I suspect that you’ll recognize at least some of my experience from your own.
My First Day Sober
After talking with a doctor, I decided that the best way for me to quit drinking would be going cold turkey. (The first step for anyone planning to quit drinking should be talking to a doctor. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and even fatal, and quitting cold turkey is not safe for everyone.)
I originally planned to quit on January 1st as a New Year’s resolution, but when I woke up on December 31st I was feeling inspired to get a head start.
I knew that if I started drinking, I’d end up drinking past midnight as I stayed up to ring in the new year. I decided that I wanted to be sober for all of 2017, which meant staying sober for the last day of 2016 too.
Since I was never much of a morning drinker, the first half of the day went by pretty easily. I dumped the little bit of remaining alcohol in my apartment early on in the day so that it wouldn’t tempt me later.
It wasn’t until evening that I really started to want a drink. Even though it was New Year’s Eve, I stayed home the entire night and spent most of my time reading to try to distract myself.
Surprisingly, that first night was nowhere near as hard as I expected. I felt a lot of cravings, but no physical symptoms, and the cravings didn’t really get much worse as the night went on.
The hardest part of the first night was actually going to sleep. It had been at least months, and probably years, since I had gone a full night without drinking, and my body was not ready for the experience of trying to fall asleep sober.
It felt like I had literally forgotten how to fall asleep!
I remember laying in bed for hours before I finally fell asleep, and I kept waking up all night. Trying to sleep was by far the most miserable experience of that first day. I think it helped a lot to know that I didn’t have to go to work the next day. Otherwise, I likely would have used my insomnia as an excuse to go out and buy more booze.
Despite not sleeping much the night before, I still woke up early. This left me feeling exhausted all day.
Mentally I was starting to really feel the effects of not drinking. My brain was foggy — I couldn’t quite focus on anything.
I spent all of the second day in my apartment too. I kept thinking that I should go out and do something to keep me busy, but the idea of heading out into the world felt too overwhelming.
I continued to read, and also spent a lot of the day cleaning my apartment. I think I was trying to fill my time with something productive. It helped me to feel like getting sober was a brand new, fresh start to my life.
During the second evening and night, my cravings got incredibly bad. I also started to feel physical symptoms from withdrawal, including very minor shakiness and chills. Fortunately, my physical symptoms never got too extreme.
Mentally I was in really bad shape that night. I was incredibly depressed and felt angry about everything. The cravings for alcohol really felt terrible, and time seemed to move slower than ever.
To help get through it, I spent a lot of the night reading /r/stopdrinking, a Reddit community for people quitting alcohol. I also kept in mind my goal of making it through all of 2017 without a drink.
I also went through a ton of soda, candy, and junk food. I decided that for the first couple of weeks of sobriety, I would just eat whatever I felt like eating. It might not have been the healthiest decision, but I think it did help me a lot.
That night, I had trouble sleeping again, and I even woke up once in a cold sweat.
My third day of sobriety was the worst, hands down. There weren’t any new physical or mental symptoms, just worse versions of the same things I had experienced on day two.
The mental aspect was definitely worse for me than the physical side of things. My cravings were incredibly intense, and I felt like I could barely think.
My depression also peaked. I remember crying a lot that day, for what felt like no reason at the time. Things I read or watched on TV would just suddenly set me off.
What got me through it was trying to distract myself as much as possible. There’s a time for confronting the underlying issues that cause alcoholism, but the first week of depression is not it. I tried to think about drinking as little as I could, and just watch TV and read all day. I think that if I could have gotten myself to go outside it probably would have helped too, but I still didn’t have it in me.
Fortunately, I somehow made it through the day and another restless night.
After my third day of sobriety, things started to get easier. There wasn’t any clear line where the physical withdrawal symptoms stopped, but by the end of the first week, I remember them mostly being gone. (I did continue to have trouble sleeping for months, although it was always gradually getting better).
The mental aspect of recovery is still an ongoing process, even now that it’s nearly two years later. It got much easier though. These days sobriety is a part of my life, but I don’t feel like it defines my life. Cravings are extremely rare, and I’m finally feeling comfortable with the idea of never drinking again.
To anyone thinking about getting sober, I wish you the best of luck! It will be hard, but you can get through it, and someday you’ll be sharing the story of your first three days too.