I used to be a daily, heavy drinker with very little self-awareness. I was far more interested in getting drunk than developing my mindfulness.
Getting sober helped me to better understand myself, but I wasn’t always happy with what I discovered. One of my most upsetting realizations was that my years of drinking had dulled my personality.
I had spent years filling up the bulk of my free time with alcohol. Early on, I had managed to balance my drinking with a rich social life and interesting hobbies, but over the years these had all faded away without me noticing.
By the time I quit drinking, my only real hobbies were reading, watching TV, and playing video games. I don’t mean to knock these activities — they’re all fine in moderation — but on their own, they didn’t add up to a very interesting existence.
When it came to friendships, I hadn’t lost literally all of them, but I was getting close. Every year, I had fewer friends than the year before, and was in less contact with the ones I had left.
In the year before I quit drinking, I had moved states twice for work. This put the final nail in the coffin on my social life. Even the few friends I had left lived halfway across the country.
It wasn’t just my hobbies and friendships that were lacking. Even my personality itself — the way that I thought about the world and interacted with others — felt oddly blank. The emotions I knew best were anger and sadness, neither of which I wanted dominating my life.
In summation, I had escaped from my addiction, only to realize that I had nothing ready for me on the other side.
At first, realizing how bland my life had become was a miserable experience. I was bored and depressed, and I beat myself up over letting my addiction drag on for so many years.
I wasted a lot of energy in the early days of sobriety wondering “what if?” What if I had quit drinking a decade earlier when I first noticed I had a problem? What if I had done better at staying in touch with friends? What if I hadn’t moved and instead looked for a job that would let me stay put?
I was dwelling on why my life had gone wrong, instead of asking myself what I could do to fix it.
Gradually though, I started to make progress. Gradually being the key word. Nothing in sobriety ever came quickly for me.
During the first year I found a hobby that I truly loved — running. It helped me to start turning my mental health around, and it also provided a nice contrast to all the passive, indoor hobbies that I was used to.
In my second year sober, I found another great hobby — writing. Not only did this give me a productive way to spend my time, but it also encouraged me to start thinking about my life on a deeper level. Through writing, I was able to address the questions of who I had been, who I was, and who I wanted to become.
In addition to these two big hobbies, I tried out all kinds of other activities. When I was drinking, I never had the time or energy to try new things. Now, I was making up for missed opportunities. I took a stab at rock climbing, weight lifting, cycling, drawing, birdwatching, hiking, and more. Some I’ve stuck with, and I enjoyed trying even the ones that didn’t stick.
As I was discovering these new ways to spend my time, my personality evolved as well. The anger and sadness were hard to shake, but they’ve gotten better with time. I’ve also learned to start enjoying life, to take interest in things, and to have fun conversations without the aid of alcohol.
Some of this progress came with time. Some of it came with therapy. Most of the changes were the result of me consciously thinking about who I was and who I wanted to become. I learned that our personalities are far more malleable than I once believed.
There’s also been a far less concrete, nearly impossible to describe change: I simply don’t feel so bland. I feel like a full, developed person, rather than an empty shell. It’s a feeling that I don’t think words can quite capture, but that I suspect many other recovering addicts can relate to.
Nowadays, I no longer think of these post-drinking years as a struggle. Instead, they’ve become an opportunity. With alcohol out of the way, I get the chance to reinvent myself from the ground up.
I have an entire world of hobbies, ideas, and passions to explore. Ever since getting sober, it’s felt like I’ve had all the time in the world to pursue anything that catches my interest.
These days, I’ve left behind the sullen personality that I had as a drunk. Now, I get to be the person I want to be: optimistic, kind, curious, and excited for what my future might bring.