On sadness and anger in early sobriety

I was looking through old photos this morning–trying to find photos of me drinking that I could share with you (I’m not sure why, but it seems important to show you who I used to be).

Sadly, (or maybe fortunately) I couldn’t find much. I think that our photos from that time period aren’t on this computer, but what I found instead were lots of photos of me in those first few months of sobriety.

When I look back on that time of my life, I remember feeling so proud of myself for finally doing something to better myself. I felt like I’d “slayed the dragon” and done something that I never thought possible. But, when I looked at the photos from my early days of sobriety this morning, I saw a lot of sadness in my eyes. 

This surprised me because it’s not (initially) what I remembered from that time.  

I know why I looked sad though. I WAS sad. And I was angry, too. 

This photo was taken at my cousin’s wedding. I had quit drinking about 3 weeks prior to this and it was my first festive event to attend sober. Adding insult to injury, my aunt (the mother of the bride) had asked me to help entertain some cousins from the other side of the family who were visiting from out of state and who didn’t know anyone else at the wedding. I enthusiastically agreed (as one does) and then immediately thought, “Oh shit. How the hell am I supposed to be social without drinking?” As a result, I’m afraid that I dropped the ball big time and all but ignored the people I was charged with entertaining, as I “white-knuckled-it” in a corner at the reception. 

I know that you probably don’t see anger or sadness when you look at these photos. And, to be clear, I was also pretty darn smug and proud of myself, but there was some serious sadness and anger lurking just below the surface. 

This was my birthday dinner a month or so after quitting. I felt so fortunate to be where I was, doing what I was doing with my nearest and dearest, but I can see that sadness in my eyes. I was very sad that night that I couldn’t have a drink with my dinner on my birthday. But, I also remember that both Jack and I were sick that night. You can see Jack’s sad, little eyes–he didn’t feel well–and I had a lingering cough that I couldn’t shake. In my drinking days, a cough wouldn’t have kept me from drinking. This night, I remember getting hot tea with dinner. That felt like a huge victory–a victory that I resented having to have, nonetheless. 

This was dinner out before the Nutcracker. It was a big deal to take Anna to see The Nutcracker for the first time. We treated it like a special evening out. In my drinking days I would have, for sure, had drinks with dinner and then a drink or two at the theater too. This evening, I didn’t and felt sad that I couldn’t drink something to feel festive on this special night out. 

This was our Disney World trip in May of 2011. This was my first sober vacation. Disney World was a pretty safe destination because it’s such a busy, hectic vacation. I don’t think that I could’ve done that trip not-sober–at least not as fully as we did it. 

I was sad that I had to quit drinking. I was angry that I couldn’t just be like everyone else and enjoy a few drinks every now and then. It wasn’t fair and I didn’t feel like anyone understood. I was very lost and alone and I didn’t know what to do with myself during this time of my life.

It was frustrating to feel like I was accomplishing something important but not without resentment every step of the way. 

It’s not unlike Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief:

Depression, Anger, Bargaining, Denial, Final Acceptance

I grieved the loss of my drinking habits and I went through every one of the above stages. 

How I made it through, I’m not sure. The odds were stacked against me for sure. But, I did it. 

For someone who’s standing right there now, I will tell you this:

Feel sad.

Feel angry.

It’s not fucking fair that you can’t drink like “normal” people. A large part of your life is going away and you might feel lost and alone.

I know exactly how you feel. 

Know this though: It’ll pass. It’ll get better–way better.

It will get better in ways that you never could even anticipate. 

Honor that sadness and anger and then let it go. Drinking might be for some people, but it’s not for you. Now, move forward and find out what IS for you. 


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3 thoughts on “On sadness and anger in early sobriety

  1. April says:

    This was such a good read. And very fitting for me right now. I’m only on day 25 of my alcohol-free journey, and I have those feelings on a daily basis. But what helps me is knowing that those thoughts are fleeting–they do pass. And mornings without hangovers are quite fabulous. Also, I will be having my first sober vacation this summer. And I’m so ready.

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