How Does it Feel Being Sober?

Olivia Kibaba
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November 6, 2020

"How does it feel being sober?" might seem like a weird question to someone who has never done drugs. But for those who struggle with withdrawal symptoms or are just fresh from a treatment program, the question couldn't possibly get any more real than this.

Consider two parts of the brain, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Amygdala registers the memory and emotional reactions like fear, intrigue, or worry. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, controls inhibitions, strategizing, and focus. These two rev up during traumatic events – including the daily traumas of living in a world with constant violence, fear, and threats. But for some, the revved up effect doesn't cut it. So they turn to drugs to help escape, cope, or manage life situations.

"The thing with alcohol and I would argue a lot of drugs, is that at the root of it is a lot of pain," said Alicia Valentin, a recovering alcohol abuse patient. "We don't use to get drunk or high. Sure, that may have been it at the beginning. But really, it was to cover pain, so we wouldn't have to deal with anxiety, depression, abuse, sadness, grief, loneliness, self-pity, and anger."

Alicia was responding to the question, “how does it feel being sober?” On Quora.

Substances have a sedating effect.

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Drugs may make us feel good temporarily. Sobriety feels better, even when the world is uncertain.

Alcohol and drugs can give one a fleeting sense of euphoria. They can also take one from their present state of being or help them detach from reality. But as you and I both know, this is usually a temporary fix. Drugs and alcohol produce rapid and large amounts of dopamine into the brain. Basically, they hijack the brain's normal reward/pleasure center, directly stimulating it with readily available dopamine. Unfortunately, this dwarfs the ability to release dopamine from smaller but sustainable sources, like hanging out with friends, watching a nice movie, or hitting a target, and so on.

So, it makes sense to wonder what it's like being sober after using for a while – or longer. This article will dive deeper into how people feel while they mentally and physically detox from substance abuse. But before we do that, you should know that life does get a thousand times better when sober. Here are some perks of being sober:

  • A less chaotic life – no worries about getting money, substances, lying, or manipulating to cover up bad habits
  • Better sleep – with no suppressants in the body, it becomes easier to fall asleep and rest well
  • Better health – not using drugs means no toxic chemicals in the body. There's also the aspect of finding time to eat balanced meals and for overall grooming
  • Better memory – no more worries about not recalling the things that happened in the previous nights
  • Better mental health – diet, sleep, and overall health are directly proportional to the mental health
  • Less worries – no more worries about getting caught or not providing for a family or going into withdrawals
  • Deep connections – sobriety allows patients to be a part of their family and friends. It also allows one to love and value themselves

So, how does it feel being sober?

"One of the most important words in your question is "feel". I used to drink to numb myself from the pain. Now that I'm sober, I feel things. I feel happy. I feel sad. I feel frustrated. I feel the whole gamut of feelings," responded Dana M Dietz, a Quora member, who has been sober for eight years.

Significant mood swings

People abuse substances to try to escape their emotions. Drinking or using drugs can offer temporary release but comes with a hefty price. Abuse and addiction can destroy every good thing in someone's life to the extent where all that's left is them and their substances of abuse. Drugs and alcohol numbs their emotions that they hardly feel anything anymore.

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Becoming sober will have its definite ups and downs. For the most part, sobriety will feel great. Uncertainty and emotions can still get the best of you. Monitor your own mental health, with honesty.

But when they’re in addiction recovery and no longer abuse substances to conceal their emotions, they experience a perception shift that may result in an emotional rollercoaster. It may take a little getting used to, to manage emotions and lead a happy life. Some common examples of extreme moods that people experience in recovery include:

  • A sense of loneliness
  • Resentment and anger
  • Feelings of boredom
  • Disappointment
  • Feelings of extreme guilt
  • Extremes of happiness
  • Symptoms of depression

A sense of loneliness

A person may feel lonely during recovery because their support system is suddenly taken away. In many cases, those who abuse drugs and alcohol surround themselves with other users. So, until they find support networks to replace their old ones, they may feel lonely. Loneliness is often accompanied by powerful emotions like depression, anxiety , or panic. Since loneliness can't be treated with medications, recovering patients should learn to be comfortable in their skin without escaping to substance use. Solitude can be an excellent opportunity to recharge the brain, discover new passions, and learn new skills.

Happy and victorious 

From mended relationships to staying sober to savings to new life and everything in between, there are definitely plenty of things to be happy for. Those who go through treatment successfully report feeling happy and optimistic about their new life. They feel good because they've managed to regain control of their lives. They feel good because they get to wake up in the morning without swollen hands or broken feet or with a terrible headache. They feel good because they no longer have to deal with shaking or getting arrested.

"Sometimes, I feel exhilarated, happy, joyful," Alicia said."Most days, I feel clear-headed. Able to tackle things. I used to lay awake at night, wondering if I was dying or afraid to sleep because I was afraid I would die. I would feel an intense amount of guilt. Guilt for hiding my alcoholism from my partner. Guilt for not having any friends … for being shut-in," she added.

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Sure, sobriety has its definite challenges. You can live a rewarding life, free from drugs and alcohol with the right types of help.

Pretty awkward 

Awkward might be the last thing that someone recovering from drug abuse expects to feel. But as it turns out, it is a pretty common feeling. People use drugs and alcohol to ease their anxieties or feel comfortable in their skin. But now that they aren't using anymore, they may feel uncomfortable or socially anxious during the early stages of recovery – sometimes even beyond. But the good news is that the awkwardness will eventually wear off (or lessen).

“Drunk me didn’t have to worry if I was alone at a party because drunk me didn’t abide such things. Drunk me didn’t worry if she belonged, or said the right thing, or had to have small talk because drunk me just handled that. Drunk me had loose neck muscles.” Read one post. “So now I’m sober, and I have zero choice but to be me in all situations. There is no escape route, or greasing the wheels, or magic potion that makes people less terrifying, or me more “socially normal.” I can’t do anything about who I am, which is perfect because we should all be so lucky to be ourselves in public,” it continued.

Comfortable in social situations

Many people drink to feel comfortable in social situations. However, in most cases, they end up too drunk and say stupid things that they can't even recall the following day. Ironically, when they go through treatment and sober up, they learn to like themselves and trust what they say or do in public. Some even start preferring to go out and be with people and are no longer shy or anxious.

"The important thing to know is that life will not be all candy canes and buttercups when you are sober. Life happens. Good things and bad things happen. The wonderful thing is that you learn more about yourself as you learn to cope with these feelings. Most people I know are grateful alcoholics. They are much better off for having had to deal with their alcoholic issues," concluded Dana.

Emotional sobriety stemmed from Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12-step program for those struggling with alcohol abuse. And while it is a challenging, long-term, and ever-changing process, it's worth it. Those struggling with emotions can benefit from working with addiction professionals in a good treatment program. No one achieves perfect emotional sobriety. The most crucial thing is to keep working toward greater emotional awareness, better balance and use of coping strategies that are productive and healthy.

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