I have not drunk alcohol for over three years now – not on any occasion. Stopping drinking completely was a very good decision for me at that time, because my life is now so much richer. Sometimes I still wonder and ask myself – at its core how has giving up alcohol changed my life. Sure – without alcohol, I no longer had to suffer from its many toxicities and the hangovers.
That alone really did me a lot of good. The absence of that debilitating fatigue feeling the day after – felt like a real energy boost. At the same time, not everything developed to perfection in my life, of course. There are still the grey and sad moments. And yet as each sober day passed, I slowly saw my self-confidence grow.
By being sober, I started to get my power back. Moments of happiness, contentment and joy were now much more frequent.
My self-esteem eroded through time
Why was that? Looking back today, I believe a lot of it had to do with the change in my self-esteem and the respect that I had for myself. On reflection I noticed that when I drank, my self-esteem was slowly eroding away.
Drinking had all too often given me the courage I needed especially when it came to socialising. But over the years, I felt more and more, that in truth, I was becoming increasingly unsure of myself. I sometimes really wondered about this – because alcohol was supposed to have the exact opposite effect. I didn’t like myself that way. Quite often I hated myself for my failures to stop or drink less. Many times, I felt incredibly ashamed and – yes – sometimes despised myself for that. Over the years, drinking “gnawed” at me and made my view of myself and my life increasingly critical and sad – and many things seemed more and more boring, exhausting and grey. Slowly and only rarely, I began to think:
“Do I honestly like the way I live?”
“Do I like myself, my thoughts and my life?”
“Do I smile when I do the things I do?”
Was alcohol the problem and not me
I slowly began to suspect that I had no longer been in control, but rather that alcohol was controlling me. More and more, I had the nagging (and very justified) feeling that I was no longer the master of my own house. I realised.
The older and more mature I became (I am now in my late fifties) the more ashamed I was of myself and my drinking. Especially in front of younger people. I was often embarrassed by my own drinking. I realised that I wanted to be a better role model in lots of situations.
I experienced wonderful summer days clouded by a fog of residual alcohol, headache and hangovers. I experienced a lifestyle that made me sick and saw that I was unable to take care of my own body and life.
I was living in a way that, at the very core of my heart, I did not want to. What had happened to my integrity? Where had my self-respect gone? What had happened to the feeling of being proud of myself?
Reflections and a resolutions
I often thought that something was wrong with me, that I had deep-seated problems with myself and my life, which forced me to use alcohol to soften the blow and make it bearable. For a while I thought that maybe, I should do psychotherapy.
I didn’t. I drew a different conclusion and, after a few failed attempts at stopping drinking completely. I was afraid to take this step, because there were so many questions in my head. Will I be lonely without alcohol? Will I still have friends? Will I ever be able to really have fun again? I did it anyway. At that time, I wished very much and hoped – but I also felt it deep inside myself – that from now on everything would turn to good.
My self-esteem returned slowly
Slowly things started to get better without my previously beloved alcohol. I started to like myself again. I felt I was doing the right thing. I felt it physically. I rediscovered who I really was, and sometimes I felt like an archaeologist tracking down the remains of an ancient, long-forgotten city in the deepest dim and humid jungle – and slowly and carefully uncovering its structures – streets, foundations, walls or ditches – layer by layer with trowel, broom and brush. There he was – the ‘Tom’ as he used to be and as I knew myself . He survived and he does exist! How wonderful! After I stopped drinking, I slowly achieved this clarity, and my self-esteem was returning. I was bursting with joy when I noticed that! Growing like a muscle and flourishing like a beautiful little plant under my care – my self-esteem slowly came back – what a great gift!
I like to see myself taking more responsibility today – for myself, my life, and for others as well. I enjoy not having to hide my addiction anymore – because there is none. I feel good about letting go of drinking and no longer see a loss in it – because I now know that it simply does me significantly more harm than good.
I’m more likely to approach people at parties today because I feel okay with myself – and am probably no better and no worse than anyone else. At a party, I’m sometimes the first one to make a joke – because I don’t have to wait to get ‘loose’ by having a few drinks. I experienced that in the past it was not the alcohol that made me cool. I was myself and I can be it without it. Today, I can run exuberantly over summer meadows again, can embrace light, flowers and life – even if I was invited somewhere the night before. If nothing else, I am experiencing that I can be a better husband.
How do I look at myself today?
When my plans fail, when I miss opportunities or when I once perform less than I could. I have learned to be much more forgiving with myself. I no longer need to reach for a bottle of beer to gain this insight. Today, I can say “yes” to myself much more easily than before.
I now understand that for me it was obviously not deep-seated trauma, psychological damage or problems that forced me to drink. It was the alcohol. I had carelessly drunk far too much for a while and alcohol had become increasingly demanding of itself. Alcohol had been the problem – not so much myself.