Drinking and my self-esteem. How I lost and won it back

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.

For me it was the right decision not to drink anymore. And that still feels very, very good today.

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  • What an inspiring post this is. It resonates strongly with me. Thanks for sharing the rediscovery of yourself.

    By James
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    November 12, 2022
  • I think that’s great. I can see a lot of that. As regards self esteem. I’ll never be the life and soul of a party – I run from parties – but self esteem doesn’t revolve around how I see my interactions with others, it’s my interaction with me. I’m working on it.

    By Redinblack
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    November 12, 2022
  • Great blog! This really resonates. Thank you from a person who is yet to take that first step into an alcohol free life. Reading stories like this bring me closer to this goal.

    By Ms M
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    November 12, 2022
  • The best decision I ever made was to quit drinking alcohol in August, 2005. I haven’t found it necessary to pick up a drink since then. A lot has changed in my life, and I’m proudest of how happy that decision was for my children, who are grown ups now. My son, too, quit drinking 4 + years ago. (Alcohol abuse runs rampant in my family!). I like role modeling being sober for my children and grandchildren.

    By Kate P.
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    November 12, 2022
  • well done and thanks for sharing

    By john
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    November 12, 2022
  • What an inspirational way to start the week-end. Thanks Tom and go you good thing!

    It also reminds me of something I was told (read or overheard) a long time ago, that is that Psychologist can’t really diagnosis depression until someone stops drinking booze because it is often caused by ‘the drink’ and once you remove ‘the drink’ you also remove the signs of clinical depression. Don’t know if that is true or not but sounds pretty right to me.

    By Lynn
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    November 12, 2022
    • Dear Lynn, I have read something similar and I myself believe that there is indeed something like a key here for many. For many – certainly not for all and everyone. It seems that chronic drinking correlates very strongly with the occurrence of depression – but scientists don’t know which came first: do people drink because they are depressed or do people become depressed because they drink? In my personal case, fortunately, I felt much better psychologically after two or three months without Alc. I had the feeling that my psychological balance is something that is physiologically very carefully balanced. So it took a little while until everything was back in stable balance. Felt very, very good…

      Regards and all the best…

      Tom

      By Tom
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      November 16, 2022
  • Thank you Tom. I really appreciate you sharing yoyr story. It inspires me to keep going. I am on the way to full sobriety but havent been able to let go of alcohol completely yet. It’s a difficult stage of the journey. But hearing from people like you give me strength. Thank you, Sue

    By Sue
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    November 12, 2022
  • Beautifully said… I identify so much with this and could have written parts of it myself (although perhaps less eloquently!) It’s day 40 for me today, I look forward to ben b able to count in years like yourself! Thanks for your honesty 😊

    By Laura Edwards
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    November 12, 2022
    • Dear Laura, …please enjoy the good things that come into your life… now – without Alc. Look every day at what has become better now. Please look very closely here. Write down the good. Probably the idea of having a drink again someday will seem more nonsensical and ridiculous from day to day, from week to week and from month to month. It will take a little while, but if you want it, it will be good. I wish you all, all the best, LG Tom

      By Tom
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      November 16, 2022
  • Great blog. I am starting on my journey to get off the alcohol and I can relate to everything in this article. I’m 72 now and I need a step change in my life. Alcohol controls my day and I am sick of it. I want my life back

    By Tony
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    November 12, 2022
  • Thank you for your wonderful and insightful story Tom. And, congratulations! So very proud of you!

    By Traci
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    November 12, 2022
  • Awesome! Although only a little younger than you, your words resonated with me and have abstained from alcohol for nearly three years. I can now see how I was stagnant and a prisoner in my old self and in the years since I stopped drinking, am becoming a real adult and a reasonably kind and useful one. Take care.

    By Kathryn
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    November 12, 2022
  • Good on you ,great that you have worked it out . Your blog encourages me . MBH.

    By Marilyn BH
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    November 12, 2022
  • Tom’s story resonates so much with me today, as I wake up on my first day in rehab for the third time.
    Reading Tom’s story highlighted how much my self esteem sinks with each relapse and when my beautiful Dad died after this one.
    Thanks for sharing Tom’s story!

    By Anita Cain
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    November 12, 2022
  • Reading this brought a tear to my eyes. It is beautiful and so inspiring . I have been off alcohol now for nearly a year and a half and I am slowly finding “me “ again . I could relate to so much of what you have written and I wish to Thankyou for the hope you have inspired .

    By Sue
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    November 12, 2022
  • This is a wonderful and very poignant story. It really resonates with me and you thank you very much for sharing. I’m into 11 months of sobriety and am so much happier now. 30 years as a CEO, who was a highly functional alcoholic, I mastered covering up my dependency, at great cost to my true self. I still feel the “pull” of alcohol on some days, so again, thank you for giving me such valuable insights to focus on

    By Maria
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    November 12, 2022
    • Dear Maria, congrats! … as you write…: feeling the “pull” of alcohol sometimes. Hmmm … I didn’t found that easy to handle sometimes. And dangerous I found it too, because I was afraid to give in. From my own perspective, I can say that forcing myself to think of the benefits of staying sober helped me in those situations. I had also used “soberness mantras” at that time and found them incredibly helpful (I’ve had a blog post about this here before – “When the excitement for sober life faded away”- was posted on 2022 Feb 11th).

      These moments of feeling the “pull” became rarer and rarer for me and the desire to drink was buried by so many beautiful and good experiences – sober experiences. In the meantime (after about three and a half years without Alc) this happens only extremely rarely. But NOT NEVER – and I have a lot of respect for that. All the best to you…, LG Tom

      By Tom
      |
      November 16, 2022
  • This is a great blog Tom – thank you. This absolutely resonates with me and the changes in now I feel about me since deciding to go alcohol for good free a little over 12 months ago.

    This 🙌 “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 often asked why I stopped drinking and my one line answer (which thankfully is no longer accompanied by me feeling the need to continue to explain myself) is, “I’m better without it.”

    By Allyson
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    November 12, 2022
  • Thanks for sharing I can really resonate with your story, I’m currently 65 days AF and slowly can feel the shame fading away and confidence in myself returning.

    By Kaz G
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    November 12, 2022
  • Hi Tom
    Thank you for sharing!
    I know I have a problem & am searching for the strength to start a journey to find myself again. Your story is inspirational.

    By Tereza
    |
    November 12, 2022
    • Dear Tereza … findig the strenth to start a journey …

      Yes – indeed, that has taken longer for me and I failed quite miserably a few times. Fortunately, with time this made me more and more angry with myself. But it also took me a while until I was ready. The most helpful thing for me really “to jump” was to read about other people’s experiences and their stories. Many of them are similar in a way and I was very happy and relieved that there are cool, tough, friendly and sympathetic people who had experienced something similar to what I had with my “alcohol construction site” at that time. So many lovely people – I thought … “damn, you can do it too”. All the best to you, LG Tom

      By Tom
      |
      November 16, 2022
  • Wow. I am at this point right now. Thankyou Tom. Your journey has rung so many bells with me. I am 2 weeks ” in” to my new life. Not all easy but can already see a different me emerging. Thanks for the story!!

    By Feathers
    |
    November 12, 2022
  • Alcohol is like a toxic friend. Limit it or cut it out if your life altogether.

    By Loz
    |
    November 12, 2022
  • Beautiful story Tom
    I completely relate to that feeling of shame and lack of self respect
    I can’t work out why I can’t moderate!
    Maybe I just can’t
    Thanks for your insights
    I envy how proud you feel of yourself
    All the best to you
    Ken

    By Ken
    |
    November 12, 2022
  • Awesome. I can see this playing out in myself – thanks for sharing

    By Yogi
    |
    November 12, 2022
  • Brilliant 👏👏 Beautifully written and I can relate. Alcohol wrecks your self esteem and isn’t it a wonderful feeling when it returns !

    By Fiona
    |
    November 12, 2022
  • I love this story, thanks Tom

    By Kate
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    November 12, 2022
  • Thanks you for sharing I can completely relate

    By Moe
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    November 12, 2022
  • Thanks for this encouraging and insightful piece Tom. There is so much of what you say that resonates with me. I decided to go alcohol free for a year and see what happened. Now, as I approach the first anniversary of my decision I know for sure there is no going back. The difference for me is all about confidence and self esteem, how I feel inside, about myself. And just as a bonus, my body is lighter and my mind is clearer. Best decision I ever made. All the best Tom.

    By Nola
    |
    November 12, 2022
  • Fantastic read, Tom. Thanks! Really enjoyed reading it and could relate to everything you said. Any possibility of another article explaining how you did it? Would be interested to know what approach you took, and to hear of any tips or tactics you could share. Meanwhile… all the best!

    By Antony Smith
    |
    November 12, 2022
    • Dear Antony,

      one of the strongest techniques for me were “soberness mantras” at that time and I found them incredibly helpful (I’ve had a blog post about this here before – “When the excitement for sober life faded away”- was posted on 2022 Feb 11th). All the best, Tom

      By Tom
      |
      November 16, 2022
  • Thank you for sharing. Especially the archaeology analogy and how you were able to find the old Tom. Congratulations! Inspired now to find the old me.

    By Claire
    |
    November 12, 2022
  • Well said Tom. You’ve described my life too.
    A beautiful in-site
    Thank you

    On Day 12 🙂
    Patricia

    By Patricia Ann
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • I am experiencing the EXACT same results without alcohol and I felt as you did when I was drinking!
    I am happy, confident, and full of joy now that alcohol is not a part of my life!

    By Sherry McAdams
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • Thank you,
    My self esteem is increasing too. Sober for 2 years and going strong! You said it all beautifully.

    By Tijana
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • Thank you for this, Tom. I’m in my 50’s as well, and stopped drinking for good two years ago. I can relate to many things you said, including “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.” So well put.

    By KD
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • Thank you Tom.
    Beautifully written and inspiring for me who wants to take the same path but fails…I will keep trying !
    Well done on your achievement.

    By Helen
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • Hi Tom. I really enjoyed reading your beautifully written story. Congratulations on winning your battle against alcohol! Your story is very inspiring and insightful. I have had glimpses in my own life of your positive experiences as I go through my own journey. I stopped drinking for nearly 4 months earlier this yet and felt so much more confident, healthier, relieved and, like you, started to rediscover my old self. The future started to look hopeful for the first time in many years. Unfortunately I fell for the trap of having just one drink when I felt upset or anxious, which of course started to increase in frequency and quantity. It is so insidious. Anyway, I’ve managed to get back on track recently and hope that I don’t get drawn back to it again. Thank you for sharing. Sally

    By Sally
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • Wow Tom so happy for you.

    By Jan
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • Hi fella ,
    You should be very proud of yourself and I’m sure
    Your family and friends feel the same take care .

    I’m still on my journey
    It’s Nine months for me I went cold turkey which I don’t advise to do this I was I’ll for nearly three weeks vomiting with just sips of water,
    Please remember if
    People wishing to stop drinking do not go cold Turkey get help from professionals.

    By Royston Lewis
    |
    November 13, 2022
  • Thanks Tom, loved the archaeologist description of finding yourself again!

    By Chris
    |
    November 14, 2022
  • A great article, thanks Tom!
    I love the imagery of exhuming your self esteem with a slow and patient archaeological dig 👌

    By Bekk
    |
    November 14, 2022
  • Thanks Tom. After Many counselling sessions and delving into my past- it was nothing to do with my family. It was loving, no abuse, etc etc Just the Alcohol. Yep alcoholic stripped me of so much. Back now wonderful life thanks

    By Jenny Merrick
    |
    November 15, 2022
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