The Next Round: What happens after you change your drinking?

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Life in High Definition: How going sober lets you feel your emotions

The first of many surprises that people often report after going sober is a new intensity of everyday experiences – life in high definition. Whether it’s happiness, tiredness, sadness or boredom, emotions that are no longer masked by alcohol become pure and unadulterated. Instead of creeping up on you, they knock you for six until you are stunned that life could be so – well, life-like.

Living life in High Definition (or HD) is a result of retraining your brain to deal with emotions without the aid of an ethanol-related lubricant. Admittedly this is no easy feat – we are accustomed to using alcohol to deal with every emotion and occasion that occurs. Christmas? Have a drink. New job? Have a drink. The end of a relationship? Birthday? Passed an exam? Failed an exam? The list of “reasons I could justify a glass of something” that we give ourselves is pretty much infinite. So, when you cut down, give up drinking or are preventing a lapse, a significant step in the “letting go” process is uncoupling alcohol with your emotions.

The “glass half full” days

We drink both because we are happy and to make ourselves happier. If we are excited, thrilled or confident, we drink to reinforce and sustain these feelings. Studies that have attempted to quantify alcohol and happiness show that, while drinking can make you feel happier in the moment, long-term life satisfaction remains the same, and in some cases even decreases. Ben Baumberg Geiger from The Conversation encourages you to work out the real meaning of the “pleasure” you feel when drinking, which might not even be pleasure at all. Alcohol-induced happiness is fleeting. Feeling the real thing – your entire life in high definition – counts for a much more varied and authentic experience.  

The “glass half empty” days

According to Drugs and Alcohol Information Support, the most popular reason for higher than average alcohol consumption is for coping purposes or emotional escape. It is not uncommon to be reluctant to face up to unhappiness or fear, make decisions about them, or even think about them. Alcohol is often used as a tool to numb negative or undesirable emotions, so when you quit, all the bad feelings become completely undiluted. It is being unable to mask these emotions that often causes drinkers to return to alcohol as a safety net. In The Sober Man’s Guide to Living Experimentally, Niall Doherty explains how alcohol hindered him from developing real confidence, until he was driven to find it within himself rather than in the bottom of a pint glass.

The “fill my glass with something special” days

Not drinking for birthdays, Christmases and New Year celebrations can make occasions seem like a huge anti-climax. We’re so used to toasting a life event with a glass of bubbly that skipping this ritual can make the whole celebration feel a bit lacking. Part of uncoupling alcohol with your emotions means reworking these habits and creating new ones. Fix journalist Julie Elsdon-Height attests that being sober will not make an occasion worse, and that realising this is enough to alleviate anxiety. More important than pursuing an extensive cocktail bar is knowing that your friends will enjoy your company, with or without alcohol.  

The life in high definition solutions

  1. Katie Drummond, journalist for Prevention says that the best way of avoiding the “unhappy side of happy hour” is to plan, plan and plan ahead. Recognise the temptation to overindulge, and arrive at whatever social occasion or conversation you were dreading with a ready-formed game plan. Check out some of our best ideas.
  2. Club Soda says that a good way of uncoupling alcohol from your emotions is finding other ways of making non-drinkers happy, particularly at social occasions. Having or providing a selection of nice non-alcoholic drinks without judgment is a great way of making your non-drinking guests feel special at parties.
  3. Annie Grace of This Naked Mind agrees that drinking to “calm your nerves” just causes emotional negativity to go from bad to worse. In her eyes, the most thorough road to contentment is by removing or fixing the specific thing that is causing you stress. Take a bit of time to think about where the real problem lies, and how you might be able to achieve relaxation without the booze.
  4. Find a new non-alcoholic drink of choice – something you can sip at that makes you feel happy you’re not drinking, rather than resentful of being the odd one out. Whip yourself up a stylish mocktail using our fancy recipes, or try something new, perhaps some alcohol-free drinks options. If you’re out, ask the bar staff for suggestions, or even for a cocktail without the alcohol. Don’t hold back!
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