On Feeling Grief in Sobriety
One of the things I often see in coaching sessions is the shock people feel when a few weeks into their new sobriety, they become overwhelmed with really big feelings.
I frequently hear: “Andrea, I just can’t stop crying!” and “I’m either super happy, or really sad – sometimes in the same day!” This radical swing from one emotion to the next is one of the biggest reasons people find it hard to stick to their goals in sobriety. The ambivalence creates dysregulation in the body. And usually these big feelings are the same ones we are running from in the first place.
When we become accustomed to using alcohol to numb our feelings – we numb out the good AND the bad. We walk around in a constant daze - unwilling to feel painful emotions and unable to access joy in life’s little blessings. This is a hard place to live, as most of us know. But if alcohol is helping you cope when uncomfortable emotions arise, the easiest and quickest thing to do when times get tough is reach for that bottle to get the job done.
In early sobriety I went for a lot of walks. I did this sometimes to get fresh air and a little exercise, but mostly I ventured out to separate myself from social gatherings where alcohol was flowing and the discomfort of feeling “othered” got the best of me. I absolutely hated being around heavily drinking and/or drunk people (still do). But back then, I was in survival mode, just trying to stay the course. I didn’t have the tools I have now to set boundaries for myself and avoid these social situations. (I also had a partner at that time who drank, which made socializing - and avoiding it - even more tricky. I know a lot of you can relate.)
So, I’d walk. I’d plug my Airpods into my ears and listen to Pema Chodron’s wisdom, or one of Sarah Blondin’s graceful meditations. Or sometimes I’d listen to my sobriety playlist which had a lot of hopeful and uplifting songs, in addition to a little Metallica (because rage.) And other times I’d leave my phone at home and stay present with the natural world and what was happening around me.
And I would cry. I’d cry a lot.
One night on one of those walks, I realized I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of the life and a way of being I’d known for so long. I was grieving the feeling of being part of the crowd, comfortable with everyone else and not feeling “different.” I grieved the part of me that was now changing and evolving into something brand new. Even though I was certain about my sobriety, I still felt the hot sting of loneliness. And the worst part? I’d chosen this! The bittersweet experience of transformation was all my own doing. I could undo it at any time. But at what price? How could I ever go back to living in a way that was completely out of alignment? I knew drinking was no longer an option for me, and I couldn’t unknow it.
I was traveling the road less-taken. So, of course it was going to feel weird and strange and hard. I didn’t know how to be this new version of myself. I had to learn her. Eventually I was able to see the grief as a tool. It’s like using your rearview mirror. You need it to see what’s behind you, and to help you get to where you’re going.
On these walks, I allowed the tears to flow. I would lift my chin to feel the daytime sun shining on my face. And at night, I’d stop to watch the blinking glow of fireflies in the fields behind my house. I started to regain a connection with myself that I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I still felt the loneliness and discomfort, but I also felt possibility. And when I was drinking, I felt no possibility. No connection. And no willingness to become.
So my dear one, if you are feeling this grief, I invite you to let it flow through you. Let the tears fall. Embrace what’s changing so you can live into this new version of yourself. The path you are walking is the path of a warrior. It’s supposed to be hard and confusing and deeply individual. Honor the process of letting go of the familiar and easy. Something beautiful is growing in its place.
So much love,
Listen, I know that sobriety is no joke! Heck, even saying the word out loud can feel hard sometimes. That's exactly why I created this coaching business: to support you on your journey through exploring & designing a sober life that sets you free.
If (and when) you're ready to get curious and take action towards creating your dream sober life, get in touch! I'm always one click away, and your ultimate dream life awaits. That I can say for certain ;)