Staring Down the Void: What to Do With Yourself After Quitting the Bottle

Living in sobriety is more than subtracting “getting drunk” from your daily schedule. You are beginning to rebuild your life, overhauling it even, so it’s time to start looking at how to revamp your old routines. Following the same life patterns sans alcohol will not guarantee a fulfilling sober life. You may be able to muscle through it, but you’ll constantly feel the void left by alcohol.

The solution to the issue of the void and the constant desire to fill that void with booze is to create a life in which alcohol is no longer a part of the scenery or a member of the cast. This is easier than you may think.

We are more open to change than we give ourselves credit for. As addicts, we’ve demonstrated that we can form a habit out of anything we try twice and like. The idea is to start trying more sobriety-friendly activities and routines, liking them, and doing them.

Consider the drinking habit of one young woman. Her normal routine was to come home from work with a bottle of wine, make dinner, watch a movie, consume the wine, then stagger into bed. Though she had aspirations of taking care of some extra work, exercising, catching up on reading, or organizing her apartment, by the time she’s had a few glasses of wine, the motivation was gone. Though unproductive, it was a comfortable nightly routine.

The morning came, and as she looked at the dirty dinner dishes still in the sink, she wondered why she hadn’t accomplished the things she had planned to do. She felt remorse about the amount of time she’d wasted just sitting, eating, and drinking. She vowed not to make the same mistake that evening.

But as the stresses of the day piled up, the prospect of forgoing the nightly bottle seemed less and less appealing. The cycle repeated.

When she finally gave up drinking, she looked at the long nights stretching out in front of her. What was there to do with all this time alone? Alcohol had become a sort of companion, a friend, and a social engagement. The prospect of a sober night alone seemed quite dull, even scary. And what would giving up the booze do to her social life? What would happen to Friday night happy hours at the local bar and Saturday nights out on the town?

There had to be a better way. Rather than trying to live the old life, minus alcohol, an overhaul was in order. She started by restructuring her nights, starting with an exercise session immediately after work. This helped to relieve the stresses of the day and allowed her to head home feeling good about herself, peaceful, and excited about making healthier choices.

Once home, she put together a dinner that was healthy and cooked perfectly. As she loved cooking, she savored this activity and enjoyed her time doing it. She made a list of some of the things she wanted to get done, such as reorganizing the closets and getting rid of clutter, but she also listed the things she’d wanted to do but never got around to because of the time and money eaten up by drinking. Learning French, getting through a few classic novels, and taking up painting topped the list.

Instead of wasting the evening getting drunk or lamenting the long, lonely night without alcohol, she reformatted this part of her schedule; making time for things that she found enjoyable and fulfilling that didn’t involve alcohol. In time, productive and enjoyable weeknights at home seemed the most desirable and normal course of events.

Weekends proved a challenge. Friday was happy hour with the work crowd and Saturday night was another drink-a-thon with friends. She could go to the bar with her drinking friends and just have a soda as many recovered alcoholics do, but it often feels like something is missing.

As alcoholics now in sobriety, it is not our job to bring others over to our way of life. Some may see the changes we have made and may recognize their need for help, but it isn’t our task to try to change the plans and priorities of others to suit our sober life.

But there are a couple of options. One, you may suggest new activities to your drinking buddies and see if they spark some interest. Many people continue to socialize around drinking because it doesn’t require a lot of planning or initiative. They aren’t necessarily so committed to the drinking as they are to the idea of easy social engagements. You may have to do a significant amount of the legwork on these, but you could try suggesting cultural events, night hikes, or even community service projects.

Though you may be able to get some of your friends interested in sober events, sadly, it is inevitable that when we get into sobriety we lose some of our connection to the old crowd. We hate to see this happen, but it’s a reality of getting sober. Some people may not feel they connect to the “new you” as well as they did to the “old you.” Others may not be interested in pursuing activities that take them outside of the bar. In the end, however, without taking the position of moral superiority, and without nursing a grudge, you must do what is best for you right now. Sometimes that means finding new friends.

Building a fulfilling sober life means rewriting the script. Here are tips for constructing a new routine:

  • Think about the days and times during which you used to drink. What new, sober activities can fill those spots? Talk to other alcoholics in recovery to get ideas.
  • What have you wanted to do, learn, or accomplish that you avoided or procrastinated about because of your drinking? Make a list and start doing.
  • Build healthy, sobriety-affirming activities into your schedule to replace the time you spent drinking. A new sport or skill? Yoga or other exercise? Creative projects like writing, painting or pottery?
  • See if your friends are willing to try some out-of-the-bar activities. Think art exhibits, lectures, outdoor activities, movies, comedy shows or concerts.
  • Seek new groups of friends based on alcohol-free activities and common interests such as sports, books, hobbies, creative endeavors and culture.

You were created for more than a life of drinking and hangovers. Now is the time to find out who you are and what’s really important to you. Love your sober life and all that you are becoming as you live clean and free of alcohol.

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