I was going to post on something that I mentioned to Lilly the other day–how we have to remember that we’re addicted not just to booze, but to the “idea” of what booze gives us, does for us, makes us; and how we have to grieve the person we “lost”–but instead, I’d just like to keep it simple: PAWS sucks.
According to the “illustrious” Wikipedia, the symptoms of PAWS–post-acute-withdrawal syndrome–include mood swings resembling an affective disorder, anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure from anything beyond use of the drug), insomnia, extreme drug craving and obsession, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide and general cognitive impairment. These can last from a year to several decades, or indefinitely. YIKES.
I highlighted the ones that have affected me the most, and I think we can all agree: once we stop drinking, it doesn’t necessarily do jack shit for us. In fact, for me it meant seeing myself succumb to a lack of motivation that I blamed on my inherent nature, when really, it was just me coming off booze. That goes for my ongoing mood swings and depression, too.
I felt frustrated A LOT. Up until about a few months ago, actually. I mean, we stop drinking, and we’re supposed to feel great and happy and lovely, right? And yet…we feel WORSE sometimes (most of the time). We not only feel the depression or anxiety that we’ve been self-medicating away, but PAWS brings its own special form of hell. And, until we have medications to help us out with PAWS symptoms, we simply have to go through it in order to be able to look back and say, Ahh, so that’s what they were talking about. FUCK.
My main symptom has been lack of motivation. A feeling of “meh,” or “blah,” or “why bother?” surrounding basically everything–eating, reading, watching movies; working, hiking; going to bars and picnics and barbeques. It wasn’t that I didn’t have fun doing these things, or that they were so bad to do sober; it’s just that I totally noticed how much I MISSED wine and how most things just didn’t offer much reward for doing them without it. Wine was a serious motivating factor; it was also my main reward.
In learning more about how our reward circuitry gets fucked up when we come to depend on booze, it’s not hard to see how nothing but wine would motivate me. Our brains become sensitized to alcohol. What does this mean? It means that, other rewards–incentives, like eating good food or having an orgasm; or higher-level rewards, like a future job done well, or a big professional goal accomplished–other rewards lose meaning. They hold no weight, in fact. It’s like, the ONLY thing that’s going to do it for me, and by that I mean, instill in my brain a DESIRE to do something, is wine. Forget that it may or may not give me pleasure. What’s happened is that your dopamine circuits (among others that make wine the “high” that it is) have become attuned to this one stimulus–your only motivating factor becomes wine. Otherwise, there literally is no reason, in your mind, to do it.
Now, I’ve blogged about this before, but I’ve seen a lot of people on here lately complaining that they’re feeling depressed, or unmotivated, that they’re just going through the motions and really, wasn’t quitting drinking supposed to have the opposite effect? And, all I can say is, it takes time. YOU HAVE TO GIVE IT TIME. You have to live through the “blah” period. For me, that lasted for a good 1.5 years. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. My innate motivation–you know, how I used to “get pumped” to work out, to job search, to plan a trip to Greece…because these things are inherently worthy of doing–took some time to return.
I journaled a lot. I felt sorry for myself a lot. But, I also just went through the motions, and there’s a LOT to be said for just doing what needs to be done. I made a lot of to-do lists, and then, finally stopped berating myself for not getting to much of what was on my list. I just didn’t drink. Sometimes I’d go to bed early; a lot of times I did only what needed to be done in terms of work (I didn’t make very much money last year–haha); I bitched to my boyfriend; I took long walks with my dogs (they are my “higher power,” I swear); I ate a lot of sweets; I drank a shit-ton of Diet Coke. There were treats in the form of trips and hikes and lazy days on the beach–which were sometimes (often) clouded by me feeling bad or guilty about taking time off to heal, or not being capable of enjoying the moment. It just takes time, and constant effort. But, mostly, it just takes doing it, and going through the motions. Believe me, you will NOT be going through the motions forever, even though you’re convinced that things will never feel good again and you might as well drink because there is NO WAY you’re not drinking and putting up with this shit forever.
It’s like a really bad breakup: one day, you’ll just move on. One day, you’ll wake up and the gut-ache will have dissipated, poof, gone. One day, you’ll be like, Oh, well, he was a fucking asshole anyway. One day, you’ll say, Huh, I think I’m gonna wear some lipstick today, and maybe even some short shorts. HA.
Your motivation–spark, enthusiasm, desire to do, and to go, and to achieve–will come back. But it’s going to take time, healing time. It wasn’t until I gave myself a SOLID 7, 8, 9 months (and this was AFTER a solid 2, and then, 6 months first-tries at getting sober) that I started to see my thinking change. To feel butterflies again. YES, I’d actually feel butterflies once in a while (when was the last time I felt butterflies, in the ’90s?) thinking about the trip I was going to take, the book I was going to write, the new job I was going to apply for and work.
I’m still just starting to come back, but I am coming back. I have found myself having more random man-on-street conversations, being open to socializing; applying for jobs and not feeling like I can’t do them (that was scary, having so little self-confidence when it came to work, which was always “my thing”); in general, feeling at ease in my own skin again. Thinking back, I wonder, why did I make it so hard? Why was I just so…weird all the time? Not “myself?” Literally beside myself? Because getting sober–and PAWS–sucks, that’s why. But, it’s not going to suck all the time, and it’s definitely not going to suck forever. And, you will get through this. You have to. If you keep not drinking!
Consider this: what IF you healed your mind, and you could drink again? What IF you healed your mind and you simply did not WANT to drink again? These are very real possibilities. And, you can even use them as motivation to not drink–IT’S OK. Don’t let other people’s personal experiences in getting sober bog you down: your path is your own, and what you CHOOSE to do after a period of abstinence WHICH ALLOWS YOU TO FULLY HEAL, MENTALLY AND EMOTIONALLY, is up to you. But first you have to heal. And you have to see how this might work, the longer you go without your “go-to” (wine, in my case).
I’ve got a story/essay to outline, and job to apply to, and then, “me” time! And that always involves trees, sun, water, and exercise! Happy Sunday, all. (And, I’m inching toward 300 days come next Sunday–woo hoo, I guess.)