Anxiety about dealing with life sober is one of the most common things people mention as an impediment to abstinence. This implies a belief that drinking helps us cope with stress, anxiety, depression, etc. If you think about it, drinking postpones that coping. Yes, your brain feels some relief while the alcohol is there, but your emotions are more raw and volatile when your body is going through the ups and downs of drinking behavior.
But you have the tools to deal with stress and anxiety. In fact, the way you dealt with drinking is a way of dealing with emotional stress factors. Planning, working on things a little at a time, remembering to congratulate yourself on your accomplishments—no matter how small—can all apply to dealing with upsets.
I like to think about it the way I garden. I have a huge garden area around the house, which always has far more in the way of tasks than I can accomplish at once. So, I can stand around and fret about how long it’ll take me to get all the weeds pulled, or I can just start pulling them. Thirty minutes a day of fretting won’t get anything done. Thirty minutes a day of weeding will gradually make the garden more beautiful. Reminding myself that there is beauty even amongst the weeds will keep my attitude more positive.
Just as with drinking, there are beliefs which form the basis of the things you are anxious about. We can’t control everything around us, but we can control the way we react to events and people. The simplest first step is to recognize when we are making emotional demands (they “shouldn’t” do that), or are “awfulizing” situations (things “always” go wrong, that person “never” treats me right). Just rephrasing our belief more accurately and without the use of absolute terms can reduce the volatility of our emotions.
Another step is to deal with repeated emotional upset as if it were an addiction. Look at when you are dwelling on some upset, how often, what you’re doing when you are thinking about something. This may be hard to do, but try to acknowledge the benefit you feel you are getting from allowing it to fester. Sometimes we have selfish reasons for continuing to be angry or upset about something. Or see if there’s a pattern to when and where the upsets happen or come to mind. Planning and practicing for those initial upsets can keep the mood from spiraling into something more profound—just as with drinking.
“See the spark before the flame” is an expression which is useful. It’s easier to face discouragement early than after the mood has deepened. We can divert ourselves, we can state motivating sayings (out loud: “don’t think poisonous thoughts” is one of my favorites).
We can get up and go do something which distracts us or which gives us pleasure. Being physically active is sometimes new after years of couch-potato drinking, but moderate exercise does directly elevate our mood.
There are plateaus in sobriety. When you reach one, it’s no reason to be discouraged. Where were you 6 months ago? Where do you want to be 6 months from now? Sometimes taking the longer view is helpful.