3. Get ready to lose old friends but gain new ones.
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
December 31st. Probably the most reflective day of the year.
This is the day that most people either look back on the previous year and are happy with all the things they accomplished or wonder what they should’ve done differently to create a better outcome.
Since this is usually pretty close to my ACversary (alcohol-conscious anniversary) of November 10th, 2018, it makes me think about how far I’ve come since this decision and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
If the Ken Makimsy Middleton of four years ago looked at me today, I can’t help to think that he would be really proud.
When I made that decision so long ago, I had no idea that it would stick for as long as it has, but, man, has it made all the difference in the world.
As I reflect on the last year, as well as the last four years, and the feeling they have flown by in a breeze, there are four surprising motivations that I would go back to tell my younger self to give reassurance and excitement for the future.
1. You made the right decision at the right time
I think about this all the time when I ponder what my life would be if I had quit earlier.
I walk through all the things I experienced up to my 38th birthday and how many of them would’ve never taken place without alcohol and land on the thought that it just would’ve been too hard to predict what was needed versus what wasn’t to get me to where I am today.
There’s a chance that if some of those things hadn’t happened the way they did, I would’ve tried to give up alcohol but relapsed for whatever reason.
While I wish some things may have played out differently in regard to my lack of success with my entrepreneurial endeavor, it was that very failure that created the impetus for me to finally make the decision that alcohol was no longer serving me.
Had things not played out exactly the same way, there is no way to ensure that it would’ve stuck as well as it did. Therefore, I have no regrets about not quitting earlier because the manner in which it happened seemed perfect for the growth I was able to experience from doing so.
2. It won’t be anywhere near as hard as you think
When my life involved drinking every other day and partying every weekend, I could in no way see my life without alcohol as an important part of it.
I had given up drinking a few times prior but never with the thought process of doing it long-term. There were two prior three-month stints in which I decided to prove I could do it.
I knew I would go right back to drinking once a certain time was up because I enjoyed it too much, and life was just too much fun. The thought of not drinking EVER again was terrifying to me, as what would I even do for fun now if drinking wasn’t an option?
Fast forward four years to today, and I cannot believe how much easier it was than I ever realized. Through a combination of substitutes, hobbies, and routines, I could not only abstain from drinking but also upgrade my life in many ways I would’ve never expected.
I would tell my former self not to fear at all but to know that the road ahead is going to be amazing once we get on it.
3. Get ready to lose some old friends but gain some new ones
This was one of the sad realizations I experienced shortly after beginning my AC journey.
It wasn’t that my friends didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. We still got together for lunch, and I even went out to a few bars and nightclubs a few times.
I could still enjoy myself and overall had a pretty good time even though I wasn’t drinking.
The problem was that the further I got away from my AC date, the more I realized that many of the things I used to do in the past didn’t interest me anymore.
Sitting in a bar or nightclub at 10 pm or 11 pm for 3–4 hours seemed okay when I was drinking, but now that I was alcohol-consciousness, it just struck me as a colossal waste of time which I didn’t want to do anymore.
As time progressed, I found myself less open to invitations such as this, and the fewer I accepted, the fewer I got.
Eventually, as time progressed, I lost contact with some of these old friends but also began to pick up a few new acquaintances who seemed to have more in common with the “new Ken” than before — a tradeoff that I would say has definitely been a net positive.
4. It only gets better with time
This is one of the realities that doesn’t seem quite as likely when people first stop drinking. The improvement that individuals experience initially happens quickly, and people are almost overwhelmed with how it appears so many areas of their life get better.
Sleep improves. Mental cognition increases dramatically. Even sex becomes more intense and enjoyable once you get over the awkwardness of getting it started without alcohol.
What inevitably happens, however, is that after about 6–12 months, the honeymoon period appears to be over, and everything begins to even out a bit. Like anything in life, once you get used to it and the novelty wears off, it won’t seem as exciting anymore. This can eventually turn into a sense of “meh.”
This feeling sometimes causes some individuals to relapse after a year because they feel they’ve gotten to a good place in life with their drinking and can control it.
Since their lives seem to have leveled out and things aren’t as exciting as they were in the past, they then feel that perhaps they should go back to drinking to add excitement and novelty to their lives.
What most people don’t get, however, and what you need to be aware of is that your emotional and mental growth are still taking place. It’s just that, with time, it begins to develop at a slower pace.
However, you are still growing tremendously regarding the recovery and building of neurotic synapses (ability to remember, think, and process information) and your emotional and physiological response to outside stimuli (ability to handle stress and anxiety).
Alcohol hinders these two things dramatically, and the further you get away from your ACversary, the better these two things become.
Using myself, as an example, I still had a bit of anxiety in certain situations almost two years after I stopped drinking. Now, four years later, my body is more used to handling these situations without any outside stimulant or aid. It has adapted to the point that I can’t remember the last time I was overly anxious in situations that would have my anxiety meters screaming in the past.
And while I can’t say that a bit of anxiety or nervousness won’t still rear its ugly head in new situations in which I’ve never been before, I feel confident if I stay the course, four years from now, I’m going to look back on the new me of today and be amazed at how far I’ve come and continue to grow.