Into every life a little PAWS will fall

5 Jan

12:29 pm

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.)

18 Responses to “Into every life a little PAWS will fall”

  1. mishedup January 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Thank you for this.
    Such important information for all people quitting drinking.
    The validation that you are not insane, that it does get better, that there is a reason we feel like shit for a while and that if we just stick it out there actually is another side where every once in a while a unicorn will poop a rainbow. Really! It gets so much better, but it’s the not quitting in those hard times that is, well, HARD. That’s when support is essential, and I have seen huge lightbulbs come on and pushing through happen when people learned about PAWS.
    Thanks of keeping this info out there….and there is so much info on the internet, for all of you who think you may be experiencing this.
    Thank you!

  2. jenisthesoberist January 5, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    I am so happy for you to be getting to this place- it looks lovely there, and I hope to join you in the future. 🙂 Seriously….getting to a good place sober is hard work! thank you for sharing your experience with PAWS. I definitely feel the effects sometimes and have to take a step back and remember to be patient. This time is a drop in a bucket in terms of overall lifespan, but can feel like forever sometimes. Have a great day, DDG! xx

  3. atg January 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    in short you rock. i can’t tell you how much i appreciate your posts. hanging in there at almost 5 months. the holidays were tough – but made with the help of all you bloggers. thank god for you.

  4. Asarochester January 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    Thanks for this. I’m 8 days after an stint that landed me in the hospital. I actually feel pretty good right now but I know this won’t last. Thank GodI have next week off. I’m taking it VERY easy. Just rest and movies and yes, lots of Diet Coke. I know I need to make other changes like moving back to where I have more of a support network (I moved for a job after I had 4 months sober last time and, well, that didn’t work out lol). I haven’t lost the job but I’m pretty sure I’ll need to quit. But I’m not worrying about that this time, just taking it very easy and being nice to myself as much as I can right now. Anyway, love your blog. Keep it up as I will continue to follow!

  5. themiracleisaroundthecorner January 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    Great information, great message, and GREAT job on 300 days! This is just the shot in the arm that we all need in January, thanks so much for sharing it!

  6. Mrs D January 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    Yeah this is great…you’re so right that time is what’s needed. Scream, moan, blog, cry, angst, worry, do whatever you need to do to get through the early months EXCEPT drink alcohol and you can be guaranteed that things start to smooth out. It always does. Great post xxx

  7. sobermagpie January 5, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    Thanks you so much. I needed to hear this. I find the depression and blahs ver difficult to put up with as I have a large family and there is always an expectation that I will be in charge, happy and giving to others. I need room to scream and moan too!!! Namaste.

  8. moon January 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    thank you, thank you. i feel like a fraud sometimes. i’m 65 days into my 100 day challenge- and in the back of my mind i think about how and when i will drink when the challenge is over. but theres this sliver of thought in me that explores just not drinking again, ever. i can’t deny my alcoholic ways.
    anyway, you’re posts help me a lot, and i’m so grateful you write them.

  9. Maggie Shores January 5, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    This is great info, I sure can relate to so much, especially fhe blahs. It is good to know that it is not all in our heads and that there is a reason for the crazy! LOL. But it does get better and you do entually get out of the blahs too. Thank you and congrats on 300 days!

  10. Lilly January 5, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    It sounds like you are in a GREAT place sober now. I mean, I know it’s not perfect but it sounds sooo good from over here. I am proud of you, pleased for you, and a little bit envious too. You’re so right about the time – I wish I’d just hung in there. Oh well, more time up ahead.

    Sometimes when I’ve read about PAWS stuff it’s really gotten me down – like, WTF, what’s the freaking point then if I’m just going to feel like shit in recovery too? Buuutttt then I think about how I felt a lot of that bad shit while drinking – anxiety, depression, brain fog, lethargy etc. For me, anyway, a lot of PAWS symptoms are what I lived with daily as a heavy drinker. And at least without drinking there are other upsides you do experience early on or at least I did (like feeling happier, weight loss, clearer head, better sleep, better skin etc etc).

    Time time patience and time. *Sigh*

    300 days? Glitteramazeballs!

  11. bornsirius January 6, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    Oh so true! I loved this post, thank you! I relate to the PAWS part so much. Been sober for 20 months today, and the majority of my sobriety has been “standing beside myself”. I noticed a shift right around 18 months, myself. I started feeling more at ease with other people and with myself. It’s still weird some days, but I have had a definite shift and feel more comfortable in my skin. It’s a really nice feeling. 🙂 The confidence is great! So yes. Hang in there. My sobriety was really tough for the first while. But even then it beat the clinging darkness I felt while drinking. So worth it to be where I am now.

  12. furtheron January 7, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    The BLAH times come and go – my first year was not a BLAH time is was “Hang-on-for-my-life” time… then came the BLAH times. It’s been back recently – I’ve had to ride it out and look for stimulation somewhere else – which I’m beginning to find again now I think

  13. primrosep January 8, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    this was a extremely helpful post, thank you! I am determined to see this sobriety thing through and it is so useful to have this perspective. I had a definite run of not finding pleasure in anything at 40 – 45 days – grand old lady of 65 days now ;).

    I just had to stick with it and just trust that something would start to shift eventually, and it did. Oh, and your remark about the short shorts really made me laugh!

  14. everythingwillbloom January 10, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I just commented on your post from June, saying how much it helped me. But reading this post has helped me significantly more. I’m so glad to see you’re in a better place, even if it took up to 300 days. That seems like forever to me as I’m only about 65+ days in and severely suffering from the ‘blah’s’ and constantly feel like I’m missing out. But this gives me hope, real hope, not the same ‘hope’ mantra’s I hear over and over again in meetings, but a real life example of exactly what I can look forward to. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. I just need to push through it, and I needed to hear it from someone other than my sponsor. Thank you ❤

  15. iamsobernow January 12, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    Well, thank you for this. 37 days here and the blahs have eaten my lunch for the last two days. Now I know why. Drinking is not an option but I thought I’d feel better faster and more consistently. Feeling like shit sober is a hell of a lot better than feeling like shit hungover and starting over.

    • Drunky Drunk Girl January 13, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

      YES it is! I’d take feeling like crap any day over feeling like crap AND being hung over! And, you’ve got great perspective: no matter how bad we feel sober, or trying to get sober, it’s a passing thing. It’s annoying, and frustrating, but it’ll never be as horrible as how we felt during our drinking days, or how we felt hung over. Congrats on 1 month-plus! Every day counts… xx

  16. Carly January 4, 2016 at 11:06 pm #

    I love this post. I relate 100%, like you were writing about me. Very motivating, Looking forward to reading more of your blogs for inspiration, thank you!

  17. storminanewcup August 4, 2017 at 9:02 am #

    I really needed to read this today, thank you! I thought I had read your whole blog, but I found this post by googling PAWS (no guesses as to my current state of mind) and it has been oddly (I can’t say the thought of another year or more of grind is making me feel skippy, exactly!) comforting. xx

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