Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Filling the Post-Alcohol Void

For many of us, alcohol was at the center of our lives.  When we remove it, there's a huge, sucking void where it used to be.  Even for those of us who still had family or work at the center, alcohol was important and the hole will cry out for something to fill it.

I believe this is how some people get mired in endless "recovery."  The meetings and reading and home exercises -- and, in AA, the additional practices of working Steps and carrying the message -- take time, and these new practices can work their way into the hole which was once filled by alcohol.

When we extinguish the addiction, though, we have nothing to fill the hole.  The addiction is gone, but it wasn't replaced with so-called recovery work.  So now what?

Exercise is the obvious choice.  It releases endorphins, improves our health, and makes most of us happier about ourselves.  Unfortunately, it doesn't take up that much time.  By all means start exercising, but think about how else you want to fill that time.

Going on a self-improvement binge may not be wise.  Research shows that we only have a certain amount of willpower, and we're using some of it to form that new exercise habit.  Some research contradicts this, suggesting that it's really our own belief in limited willpower which causes the willpower exhaustion effect, but since most of us do hold that belief we may as well treat it as true for our purposes right now.

If you have a family and you were previously neglecting them, family can fill that void beautifully.  If you were neglecting your job and you have a career-style job, work can also be a good core for life.

If you have neither a family nor an interesting job, or if you were handling both of those things despite your addiction, you've got a void where the addiction used to be.

How are you filling that void?  If the answer is "eating junk food" or "watching TV" or "screwing around on Facebook," you might want to think about that.  Whatever you put into that void early on is likely to get firmly ensconced there.

So, no self-improvement binges and no useless screwing around?  Where am I going with this exactly?

It depends on the individual, really.  Maybe we can start by bettering the things which are our first instincts.  The man who munches junk food to fill time might learn better cooking skills and even take a class.  The woman staring at daytime television might record and watch better shows with active fandoms.  The kid who spends all day on Facebook might find a less inane forum and converse on subjects of real interest.

Most of us want our time to be filled with things we regard as admirable.  In the early days, though, I think the most important thing is not to fill it with garbage.


  1. If you find yourself with time you don't know what to do with, ask yourself "what do I actually want?" Unless it's illegal or self-destructive, then it's probably something that'll take time and work to achieve. For most of our lives, we keep telling ourselves that we don't have time for X, or will never make anything of Y. Now that you don't spend as much time drinking, you DO have time for X, and no excuse to not do it.

    You know who you are with alcohol. Take the time to get to know yourself without alcohol. You may like that person more than you thought you would.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I think you're right. If doing something is an additional chore, it's a burden which shouldn't be added right after extinguishing an addiction. If it's something we've always wanted to do, though, then that's different.