The first time I heard about Sober October was during an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience — a podcast that everyone and their mother seems to have listened to. Typically, Rogan’s show features interviews with an eclectic range of special guests. However, this particular episode found Rogan and three of his comedian buddies in the midst of planning a month of sobriety.
Soon enough, the episode devolves into the four men ribbing one another over their respective addictions — but the concept of a “Sober October” stuck with me long after listening.
Setting the Bar
Like most things in life, drugs work best in moderation. And, although abstaining from your favorite substances makes for a grueling test of willpower, it’s also probably good for you on a physiological level. Voluntarily depriving yourself of drugs you use regularly (and those you don’t) forces your brain to break its dependencies, push through withdrawals, and reach homeostasis once more. In that manner, you might consider sobriety a “brain reboot” of sorts.
I, for one, was definitely due for a reboot. Throughout September, I probably consumed a total of 15 energy drinks, each containing about 160mg of caffeine. Paired with my daily nicotine consumption — which was generally consistent at 2-4mg a day — I had noticed an increase in stress and aggression. My best days were productive yet manic, each ending with a slow descent into a semi-listless state where I was simultaneously restless and unable to relax.
Simply put, I needed a break — and Sober October seemed like the perfect excuse.
Ever since their inaugural challenge, Joe and his buddies have annualized Sober October, adding tweaks and additional rules each year to keep things fresh. For my own challenge, I figured I’d keep things simple and just abstain from all psychoactive substances for all 31 days. This meant that I could pop ibuprofen if I had a headache, but I wouldn’t be able to take something like kratom, which has mood-boosting properties.
Withdrawals & Misery: The First Five Days
As expected, the first five days of sobriety weren’t particularly pleasant. Because I had developed a daily dependence on two stimulants, nicotine and caffeine, my energy and focus took an immediate nosedive. I had to drag myself through each workday, and I was about as motivated as a legless rodent on a hamster wheel.
By the end of day two, I felt (expectedly) like a goddamn zombie. After one too many lifeless conversations, even my girlfriend knew something was up. There’s no better word than “apathy” to describe this initial withdrawal stage, and if I hadn’t known what was going on, I might’ve felt like I was due for another lap on the depression train.
Thankfully, by day three, the heavy mists of misery began to clear. My patience was still short, and I wasn’t exactly “burning bright” with passion, but I could tell that my body was getting things back in order. Mentally, I still felt a bit “spacey,” which was likely due to decreased levels of acetylcholine — a focus-boosting neurotransmitter that’s released in abundance when one consumes nicotine.
Renewal & Realization: Days 5-15
Past the first week, I settled into a somewhat comfortable rhythm with my sobriety. As the withdrawal effects faded, I started to feel more like myself — the version I remembered from when I was younger and didn’t regularly use substances.
I felt calmer, less neurotic, less irritable. It might sound like I ripped this straight from a guide book on meditation and mindfulness, but I felt a strange sense of tranquility and solidarity with the universe. I would still feel anxious or “on-edge” if that response was warranted (work deadlines, for example), but my default state was surprisingly calm.
Of course, my placid demeanour wasn’t quite as applicable within my work life. If I felt unusually fatigued or disinterested in the task at hand, I didn’t have a remedy on-hand in the form of a nicotine lozenge or a cup of tea. As a result, I often had to rely solely on my will to power through the latter hours of my workdays.
The Consensus So Far
In a way, being sober has inadvertently forced me to be kinder to my body. Because I don’t have any chemical crutches to lean on, I’ve found myself wanting to eat healthier food and get enough sleep. The consequences of my poor health decisions are now heavier: there’s no way around the crippling fatigue if I decide to eat a full pizza or stay up a few hours longer than I should.
At of this writing, I’m more than halfway through the month, and I’m seriously considering continuing with the sobriety for the foreseeable future (or only using substances when they’re absolutely necessary). Initially, I sought out drug use as a way to become stronger. But, as these last few weeks have taught me, drugs have done a good job of masking my weaknesses rather than mending them.
A sobering thought, indeed.
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