Black and white image of a wave of water on a pale blue background. Getting Sober and Anxiety

Getting Sober Comes with a Tidal Wave of Anxiety – Here’s What I Learned

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In recovery from alcohol, I still had to deal with my anxiety.

My first few months of recovery went fairly smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t committed to this new life much sooner. I mean, sure, I missed alcohol a lot. Especially when I was enduring the witching hour with my eighteen-month-old twins, one of whom gave up sleeping right when I gave up drinking. Every night at bedtime she would scream, “No! No! No!” until my husband and I either brought her out to watch the Daily Show or I fell asleep on the stuffed lamb chair in her bedroom, where I would wake up stiff and tired the next morning.

So yeah, sobriety was not without its challenges, but with the help of my new sober posse and my regular meetings, it was doable. But about four months in, I hit a major snag: Anxiety.

The allure of Xanax

When I quit drinking, I had also stopped taking Xanax. And oh, how I loved me some Xanax! The first time I took it, I felt such exquisite relief that it almost felt like cheating. Other people had to do an hour of cardio or learn transcendental meditation or worse yet, practice mindfulness (whatever that means) to feel better. I just had to pop a Xanax. It was like world peace in pill form. I didn’t want to give it up, but I had been combining it with wine and not taking it exactly as directed. For me, I knew that to keep using it would be no different than drinking.  But when that anxiety hit like a tidal wave, I had second thoughts.

The feeling was awful, like riding one of those spinning carnival rides where the floor drops out from under you and you can’t get off. I thought there was no way that people could stay sober feeling the way I was feeling. Who could just sit with crazy thoughts coming a mile a minute, heart beating like a hamster, and not take something to fix it?

“The feeling was awful, like riding one of those spinning carnival rides where the floor drops out from under you and you can’t get off.”

I tried everything I could think of to take the edge off: I went to a meeting, I wrote about it, I ate junk food … But nothing worked. By the end of the day, I was feeling decidedly worse. I thought that if I were going to survive, I would have to take a Xanax.

The advice I received wasn’t what I wanted

I decided to call my sponsor in the program and make my case. She’d understand. She’d have to. And if she didn’t answer, I’d take one. Naturally, she answered the phone right away—so annoying. I got straight to the point. I told her how awful I felt and all about how I had been “diagnosed” with anxiety, so I really needed a prescription for something to feel better. She said, “I understand. But that’s between you and your doctor. You should make an appointment. Let him know you’re sober and see what he decides to do.” She didn’t understand at all. Set up an appointment? I didn’t need a Xanax next Tuesday, I needed one yesterday! Maybe I needed a sponsor with more experience. She’d only been sober eleven years.

And then I started sobbing.

“I really don’t think I can do this,” I told her. She was quiet for a bit and then she said, “I know you want a Xanax. You want one because it works. It’s a surefire way to make you feel better. But if you take one now, then tomorrow when you feel anxious you’ll take another one because you’ll think you can’t feel better without it. Then you’re right back in the addiction cycle.” Ugh, she was right. For me and the way I used substances, that’s the way it would go.

“But how do I get through right now?” I asked.

“Just like this,” she said. “This is the guts of it. Getting through these moments, the times when it’s hard, when every muscle in your body is tense, and you’re forced to go on faith when I say that it will get easier.”

Thank God she was right. Eight years later, those early days are kind of a blur and now being sober is my normal state of being. Although I still deal with anxiety after quitting drinking, it does go away without Xanax.

I know that not everyone’s mental health and substance use experiences match mine. But many do. If you’re where I was and you’re wondering if you’ll ever feel better, you will. You’ll just have to trust me.

Bonus Tips for Dealing with Anxiety

Engage in Physical Exercise

Maintain your physical wellbeing and keep your brain away from the addiction. Maintaining a workout regiment will not only keep you thriving and physically healthy but it will give your brain the correct mindset.

Meditation

Speaking of mindset, meditation is another great way to readjust your brain and keep more positive thoughts front and center.

Confide in Someone Trustworthy

Obviously there are problems that may arise depending on whom you are seeking for advice. But talking to someone and verbalizing your anxiety will help lessen your more anxious symptoms.

Accept your Anxiety

Recognize that anxiety is normal for someone who is in recovery. The sooner you can make this acceptance, the faster you can see tangible results.

In recovery from alcohol, I still had to deal with my anxiety—and my desperate desire to treat it with Xanax.

A future free of addiction is in your hands.

Recover from addiction at home with medication and online therapy––from the leader in virtual addiction care.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is an author, standup comedian, TV personality, writing teacher, and co-host of the popular podcasts, For Crying Out Loud, Rose Pricks, and Bored A.F. She has authored five books, starting with the irreverent best-seller, Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom. She’s talked sobriety on Oprah, GMA, 20/20, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, CNN, and more.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three sporadically charming children.

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