5 Things Nobody Tells You About Quitting Drinking
One year ago, I was hospitalized. I won't bore you with the details, so let's just say I was struck down with a case of having an enormous penis. Several vials of blood were taken for various tests, all of them coming back positive for a magnificent, awe-inspiring dong, which I was already fully aware of. What I didn't expect, however, was the doctor's first question when explaining my results.
"So ... how much do you drink per day?"
I started to answer, but he threw up a hand to stop me and continued, "If you don't stop drinking right now, you'll be dead before you're 40. You're 35, and your liver is already showing signs of shutting down. Then again, the faster all the drunks die off, the more space we free up in this hospital for people with actual medical problems that are beyond their own control." Then he punched me in the face and hobbled out of the room on his cane.
So I quit, cold turkey, after 22 years of what could only be called the my penis of alcohol addictions. That was a little over a year ago, and during that time I've discovered some things about quitting booze that they manage to leave out of inspirational movie montages.
For the first couple of days, stretching into the first couple of weeks, you sweat your ass off. Even on cold days, you can't keep a shirt dry with all the king's deodorant and all the king's men ... putting that deodorant on for you. (I'm not good with metaphors.)
Did somebody order some stink? I brought extra sauce!
As your body works overtime to rid itself of toxins, leftover alcohol and its byproducts that are stored in your lymph nodes will begin to seep out through not only your urine, but also your breath and the pores of your skin.
This isn't normal stink. If it was just persistent body odor, you could do something about it. No, this is stink on a demonic level. This is Stinkotronicus: Master of Stinkalarium, and it will make you do its bidding, lest it destroy you and all of those you hold dear. Showers do help, but their effect is very temporary and only seems to provoke it.
You'd be surprised how little this helps.
How bad is it? Another Cracked writer on the wagon (who posts as Yowhound) was actually kicked off of a public bus because of this ... in Europe. They've tolerated the French for thousands of years, but they couldn't handle one bus ride with a recovering alcoholic.
The stench isn't the end of the world (even if it smells exactly like how you imagine the apocalypse smelling). No, it's the insomnia that's the first major ass-kicker.
For many hardcore drinkers, "going to sleep" and "passing out" mean roughly the same thing. I personally never got black-out drunk, but I always went to bed with a good, deep buzz. I did it so often that my brain got used to the booze as a sleep aid. So much so that when I finally quit and the toxins began to disappear from my body, my brain became more active at bedtime and simply refused to shut down for the night (once more, this is common among detoxing alcoholics). But then, once you finally drift off, is when the fun starts.
The fun, and the mind-bending hallucinations.
That's when you get some of the most frequent and realistic nightmares you've ever experienced. Intense feelings of dread and anxiety thump through your sleeping mind, as if the stench demon decided to drift into your cerebral cortex.
Remember that your brain is not only more active but also in panic mode. It has become so used to having alcohol that it started thinking it was one of your normal bodily fluids. Imagine if you suddenly gave up food, taking all of your nutrients via an IV instead. Even if you were getting everything you needed, for a while your empty stomach would still send out the pain alarm that says, "INSERT FOOD OR YOU WILL DIE, DUMBASS!" The inside of a detoxing alcoholic's head is freaking out in the same manner.
One of the most common nightmares among alcoholics is the terrible recurring dream where you fall off the wagon. You fight all day to stay sober, then in your sleep you relapse. So in the dream you now have to explain to the people around you that you slipped. Not only do you feel all of the guilt and shame and frustration while you're dreaming, the feelings stick with you long after you wake up.
Like all the symptoms, it passes. What does not pass so easily is ...
Related: 5 Common Nightmares We All Have
It's like my grandma used to tell me: "John, when you really think about it, it all comes down to shitting. Now put in that VHS tape marked '5 Hours of Me Shitting' and I'll show you what I mean." Now, that video was a compilation of several different movements set to the "Moonlight Sonata," but if I had tried to make my own such video the camera's battery would have run out before I finished just one.
Alcohol has calories. Since a whole lot of an alcoholic's caloric intake comes out of a bottle, most alcoholics have very poor diets overall. So for instance, I would eat lunch, but by early evening, food would be replaced with booze. Drinking keeps the stomach busy, and alcohol suppresses the appetite. Then, maybe you binge on tacos at 2 a.m. As millions of college kids can tell you, the following day's result is known as "beer shits."
When you stop drinking, you subtract from the body all of those thousands of liquid calories, but now you're hungrier, so you eat to replace them. But a system used to digesting gallons of beer suddenly has pounds of meat and cheese to work on. It'd be like if a normal person spontaneously decided to spend a week slowly eating an entire moose.
The point being, have you ever shit an antler?
You have to kind of twist on the seat.
Because that's what it feels like. The intestines extract an insane amount of water from your feces, leaving you with a bowel full of granite. For me, this lasted for over a month before my body adjusted, and now I can pass a life-sized statue of the crucifixion through my colon. I'd write more about this, but I'm considering turning it into a book instead, as soon as I can find someone to illustrate it.
The Urge to Murder
The first thing to go during detoxification is the mind. It starts to wander. Short-term memory misfires. The simplest tasks will require as much focus as defusing a time bomb.
Shit, where do you put the mustard?
There was a day in the first week of my own detoxification when I walked into the living room four times in a row to get my phone, but each time I forgot to pick it up. We've all done that before, right? The difference is that mine was ringing at the time.
Part of this lack of focus is because you're constantly tired from the insomnia/nightmare combination, part of it is the nervous system not having the security blanket of booze it's used to. And with that, came changes in mood.
The smallest things would irritate me into a full-blown rage. Little annoyances, like the person who was sitting at the same picnic table as me who wouldn't stop tapping his leg up and down, shaking the whole contraption. I wanted get a gun and murder him and all of the other people in the world who had failed to murder him up to that point.
If each of those guns held a billion bullets, it wouldn't be enough.
Some people in that situation may have a few people close to them who sympathize with what they're going through (assuming they connect the bad mood with the alcohol at all, and they may not if they've never tried to quit). But to everyone else, you're just being an unmanageable twat. Fortunately, I still had my friends to make me feel better.
Well, I would have, if it hadn't turned out that most of my friends were in fact just drinking partners. When I told them I was quitting, they'd sort of nervously laugh, waiting for the punch line. Then, they'd respond with a genuinely surprised, "Really? Why?" Then they'd reassure me that I didn't have a drinking problem (because if I had a drinking problem, it meant they had a drinking problem).
That's when I'd find out that drinking was all we had in common. Then they'd start slyly trying to get me to drink, and I'd have visions of punching all of the skin off of their faces. So, for the first couple of weeks I wound up just avoiding people when at all possible. It sounds like a chickenshit way out, but it got me through the first of the bad spots without hurting many people in the process, and I murdered almost nobody.
Once the irritability subsides, you're about to reap the rewards of ...
The Blissful High
For a few days after a person becomes completely detoxed, his body will get an unexpected dose of oxygen, real food and natural chemicals that will put him on a natural high. It's just a symptom, just like the pooping, and likewise it won't last. Truthfully, you don't want it to.
You can't sustain this expression without being beaten constantly.
But in the mean time, rainbows will shoot out of your ass, and it will feel like the final scenes of Independence Day. You've overcome your addictions! The alien ships have been destroyed! You just did what they all said you couldn't do!
Except you haven't. There is no finish line with alcohol recovery. Ninety percent of alcoholics relapse within the first four years. There are still shitloads of ships up there, and each one of them requires Randy Quaid to improbably fly into it at the exact moment it attacks with its giant laser beam.
It turns out that drinking doesn't make a person an alcoholic. The part of a person's brain that makes him drink to excess is what makes him an alcoholic, and the mechanism for the addiction is still there. This is why people in 12-step programs say that you'll always be an alcoholic, even if you're not drinking. Alcohol isn't the disease; it's a symptom. Or rather, it's an attempt to self-medicate the disease.
It's hard for people to understand why I can't just downgrade from "alcoholic" to "moderate drinker." There are plenty of people out there who can drink in moderation. They can down a couple with their friends, shit on the hood of a cop car, go to sleep and forget all about booze the next day. I'm not one of them. Neither was my dad, who died at age 49 from this shit.
I think I'll find a better way to teach my kids the same lesson.
Perhaps some sort of terrifying puppet show ...
If you're a drunk and have started to realize that your story is going to end with a bunch of your friends telling hilarious drinking stories at your funeral, I promise you that quitting is totally worth it, despite all the bad stuff I described above. I'm one year sober as of last week, and I've never felt better or more proud of myself in my life. And in that year, I have not woken up even one time with a cock drawn on my face.
Check out more from John in Having Fun With 419 Scammers and The Top 10 Celebrity Sex Videos Nobody Wanted to See.