Burnout and Depression in Early Sobriety

Today I am 142 days sober. Yee Haa!… but… I’ve been feeling exhausted lately, physically and mentally. When my initial pick cloud drifted away, I started researching burnout and depression in early sobriety and came across a few articles. Burnout results when the fuel that we use to continue our work of sobriety, has essentially been depleted. This can stem from the let down following the enthusiasm that we greet sobriety with. Once we reach burnout, we could have an array of psychological, emotional or physical symptoms including anxiety and depression. Often our focus is completely set on improving our lives and staying off alcohol and we ride that pink cloud for all it’s worth, and then some of us, we just crash.

I have crashed.

I am exhausted with the ‘work’ of sobriety. I am tired of working on my emotional issues because I felt the need to solve them all in the first few months of sobriety. Issues that have been around for 20 years, I decided could all disappear within a few months. I’ve been trying to deal with grief that I buried for a long time at a miscarriage I had a few years ago. I put my marriage under a magnifying glass and it came up wanting, so I’ve been scrambling to fix the little dents in it before they become large cracks. I’ve been looking at everything I’ve done wrong as a parent and beating myself senseless with the guilt that I feel for being a bad parent while I was drinking. I’ve been trying to exercise and eat healthy and lose the last bit of excess weight I had gained from drinking. I’ve been transitioning from one anti-depressant to another because the one I was on was producing side effects that affected my daily life and well… self-care and everything. I’ve been trying to work through trauma that I’ve been through. Trauma that has been buried for many years, that I thought I could fix because I am now sober. 

I decided that I had to be the ‘best’ me that I could be, that in four short months I could change who I was as a person. Obviously the old me was flawed and needed alcohol, so this new me is going to be the best thing I have ever seen. Alongside all of that emotional work, I’ve been working full-time on the front lines in a COVID clinic, with the constant worry that I’ll bring it home to my family (although thankfully, the situation has calmed in Australia), alongside a full university load- that in an of itself has left me absolutely exhausted. Coupled with the things listed above, I feel like a shell, with nothing left to give to myself, let alone anybody else.

Woman with hands on Head Clock face Burnout in Early Sobriety

I have learned that in the very early weeks of sobriety you need to care for yourself like you would a child. To lessen the possibility of being taken down by burnout and depression – Set Boundries and Protect your Quit! Sleep when needed, eat when needed and whatever you do, do not try and unpack years and years of trauma and emotional baggage all at once. Find something that makes you happy, and do that- if you feel the need to unpack your emotions, maybe do them a little bit at a time rather than blowing your life up by unpacking decades of shit. You have already made the best decision of your life by putting down the drink. So just concentrate on that for a bit, but don’t let it become all consuming. 

You are still you. Do things that you enjoy, you don’t need to become a completely new person all at once. If things need to change, they will take their natural course as you continue to stay sober. So don’t force things, still do things you love, don’t unpack everything at once but do stay sober.

I’ve been climbing mountains recently, literally and figuratively, this one looked beautiful towards sunset.

Mountain with sunset - sobriety

The work of physically climbing a mountain pales significantly in comparison to the work I’ve had to put in when climbing emotional mountains. I’ve been feeling like pure unadulterated shit for the past week or so. It’s probably the first major low that I’ve had since being sober. Initially I thought that I could weather the storm, but as the horrible feelings gained intensity- my mind drifted to alcohol.

I wanted alcohol because I didn’t know how to deal with huge negative feelings. I wanted to escape because I felt that I was losing mental stability and it terrified me as I’ve lost it before. For two or three days I tossed up the idea of buying alcohol and writing myself off completely. Going so far as to ask my husband for ‘permission’ so that I would be able to permit myself to drink, as I really didn’t want to. However, I thought if my husband didn’t care, then I wouldn’t feel so guilty if I went and purchased alcohol. Anyway, he advised me against it but said it was up to me ultimately. I’m happy to say that I made the correct decision and didn’t buy alcohol. The decision to not buy alcohol wasn’t ‘freeing’ in fact it angered me because I knew that I would have to sit with my feelings that made me feel desperately out of control.

So I sat with my terrifying emotions and have been sitting with them for about a week, and guess what? I didn’t shrivel up and die, the world didn’t implode, one of my legs didn’t drop off and I didn’t turn into an alien. My life is continuing on as normal although I feel like shit, nothing desperately bad has happened except that I’ve felt bad for a little while…is this… could this be… normalcy? To feel like shit, sit in it and to have your world not implode on you. Who would have thought that I could survive a bout of depression without alcohol? Certainly not me… I was terrified by my burnout in early sobriety until I decided to be brave and do it-feel my feelings, cry when I need to, ask my husband for hugs when I need them, talk to my friends from a place of vulnerability, take naps during the day which is something I loathe doing, and lay in the sun doing absolutely nothing whilst neglecting the housework.

I’ve had to: Give. Myself. A. Damn. Break- something that I have trouble doing.

These little things are all emotional mountains that I’ve conquered this past week. It’s about growing yourself up emotionally. I think to do so, we just need to learn to deal with our emotions without alcohol, in a healthy way. So a little take-away and reminder to myself – when emotional mountains come your way no matter how big they are – you can climb and conquer them being present and fully sober.

More Thoughts on Depression and Burnout in Sobriety :

Beyond the Pink Cloud – Living Sober



The Magic of the Sober Toolbox to Power Your Will

If you’re “sober curious” … If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break… Talk to Us

We are an independent, anonymous and private community who share resources, support and talk it through every day. It helps to have a community behind you in a world where alcohol is the only addictive drug that people will question you for NOT using

How do you go Sober? ( more reading in blue titles)

B Be accountable Talk to Us We Understand
A Avoid alcohol like the plague  Ideas Here
L Let yourself enjoy regular sober treats  Ideas Here
A Allow yourself to cry when needed  Ideas Here
Nourish your body with good food  Ideas Here
C Create happy & fun memories  Ideas Here
E Enjoy the precious moments in your day Ideas Here

W Work hard to get what you want Ideas Here
O Organise things for less stress  Ideas Here
Realise you can’t control it all Ideas Here
K Keep going & prepare for success Ideas Here
S Sleep enough for body & mind rest Sleep Solutions

3 responses to “Burnout and Depression in Early Sobriety”

  1. Thankyou for this. Well done for not succumbing. I got to 100 a few days ago and have been feeling rather underwhelmed by it all. I thought I’d feel some sense of accomplishment but I just feel depressed that while it gotten easier, I’m still just starting. So tired of thinking about drinking, still.

  2. Congrats on staying off for that long! I don’t really have a problem with alcohol, but have been trying to cut down my pretty regular drinking lately, and your post had some pretty cool tips on how to handle that process.

    Thanks for sharing and wishing you a great journey ahead!

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