You know you quit for a good reason, and you’re committed to sobriety. But let’s face it: life can get boring and repetitive sometimes. Being sober means dealing with all that dreariness and stress without an easy escape route. It’s not shocking if you sometimes think to yourself, “I miss drunk me,” or, “I miss drinking alcohol.”
“Drunk you” may have had a lot of fun—at times. But you probably have a good number of horror stories too—more than enough to justify not drinking anymore. So why do sober people sometimes experience nostalgia for drinking?
Brain chemistry, cravings, and our perception of ourselves can all play tricks on us. It’s also not easy to adapt to doing everything sober, and being fully present with who we are all of the time. People who have never been problem drinkers struggle with these things too. But if you’re feeling like you were more interesting drunk, here’s why it probably isn’t true:
I can say this from experience: That the buzzed Claudia or drunk Claudia was not nearly as interesting, or present, or loving, or intelligent as the abstinent-by-choice Claudia.
Claudia Christian of the C3 Foundation discusses how we tend to romanticize our relationship with alcohol:
“I can say this from experience: That the buzzed Claudia or drunk Claudia was not nearly as interesting, or present, or loving, or intelligent as the abstinent-by-choice Claudia.
“We really romanticize alcohol. Part of the human brain is wonderful in that we cover up trauma in a way. We protect ourselves from remembering the bad times.”
It turns out there is a scientific explanation for this. It’s called the “fading affect bias.” Research shows that as time goes on, our brains tend to forget negative emotions connected with an event more quickly than the positive ones. This may also apply to our memories of ourselves1.
Why the “Fading Affect Bias” Isn’t Always So Helpful
The fading affect bias can have real benefits: It might improve your self esteem to remember your past actions in a positive light. It might also make you more optimistic about life going forward if the past doesn’t seem so bad.
But there are some downsides to this, too—especially when it comes to recovery. The fading affect bias might make it easier to remember all the fun you had when you were drunk versus the terrible parts.
As a result, you might recall dancing and drinking all night at the club, but not your friend holding your hair over the toilet while you puked in the bathroom. You might remember that incredible hottie you hooked up with, but not drunkenly making a pass at your best friend’s partner.
In essence, you’re not going to remember the bad stuff as easily because your brain is protecting you from feeling shame and embarrassment, and helping you move on.
In a way that’s great, but in a way it’s not so great. Because now we fall into romanticizing those times.
“In a way that’s great, but in a way it’s not so great. Because now we fall into romanticizing those times, and saying, “Oh, but I had so much fun,” continues Claudia Christian. “I have to remind people, “Ok, really: Was it fun withdrawing? … Was it fun feeling hungover and sick three days a week? … Was it fun getting in a big fight with your wife or husband? … Was it fun not spending quality time with your children? …
“… I don’t like to bring these things up because I don’t believe in shame and all that stuff. But it’s important to remember the reality of alcohol misuse and what it brought into your life.”
Why You’re Better off Sober
People who quit drinking generally have a very good reason for doing so. If you find yourself wondering, “Am I missing out by not drinking?” take a second to remind yourself what that reason was for you. Even if you simply decided you wanted to be healthier, or feel less foggy in daily life, that’s a good enough reason.
It can be dull at times being sober. But you also get clearer access to your life experiences and the people you love. And the more comfortable you get managing the mundane parts of life, the more agency you gain over making real improvements in how you live.
“But,” you might think, “what about my drunk personality? Wasn’t I more fun? Do people still enjoy being around me if I’m not drinking, or am I just boring now?”
Claudia Christian once again:
“You have to have faith [in] your personality: who you really are when you’re calm and centered and present, when you’re really listening to somebody, … when you’re laughing like a normal person at a joke, and not like a hyena … when you’re speaking at a normal level and not screaming. … We do these things when we’re hammered, and that’s just the facts of life.
“You’ll find that the real you is somebody that I bet your friends and loved ones will not only appreciate and love, but they might even prefer.”
“The real you is somebody that I bet your friends and loved ones will not only appreciate and love, but they might even prefer.”
If you’re struggling with nostalgia for your drinking days, Ria Health offers recovery coaching through a convenient smartphone app. Learn more about how it works.