Chasing the blackout feeling in sobriety

Chasing the blackout feeling in sobriety

I’ve always felt like my brain is full of thoughts, which seems slightly obvious given its entire purpose – thinking. But the key word here is full.

Sometimes I feel like there are possibly too many thoughts in my head. That one day my skull won’t be able to contain them and it will simply explode, splattering my thoughts across the walls like a modern art exhibition.

“Now here we have the contents of Millie’s brain,” will say the gallerist. “Observe how she notices that her lymph nodes are slightly enlarged and then quickly progresses to diagnosing herself via Google with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – the spiral is really quite impressive.”

For the best part of a decade, there was only one thing that made me feel like there were less thoughts in my head, like they were suddenly half the size and swirling around in graceful harmony rather than haphazardly knocking against each other like 8am commuters on the central line. That thing was alcohol.

The ‘benefits’ of being completely wasted

Of course, there are a grand total of zero benefits to being so drunk you mistake your best mate for a lamppost but as someone with a brain that whizzes and whirrs from the minute I open my eyelids, being so drunk I couldn’t see straight, let alone think straight became a pretty appealing solution.

Still, all good things must come to an end and when your drunk behaviour starts giving you more complications than the ones you were drinking to cope with, it’s time to hang up your shot glass and call it what it is – a problem.

Finding the feeling in sobriety

In Feb, I’ll have completed my fifth trip around the sun sober, a milestone that the version of me who drank tequila like water would never have imagined but, alas, here we are.

And whilst the last 5 years have been the best of my life, getting sober didn’t change my brain and it didn’t change its fullness of my thoughts. If anything, with all the things that come your way as life trundles along like death and heartbreak, it has only gotten fuller.

So here’s a few things that have helped me achieve the feeling I used to drink for – without ever touching a drop.

Exercise – but make it classes

Whilst some people swear by running, I have never been one of them. The thoughts don’t really leave my brain when I run or go to the gym, they just sort of rattle up against the side of my eardrums, then I get new ones, then I chastise myself for not bringing a pen to write the good ones down.

Classes on the other hand, and we’re talking anything from beginner yoga to hip-hop step, require my full attention. When I’m following an instructor I am fully invested, especially if there is an element of routine or ‘copy me’ style movement. Focusing on imitating whatever is going on doesn’t leave much room for anything else and is one of the closest feelings I get to worry-shutdown.

Going to the cinema or theatre

I’ll be the first to admit that I boast a complete lack of discipline when it comes to watching movies at home, I am a half-arser at best and it really is difficult to absorb yourself in the plotline of a film when you’re replying to Whatsapps about your mate’s baby shower.

Although it still takes me a good 20 minutes to stop worrying about what will happen if I need to pee before the interval, thanks to a strict ‘no phones’ policy I find that I’m able to enter a semi-transfixed state when I watch great films and theatre shows and I always feel like I’ve left giving my brain a break.

Puzzles and brain teasers

I debated putting this one in because I’m not sure it does much for my cool image but then I remembered I’m 31 and the only person who thinks I’m cool is, well, nobody.

Whether you like crosswords, sudoku, riddles – you name it, anything that requires logical or strategic thinking means there’s actually not much capacity for anything else. The best part about this being, you can literally take 5 minutes out of your day to do them when you’re feeling overwhelmed or irrational.

Writing & verablising

Now, this ones slightly different. With the things mentioned above, there still feels to me like an element of really just pushing your feelings aside and whilst there’s definitely merit in that, writing for me feels less like blocking out the thoughts entirely and more so emptying them out, rearranging them and putting them back a little neater. Marie Kondo-ing for your mind if you will.  

If you hate writing, call a friend or get a therapist. The important thing here is that you get the thoughts out. Often you’ll verbalise a thought and just hearing it out loud will make you realise how absurd it actually sounds, sometimes it will give you clarity and sometimes it will help you reflect.

I hope the above are useful but I’d love to hear any strategies you’ve found along the way!

Written by Millie Gooch

Millie is the Founder of Sober Girl Society and Author of The Sober Girl Society Handbook. You can find her on Instagram at @milliegooch

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1 comment

That article is right on! I have 19 years of sobriety but hearing and reading stories of others really helps me out. My mind does bang around. I do run and am training for my 5th marathon. I am still reluctant to make friends. You reminding me to do puzzles and such like going to the movies is good for me. Thanks!

Kelli Trick

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