Are you thinking about giving up drinking? Part 3

A few years ago, a good friend announced to the world that she was up drinking for good. 

Photo by Anastasiya Vragova on Pexels.com

A few years ago, a close friend of mine announced that she was giving up drinking for good. It was close to Christmas, so my response was to encourage her and be her cheerleader.

She’s now been sober for eight years.

I caught up with her last week and asked her how she was getting on. She doing just fine and lockdown hadn’t presented her with too many challenges. 

Then she told me about how, during the pandemic, she’d received several emails from people who had read an article that she had written back in 2016. The thing that amazed her was the variety of people who had got in touch. Some recover alcohol, some psychologists and therapist who use the article in their work. She even had a couple of emails from Australia, and one from a guy who lived a mere 5 miles away from her home.

I told her about building this site so she has generously allowed me to reprint her brilliant article. She prefers to remain anonymous.

So thank you, dear friend, your words have inspired many. I hope that this repost helps your words of wisdom inspire many more.

The fuck it bucket

If you’ve ever given up drinking, you will have come across a myriad of articles about how fabulous life is without the booze. Words of hope, words of praise, articles stuffed with achievement.

Having stopped drinking nearly 3 years ago, I have become increasingly aware that these articles only give one side of the story: the whoop-whoop positive angle.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my intention is not to discourage you from giving it a go. My intention is to help you to travel the road with both eyes open, so that when the fuck it bucket seems like the only way to forward (and believe me it will), you will have another perspective at your fingertips.

I’ve not had a drink for 2 years and 10 months, which makes me a mere babe in the sobriety stakes when compared to titans like David Bowie, Elton John and some very dear friends like Maxie from Australia (24 years sober) John from the UK (30+ years), My ex-husband’s girlfriend (14 years) and many other fine folk. However, this time has been long enough to understand why some people repeat behaviours over and over again which ultimately leads to the fuck it bucket.

It is my hope that this article will help you to recognise the signs, acknowledge them and move on. These are some of the things I wish I had known when I started; not that I would have listened, but forewarned is forearmed.

Not drinking hurts

If you’ve been used to drinking more than is healthy, you will discover very quickly that not drinking hurts. It hurts a lot. You will crave alcohol, you will lose sleep, you will experience a range of unspecified illnesses, your skin may erupt and you will feel like you are hanging onto the edge of a very steep cliff, with nothing to greet your fall but some very spiky rocks. In short, you will feel like shit. But if you can ride this out (and this may take many months), you will start to feel clearer, more energetic, full optimism and zest for life. You will want to get on with life and make the most of every day. You will feel hey! I can do this. A happy shiny life awaits me. Hold that thought; hold it forever

Grief is an essential part of the process

If you’ve been drinking more than is healthy for longer than is good for you, you will not only experience physical withdrawal, but you will also experience grief. Heavy drinking is like an ever-tightening circle. Even if you function OK during the day, doing your work, looking after your family; at some time, your life will start to shrink, and alcohol will begin to take the place of the healthy relationships and other connections that make being human, human. Alcohol will, without you recognising it, become your best friend. So when you stop, it’s like having a death in the family, and when that happens, you grieve, which is very painful. 

You will go through the cycle of grief which will cause a threat to your sobriety. To my mind, the most precarious stage is bargaining. This is when you will inevitably start thinking that maybe you can have a drink occasionally. This when a lot of people fall off the cliff onto the rocks below. So if you find yourself missing having a drink, and working out plans that will enable you to drink occasionally (passes), or designing a moderation plan, take time to step back to work out what is really going on.

Sugar and carbs are an essential part of your recovery.

It is the law to keep ice cream in the freezer, and eat it!

This may be at odds with your goal to lose a zillion kilos, but alcohol is packed with sugar, and when you stop drinking you face a double whammy withdrawal unless you give yourself some. Don’t worry, you will be able to cut it out eventually, but be sensible or you may unintentionally trigger cravings.

I believe that if you focus your efforts on one addiction at a time, you raise your chances of success.Don’t fight it, just make yourself the promise that once you are stable you will do your teeth another favour.

At this point, it is worth mentioning triggers. Hunger(or thirst) Anger ( or any form of strong emotion), Loneliness, Tiredness. Take care of them or they will knock you on your ass.

Goals can ruin your self-esteem

It’s really common to set goals when trying to beat an addiction. Loads of them: lose weight, give up the cigs, eat clean, exercise every day, learn new skills, make sober new friends, find the perfect life partner. But hold your horses! Unless you are super disciplined and you know that you will carry through, keep your goals simple, and to the minimum. Only add a new goal as you achieve a stated one. In that way, you will be able to stay focused and gain success which will keep the bucket in the corner because you have done yourself a favour by preserving your fragile self-esteem.

There is time, you don’t need to do everything at once.

Not drinking is boring

Until you stop, it is hard to quantify how much time you actually spent drinking, wiped out and recovering. The simple and surprising truth is that when we don’t drink we sleep better, but we sleep less, so that time has to be filled. The bad news is, that unless you have the faith and constitution of the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa combined, it really is not a great idea to go out with your drinking buddies in the early months, so you have to find something constructive to do.

If you are of a certain frame of mind, reading about getting sober is a great thing to do. But to be honest, it gets tedious and can lead you into thinking that you were ‘not as bad’ as the author.

If you are a creative, you will find that your creativity has not been compromised by the lack of grog in your life. It just changes and may assume a form that you do not immediately recognise.

You may decide to start a new course and be pleasantly surprised to find that your mind, once affected by blackouts, is surprisingly fresh, and your memory is not as shit as you thought it would be.

Personally, I would recommend a basic course on neuroscience and drug addiction. This will give you an empirical understanding of what is happening to you in recovery and how you can help yourself.

Then, there is the good old standby: Netflix.

Try not to fool yourself into thinking that you can go to the odd party and just have one and start again the next day. You may be one of the lucky few who can, most can’t. In general, if you plan to drink, you probably will.

Find yourself a hobby that will absorb you. It may take you a few go’s but building mastery will remind you every day why you chose not to drink.

Guard your emotional health

The pink cloud will eventually evaporate, and you may start to think about what went wrong and reflect on your path to your current situation. There will be regret and self-flagellation. Blame of yourself and the people around you. Resentment and guilt. You will feel very sad indeed. This is normal. Yes, you may have to look back and examine your past in order to make a better tomorrow, but try simply to acknowledge it and move on.

These cycles of depression are known as PAWS: Post Acute Withdrawal syndrome. A simple way to describe this syndrome is that it is the brain’s way of recalibrating itself. The good news is that as time goes on you recognise the signs, and learn how to cope with these cycles. My experience is that each cycle, although disorientating, is less broad and less deep than the last. I have also noticed that they are linked to ignoring my triggers.

You will feel like shit. I found that practising mindfulness and learning about philosophy and yoga was a great comfort. These three things get you out of yourself, get you thinking in a different way, and keep your body moving. Just think, you can do yoga whilst watching Netflix.

Change takes time

When you first make the decision to stop, the idea of a day without a drink seems just about possible, a week maybe a month improbable and 3 months downright impossible. But you will soon find that each of these milestones come and go and before you know it you have a few months of sobriety under your belt.

This is when you need to beware because something inside your head will tell you that you were wrong, that you didn’t really have that big a problem, and that a drink won’t hurt.

You may tell yourself that you can now drink like a normal person, without asking yourself the question: what is normal drinking?

I have seen good friends who have been sober for years, let that thought take precedence, take the first drink, then wipe themselves out. I have also seen good friends decide to control their drinking, and have great success with it. I have no idea why these things happen, and I am not about to find out. But what I will say, is before you decide that you are OK to drink again, take the time to work out the possible consequences before picking up that first drink.

Don’t believe everything people say

So, we’re back on the subject of self-esteem and self-worth. If you belong to a group of people who are supporting each other in sobriety, you will be bombarded by stories of ‘what not drinking has done for me’. New jobs, marathons run, new relationships, old hobbies rekindled, books written, websites built, awards won, exams passed, fabulous holidays paid for by the money not spent on 1 litre of red (usually more) a day.

If this is not you, you may feel envy, you may feel a sense of failure, you may feel all sorts of negative things about yourself. The thing to remember is that you are you, you are living your life, your way. Not everybody comes into their own quickly. Give it time and work on what you want to do. Congratulate others, but tread your own path.

Evangelism wears thin

When you get happy with not drinking, and your life starts turning around, you want everyone to feel the same as you, and as a consequence you may become a little bit overzealous.

It is especially difficult if your partner or your best friend drinks to excess and you want them to stop. This may be the hardest thing for you to do, but leave them alone. Do not pick at them or criticise them or try to persuade them to stop.

They have to decide for themselves, and no amount of nagging from you will get them to stop. In fact, it may cause resentment and worse.

I have several friends, who have simply led by example, and as a result, their relationships have grown stronger. I know it hurts to see your significant other pouring their life down the drain, but they are grown up and have to be allowed to think and decide for themselves.

The simple truth is that you may be enthralled at your decision to quit and the benefits that have accrued, but not everyone sees things like that.

This is especially true of people who have stopped drinking, and are struggling to stay stopped. Listening to you blathering on  about why they shouldn’t think about drinking may tip them over the edge.

I know this because I am guilty of questioning a friend’s decision to moderate.

I regret not being understanding and compassionate.

Shit happens

Bad days, arguments, breakups, job losses, illness, death. These things happen. I remember after a particularly bad day, that could have been career-changing, a friend of mine said ‘drinking won’t help’. I took no notice then dealt with the fall out with the world’s worst hangover which frankly made things harder.

I now see that she was right. Shit happens, but alcohol causes stress, depression and anxiety and the easiest way to deal with shit is with a clear head and an open mind.

Tell the truth: build a circle of support

Right at the beginning, it is hard to tell people that you no longer drink. You may feel that they will judge you and see you as being weak. You may feel that by putting your decision out there, you are taking a risk that could seriously impact on your life.

On the other hand, you may fear being put under pressure by your drinking buddies.

We use all manner of excuses for not drinking. I used ‘Stoptober’ as mine, then I lied and told everyone that it was such an amazing experience that I decided to carry on.

Later on, I got braver, and when asked I would say that I suffered from stress and anxiety and found that not drinking helped.

I regret this.

I know that it’s not for everyone, but alcohol is the 3rd biggest killer in the western world- directly and indirectly, and I am beginning to think that unless we start lifting the secret veil and speaking openly about alcohol abuse, this pandemic will just get bigger.

Now that I have got over my embarrassment of being a drunk, I talk quite openly about the fact that I drank too much. I am no longer taken aback by family and friends saying ‘but you weren’t that bad’. I now say: ‘yes I was’.

This has led to some interesting conversations. Some funnier than others.

But if things are to change, we have to be open, especially with our kids. They may not take any notice, but at least you will have planted a seed.

I know people who want to take on the alcohol industry and influence government policy. I say, good for you, it may take forever, but a small start is talking honestly and openly about addiction and how it affected you.

Not everyone succeeds the first time, not everyone finds it easy

Out there in cyberspace, I have met lots of people who have decided to kick booze to the touchline. Some, like me, have found it relatively easy. By that I mean that after years of trying, I was finally able to make the decision stick. I have had the odd temptation, but I have been able to stay booze-free. The fuck it bucket does come calling, but so far, I’ve kept it at bay without too big a struggle.

Others have fought with the decision every day but have soldiered on and gained greater levels of peace and serenity.

I have also met people who cannot go more than a couple of days without. These people are not weak, far from it because they pick themselves up after every hiccup and start again. It is easy from the standpoint of sobriety to wipe these people off, but, I don’t think that is not the right thing to do. These are the people who need our unswerving support. They need us to be their cheerleaders. They need a circle of support who believes in their sincerity. Isolation is the most damaging thing for people who are trying to kick an addiction. It behoves us all to remember that. I know, because for years I was one of those isolated people.

Life goes on

Once the initial fear of not drinking fades, it’s time to start living. It can be a shock to find out that life without the grog is not what we imagined it to be. It is dull, it is difficult, there are highs and lows. But that is life. The challenge is to find a way to make it work.

Life for me is OK 90% of the time.

For me, the challenge is to keep my head out of the fuck it bucket. The following actions have helped me so far:

I have to make sure that I eat well, get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated. I start dipping if I’m not busy and am spending too much time alone. I’m learning how to not to overthink and stay emotionally clean. I’m at my best if I keep my mind busy learning new things. I meditate and deal with things as soon as they happen thus eliminating a lot stress and anxiety.

Above all, I am grateful that I have allowed myself the opportunity of a second chance.

Wishing you peace and many blessings. Go slow.

  February 2016

If you need help and support with becoming sober explore the links below and check out the resources page.

www.boozemusings.com

https://www.boomrethinkthedrink.com/

https://smartrecovery.org.uk/

https://www.aa.org/

By ericapcounselling

Systemic and integrative counsellor/therapist Specialisms: Couples counselling, relationship counselling, addiction, bereavement and loss, mental health, stress management and self-care. Counsellor by day, singer by night!

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