It’s 6 in the morning and this is not the post I’d intended as my next post. I’m not sure what this is but I just need to write it down. The fact is I’m tired and my body aches. I’m irrationally annoyed with this as a big reason for going alcohol free was to improve my health and sleep. Here I am after 18 days feeling like a knackered, washed -up, decrepit ageing man. I ask myself,”What’s going on?”
Let me get my head around the sleep thing. My sleep has never been good. I remember at university annoying my flatmates because I always woke up early full of energy and noise and I’d hear their affectionate cries of,”Shut the fuck up Jim, you piece of shit!” Ah happy days. I always wake early. It’s who I am. Even when I do a night duty with the volunteer charity I do work for, I get to bed around 4 am and I’m up by 8 at the latest. My mind just starts buzzing and thinking. It’s not stress its just a brain that starts up early and then can’t switch off. Having read Mathew Walker’s wonderful book, ‘why we sleep’ I know alcohol is not good for sleep but it did sometimes just shut my slightly manic mind down ocassionally. Now, without alcohol, it’s like my brain is in overdrive. Eventually I’m hoping this will calm down and having a lively, unsedated brain will help me be more productive and creative. At the moment though it would be so tempting to sedate it with a large scotch. I remind myself now that I’m also being over dramatic and that although I was up at 5 this morning I did go to bed around 10pm and I did have good quality sleep which I probably didn’t get when drinking. Ok I’m good with the sleep thing. Moving on…..
My back, ankles and knees all really ache. I hate being ill or injured. I can’t abide it. A little bit before I stopped drinking I noticed a few aches and pains. Ok I thought, I’m getting older, I play a bit of walking football and table tennis, it comes with the territory. I can live with that except it seems to be getting worse. The back’s painful, ankle feels so weak I’m hoppling down the stairs like an 80 year old, and the pain could have been partly why I woke early. I was supposed to feel better not worse after stopping drinking (wow doesn’t that sound like a stroppy child) and part of me wonders whether unconsciously or not the drinking prevented me feeling some of these aches and pains. The booze was my pain relief? Could be, or it could be that I am getting some horrendous condition. If I do have something that gets progressively worse I’d be very tempted to go back to the booze but then again, that’s not going to make things any better.
Oh I am feeling sorry for myself. I wish one of you fellow bloggers could reach out and give me a slap round the face and say, “Get a grip Jim.” Ok I’ll have to do it, “Get a grip Jim, you moron!” Oh, that’s better I needed that. In CBT mode I shall challenge my thinking, I’m catastrophising.
Let’s counter those irrational thoughts.
Sleep: the quality is getting better, your brain is still adjusting to being alcohol free and that will take time. In the meantime grab snoozes and rest when you can and remember all the other benefits you are experiencing being alcohol free.
Aches and pains: You are a bit of a hypochondraic. You probably did disguise some pains through alcohol so now you can feel the aches and pains do something about it. Stretching and light exercise, if it gets worse get it checked out with a doctor. And stop moaning.
Crowds throng the streets, tickertape streams down from the buildings, bands play and fireworks crack and dance into the sky. Jim has completed two weeks alcohol free and not since England won the world cup in 1966 day have so many people had such a joyous reason to celebrate……
Ok that’s probably a little over the top. Two weeks alcohol free, that’s OK, not bad. It’s a start.
It’s been overall a good two weeks. Saturday was tough though. Walking round town in the sunshine. It felt like everyone, but everyone, was drinking alcohol. Young couple outside a bistro sharing a chilled bottle of white, a group of chaps my age laughing and sharing stories whilst supping pints, I swear even the babies had a nip of scotch in their feeding bottles. Why me? I wanted to scream out, why am I the only person in the whole world being denied a drink, I WANT A DRINK! Give me a drink!
It passed. I managed to pull myself together and got a grip of myself. I visualised my list of being alcohol -free benefits:
Lots more energy
Better sleep(most of the time)
Lower blood pressure
Feeling good in the morning
More alertness and concentration
better self perception ( I’m succeeding at making a difficult change what else could I accomplish!)
Better overall mood
Less anxiety (except weekends)
Nicer skin tone
Smug, superiority complex- Ok maybe scratch that one.
Yes, that helped reminding myself that I was going to enjoy some benefits that I wouldn’t have had if I had a drink. I got through the stroll through town, had a great tasting double expresso but my little excursion showed me once again the power of association. I was feeling the pull of alcohol which hadn’t been there earlier simply because it was suddenly all around me in those associated places; the bars, restaurants and park. Not a physical addiction but a strong psychological craving brought on by sheer exposure to alcohol in every conceivable space and the associations they have for me. Thank goodness for my checklist of benefits, my motivational reminders.
Then something dawned on me. The list of benefits as seen above had not included weight loss. Hold on you say, surely weight loss is one of the really nice fringe benefits of going alcohol free. Yes, it should be and yet it hasn’t happened. Two whole weeks and Im still a cuddly 200 lbs. Why? How has this happened?
The truth is shocking to hear, for the blame, my friends can be laid firmly at the door of fellow, so-called supportive bloggers. Yes, you know who you are. They are the ones that seem well intentioned but lay traps, help you on your feet one minute only to trip you up seconds later. Let me explain. Last week some of these “supportive bloggers” told me to be kind to myself, to treat myself, pamper myself. So I did. I treated myself to pies, crisps, blue cheese, chocolate. Oh such kind friends telling me to treat myself. Let’s not stop there; fish and chips ooh, that’s a treat, as is cheddar cheese, camenbert. The treating was going into overdrive. Of course the weight piled on and then I realised, this was the garden of Eden all over again. I was being led astray. Evil bloggers telling me to be kind to myself. Shame on you.
Thankfully I saw through these bloggers manipulative ruses and stopped just in time.
Of course in reality they were right- to get through those first couple of weeks, if a few treats get you through then I say, go for it. On a serious note I’ll say thank you again to those bloggers who leave comments and who offer support and encouragement. It does make a huge difference and getting that support is the best non-calorific treat you could ever wish for.
This post is all about why I am finding being alcohol free easier than I ever thought possible. Sure there are some tough times, cravings and difficult situations but I feel after nearly two weeks that this really is it. I’m hoping this is not false optimism and my instincts tell me the optimism is justified. Even if I have a little lapse, that’s all it will be because I’m going into this alcohol free journey with expectation and enthusiasm rather than a mindset of deprivation, negativity and loss. For me it’s all been about the mindset.
In January I decided to try going alcohol free to see if it would lower my cholestrol, improve blood pressure and help me lose some weight (doctor’s orders). I knew I was drinking too much, particularly binge drinking at weekends and it was taking its toll. When I’d tried to stop drinking for a few weeks before it always ended up as failure and looking back it was because I saw it solely as depriving myself, giving up something I liked but couldn’t control and if I didn’t make it that was my fault, my failure. It all felt negative. Change based on principles of deprivation, loss, will power alone, guilt, moral weakness and probable failure is not likely to be successful . I’d read the books that most people read but didn’t like the tone, the evangalism, the judgmental tone in most of them. I’ve got nothing against people who drink, I’m simply someone who is not good at being a sensible drinker. Alcohol is a powerful drug and for various reasons I am not someone who can use it in a responsible and healthy way. Something had to change.
I then stumbled across two British men who had created a community based around giving up alcohol initially for a month. They referred to what they had set up as ONE YEAR NO BEER. they devised an approach that suited them. Suddenly there were two people speaking my language. They are two men that liked a drink but drank too much sometimes and were fed up with two day hangovers and the impact alcohol was having on their health.
The key thing was this- they focused on the positive, cool aspects of giving up alcohol- improved health, well-being, weight loss, more time, better concentration and sleep. They looked at the work of Professor Moore who conducted a massive study of the effects of giving up alcohol for just 4 weeks. The results were staggering in terms of health benefits. Prof Moore suggested that if someone ever produced a pill that could replicate what 4 weeks without alcohol could do everyone would be clamouring for that pill. Powerful stuff.
Suddenly the picture changes- going alcohol free is going to open up an enhanced experience of life. I knew this deep down but seeing it spelt out like it was by these two men hit me like a thunderbolt. I couldn’t wait to go alcohol free. That was certainly a reframing moment. At the same time alcohol was at the centre of so much that I did so it was going to be a mixed process; there was going to be some loss and physical reactions to stopping but there was also going to be much to look forward to. I went on their website https://www.oneyearnobeer.com and downloaded their 28 day challenge (not sure if that i still available). I adapted it for my own purposes and turned it into a 3 month challenge. I kept a journal. I logged the changes. For me knowing it was three months gave me an escape clause. This was time limited. I could give it a real go knowing I could drink again after 3 months. During that 3 months without alcohol I felt great; I lost 12 lbs, better skin, improved sleep (although not for the first 4 weeks), more time, more energy, more motivation, lower cholestrol, reduced blood pressure. My doctor was impressed. All I had really done was cut out alcohol. I was happier. The only downsides were some of the anxiety I mentioned in a previous post and the adjustment of tackling social ocassions without booze.
Three months without hangovers! Being able to do productive things on a Saturday morning, this was great. After 3 months I decided to go back to drinking, that was the original deal with myself but part of me didn’t want to. Of course when I started drinking again my drinking was even heavier than before. It was as if I wanted the contrast. As I started drinking again the conviction slowly develped that I wanted to go back to how I felt during that 3 months without alcohol. I reread the booklet written by OYNB authors – Ruari and Andy and set the target date of September 1st. I knew enough about myself to know that moderation was not going to work. I drank alcohol like I do everything else- excessively. I wanted to experience those highs of not drinking again. Going alcohol free had been a positive adventure full of transformation, promise and tangible benefits. It was the magic pill that cost nothing.
So there we are. Many elements have coallesced to give me this desire to live my life alcohol free. Without doubt though Ruari and Andy from OYNB have been a huge influence and I wish to thank them for sharing their thoughts and insights but most importantly for reframing going alcohol free as a positive choice rather than one stemming from a feeling of failure or moral ineptitude. If you are thinking of going alcohol free or want to give it a go I recommend checking out their website. Their approach spoke to me and felt right. I didn’t join one of their online programmes or communities because I personally felt I had enough knowledge and motivation to go it alone. Except of course I’m not alone, there is this marvellous community of bloggers here all looking out for each other. If I had rushed into this sobriety or filled my head with an AA style approach going alcohol free would not be working for me, I know that. It’s all about finding a way that works for you. Reading what Ruari and Andy had to say, being inspired by fellow bloggers who were enjoying alcohol free lives and dipping my toe in the water with a three month challenge all helped me start this journey that is more exciting than it is scary. Alcohol free living – what a pill!
Yesterday was a funny day. Funny strange that is. Let’s backtrack; I’ve been writing my blog for a month now and my intentions were to:
1 Have an online record of moving from alcohol dependency to sobriety, reflecting and hopefully learning on the way
2 Get a bit of support from people either going through the same thing or having successfully arrived at sober living
I’m really pleased to say that both of those goals have been realised but the experience I have had after one month has been so much more than that and very surprising.
Surpise number 1: the flow of comments and interest. I had blogged previously about trying to moderate my drinking. That was two years ago and in the course of blogging I had a few people who commented and I did the same. Only a small number but really useful. For me blogging wasn’t about getting lots of followers but an attempt to become part of a close knit small group of supportive bloggers. That’s how it was until yesterday. Then out of seemingly nowhere I had triple the views I normally have, a bunch of new followers and lots of comments. That was kind of nice but why yesterday? Was it that I suddenly appealed to more people due to my elegant writing, the opening up of my tortured soul, familiarity with my posts and a desire to read them all over again? No, of course not. I think it was down to one word: anxiety. That word being in the title of my last post and a tag seems to have been the reason for a lot more traffic. A surprise certainly, but a nice one, it just means you send you’re day responding to comments. A good way to spend some time.
Let me clear something up about that last post. The anxiety I was talking about was a situation specific, time limited anxiety. It was linked to me not allowing myself to drink at a time when I habitually drank. I didn’t like it. It put me on edge. It triggered some other darker feelings. But it passed. Real anxiety, clinical anxiety is a whole different phenomena and in no way did I want to suggest that’s what I was going through. I’ve seen people with chronic anxiety and it is a debilitating condition that can wreck lives. What I experienced was an episode, an acute short lived experience of anxiety that I overcame. The comments I had were amazing and an eye opener about what others have had to endure and suffer from.
Surprise number 2: The amazingly supportive community of bloggers out there. This has been the real revelation for me. In just over a month I have had numerous comments and ALL of them have been supportive, encouraging and positive. When people talk about online worlds and social media you often hear of bullying, trolls and negative responses. I’ve seen none of that. And it’s not just on my blog. When I read other blogs and comments it’s the same and that is a really wonderful thing to witness. It’s a picture of how this world could be if we truly valued and respected each other. Bloggers do it so why not politicians, religious leaders and others in positions of influence?
For me I would go so far as to say that the support and genuine interest of a few bloggers has helped me successfully manage my first 10 days of sobriety. It’s the quality of the support that’s really impressed me. It’s been much more than “10 days, well done Jim” type of response although that is always welcome. It’s been people sharing their own experiences to help shed light on mine or to offer advice and information that could be the thing that gets me through a sticky patch. Sometimes the comments can be very direct but that’s ok, I like direct and I can choose to act upon or not any advice coming my way. The point is in this blogging community people genuinely care for one another and want to see others moving forward and succeeding. No bitchiness or point scoring. They’ll be one or two just looking to pick up likes and followers but that’s ok. They still give. Oh and there are some big egos out there but hey that’s also ok. If a blogger feels a bit better about themselves that’s a good thing and it could be one of the few places they receive such positivity.
Is it all positive, this blogging business?
I would say the only negatives I can see for myself are:
A. It can be addictive. I’ve heard others mention that and I say this half jokingly because an addiction that does no harm physically and where the outcome is to connect with others in a positive way is hardly a bad thing
B. I have to be careful here. Maybe, just maybe we are too nice to each other. What I mean is that in trying to be supportive we sometimes sugar coat things or avoid any constructive criticism. You can be critical and supportive at the same time. I was a teacher for many years and just giving glowing feedback did not help students make progress. Purposeful, relevant feedback did. Having said that I know I’m now going to get some critical feedback of my own. That’s OK I can take it, just be gentle with me ! 😉
When I decided to give up the booze it was mainly about wanting to improve my health. I wasn’t the stereotypical down and out drunk. I was someone who found it difficult, when I did drink, to drink moderately and I was fed up with the constant battle. I’d tried a three month no alcohol challenge, saw the numerous benefits and gradually came to the conclusion that the drink had to go. Not an easy decision; I was going to be giving up a lot but the pros of giving up outweighed the cons. Now, after a week of sobriety some unsettling thoughts and feelings are starting to emerge. It’s getting uncomfortable. I’m getting anxious.
It started on Friday when I started to get what felt like cravings and I wrote about this on my blog. Saturday and Sunday were the same and I realised the cravings were being fed not so much by a physical need for alcohol but by a desire to quieten down some of the uncomftable feelings welling up inside me.
One of the most pervading feelings was one of anxiety, a sense of unease, edginess. I know some will say that’s part of the withdrawal from alcohol but it’s a feeling I used to have even when drinking regularly. This was not addiction speaking, it was dissatisfaction and ennui. Saturday I prepared a meal, but there was no fun or joy in it. I cooked, we ate, watched TV, slept. Great, is that it? At least with a glass of wine I’d get a reprieve from those feelings. It made me relaxed, I could look at life and smile, pretend and believe that life was OK. Take the drink away and it all looks a bit bleak. I even had the fleeting thought that,”if this is what life is going to be like, get back to drinking, at least you’ll enjoy parts of the ride.”
I know, I know, this is all part of the sober journey. Dealing with the difficult stuff. For me though the difficult stuff is facing up to the fact that there is not enough happening in my life. It’s also maybe the recognition that without the booze I have to confront the fact that I find intimacy difficult. Spending time being with someone, anyone, without the mask of alcohol just brings on these waves of anxiety.
I think I said earlier in this blog that I haven’t gone too deeply into the origins of my drinking behaviour, the whys and wherefore of my drinking because that’s the past and I wanted to focus on changing the present but this last weekend in particular highlights that I do need to understand why I maintained my drinking habits. Without understanding that and finding alternatives I know that I may be drawn back to alcohol as a way of just dealing with shitty feelings.
The anxiety I felt this weekend was part craving but for the most part it was borne of seeing my current life in the full white glare of sobriety. Stuck in a village, trying to be a loyal, loving partner, tinkering on the edges of life, somehow strangely lonely and isolated. Boy, no wonder I drank! But I’m not drinking and I don’t intend starting again so something has to give or change. I can’t spend weekends like this last one, feeling anxious and disattisfied. A silent, shuffling presence just wanting to be on my own. On top of that waves of feelings of loss come back. My marriage to the mother of my sons 15 years ago, the death of a best friend last year, losing my brother, son and father in the space of three grim years 10 years ago. This is not self pity, everyone has to deal with loss, but alcohol can sometimes can just take the edge of it. And maybe, just maybe I never gave myself the time and space to grieve fully.
This blog has helped. Externalising the thoughts and feelings by writing. Getting feedback and support and being able to offer it sometimes. There does emerge a real sense of community when you blog, a knowledge that you do not have to deal with things alone. Of course some things do need to be dealt with internally and alone and maybe I have put those off for too long. I am someone with enthusiasm for life, who likes to laugh and that’s the fella I need to rediscover. Yes, without booze I may get a bit anxious, feel that life lacks something, but I should also, without booze, be in a much better position to do something about it.
I knew this would happen. It’s my 6th day without alcohol. Sunday to Thursday all pretty good. Sleep not great, no sweaty shakes or massive cravings and then comes Friday. I’ve been dreading today because I know for me that my drinking patterns and my cravings are more social, associative and conditioned rather than psysiological. No cravings until today. Simply because it’s a Friday. When I did a three month challenge earlier this year the same thing happened , the craving mainly came on those days and ocassions I and many others associate with drink. And it is strange because I know alcohol is an addictive drug and changes our brain chemistry and yet it seems that the associations alcohol has for me with certain days and ocassions cannot be explained by addictive properties alone because if it was just about dealing with withdrawal that withdrawal and its effects should be consistent and they are not.
When I was drinking and trying to moderate, it was the same. My non alcohol days tended to be Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesdays and Thursdays were usually not too bad but Friday was when my drinking gloves came off, so to speak.
I think it goes back to my teaching days. Working in a London secondary school through the 80s and 90s was tough and emotionally exhausting. Friday night was when we separated work from the weekend. Drinking was the fast route to fun, abandonment, dodgy romantic liasons and leaving work behind. The trouble is you do that for 20 odd years and when work changes the conditioning still kicks in. I’m semi retired now, Fridays do not have the same end of working week connotations and yet I still feel the same build up towards wanting and expecting a drink. Today I knew I was not going to have one and boy did the cravings start.
I decided to divert myself. Get on the exercise bike, cook some apples, move plants, more exercise- inside I was screaming at myself-“But I want a drink I don’t want any more fucking excercise. Get a beer, sod the blog, enjoy yourself.” I cooked a dinner, I wanted wine. My partner who normally doesn’t drink fancied a beer. (She doesn’t khow I’ve stopped drinking but just thinks I am on a health kick). What is going on, who is doing this to me? I turn on the telly and the two presenters on the BBC One Show start pouring vodka. 7pm on a family show and they’re bloody drinking vodka, the bastards. A guest on the show, Ben Elton, is offered one. He tells the presnters he loves vodka and says “I’m an evangalist for booze!” Suddenly I feel like I’m the only person in the whole country not having a drink. The impulse to get myself a drink was strong. I really felt I was missing out.
I reminded myself of the many things I’ve seen in other people’s blogs about resisting cravings and reminded myself that I would not be able to have one drink and stop. I also reminded myself how I’ve started to feel a lot better physically and that I have to see things through because things do become easier and better. Then I thought, “I know I’ll write a post about it.” Purge those feelings in a hastily thrown together post which is what this is.
How do I feel now?
Better. It’s 8 pm. The worst is behind me. They’ll be no hangover tomorrow and I’ll have met my first big challenge. I’ll say it again- the knowledge that people in this blogging space are either striving to overcome their physical or psychologiacl dependance on alcohol or have succeeded in doing so is a massive support. For me as well having had that 3 month no alcohol challenge earlier in the year has really helped prepare me for nights like tonight. It really can’t be underestimated how tough giving up the booze is. Depite all the benefits we know about, many of us enjoyed our booze and its not easy saying no to it especially when it’s celebrated constantly in front of our eyes. But just because it’s ubiquitous doesn’t make it right or good or desirable. I’ve made my choice. I want to enjoy my life sober and if a few tough days is what it takes to achieve that so be it.
Ok so I have come out the other side. My last day as a drinking person was on Saturday and I had a lovely meal with different wines for each course. I drank a lot on my final day almost hoping to make myself ill so that I could always remember one of the reasons I wanted to not drink. Trouble is my month of excess meant I’d really built up my tolerance levels so yesterday I struggled with just a mild hangover. Last night I started to get my first cravings but nothing unmanageable. Sleep was poor last night, again all to be expected. I’ve done dry months before so I know pretty much what to expect in the first few weeks. The important thing is I have arrived. The sober journey begins.
But there is a problem. Now that I’m someone who has given up I have to face the mythology and language of sobriety and I have problems with that. Typically people on this journey have a Day 1 that becomes day 2 and so on. Success is defined by the number of days sober and even those sober for years and years will talk in such a way that failure is haunting them; alcohol is just behind them ready to pounce and undo all their hard work. That fear of failure seems encapsulated I one word: RELAPSE. Technically relapse is a medical term meaning someone has deteriorated after a temporary improvement. Someone who has relapsed has taken a turn for the worse, has weakened, deteriorated, failed. In the world of sobriety I see this term, loaded with negativity, used by people all the time. People start the clock, one day, two days, then the “inevitable” relapse happens, self loathing and failure kick in and the sobriety clock has to be recalibrated. What a recipe for failure!
I need something more positive if I am going to succeed and the language we use seems to be key in how we define and think of ourselves. Even the terms used to describe people like me are negative in connotations; ex drinkers, former drinkers, dependent, alcoholic. No thanks. I don’t like any of them even though my blog address is former drinker. I have had to use the terminology that’s out there but I need new terms, new language. I need to perceive what I’m doing as positive not just a reaction to something. Job one then is to think of a new term for what I’m doing- I have made a choice to live without using alcohol and I need a positive, desirable, aspirational term for this state of being. I’ll give this some thought and I would welcome suggestions or terms that others already use.
That brings me to the word I really do not like in this sobriety world; the dreaded RELAPSE. When I gave up smoking 15 years ago I did not refer to day 1 etc. I just mentally noted that I stopped smoking in May 2004. 2 years later my son had to have an emergency operation just before his 19th birthday. He had the operation, came home and we had a party. A few of his friends brought a Shisa pipe. People started smoking something like rose petal tobacco in the garden. It was a special occasion. I had a few puffs. There were other things to smoke, I had a few puffs. Someone rolled me a cigarette. I smoked it. Next day I felt a bit bad that I’d smoked but it was an extraordinary situation. Oh well I was glad I was a non-smoker. My mouth felt terrible and I carried on being a non- smoker. If someone asked me when I gave up smoking I don’t say April 2006 I say May 2004. So was that occasion a relapse? No. It was a momentary and fairly insignificant episode that did not deter me from my decision to be a non- smoker.
Now if that had been alcohol I’m sure many people would say, “I’ve had relapse! Oh God, I’ve failed, may as well pack in a bit more drinking then because I am going to have to start all over again.”Relapse is failure, failure saps your spirit, resetting means failure, failure means self esteem is lowered and that’s a door alcohol loves to walk through. So how can we define those times when maybe a drop or two of alcohol passes our lips without feeling that the whole weight of failure, recalibrating our sobriety clock, and bruised self esteem have to come crashing down upon us? It seems to me we already have a term, a word that would change how we perceive such episodes and ourselves and the word is “lapse.” Get rid of the “re” and you are left with lovely little “lapse” and lapse means a brief or temporary failure of memory, concentration or judgement. The key word in the definition is “brief.”
In my smoking example I had a lapse. I smoked a few over the course of a couple of hours. I didn’t see it as a major failure I saw it as a lapse, a brief misjudgement. Did I need to recalibrate my non- smoking clock? No. I was simply a non- smoker who had had a brief lapse.
People starting out with sobriety seem to live in fear of relapse and I do not want to start what for me is a positive lifestyle choice by living in fear. I know alcohol is addictive, I know it’s going to be in many of the social situations I enter and I know that there may be triggers out there that make me feel I want or need a drink. If I do and it’s a one off the that will be a lapse. I do not intend having a drink but if it happens, if for example I have a glass of champagne at a wedding to toast the bride because that was all there was, if I drink only that and carry on next day as my new sober self then all that’s happened is I have had a lapse, not a relapse, a lapse. My sobriety is intact and I am not going to label myself as a failure. If, one the other hand I have that glass of champagne and then drink the bar dry and go on a week’s bender then I will consider that a relapse. Giving myself that permission to possibly lapse without seeing it as failure means I should hopefully rid myself of that all or nothing mentality that often crushes other attempts at change whether it be exercise, sobriety or dieting.
I have spent a fair few words looking at one word but words frame how we perceive the world. I need words and meanings that will help me change, not words that will drag me down and make me think less of myself. Importantly I am not reframing the language I use just to give me permission to sneak in a few drinks. I’m a soberista (or whatever new word I can think of to describe this positive way of being) and I may not always be perfect but I’m giving myself the best chance of success. I stopped drinking yesterday, day 2 today but who’s counting.
And Finally something to think about. A few years ago the BBC did a programme about losing weight. They had two groups in two separate rooms. In a little experiment they gave both groups a huge chocolate cake with identical calories in it. The groups were invited to have piece of the cake and the bulk of the cake was left in the room. The groups were then told to look under the cake to see how many calories were in the cake. Group 1 were told it was a low calorie cake. That group of dieters stuck with having just the one piece that they had already eaten. The other group with the identical cake were told it was very high calorie. Most people in that group went on to eat two or more slices. For me that was a powerful experiment. Group 1 perceived that eating the cake had not ruined their diet and stopped at one piece of cake. Group 2 perceived themselves as having failed and adopted a, “oh well we’ve blown it may as well have another piece of cake” mentality. Interesting no?
It’s 2 in the morning here in the UK and I’m awake writing this because I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because I’m a bloated whale washed up on the shore of my own excess; eat, drink,shit,drink ,eat. I feel sick.
It’s officially, according to my own rules, my last full day of drinking before what I’m hoping will be a lifetime of sobriety and I’m beginning to have doubts. What if I fail? What if all this is some elaborate joke I’ve played on myself just so I can have a month of unrestrained excess?
I wanted to have a month of allowing myself to drink whatever I wanted before giving up and part of the thinking was to see what it would be like if I took the brakes off, not apply the normal limited restraint I put on my drinking and eating. No alcohol free days necessary this month Jim, just go for it, enjoy it! In Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock consumes only McDonalds everyday for a month to see how that would affect him physically and psychologically. The results were fairly predictable. My month has been similar in allowing myself to drink and eat without any of my normal constraints.
The results of this unrestrained food and booze fest:
10lbs weight gain
constant feeling of being bloated
lack of motivation (with the exceptions of doing this blog and music)
bouts of nausea
reduced level of physical activity and exercise
Basically I feel and look like shit!
The month of excess is thankfully coming to an end. Without normal internal constraints I become a creature of excess. I consume, I stuff myself,I devour, cramming it all in hoping for what? Happiness? Contentment? Sensual gratification? Relaxation? Satiation? Maybe that was the intention but after a month I feel the opposite. I feel worn down, miserable, sick, tired, out of touch with my body. I feel like I’m dying, slowly.
This month has not really been an experiment, it’s been me saying, hopefully, goodbye to a way of life. For years I have had to apply discipline and self scrutiny in order to stop the impulse to over- consume. At times it worked and other times it didn’t. But, take that discipline away and my default position is this mad desire to consume and cram in as much as I can and it’s not just the drink. When I drink more, I eat more. Trying to satisy something maybe, appease it, whatever “it” is, but I know there’s never enough food and drink to satisfy this intangible hunger. Instead of feeding this hunger I need to look at it, listen to it, understand it,confront it.
I guess all this means I should be looking forward to Sunday, giving up the booze and doing some work on myself. I am. I want to get well. But I’m also scared. Strip away the intellectualisation of this project; all the reasoning, arguments and plans and underneath is a frightened mess. If this doesn’t work, what then? Eat and drink myself into an explosive fartball of excess?
I’ll try and get some sleep now. I’ll go to a nice restaurant tonight and despite what I have said I’ll try and enjoy a good meal. I’ll be with my partner so no embarrassing excess. Then it’s home and tomorrow the real hard work begins. Everyone who embarks on this journey has their own reasons and demons and their own strategies and motivations. But there are many areas of commonality. Reading about how others have tackled this huge step into sobriety will hopefully help me reach that state. Strap in Jim, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Oh God it’s really going to happen. At the risk of demonstrating a huge amount of hubris, I have stated my intention on this blog that I will stop drinking alcohol in 4 days time. The thought has crossed my mind that maybe all I am doing via this blog is setting myself up for the most almighty fall. If that happens some may say,”well what did he expect, going on about giving up before he had even bloody started.” Others may think, “shit, that poor bloke, he’s building this thing up and he’s going to be emotionally and intellectually scarred when he inevitably fails.”
Those who are fans of Shadenfreude (the best German word ever and something I experience every time Manchester United lose a game) will say,”ha, ha, that’s so funny, prattling on about abstaining, sounding all high and mighty and he’s blown it after just 6 days, I must post that on Twitter, just brilliant.”
So, yeh I’m aware of the potential pitfalls but I am also someone who plans ahead and I have some good reasons to feel optimistic:
Reasons to be cheerful part 3:
My rough and ready research tells me that when dependent drinkers try to give up, approximately 20% succeed. Another 18% manage to reduce their drinking to safe levels. I’ll take a one in 5 chance anyday.
I have managed 3 months earlier this year plus I have managed 2 dry Januarys. I know this is completely different to fully giving up but it is still an indicator that it can be done.
I want this! I know that change is difficult but I really want this. For change to truly come about you have to have maximum motivation and I have that. Four main drivers of my motivation: for my health, to avoid the grim logic of where dependence usually leads, my desire to do more with my life and to hopefully set a good example to my sons.
Planning, planning, planning. Real change usually needs careful planning; thinking ahead, goal setting, preparing for most eventualities. I have done lots of that and will share some of my ideas in the next post.
Evidence. Ah this is where this wonderful blogging community comes in. So many people have shared their stories of moving towards or achieving sobriety. I guess sobriety is never fully achieved as there’s always a danger of relapse but many people who blog have been sober for 3,4,10,20+ years. Evidence that people can overcome the inevitable difficulties and find a more satisfying way of being. In other words it can be done and the results are worth the struggle and commitment.
Support. Support is vital. I have chosen not to share this with family or friends (bar 1) but I know there is a lot of support in this blogging community. I started this blog before giving up alcohol because I wanted to see if that support was there. It is. Generous, open, honest and constructive support. Invaluable.
In a nutshell: I want this sobriety, I have the desire and motivation to make it happen, it is realistic and feasible and I have plans and strategies to help me succeed. In addition I now have a network of bloggers from whom I can gain inspiration and support.
Sunday 1st is nearly upon me. I feel strangely like an inmate on death row. The orders have been taken. Saturday will be my last alcohol based meal. I will eat my favourite dishes and I will choose a fantastically expensive bottle of wine. I will savour that wine and drink it with gratitude and nostalgia, no bitterness or acrimony. Then I will bid my farewell. One life will have come to an end. My life with alcohol will have had a fitting finale, a funeral of sorts. There may even be tears. But this is not death row. It has been a different kind of prison that I have been in and on Sunday I will head from my cell not to face death but to confront life. I hope the sun will be shining.