Giving up alcohol: 'Dry January' wasn't enough to fix my relationship with booze
The seasonal festivities are over and Dry January is well underway, as increasing numbers of us opt for a teetotal month in compensation for an over-indulgent December.
Some, though, will be considering a more permanent break with the booze. Here, Mumsnet blogger Mrs D, whose sobriety memoir will be published later this year, describes the moment she knew she had to give up alcohol - and how she survived the journey to sober.
Read the blog, and do let us know what you think. Are you reconsidering your relationship with alcohol this New Year?
Mrs D Is Going Without
Mon 06-Jan-14 13:32:20
I can vividly remember the morning of my last hangover, standing in the kitchen with my throbbing head, messy hair, dry mouth, miserable face and deep overwhelming guilt. I can remember crouching down and reaching into the back of the cupboard to retrieve the remains of the bottle of wine I’d hidden from my husband the night before. I felt like complete and utter rubbish. My self-esteem was gone. I was utterly miserable. This was my personal rock bottom.
And I made a decision. Enough was enough. This had to stop.
I had tried for years to control and moderate my drinking. I’d done deals with myself: had dry patches, set limits. None of it had worked. The minute the wine hit my throat I was a goner. Time and again I let myself down. It was time to face up to reality. I couldn’t control alcohol - and no-one else could help me. It was my hand twisting the cap, my arm lifting the glass, my brain responding to the drug. It was my problem and only I could fix it.
That last miserable morning when I made my big decision I clung to the belief that if it was just me that needed to fix me then surely I could do it. Other people get sober – why not me? Other people learn to live without alcohol, surely I could too.
And I did. It’s now been over two years since my last drink.
I won’t gild the lily; it was bloody hard at first. I had cravings. I got shitty and emotional. I had sad days and angry days and days when I had no idea what the hell I was feeling except it just felt bad. I realised I’d been using wine as an emotional suppressant – habitually drinking as a way to keep things on an even keel. I had to learn how to be emotional.
‘I won't gild the lily; it was bloody hard at first. I had cravings. I got shitty and emotional. I had sad days and angry days and days when I had no idea what the hell I was feeling except it just felt bad. I realised I'd been using wine as an emotional suppressant – habitually drinking as a way to keep things on an even keel. I had to learn how to be emotional.’
And I had to learn how to have fun without booze. My whole adult life I had equated alcohol with fun - a party wasn’t a party unless I was getting hammered. A wedding was an excuse to lush out! A disco party with the kids was a great opportunity to drink chardonnay with girlfriends. A long lunch was made all the more fun because of the endless supply of drinks. How was I going to enjoy anything without my beloved booze?
I knew I couldn’t live as a miserable boozer any more, but I also couldn’t face living as a miserable non-boozer. I couldn’t bear the thought of going through the rest of my days feeling like I was missing out, feeling like a sad, boring loser. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that. I refused to do that!
So I worked really hard at re-training my brain. Read lots of books to help me see alcohol not as the magical elixir that had all the power to make things fun, but as the enemy that lied to me and made things worse. I kept going out to weddings and parties and dinners, and slowly but surely I got better at it. I learned not to drink too many energy drinks, not to fixate on what others were drinking, not to isolate myself, and most of all to look for the real things that make an event fun – the people, the camaraderie, the jokes, the atmosphere, the music, the food, the party clothes. The dancing!
Not drinking doesn’t make me a bore: it makes me someone who doesn’t drink alcohol. I went to a friends 40th recently, and danced for 4 hours to cheesy 80’s pop hits - then drove all our friends home.
The more I refused to accept that alcohol had the power to make an event fun, the more it didn’t. My fun and enjoyment didn’t rest with the fact that my drink had brain-bending qualities - it rested with all of those other, real things.
Again, I won’t gild the lily. Sober events can be hit and miss, and sometimes I do go home feeling a bit flat. But then again, that used to happen even when I was drinking. A boring party will always be a boring party even if I’m boozing heavily – that just makes me drunk at a boring party. Likewise, a fun party is always a fun party, even if my glass only has lime and soda in it.
Getting sober is hard; it takes work, but it can be done. Front up and be honest, dig deep and go for it. Find your support – find it with friends and family or in the rooms or online. To turn from a hopeless boozer like I was into the self-respecting sober lady I am today is to experience complete, glorious freedom. Kick that nasty booze to the curb, free up your life-force and let yourself soar. I promise you, if you stick at it, push though the hard early months and keep on going without the booze you will experience a hugely positive transformation. It will happen. It always does.
And know this: you are not alone. There are many, many of us who are turning sober. Thousands of us who are now moving through our days with no alcohol passing our lips at all. It’s ok, really it is. It’s better than ok, it’s fantastic. Sober is the new black, don’t you know...
By Mrs D
I think you must be right about brain retraining. I stopped smoking in early September after years of failing to stop. I took this 'rethinking my attitude ' approach to it and I havnt had one at all. I remember wanting one at a party in mid October but resisted, and have not thought about it since.
DH is still a smoker, but we never did smoke in the house luckily. After a good 25 years of pretty heavy smoking, I can't imagine it now.
So well done to you, and a great guest blog.
Congratulations and well done.
You say you've had "flat" nights - was just talking to my husband about this the other day. Nothing worse than a "flat" night when you're too pissed and too far from home!
I think it's really important to cultivate hobbies outside of an alcohol-centered activity so that you DO have something to do.
Again, well done - it can't have been easy!
Thanks for the interesting post, just a reminder, to all interested, that are 2 support threads on the MN Relationships board - the amazing Brave Babes, who have helped me to get sober for over 3 years (just had my 4th alcohol free Christmas) here and DRY here
Good Luck, and please PM me if anyone wants any of my tips/support.
Thanks for your post and for saying that its not always easy.
I've just realised that 2013 was my 5th alcohol free christmas. I'm so glad not to be the drunk in the corner anymore but just today I could have murdered a drink. It still has the power to catch me unawares at times.
Mrs D you are such an inspiration to all us sober warriors
Sober warriors of the world unite! So interesting to hear you say Cohenite that sometimes you still get slammed with a pang. They do come occasionally don't they.. especially (probably) because we live in a world awash with alcohol.. but resisting them gets easier and easier don't you think. I can't wait to have 5 alcohol free Christmas's under my belt. This was sober Christmas number 3 for me and it was totally fine. The positives always outweigh the negatives... xxxx
Well done you. Coming up to 6 months now. I think one of the problems is we think of being without a drink as just that - a lack, a negative, an absence. We worry about how, without the anaesthetic, we'll feel pain, raw and visceral.
But the flipside is true too. I have GAINED so much since I stopped. A complete career change. The respect and admiration of others. Liking myself, properly, for the first time in years. Most importantly, HOPE.
And, without the anaesthetic, I can also feel happiness. Real, natural, non-ethanol induced joy. It's gorgeous. Holding one of my girls to my cheek and dancing the Viennese Waltz to My Favourite Things and staring deep, deep into her eyes and that gaze being returned, with love. Because I haven't lost my children. I can stand up. I can focus. I can twirl. I am not counting the minutes till I can put her down and sneak off to glug the vodka hidden in the cat food.
I can LIVE.
Hi there - congratulations on your sobriety and your forthcoming publication, I hope you are truly proud of your achievements.
I'm an alcoholic with just over 18 months sobriety, following a life threatening injury and the adoption of my daughter, and amazingly my blog, which is in its earliest stages, got featured on blog-of-the-day last week.
I'm really interested in the "how" - you talk about reading lots of books and retraining your brain - I'm in awe that you turned your life around effectively by yourself - yes other people wrote the books but I'm fascinated with the retraining your brain yourself.
Obviously there are so many stories and ways that people get sober, and we really are the lucky ones because about 90% never do.
And I think too much so feel free to tell me to mind my own business.
I think ultimately I believe Carl Jung, who had great clinical experience, who spoke of "spiritus contra spiritum" and that alcoholic craving was equivalent to our being's spiritual thirst and must be counteracted by counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community
I wondered what you thought of this. I am always really interested in people's sobriety stories and "what happened" - the "how and why of it", as AA would say (I don't go to AA but find much wisdom in the literature).
I know that Bproud who posted above stopped simply using the Brave Babes thread - is that right - whilst I was using it, and I was and still am in awe (it took me a bit longer and more consequences than her), I guess that comes under the protective wall of human community.
Thank you for such a real and encouraging post, I hope it's ok to open up discussion.
I don't know if I should report - the last post on the thread ends up with the name above the blog post - previously stinkingbishop and now me...
Hey stinkingbiship - what a wonderful image of you dancing with your girl, that is truly wonderful. It is those small magical moments when we feel so happy and alive that makes sobriety so worth it (makes up for the times when we do get hit with pangs and a bit of woe-is-me).. Congrats on 6 months!
And weregoingtothezoo - I like that Jung stuff (can't confess to knowing anything about Carl Jung whatsoever!) about heaving boozing being about a spiritual thirst.. I didn't have any idea that my drinking was such a negative.. until right at the end I just thought it was a positive, fun thing to do.. but now I'm free of it I can't see it as anything but a huge waste of time and energy. Time and energy that I have in spades now. For me the best re-training books were definitely Jason Vale's Kick The Drink Easily and Allan Carr's Easyway to Stop Drinking.. both those dudes really got into my brain and had me looking at alcohol for all the negative impacts rather than the few positives.. and looking at events for what they offer outside of the drink. The real things that make events fun.. after reading them it was really just a matter of practicing going out and working really hard to have a good time looking for the real fun things.. it wasn't hard after a while. It took practice but it wasn't hard at all after a while..
Hi weregoing I found the brave Babes a marvellous support in my early days, having the opportunity to post when I had a craving, and have the Brave Babes SWAT team talk me out of it was such a boon. I (somewhat selfishly) stopped posting at about 18 months - 2 years as I did not need that online support any more. I still get the occasional pang, but can talk MYSELF out of it now.
I agree with stinkingbishop I have gained so much, especially a pride and confidence in myself, and the additional love and respect of my family and friends.
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