Working on our early warning signs is one way of avoiding a complete relapse. They are a set of symptoms that can occur in a specific order, over a particular period of time, that indicate a relapse is possible and impending.
You need to think about what changes that you experience in your thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviour prior to your last bout of drinking, whether you were moderating already, or had stopped completely . It is also helpful to identify events which might trigger these sorts of changes and I’ll cover those in more detail in another post
The early warning signs can take place over a period of several weeks or months and are usually noticeable between four weeks and two days before a relapse and include:
- Subtle changes in thinking – in terms of the way you think and what you think about. For me this is getting wistful about drinking, the cravings being rekindled and becoming preoccupied with the thought of drinking again.
- Change in the way you feel. So I get this sense of ‘f*ck it’ that gets stronger and stronger. I can almost taste the booze in my mouth.
- Changes in the way you behave. So I start to look for, or provoke, reasons to drink or I withdraw.
- Changes in relationships with other people. I might pick a fight to enable me to storm off to the off-license because I’m upset and I deserve a drink now. I might stop reaching out to the communities that would challenge these thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
If you were to look back you could almost pin-point the moment when you went from happily not drinking to unhappily not drinking, from happy sober person to dry drunk.
So if you find yourself experiencing what feels like early warning signs you can practice asking yourself questions such as:
- “What am I thinking about?”
- “How am I feeling?”
- “Is this my usual way of thinking/feeling?”
I usually out myself to Mr HOF or you guys 😉 What was your relapse signature?
Maybe it’s just me but since I stopped drinking I find myself reflecting on my past and what bought me to the here and now. Everything happens for a reason right?
And whenever I reflect I wonder about times that my drinking wasn’t a problem – like when I was pregnant. Now I’m not saying this as a joke because in the UK you can still have a drink during pregnancy whereas in many other countries they recommend not to.
So why is it, this wasn’t difficult for me? Was it because during the first three months you feel sick and the thought of wine makes you want to vomit? Did that 3 months almost count as a 100 day challenge and I just got used to it? Why could I have my one glass of wine on a Saturday night and not want to inhale the whole bottle? Was it because I knew that drinking more would be harmful to my on-board passenger? I do remember in my first pregnancy being very vigilant but with my second was a little more laissez-faire and I found it more difficult to give up the booze but of course I did.
I guess if I’m honest part of me is still wrestling with the idea of ‘forever’ and looking for chinks of hope to draw from in the past. Wolfie whispering ‘see you did it then and it wasn’t a problem. You could go a whole week and only have one glass on a Saturday night and that was fine’. I do remember being resentful that I could only have one, second pregnancy round.
I appreciate that this is a post of more questions than answers and maybe you want to chime in too? What’s your recollections and thoughts? I’d love to know 🙂
So last week-end I started on some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with an experienced senior practitioner.
Why? Because I have this tiny little voice in my head that say’s ‘if I could get to the bottom of what my thinking around my drinking was and could fix it then all would be well and I could drink socially again’. I know, I know – sounds like a wolf in sheep’s clothing right?
But this wolf/sheep is still struggling with how the rest of the flock get to drink and she doesn’t. ‘Sheeple‘ is an oft used derogatory term for a person who follows the herd without thinking about their actions and this is part of my struggle too. Am I wanting to drink again so that I fit in or is this just wolfie words to keep me struggling? If the attitude towards drinking had changed as it has towards smoking, so that it was considered a more anti-social than social habit, would this decision be so hard?
These are all unanswered questions that I continue to struggle with. I hate being a sheeple and feeling like one and usually rejoice in going against the flow so why is this issue different? I struggle with the question of ‘am I an alcoholic?’ and that my inability to control my drinking isn’t a failing in me but a reflection of an addictive substance. I know this isn’t new to any of you but that is what was going through my head when they asked me the question.
Then they asked me to scale/rate how hard this was for me to unpick and manage and that was a resounding 10. This is some of the hardest shit I have ever done, and I’m doing it sober, and I am crying a river of tears. It’s like a wine bottle cork was plugging the dam of tears that have been building up and been kept in check for as long as I can remember. The no booze and tricky therapeutic conversations has finally forced the cork out of the hole and the full force of my tear ducts had been released. As the lovely Mrs D would say ‘water keeps falling from my eyes’ and I feel unable, and unwilling, to control it like I did in the past.
I will share how the CBT goes and what I learn because I wonder if I am not alone in how I think and how it relates to my drinking and I find this therapeutic in itself. I sense I know the answer to the question already but I’m just not yet ready to accept it and this is my way of delaying the inevitable. But what a fantastic learning opportunity too and what doesn’t break us makes us stronger right?
I have often been guilty of, and still am really, of ‘if only’ or wishful thinking.
You know, the if only I was thinner/prettier/smarter/richer then I would be happier/less stressed and things would be easier/better. Such a dangerous game to play and it isn’t really living in the moment but wishing away time. Deadly.
And being able to manage my drinking/being sober fitted this way of thinking too. I believed that when I stopped drinking that everything else that wasn’t quite how I wanted it to be would miraculously improve. Now don’t get me wrong many of those things have happened as a by-product of stopping – I’ve lost 7lbs, my face is less ravaged by booze fugliness when I look in the mirror in the morning and I have more money in my pocket. But initially I wasn’t less happy or stressed and things felt harder and worse not the opposite. But the pain in the early days is worth the pay-offs in the longer term.
I guess my point is just don’t expect miracles. I am less moody and generally easier to be around, now that I’m not permanently hungover, but if you had relationships that you struggled with this change in you will not necessarily improve things with them in the short term.
It makes me think of Tuckman’s stages of group development: ‘forming, norming, storming, performing.’ This change is like any other and when you stop drinking it changes the dynamic with others that you relate to, and with, so these stages come into play. I think at almost 7 months I’ve done the forming new ways of relating and it has become more normal but now we’ve hit the storming phase. But as always I suspect, this too shall pass.
I’ll revisit this post in a few months time and see if we’ve got over this bump in the road. Those of you further ahead than me in the journey – what is your experience as I’d love to have some re-assurance? 🙂
God I so love the internet! Not only do I get to hang out with all you really cool people but there are so many endlessly brilliant resources.
I saw this video and thought oh god that was me and wolfie?! So if it helped me maybe it might help you?
If you are torturing yourself about things that you did in the past and feel guilt then Eckhart Tolle‘s conversation with Oprah might really help.
Killer line for me: ‘The awareness was not there to act differently’ and that is it in a nutshell. It’s only when I stopped drinking that I had the awareness to act differently but also equally when I was drinking the booze removed awareness and made it difficult to sometimes act differently.
Yep we all know the game and I have spent many hours trying to improve my score on it and beat my kids at it.
As a drinker I could also be an angry ‘bird‘. I grew up around arguments as a child and so was pretty avoidant of any confrontations as I didn’t like them and they triggered negative memories and associations for me. So I would swallow any angry feelings down with my booze and then when I reached trigger point would explode either whilst drinking or in the fog of a hangover the next day. This just caused a cascade of guilt and shame on top of the anger and remorse and I would resolve to not behave like this again and then the cycle of the building of unexpressed emotions would start again. I could be pretty passive-aggressive as a result.
If you want to do a good online test about anger go here.
If you struggle with anger either as part of your drinking, or as you try to moderate or stop, then once again those fab peeps at Mind have it covered.
Their tips for managing anger include:
- Learn your triggers by keeping an anger diary so that you can identify patterns. If you find it difficult to identify triggers you may need more professional help.
- Look out for you physical warning signs. For me I start to clench my jaw and get a radiating heat out from my stomach, what’s yours?
- Try some calming techniques, like counting to ten, deep breathing or walking away.
- Learn to be assertive and to express yourself verbally in an assertive way
- Look at your lifestyle and see if you need to change anything such as exercise, sleep or causes of stress
I still get angry now but it is less often and I handle the feelings differently. Now I feel that I am more assertive due to an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem and speak out before it reaches explosion point. Happier Mr HOF and kids as I am less volatile as a result 🙂
Last week-end I went to the 18th birthday party of a close family member. It was a lovely evening where the young person was surrounded by family and friends cheering on their coming of age.
But boy do I see things through different eyes now I don’t drink! In my old drinking days this would have been a bona fide excuse to get absolutely ripped. The kids would have been amused with a film whilst I got down to the job of drinking and smoking myself to oblivion. They would have been put to bed at the host’s home and we would have carried on carousing until the early hours. Mother’s day the next day would have been completely ruined as I would have been hanging from a major hangover and Bloody Mary’s would have been the order of the day for an early lunchtime to try and manage the pain in my head. But I wasn’t an alcoholic was I because the drink at lunchtime when I had finished drinking in the early hours of the night before, and struggled out of bed at 10 or 11am, wasn’t a drink first thing in the morning was it? 😉
The amount of booze at this party could have sunk a small ship. When did it morph from taking a four pack of beer to taking a whole slab or case, from one bottle of wine to three and bottles of spirits? The total units of alcohol sitting inside this house was mind-bending, liver failing and made me feel quite sick at just the thought.
Is this a marketing thing where it is just cheaper to buy this larger volume? It would seem so as this week Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has criticised the “deplorable” tactics of supermarkets designed to encourage customers to buy “ever-greater quantities of alcohol” in the latest annual report on the state of the public’s health. Within this report she also says ‘in popular culture, drinking alcohol to excess is sometimes portrayed as normal behaviour. An analysis of six weeks of soap operas in the UK in 2010 found 162 instances of characters drinking to excess, with negative consequences rarely shown’. Do people just drink more and is the normalisation of this behaviour in the soaps supporting this excessive drinking? We used to say that people should bring their body weight in booze to a party but we weren’t being serious!!
But I did not want to drink any of it I’m happy to say. What other people did was absolutely fine by me but I was not tempted in the slightest. I nursed a couple of AF beers (which threw some people who knew I’d stopped drinking as they thought I had started again until I pointed out that it was alcohol free) and we took the kids home at 10pm when they got tired. People were unsurprisingly fairly well oiled and starting to get worse for wear by the time we left.
But the next morning I was struck by the question, how do you celebrate an 18th if you don’t drink? OK turning 18 means you can also vote but most young people are excited by the prospect of legally drinking. In the British culture alcohol is so embedded as part of our coming of age rituals that this really foxed me. How do you mark this milestone without booze?? Any thoughts or suggestions from you? 🙂
So alcohol’s pervasive march into all areas of our life seems to be the way forward it would seem. As you can see from the picture above several ice-cream manufacturers think that Bailey’s ice-cream is a good idea, and I appreciate the Haagen-Dazs one has been around for a while, but Magnum Mini’s? Or maybe you’d like cake with a Bailey’s cream or dessert sauce if ice-cream isn’t your thing. Or how about some Jack Daniels steak/barbeque sauce or Guinness crisps? No? Sweet toothed and looking for a mouth morsel? Then Jack Daniels fudge or Guinness truffles might be for you! Perfect for those of us who have replaced booze with sweets or chocolate 🙁
Maybe I’m being a kill joy but do children really need the opportunity to associate booze with treats like ice-cream, sweets, chocolate and crisps before they can actually drink the stuff?
I’ll hand over to the experts here:
Mark Leyshon, Research and Policy Officer at Alcohol Concern and author of the briefing, said:
“Previous research by Alcohol Concern has shown that children as young as 10 and 11 recognise some alcohol brands better than popular brands of snacks. If they’re seeing big drinks brands on the foods in the fridge and the mugs in the cupboard, that’s an extra dose of alcohol advertising right under their noses.”
To read the full brief regarding brand stretching, which is what this is, then go here. (Alcohol Concern is also the charity I am running for in just over a months’ time. If you would like to support them by sponsoring me so that they can keep up their fantastic work then you can do so here)
This all actually makes me want to scream and then swear ALOT! What’s does everyone else think? Am I over-reacting or is this the thin end of the wedge?
Was out for a run recently and on my path I jogged past a discarded empty beer can that had been dumped on the roadside and it got me thinking.
The said brand is euphemistically known in the UK as ‘wife beater’. Nice huh? I’ll not share which particular brand or why it has this reputation but if you want to know the answer it is here and the owners of said brand and their lobbying companies have tried to take down the Wiki reference without success! (source)
And then other drink names came up – gin and it’s nickname ‘mother’s ruin’. This spirit was also known as ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, ‘Ladies Delight’ and ‘Knock Me Down’ and it’s consumption prompted the Gin Act in 1736 such was the state of ruin it caused to individuals and society within the UK.
And then I couldn’t think of anymore although I know there are! Alcohol’s reputation has been cleaned up to within an inch of it’s toxic life and as the ‘wife beater’ reference goes to show the manufacturer’s and PR folks will go to great lengths to maintain the facade. I’m sure a day will come when people will look back on this booze sodden time in our history and marvel at our stupidity and the success of the advertisers, marketeers and pedlars of these legal poisons. I hope that day is sooner rather than later for the sake of our liver’s and the next generation.
Can anyone help me out with any other less than flattering drink nick-names that you can think of to add to the list?
One of the things I really like about the ‘Smokefree’ booklet is it gives you a timeline of how quitting smoking benefits your health after certain time frames. I haven’t seen one for quitting booze so I’m creating my own based on my own experience.
The last time I checked in I was at 4 1/2 months and now I’m another 2 months on. So what do I notice?
My nails are stronger and tend to split less.
I used to wash my hair every day as I didn’t like it getting greasy and it would within 2 days. Now I can wash it and leave it for 2 days without problems.
We have a new kitten who likes to play, scratch and bite and I’m noticing that the scratches he inflicts heal quickly. Spots also disappear faster!
Working as a nurse, and as a parent to primary school age children, every winter I used to get a good share of all the bugs going round and some lovely colds. This winter I have only had one mild cold and no more. This and the quicker healing wounds all suggests an improving immune system.
Finally, having spent 25 years working as a nurse I have some rather fetching varicose veins from all those hours standing and running around. Astoundingly they are looking better and less prominent suggesting an improvement in my cardiovascular health.
I’ll check in again in another few months and share what I find 🙂
16.50 UK time
Edited to add: I’ve been having a conversation with wolfish (@wintersknife) on Twitter about creating a stopping drinking health benefits timeline. If you would like to contribute your experience and how far along you were in your sober journey when you noticed the benefit then please post a comment below and we’ll make sure it’s included! 🙂