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? 🙂
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 🙂
As I said in my last post I’ve been back in school and during that time had a really interesting conversation with a GP. We were discussing alcohol as a public health issue and she said that there was this saying in her experience that went something like this:
‘You only have a drink problem if you drink more than your GP or your MP’.
Now I had never heard this expression before but actually it makes perfect sense. Your GP is your senior primary care health professional and your MP is your senior political representative. Both influence and shape health and public health policy and legislature. Now if they drink the same amount as you they are not going to perceive your drinking as a problem because to do so would cause them discomfort relating to their own drinking (or cognitive dissonance). And therein lies the rub.
The GP asked me if I drank, and I shared that I had given up 6 months ago, to which she said ‘well you are probably in a better position to comment as you are unbiased’. See if your GP or MP drinks like you then they have a positive bias towards alcohol and this creates a dichotomy for them. How can they be impartial in their working lives towards the issue? I responded that it could be argued that I now have a negative bias towards booze as I had stopped drinking (or that’s how some would choose to see it!).
The WHO stats I shared yesterday telegraph loud and clear that ‘Houston we have a problem’. We need to have an honest open discussion about alcohol and it’s impact and yet this is complicated by the fact that so many professionals that should be unbiased are not. So the issue gets tip-toed round or we stick our heads in the sand hoping that it will just go away. Except it doesn’t and it isn’t. The elephant in the room has passed out drunk and we just keep stepping over it ……
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting 3 sober friends for a chat over lunch and cups of tea while all around were busy celebrating Paddy’s Day with booze. Although we ‘knew’ each other this was the first time that we had met and for me it was both anxiety-provoking and like coming home all at the same time. I had a fantastic time, 3 1/2 hours had never gone so fast and I have never before not wanted to leave the table in case I missed something!
What I learned through our conversations was that we were all quite different and yet our stories were reassuringly familiar when it came to drinking and what had bought us all together and to the point of stopping. I loved our differences in both who we were and how we were treading our own paths. Each journey was as unique as our individual finger-print. There was no ‘one size fits all’ panacea.
Some of us started blogging when we had stopped drinking and others had not
Some of us were drinking alcohol free beers and wines and others were not
Some of us were attending AA and others were not
And that I found deeply comforting as my perfectionist inner critic loves nothing more than finding out that there is a supposed ‘right’ way to do something and that I haven’t done it. Wolfie would have been straight in my ear with his ‘oh well, you’ve not done it correctly so you may as well drink again’ tactics.
See the only thing that matters is that you don’t drink. How you manage that is entirely up to you and you just need to do whatever works for you. Progress not perfection 🙂
This is an advert I remember really clearly from my youth in the 1980’s and 1990’s and for me is the antithesis of stress. I love me a Cadbury’s Caramello as a pudding treat and desserts = stressed backwards!
Stress is something that we all live with on a daily basis. Balancing home and work, meeting the demands of our partners and children, prioritising all the competing demands we have on our time and attention. Life can feel stressful much of the time if I’m not careful!
Mind discuss how situations which are recognised to be very stressful are associated with change and with lack of control over what is happening. This makes giving up drinking potentially stressful as it is a change but one you do have control over*. But if this is a long overdue change you are motivated to make that can make it a positive stress!
Tips for coping with stress include:
- Finding out what triggers you stress so you can then think about what you can stop doing or change to be able to manage the triggers better.
- Sort out your worries dividing them into those that you can do something about (either now or soon) and those that you can’t.
- Being organised by make a list of jobs, tackling one task at a time and alternating dull tasks with interesting ones.
- Take control of what is stressing you by getting started by doing one task you feel you can manage.
- Taking regular breaks when you feel things are getting on top of you – get a hot drink or a glass of water or take a short stroll.
- Listing your achievements so that when you have done something you feel proud of, write it down. Remember to include the everyday tasks, like shopping, or preparing a meal. When you feel stressed, read the list to give yourself a boost.
- Be active as physical activity can help you feel calmer, stronger, and better able to deal with emotional stresses. Try something you enjoy e.g. walking the dog, dancing, playing a sport or gardening.
- Getting a different perspective by discussing your problems with someone else can help you get ideas about new ways of dealing with your problem or stress. Sharing your thoughts can also help you feel calmer and listened to.
I found stopping drinking initially stressful as it had become such an ingrained habit and it’s absence was acutely felt. However as time has gone on and the stretch of non-drinking days has got longer now I don’t miss it at all and I wonder how I ever managed to juggle my life when I was permanently hung over. Now that is stressful! 😉
- If you feel that you are not in control of your drinking and are unable to stop through choice then I suggest you seek medical advice as you may need additional medical support to stop drinking.
I’m reading this great book called ‘Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem?’ by Robert Doyle, a Psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School and expert on alcoholism and Joseph Nowinski, a Clinical Psychologist. It is really worth a read.
In it they talk about using dialectics to promote an inner dialogue to allow insight and maybe even the catalyst for an ‘aha’ moment! Dialectics is a way to understand the way things are and the way things change. The 3 simple rules of dialectics are:
- Every thing is made of opposing forces/sides (be it object or process)
- Gradual changes leads to turning points, where one opposite overcomes the other
- Changes move in spirals, not circles
This makes me think of the expression ‘being trapped in a downward spiral’ which is often how my drinking felt. But we can also have upward spirals which is where I consider myself now as my health, wealth and happiness improve on an almost daily basis.
They give some great examples of dialetic thoughts and questions to ponder such as:
Who am I vs Who do I think I should I be?
What do I want vs Why am I here?
Where have I been vs Where am I going?
I find these questions useful both from a still drinking perspective or a post stopping perspective. When I was drinking these questions were helpful in aiding my resolve to change my drinking behaviour initially temporarily and then permanently.
Now I’ve stopped I’m thinking about what I want to do with all the time, energy and resources that are now available to me and how I can best use them to make my life feel like it is moving forward and I am growing, learning and reaching my full potential.
I wish I had had the foresight to do this when I stopped. The value of hindsight and all that means that I missed the opportunity, but you don’t have to if you are reading this and still drinking.
What I wish is that I had taken a ‘before I stopped drinking’ selfie. Why? Because once you get a fair amount of time under your belt you begin to forget how awful it was and the impact that it had on you both physically and psychologically. A picture of me looking dog rough the morning after the night before – resplendent with blood shot eyes, puffy grey face and expression of ‘I am in world of pain’ would serve as a warning and a reminder of what had been before. Plus I have could have taken a selfie now and compared the ‘before’ and ‘after’ to see how much better I look. People tell me I look great but when the change is so gradual you don’t necessarily notice it yourself and these pictures would help with that.
Now wolfie is stirring at the tiniest thought (crafty bugger) of the need to go back and drink again so that I can get this ‘before’ photo, for the benefit of the blog of course, but I’m not falling for it. I will take a picture now at almost 6 months and compare it to myself in a year’s time instead 🙂
Here it is 😉
Edited to add: A member of the Soberistas community has recently done this – taking a selfie on Day 1 and then again 3 weeks later and the results are gobsmackingly amazing and shocking at the same time. They look like a different person!
Edited to add: 21st March 2016 The Metro ran a story with accompanying photo’s of a Reddit user who shared before and after selfies – take a look here
So I have shared the reasons that it was important for me to stop but I found it all too easy to sit at this point and procrastinate.
I needed to think beyond these questions and consider more such as:
Imagining that I had decided to stop and what would that feel like?
What would I need to have in place to be able to stop?
What help and support would I require?
What information would I need?
What would be the benefits of continuing to drink?
What would be most difficult for me if I decided to stop?
What would be the benefit if I decided to stop?
Again I would weigh up the pro’s and con’s of staying with the drinking behaviour or changing the drinking behaviour.
Now I needed to act.
These were questions that I started to ask myself when I realised that my drinking was once more problematic and I moved from pre-contemplative to contemplative again:
How do I feel about my drinking?
What are the good things about drinking?
Is there anything about drinking I don’t like?
Do I see myself as a life-long drinker?
How do I see my life in the future if I decide to continue drinking?
Do I have any concerns about stopping?
What would get in the way of stopping?
What would I need to have in place to enable me to stop drinking?
How ready do I feel to stop drinking?
On a scale of 0-10 how important is it for me personally to stop drinking?
0 = not very important
10 = very important
On a scale of 0-10 if I decide right now to stop drinking how confident do I feel that I would be successful?
0 = not very confident
10 = very confident
What are my main reasons for wanting to stop drinking?
What do I think my biggest problem will be if I stop drinking?
I found it important to think about all of these things when considering the change. I weighed up the pro’s (as detailed here) and con’s (as detailed here) of staying with the behaviour vs changing the behaviour. Maybe these questions will be useful for you too?
I’ve been thinking about the fact that I started this blog on day 37 in my sobriety so you, the reader, have no understanding of how I got to that point. So I’m going to work backwards from then to try to explain what happened and what tools I used. It won’t be a day by day recall of that time, because I simply can’t remember the details, but will be a broad brush stroke picture, with edited highlights and low-lights, some of which I have already written about such as here.
This was the number one tool I used in the early days and when I was trying to moderate before stopping.
It is based on the premise that you have the power, you are in control and nobody can stop whether you chose to drink or not. This may sound obvious but I had drunk for so long it had become habitual and I had become Pavlovian in my response. The clock hit a certain time of the day = wine o’clock. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed (both positively or negatively), unable to cope, exposed or sensitive = pick up a drink. I drank on automatic pilot. So this tool is about being mindful of your drinking, your triggers and trying to delay and unpick what is going on.
So when the cravings hit, I would check the time, and tell myself that I had felt the urge, but that I was going to choose not to pick up a drink for 15 minutes. If after this amount of time I still had the urge to drink, then I could. It was my choice, I had the power and the control – even if in the past it hadn’t felt that way. I was reconditioning my brain with the experience that I could choose to wait or choose to drink.
For the duration of this 15 minute ‘waiting period’ I would try to keep myself occupied by having a bath, blog surfing or writing down where I thought the urge to drink was coming from and writing a letter to myself about my feelings. After the 15 minutes had passed I would check how I was feeling and how I felt about the urge to drink. I could choose to drink now or I could choose to wait another 15 minutes. I could keep playing this 15 minute game for as long as I wanted, and sometimes the urge passed and sometimes it didn’t. But it was always my choice at every 15 minute step. If I got through the urge and the cravings passed without drinking I would write it in my journal or would tell my husband knowing that it was another brick towards the time when I would build a wall of sobriety – thanks Belle for the sober brick analogy 🙂
Then I would congratulate myself for delaying the urge or for not drinking with some kind of treat. A piece of chocolate, a hug from my husband or kids – a small reward for my effort. If you are new to the sober game and want to use this tool and tell me how you’ve got on, please do either in the comments below or you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
(This tool is an adapted version of one from www.lifesigns.org.uk)