I originally wrote this in February, 2014 on my other blog Little Bit by Little Bit.
I have a drinking problem. Although I’ve been sober since September 4th, 2013, I still say that I have a drinking problem because it’s something I struggle with everyday. I wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic: I didn’t drink everyday, didn’t try to hide it, I didn’t drink at work or get fired due to my drinking, and I didn’t have a physical dependency on it. But for all I know, I might just still be in denial of how serious my situation was. My drinking problem was that once I started, I never stopped when it was appropriate. I drank until I blacked out and wouldn’t stop there. I’d make terrible decisions without knowing it until I came out of my blacked out stupor. However, the worst part of my drinking was the aftermath.
The hangovers that prevented me from doing anything other than curling up in bed and whining to my cat. The regret when I saw what I texted and to who, what I posted online, or remembered what I did. And finally the guilt of hurting those I loved by being an asshole or just making an ass out of myself in general.
Even when I was still drinking I didn’t understand why I was doing it; nothing I did when I was drunk and no amount of fun I had made the morning after worth it. And yet I would drink again and again, never learning from my mistakes. That is, of course, until recently. I had had enough, my life was at an all time high and drinking was only bringing me down. It stopped me from being productive and was SUCH a time waster. So I decided to quit. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, however, and I slipped up every three or four days which is when I would usually crack open a bottle.
The first two weeks were the hardest, and I had a lot of first two weeks. After that, it was smooth sailing. I now can go to a bar with friends and simply order a soda. If anyone asks if I want a drink, I simply reply with “no thanks” and if they press further I tell them that “I don’t drink” and leave it at that. I’m not against drinking and won’t preach against it, it’s simply not for me. I would love to be able to moderate my drinking but unfortunately with me it’s an all or nothing deal.
Here are some things that I did that were essential to me getting sober. I am only five months into my new-found sobriety so I don’t really have much to offer when it comes to staying sober for a long period of time, but I’ve been following these tips and it’s been working thus far.
- DON’T KEEP ALCOHOL IN YOUR HOUSE! This is pretty self-explanatory but it needs to be mentioned. If you live with someone who drinks, tell them to either start keeping the beverages locked somewhere you can’t access or to stop keeping alcohol in the house. Explain to them what you’re trying to do and how important it is to you and if they care about you in any way, shape, or form then they should be able to support you. I also returned all the empty bottles and cans I had laying around so that I would have one less trigger for my drinking. Eventually you’ll be strong enough to be around alcohol and not be tempted by it, but in the beginning it’s way too easy to slip up if there’s a nice cold beer in the fridge inviting you to open it up and relax.
- STAY PRODUCTIVE! I can’t stress this enough. A lot of people drink because they’re bored sitting around doing nothing. When you’re sitting around doing nothing and trying not to drink, your mind will wander to wanting to drink and it’ll be extremely hard to talk yourself out of it. Staying productive is key to breaking yourself out of the habit of drinking and getting yourself into a new routine. Drinking isn’t an option anymore, so what is? Cleaning is what I did first and it’s a good one since really you can’t run out of things to clean. I don’t like cleaning, I like drinking a lot more, so it was hard for me to get started. I felt so good after I was finished, even with just one area, it was definitely worth not drinking in order to do that. Exercising, volunteering, reading, and finding a hobby are other great ideas as well. Even getting immersed in a video game will pass time (albeit not in the most productive manner). It’s important to note there’s a BIG difference between being productive and being busy, however. Being busy usually means our schedules are jammed and filled with things that don’t bring us any joy or positive emotions when we do them (“busywork”). While this keeps us from having any downtime, it can stress us out and at the end of the day it still feels like we haven’t done anything with our time because we have little to show for it. Staying productive, however, means that we’re passing the time with things that either bring us joy or things that we truly like to do. I’m not saying that every single thing you do everyday should be something you enjoy (not everyone enjoys going to work in the morning and yet most of us have to), but it’s important to fill up your free time with things you enjoy in order to reclaim your free time for yourself. Don’t feel like you need to do as many things as possible in a day. If you enjoy gardening, spend a few hours gardening. If you like to grab a book and read, do that for a bit before you move onto the next thing. I like to keep a list of things I actually like to do (sometimes I can forget, especially when I’m stressed out!) and reference it if I have some downtime. I don’t try to do everything on the list, but it’s a great tool for when I’m not sure what to do next.
- STAY MINDFUL! It’s easy to subconsciously reach for an adult beverage when you get home from work or whenever your usual drinking time is. I found myself going to a liquor store after I got off the train before going home for the night simply out of habit. I had to stop myself, take note of what I was doing, tell myself why I didn’t want to follow through with my actions, then redirect myself. If you know why you want to stop drinking, don’t be hesitant to remind yourself. Those reasons are perfectly valid and are very important — stay aware of them! Whenever you find yourself wanting a drink, go over what will probably happen if you decide to have one. Remember why you want to stop drinking and talk yourself out of wanting that drink. Additionally, remind yourself of how many days sober you have behind you and remember how hard it was to get there. Do you want that time to be just for nothing? Do you really want to start all over again? Even if you’ve only been sober for two days you need to get past two days to get to two years — keep it up!
- FIND A SUPPORT SYSTEM! Whether it’s a therapist/counselor, AA, church, a sober friend, an internet community, or another type of group, having a support system in place is essential to not falling off the wagon. Having other people depend on you is a huge motivator — you’ve let yourself down plenty of times in the past but it’s harder to let someone else down. I opted for an internet community on Reddit in the subreddit /r/stopdrinking. What I love about /r/stopdrinking is that there’s a counter (they call it a badge) that you set with the first full day you’ve been sober. It does the counting for you and as you hit different mile stones (weeks, months, etc.) the icon next to the number changes, which can get exciting. When you reset your badge, you have to send a message to the moderators for them to reset it. It’s not a bot, it’s an actual person who responds and fulfills the request to reset your badge. I reset it numerous times and felt even more guilty about drinking. The moderators are rooting for you to get sober and when you reset your badge, you’re essentially letting them down. They don’t guilt trip you and only have nice things to say to you, but that feeling is there: I let them down. I made a pledge to stop drinking and I failed and they know it, I had to take time away from their day to have them reset my badge. Your badge is also displayed next to your username for people to see whenever you post or comment. This made me try harder and having the counter to be able to keep track of the days made it much easier. If Reddit’s not your thing, then finding some sort of counter app for either habits (Coach.me, Habit Flow, Habit Streak) or just a generic counter. An online community is working well for me because I can post whenever I need support, log on whenever I want to and don’t even have to leave my bed, and you get to meet all sorts of people from all over the world with the same goal in mind: to stop drinking. Coach.me (formerly Lift) has expanded its site/app to have a larger community involved and they also offer inexpensive online coaching for habits (it’s free to use without the coaching). The “No Alcohol” habit on there has a stronger community now more than ever before and we’re all close-knit on there and welcome anyone who is working on their drinking issues; come join us!
- LAY LOW! Sounds boring because it is — when you’re trying to get sober it won’t help if you’re going to bars or parties where there’s an abundance of alcohol consumption. For the first month or so I turned down invitations to go out and stayed in to read, sleep, clean, anything other than drink. I see so many people complaining on Facebook or Twitter about doing nothing or not having plans for the weekend when really it isn’t that bad. Who cares if you’re not out partying? You’re going to wake up refreshed and clear-headed and will be able to do a lot more than your partying counterparts will. You won’t wake up late for work because you were hungover and you won’t be vomiting up liquor for an hour. You won’t hiss at the sun and hide in darkness until it sets and you’ll have a lot checked off your to-do list before the afternoon rolls around. I’d take boring reliable behavior to vapid erratic behavior any day or night. In the long run, having your shit together matters more than Instagramming the round of shots you’re about to drink or checking into a club and tagging your friends (and saying that it was a lot more fun than it actually was).
If you have a physical dependency to alcohol PLEASE see a doctor/professional to get help with getting sober. I highly recommend having a therapist as well to work on uncovering the root of your drinking problem. More often than not, something is causing your drinking and getting rid of your drinking won’t fix that, it only addresses the problems that stem from drinking. Without that issue resolved, who knows when you might relapse or what sort of different, negative habit will be made in place of drinking?