I had a slip in my sobriety earlier this week. I drank as I thought that alcohol could still offer me something. I was bored and frustrated and wanted to feel a buzz. What I discovered was that alcohol did not deliver what I’d hoped for. It made me feel dulled down and tired, and later horrendous and regretful. Not the escape I was hoping for.
I learned my lesson, but it could have been avoided if I had just ‘Tuned In’ to my emotions and taken the time to break down what I was feeling and what I actually needed. ‘Tune In’ as opposed to checked out? To me, tuning in is the act of listening to your emotional and physical needs. This is a skill in itself and something which is widely neglected when we’re caught up in addiction. It can be particularly foreign to those of us whose drinking career spanned over decades. For me, it took counselling to learn meditation and mindfulness techniques that help me slow down and tune in to myself.
1st step – slow down, clear your mind, breathe.
The next step is to question how you are feeling.
What emotions are you experiencing? How are you feeling physically? Are you holding on to any tension and where on your body does it occur? What would you tell a friend that was feeling this way? What do you need emotionally and physically to feel better?
HALT is that anacronym that many use to quickly describe this process of checking how you are feeling before you decide to check out.
This is an important act of self-care and should not be underestimated.
If I had taken the time to go through this process earlier this week, I would have discovered that I was feeling bored, frustrated, and inadequate. I wanted an escape and thought alcohol could deliver it. If I had rationally thought it through, I would have concluded that alcohol would not deliver the escape I was craving. I would have taken some timeout away from technology and my job searches to go to a bar or restaurant with a lovely view in the West Australian sunshine and enjoyed a couple of hours chatting with Mister with an alcohol-free drink and a few belly laughs.
That’s the relaxing escape I needed.
Lesson learned; we need to tune in to ourselves regularly as part of a balanced self-care routine. If alcohol cravings kick in, we need to assess what it is that we are actually craving and address that instead.
Have you watched the documentary Alcohol-Old Before your Time ? I would recommend it with a warning that it is quite confronting, and not for the faint-hearted. If you need a reminder of why you are on this journey or you’re wavering in your commitment, then watch it as it will remind you why drinking is such a bad idea.
Sometimes you need to be reminded why you chose sobriety as it can be easy to forget the reasons you selected this path in the 1st place. I find it all too easy to romanticize drinking. I conjure up images of a white wine in a chilled glass on a Summer’s day or a beer down the beach watching the sunset. Sounds harmless enough right? No, for me, it is so wrong as it would never be just one glass of wine or beer, I would drink to get drunk and it would not end well. Then I wonder, have I really forgotten how bad it was and how much pain alcohol caused?
William Porter, author of Alcohol Explained, has a name for this process which he refers to as Fading Affect Bias. He says, ‘Fading Affect Bias (FAB) essentially describes the process whereby good memories persist longer than bad ones, or more accurately, where we tend to view events in the past in a more positive light as time passes.’ I see this process as a defense mechanism to protect us from past suffering and ensure the continuation of the human species. Think about it, if women could truly remember every pain and trauma of childbirth, would they not stop at one child or having heard how bad it can be, refuse to have children at all? Rather, as the years pass, they view their childbirth as one of the most precious experiences of their life and are happy to repeat the process.
Where FAB can work to benefit us, it can also work against us – particularly where addiction is concerned. So, getting back to me imagining myself sipping on chilled chardonnay on a Summer’s day. What a lovely vision, but in reality, it is just that, a vision that does not exist. A view of my drinking with rose-tinted glasses. It is important to notice when these thoughts creep in and check them. It is important to remind ourselves of the realities of drinking and the reasons we worked so hard to give up booze in the 1st place. I for one do not want to return to the daily struggle which was the reality of my life before sobriety.
So just for today, I will not drink with you…and then we’ll do that again tomorrow.
To avoid slips in your sobriety, understand that creating a sober life isn’t just about dropping the booze. Abstaining is of course a necessary part of becoming sober. In fact, it’s essential, but creating a fulfilling, sober life requires a bit more work and imagination. Let me elaborate.
When I was drinking 2 bottles of wine a night, every night I was committed to this routine. This daily habit required a lot of time and energy – in the act of drinking itself and then coping with the poisonous effects from the booze the following day, before my routine of drinking would start again. There was also a lot of energy spent berating myself for my lack of willpower and obsessively planning when my next drink would be. I’m not going to lie; it was exhausting and time-consuming. When I stopped drinking, when I changed my commitment from drinking to staying focused instead on NOT drinking, I found a big gap in my life where booze used to be. I had energy and time to spare. If I was going to avoid slips in my sobriety, I had to find a new routine.
The question I faced was what do I want to do with my spare time? What do I enjoy doing when I’m not drinking? To be honest, I wasn’t sure who I was or what I enjoyed. I would have to do some work if I were to build myself a fulfilling and sober lifestyle. One advantage of feeling like an empty shell with a void where alcohol used to be is that you can choose what to fill this space with. You get to rediscover old hobbies and try new ones. You can experiment to see what you enjoy doing and establish new routines that support the sober life you’re creating. This is actually incredibly empowering as you start to shape your own identity around the healthy habits that you have formed.
I used to feel like my addiction defined me, as it was my one and only hobby. I was a problem drinker, an alcoholic, an addict. Now I identify myself as a reader of classic literature, a member of my CrossFit community, a runner, a lover of arts and crafts and a loving wife.
When you are no longer trapped in the cycle of addiction you are free to create your own routine and your own identity. New hobbies and healthy habits become the foundations in your journey to build and maintain a sober and rewarding lifestyle.
I’ve heard it said time and time again that in order to quit drinking, inorder to avoid slips in your sobriety, you have to wholly commit to staying alcohol-free.
Often people reach that point of commitment through a bad experience, many would call this their ‘rock bottom’ and the memory of the incident is bad enough and clear enough to propel them through the first days and weeks. This period of sobriety gives them the much-needed time and distance from their addiction required to reflect on the why’s, and question whether they want to return to that dark place.
But what if you haven’t experienced rock bottom? What if you haven’t reached that dark place? How then do you get to the point where you can view your drinking objectively when you’re so deep in your addiction that you feel that your mind is not your own?
Alas, there is no one clear answer…. which is why it has taken me nearly 8 years of trying to get sober, to actually get sober. What I have learned, is that for most of us, alcohol is used as a coping mechanism. It can be used to cope with a range of emotions from sadness, stress and grief to happiness and joy. For me, learning to experience these emotions and understand why I have spent so long trying to numb them out has been essential in breaking the cycle of addiction. If you can get to the bottom of the ‘why’ you drink and address the root problem, then you have a real shot at recovery. You have it within you to achieve lasting sobriety and hopefully without having to hit your rock bottom.
I write this today, on my 70th day sober ( minus 1) . Still young in my sobriety, but with a growing strength and commitment to live a life free from booze. Cautiously optimistic and grateful to experience today with you, clear, present and alcohol-free.
Recovery is a journey of Discovery that may occassionally goes off track but always remeber that a slip in your sobriety does not have to be a slide.
More Reading to help you understand and avoid slips in sobriety :
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