When I was in my late 40’s, I found myself desperate to stop drinking but not sure how to do it. I’d seemed to others to be a contented “party girl” for decades, but things were changing for me in middle age. My drinking had escalated to a depressing nightly ritual that I justified as a result of stress and loneliness. I was a single parent, in a high-pressure job, and facing a 2-hour daily commute. I felt trapped in a routine that was becoming more and more self-destructive. I worried about how my blacking-out most nights, was affecting my 6-year-old son.
It was for the love of my son that I decided to stop drinking. Squandering my own life was pretty shite, but affecting his young life took the guilt of being dependent on alcohol to another level. My drinking was causing me to be emotionally ‘absent’ from him as he played inside whilst I drank and smoked myself stupid on the decking. At work, I was becoming more and more muddled. My life felt like it was closing in on me. I was paranoid and had isolated myself to hide my shame. I relished drinking too much, too early, and on my own. Stress, hunger, boredom, fatigue, or simply it being Monday, were reasons to hit the bottle every day for seven years.
To Stop Drinking I had to Identify my Denial
My denial was so broad and deep. A visit to my GP to discuss my suspicions that I had some sort of early on-set dementia revealed that the 3 bottles of wine I had admitted to drinking each week would impact not only my memory but was also putting a huge strain on my liver. I was averaging about 9 bottles of wine a week but I lied and said 3. I then had a liver functioning test and after the result of that was referred to a specialist organization dealing in addiction
Slowly, very slowly it penetrated. I did have a huge booze problem. The denial was still there for another 12 months or so in various forms. “Maybe I can learn to moderate my drinking?” “Just one more night I’ll stop tomorrow.” Denial will wheedle into your thinking to encourage you to keep drinking. I had visited my Dr’s because of memory issues thinking I had early-onset dementia. I actually preferred this possibility rather than addressing the obvious cause of my brain fog. Drinking had become my only real interest, it was the only thing I was keen to do. I was afraid of what my life might look like without alcohol in it but I knew that I needed to STOP drinking.
It was in the run-up to my 50th birthday that I found the strength to put my fears aside and find a way to get free, get inspired and be inspiring but how? I started my own research because I now accepted that the 9 bottles of wine I was actually drinking each week were dangerous indeed.
In a desperate search on the internet, I found my solution – an online community that was exactly what I needed! I came across an Australian internet community called Hello Sunday Morning and stepped into a new safe world full of people like me. I could be home in the evening caring for my son while discussing my drinking issues online. The drip, drip, drip of support enabled me to get an honest grasp of my situation as we set goals. We got, and importantly gave support to each other, and I gained clarity on the what, why, when, and how of my addiction. I started to demystify what alcohol was, or wasn’t, doing for me. From there I worked out an approach that worked for me to stop being an addict.
Finding that community 7 years ago was the beginning, but it was not an instant fix. You CAN stop drinking. You CAN make this the week that your sobriety takes off with help from this online community but you need to be ready to do the work. It took me 8 full months of reading and writing and talking it through before I finally stopped drinking once and for all.
To Stop Drinking I Needed Bright Line Rules
I was starting to take responsibility for my life but it was complicated and overwhelming. I needed to simplify things and so I made some bright-line rules which are simply rules where there is no scope for wiggle room. My bright-line rules helped keep me on track and were especially powerful when I felt overwhelmed by cravings. The biggest bright-line rule was that if I couldn’t find a way to make interacting with the online community work, no matter what, I would have to go to AA. This rule was fundamental to me being able to maintain an overall level of progress. I did have ‘slips’ but I made them a learning experience and was able to use the slips as the next challenge to win through on my journey to sobriety.
I logged on every day setting small achievable goals that stretched me just a little. It was important to keep up the effort and break through the next barrier but also to think in terms of one day at a time. I had loads of light bulb moments where I gained more clarity. I became familiar with my triggers and how they were linked to different times of the day and week. I realized that I had been lying to myself that my life was incredibly stressful and I simply told myself that to validate my excessive drinking.
To Stop Drinking I had to Understand my Lizard Brain
My biggest drinking trigger was stress. I self-sabotaged when I was drinking and I always told myself
‘that was a hideous day at work!
It wasn’t. That day was normal or even fine but I had to legitimize my drinking so saying it was ‘fine’ wouldn’t do. I needed an excuse to feel STRESS! When I’m stressed I feel overwhelmed and experience a paralysis of thought. I couldn’t simply stop the stress so I had to learn how to change my reaction to it.
Have you heard about your Lizard Brain? The part of your brain designed to keep you safe? That ancient brain that evolved when we lived in an older world with predators that wanted to eat us? That part of your brain still kicks in now in the 21st century. We may not be running from saber tooth tigers but our ancient, reflexive, lizard brain reacts when we feel threatened by stress. The lizard brain knows that in life and death situations the response is simple- Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flop, or Friend. When you drink you “evolve” that survival brain to see alcohol as the answer to danger.
The way the lizard brain operates is not always helpful for modern-day life.
To stop drinking I needed to train myself to climb down a bit from a bad situation and look at it objectively. I had to learn to sit quietly and evaluate the situation for what it really was.
Brain design as such, when it is releasing hormones to deal with a situation, will not overtly distinguish between a saber tooth tiger wanting to snack on you and say… you having some work stress. The brain can react and escalate a stressful situation to life or death ‘crisis’ level leaving you in a Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flop or Friend response that would work well a few thousand years ago but not so well now. This is why for many, alcohol can become habit-forming because when these trauma behaviors hit, they are very uncomfortable and we don’t really have an appropriate outlet. Alcohol can ‘dampen’ these uncomfortable responses very quickly.
To Stop Drinking I had to learn to surf the urge when I found my lizard brain demanding the alcohol that I had taught it was the answer to stress.
When you drink habitually, not only does your brain learn that it needs alcohol to survive, but the withdrawal symptoms that you suffer when you stop can cause anxiety, stress, depression, and fear. That empty nervous feeling that at first, can only be appeased by adding back the alcohol. This is where you need to learn how to deal with your triggers and cravings.
Sometimes I just couldn’t be arsed with recovery and I wouldn’t stand up for myself when my brain told me I needed to drink. Sometimes I got bored with the stopping, sometimes a craving would hit and I would just roll over and go with it. It took me a long time to understand why I was apparently indulging in blatant self-sabotage.
As I raised my awareness through introspection and the help of others in the community, an almost natural change occurred. So much so that during my last two slips, the magic of getting drunk had dissipated. I wasn’t in a rosy glow of muted calm – it was boring and a bit of a prison. Both times I ended up throwing out the wine. My belief that I didn’t get hangovers was shattered when a binge while in my early months of trying to stay alcohol-free led to 4 days of low mood, lethargy, stroppiness, and guilt. I’d had enough and was finally ready to Stop Drinking!
Take the time to take 1 minute, 5 minutes, one hour, two hours, one day at a time, and surf that urge. Eat, meditate, walk, wash up, wash the car whatever it takes but look at what is happening with curiosity – that will bring the response down to something that is manageable.
Is this a life-threatening situation?
Will alcohol really solve the dilemma?
Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. This breathing pattern aims to reduce anxiety and it really helped me shut down my lizard brain’s crys for a drink to calm the storm.
And remember, that craving will fizzle out of it’s own accord after 2 to 2.5 hours or so. That’s the time it takes to distract yourself with a few episodes of something fun on Netflix! Just decide that you will not drink tonight and find something else to do.
You can only change what you are aware of.
When I would tell myself that I needed to do something about my drinking I thought that I was aware of my problem, but I was only looking at the surface. It is easy to say “I drink too much” but quite another thing to fix that problem. To drop that dialogue of denial- “maybe I’m not that bad … one more drink can’t hurt…I’ll stop tomorrow” – I had to dig deep.
The way that I finally stopped was based on developing self-awareness of my habit. What it took to stop drinking for me was really taking responsibility for what I was doing by looking at it honestly and openly in a safe space where I could talk it through with a group of people who understood the behavior because they had done it too. I joined an online community called Hello Sunday Morning in the beginning, where I could post anonymously and privately to other people like me.
In that online community which has since been closed, and now in the new online community that I am a part of, we posted about everything that we were going through as we adjusted to life alcohol-free. I could talk about the things that I kept secret from the real world. Sharing helped me ‘get’ that I wasn’t a heap of crap mother/person to have gotten so deep into drinking. The group and the posting were pivotal to my efforts because they kept me focused and accountable.
What does Neuroplasticity Have to do with it?
It used to be that sobriety was about saying ‘no’, and that works to a degree, but stopping habitual, addictive behavior through willpower alone is not the best solution. You deserve a fuller life than a drinking life but you’ve spent energy and time and money getting into this trap and it will take a lot of effort to get out of it. When you stop drinking, if you view this as an opportunity and an adventure you will start to replace negativity with positivity and this will lead to GREAT CHANGE
My experience with the old Hello Sunday Morning web platform that I joined in 2014, and our new online community Boom Rethink the Drink, is that they not only helped me stop drinking, but they helped me be happy about being sober. The community system of posting and commenting, supporting each other from day one and before, to years and years alcohol-free, encourages you to reach back and help the next person coming along, which feels great to you but also keeps the community growing and working together. Everyone is invested in themselves and invested in each other. The definition of great teamwork!
It is hard to break the status quo in a world where alcohol is the only drug that people will question you for not using. It takes teamwork!
Through posting in an anonymous online community, you can talk about your fears and achievements and explore them further. You can help others, and find solutions to things that you’re struggling with, things that are bothering you. Within a very short period of time, you gather experience and knowledge that can be so helpful to new members, and by reaching back and helping people out, not only do you embed your knowledge in your brain but you get a tremendous high! Every time you post, every time you comment, every time you welcome a new member, you strengthen your new sober neuropathways.
Through interacting in these online communities I have found the answer to loving life alcohol-free in Neuro-Science and ‘neuroplasticity’. The science behind how we can learn and develop a new way of being.
What neuroscience now understands is that our brains continually grow and expand and we can literally overwrite the patterns of ‘must drink hard and fast now’ with something nicer, freer and something that is much less restricting than being a boozer. But that takes effort and engagement on your part: You need to exercise those developing neuro-pathways in your brain so that they become the dominant preferred way of thinking and being. Writing in an online community is a great way to do that.
Neuro-plasticity is fascinating and for me, it kind of sealed the deal and gave me that extra layer of long term sober confidence: Check out The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis
I reckon online support works because of the constant access to non-judgmental advice from those who know what it’s like and have direct experience. Compared to maybe an hour a week with a therapist in the real world, access online is pretty much always to hand. I do think that you do need to be active daily if the community is going to work. To kind of put your money where your mouth is and engage with the community. I got ideas that sometimes were really tough to apply but they worked.
Get excited; what you’re embarking on is hard work for sure and you’ll be digging deep time and again – BUT STOPPING DRINKING IS LIKELY TO BE IN YOUR TOP FIVE LIFE ACHIEVEMENTS. Start to grab back you, be able to trust you again. Commit to a lifetime of learning and personal development.
So, my point is, get your thoughts out there – question your assumptions about what is really in it for you when it comes to drinking. You are changing but your brain needs a little time to embed those changes and sometimes it will trick you, by questioning what is really going on you will speed up the change process and it will smooth out a lot.
Getting your head around stopping drinking can take some time. This is simply because we are so well used to this method of dealing with problems and it feels easy and nice to simply drink the problems away. Stress will always trigger addictive behavior. When we’re stressed we experience ‘cognitive overload’ and feel overwhelmed. That’s when it’s hardest not to revert to tried and tested means to get away from those uncomfortable feelings. On top of that comfortable routine, buying booze, the decision to do so, the handing over of the money, releases dopamine in our brains so we get an immediate reward, release, relax sensation even before pouring the first drink.
To Stop Drinking you Need To CHANGE How You Deal With Your Day to Day
So to STOP drinking or CHANGE this chain reaction we really do need to pull out all the stops. You do have to dig deep now and for the foreseeable and there really is no wriggle room on that one. The following is what worked for me and I hope will help you:
Make stopping your No 1 priority for the time being:
In the community post often and comment on other people’s posts mindfully. Read recovery books, films, blogs – everything.
Understand your drinking problem:
This is personal!
Identify your triggers. What emotions and physical feelings come with them, what time of the day, week, month, year do they appear. Which situations or people make you feel like a drink? Can you set up boundaries to protect yourself?
Start judging yourself less harshly;
Talk to yourself as you would do a friend in need. Being mean doesn’t really help…
Define your reason for stopping:
It might be because being a piss-head is quite simply to squander your life. Maybe you want to stop drinking to be a better parent. Maybe you simply object to being trapped because you’re tired of the trap…
Be responsible for yourself:
You drink because of you; so stop because of you – other people are influences for the good or bad – you have a choice so make it the right one.
Make a plan:
When a craving hits; my head had no space for anything other than getting a drink down my neck so you need a simple plan to follow. I’d recommend that when you commit to your plan you commit to following it NO MATTER WHAT. My plan included eating before my key trigger time of 4 pm (booze likes an empty stomach), no shops after 2 pm (for me this went on for 4 months until I felt ‘safe’).
I dropped negative influences and picked up positive new ones. I’m still friends with some of the people I used to drink with but my priorities have changed. I now put positive people first because I don’t want to be dragged down ever again. So look to people who will help you raise the bar.
Personally, I did not socialize (where booze was around) for a year.
Your plan might include a bottom line; if this approach doesn’t work then you seek professional real-world help. My version of this was if I couldn’t make the online community work for me I would go to AA (I really didn’t want to do that) and that bottom line worked for me because I would have to honor it if needed.
A plan can be as loose or as laid out as you want. If you don’t have a plan, I would strongly recommend working one out – if it doesn’t work then you can always leave it can’t you?
Accept this will take time and believe that the long-termers here, when they say it is so much better being sober, they are telling the truth – And yes we were as bad as you.
Develop Helpful Strategies:
There are loads of these; I needed to really chill, others need to keep busy; surfing an urge works, looking at a craving with curiosity works, try mindfulness; dip your toe into therapies that appeal – I tried acupuncture and tapping. I found a way to calm myself and practiced it daily: For me, this is meditation, yoga, and gratitude …. Maybe discuss what your strategies might look like in your post?
Bring in newer habits that replace your boozing habit. This was very very important for me and I am still working on this.
With support you can do this; just accept it might be bumpy and difficult at times – but no one here who stopped regrets it and no one who said no to a drink ever regretted it.
Soooo, come hang out with us if you want to stop drinking. Help yourself and help others. Write posts, get it all out, say hello to the newbies, and tell them what worked for you. The first time you get a Thank you ! when you’ve helped someone is just the best, and that feeling again helps those developing neuropathways bed down and get stronger.
By the way, in June of 2022 I will be 7 years AF and I am still getting new benefits to my new lifestyle.
Come try it out with us in BOOM Rethink the Drink
Rethink the Drink… You are Worth it!
This short video tells a bit of my story and what worked for me :
How I Stopped Slipping and Stayed Sober
Start with a Plan
When my plan was ready to use it kind of looked like this:
- List ALL Drinking Triggers:
- When do they happen during the day week month year e.g. 4pm
- What situations mix with times to create a powerful trigger e.g. commuting home past shops
- What emotions do I recognise (and for me I escalated these emotions) e.g stress and tension
- Are there other behaviours or traits that collide to make drinking more needed e.g. hunger, a list of fking jobs at the end of the working day, reliving negative conversations that may or may not have happened in reality
- You can add your triggers to this post in BOOm What Triggers You and make sure that you understand H.A.L.T
- What do I want to achieve
- Stop drinking forever and happily
- HOW Examples include
- Read recovery books, TED talks, YOUTUBE – immerse yourself in all things recovery – it is a fascinating subject
- Looking at a craving with curiosity: Surf the Urge
- Eat well before trigger times
- Meditate, tap, therapy, massage, yoga, acupuncture, exercise, keep busy, binge netflix, cook/don’t cook, ice cream/suer healthy whatever you fancy – ideas here If you are Struggling with Anger or Anxiety or Depression…
- Post progress, post issues, post revelations, post thoughts,
- Help and advise newbies – this is super important and gives you a sense of achievement and it will make you realise how far you have come within a really short time (by day 5 on BOOM you can easily be ready to support others starting with a welcome, encourage posting by asking questions…)
- Rules that will help you when in craving situations E.g No shops after 2pm, eat and post before acting on an impulse. If I asked for advice on BOOM and people gave that advice I would give it a go – scariest one was when someone suggested posting before a slip (I never drank when I put a post out saying that I tought I was going to slip – you need to dig deep really and describe what is going on and why…. Basically you are ‘getting it out there in a constructuve way).
- Blog your journey here on BOOM, it will really help you and others which is magical: You are very very welcome to blog in the Seventh Heaven area
- Be accountable to you and your plan – if it’s not working for you change it so it does 🙂
- Work out what drinking costs you: Financially, Physically, Emotionally, IMpact on Family and Friends…
- Milestones: That you would like to achieve (a reward is great here)
- Rewards: E.g. Sober Flowers Friday, Spa, try something new, hire a cleaner once a month, week (this was major for me and it might sound trite but it removed a massive stressor that I would escalate commuting home)
- What to do if it goes to shit E.g. learn from the experience, look at how you felt before during and after the slip, what to do next time in that situation
And learn more from these posts on our blog.
We are an independent, anonymous and private community who share resources, support and talk it through every day. It helps to have a community behind you in a world where alcohol is the only addictive drug that people will question you for NOT using