Why is it so hard to stop drinking? That is a question often asked in our online community and the answer is not as simple as it would seem. When I was in my early 40’s I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Control Alcohol to try to answer that question for myself. I was surprised that the goal of the book was to actually turn you completely off alcohol, but I was grateful for the book, inspired by the book, and the book left me hopeful that I could indeed stop drinking if I absorbed the message that Allen was sending.
The key to success is not wanting to learn how to not drink, but learning how to not want to drink.
Allen Carr’s method is to deconstruct his reader’s perception of the worth of alcohol. The system works for many people, not only with problem drinking but with smoking and overeating as well. Sadly though, his method only worked for me for about 36 hours. I was effortlessly, triumphantly alcohol-free at a big party the day after finishing his book, but the following night I had one glass of wine to prove to myself that I didn’t want alcohol anymore, and then another glass, and another. For the next 6 years, my drinking became increasingly out of control, and eventually dangerous, before I finally did succeed at stopping.
Why is it UNIQUELY hard to stop drinking? I can do so many things, Succeed at so many things, Overcome so many obstacles, and yet this thing, stopping drinking, has me stuck.
One of the things that gave me hope in Allen Carr’s Easy Way was the money-back guarantee on the book if it didn’t turn me off alcohol forever. Surely if a refund was offered this system must be foolproof. The problem with that money-back guarantee however, was that when I didn’t succeed at stopping drinking I didn’t blame it on The Easy Way, I blamed my inability to stick to my commitment on my own insincerity. I was literally too ashamed to ask for my money back because I knew deep down that it was my choice to drink or not to drink and not the fault of the person I’d paid to help me stop.
The key to success is not wanting to learn how to not drink, but learning how to not want to drink.
Easier said than done!
Was the problem that I was in DENIAL? I did not want to call myself an alcoholic but in desperation, I turned to the Alcoholics Anonymous website and began to read. I read sections of the AA Big Book in an attempt to identify where I was on the spectrum of alcohol addiction and what to do about it. I did see myself in the profile they presented of a high-functioning alcoholic but I pushed back against the very thing that I was looking for as I continued to read. I pushed back against AA telling me who I was and what I had to do to break free. The language of the 12 steps felt overwrought and presumptuous to me and when I read books that were based on AA principles of recovery I felt resistant to the condescending tone.
I was not a “we” I was an “I”. I was an independent thinker. I felt trapped by alcohol but could not find my way free through the 12 steps.
Regardless of my need to find my own way I did learn a great deal about why it’s so hard to stop drinking and how to succeed, from reading about other people’s experiences of recovery through AA. The most important thing that I have learned from the AA tradition is that it is absolutely key to see through your own denial. It’s also important to recognize your experience in the stories of others and to accept that you are going to have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while because the only way out is through. And I guess the most important thing I learned from reading about people’s experience of AA, was that the end result was worth the work. I learned hope from the stories I read of people who beat the odds and stopped drinking.
I never hit a perceived “rock bottom”, and drinking was a huge part of my social life, perceived “fun”, and perceived “self care”. The label “alcoholic” didn’t seem to fit, so I continued drinking an addictive substance. And SURPRISE … my beautiful, normal brain became addicted.
I started to read a variety of books and blogs on the hows and whys of going sober, and I was relieved to find that with the help of an online community set up to simply help people change their relationship with alcohol, I could break my dependence on alcohol without going to rehab, joining Alcoholics Anonymous, or even identifying as an “alcoholic”. If I wanted to I could drop the traditional language of 12 step recovery and identify simply as alcohol-free. I didn’t have to define myself with stigmatized language, regret for my past behavior, or fear of failure. I could literally write my own narrative going forward with the help of others doing the same thing.
It was the commitment to 30 days, a Sober September, that’s given me this chance. 30 days sounded insignificant. And I think there’s some truth about building momentum. Sober has got a lot going for it.
Why is it so hard to stop drinking? The answer to that question is the same and also different for each person who decides that they need to stop. You may be what is considered a gray area drinker, or what is traditionally called a high functioning alcoholic, you may be a weekend binge drinker, or you may find that while you are not physically dependent on alcohol you cannot go for more than 3 or 4 days without justifying a drink no matter how committed you are to stopping. We are all different and we are all the same.
If you are trying to stop drinking or stay alcohol-free, come in and join us in the BOOM Rethink the Drink Community. We are talking it through every day.
Denial was my friend, if I could pretend there was no problem, then there wasn’t one…until it smacked me right upside the head. Smoothing out the rough edges at the end of a long hard day, eventually turned into drowning myself into oblivion every night.
It would seem that there are 4 hurdles that most of us need to overcome if we are going to stop drinking and stay alcohol-free.
Hurdle #1 –
Breaking out of denial is not a simple thing that happens quickly but a process that evolves over years of honest self evaluation.
Keeping it hidden, secret, made it even easier to deny. I wasn’t just lying to others about my problem, I was lying to myself….when I was finally able to face the truth, the beast was no longer able to control me.
Find thoughts on denial from all of our members inside BOOM at this link – Denial – Humility – Empowerment or on our Boozemusings blog here Letting go of Denial – Stop Drinking and Stay Sober on Your Terms
Hurdle #2 –
Understand that Drinking was your go-to for Self-Care
You need to replace the booze with new ways to nurture yourself body and soul. If you’re used to feeling on top of life’s challenges and “in control” it is so hard to get through those first emotionally fragile days and weeks, alcohol-free. You feel raw and understandably uniquely challenged.
In order to stop drinking you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable because the only way out is through.
I realized alcohol was having a negative impact on my health and my drinking could get to a point where I wouldn’t be around for my child— and I STILL wanted to drink. I finally committed to stopping when I told myself I don’t have to quit forever, I am quitting for today. Tomorrow’s another day (and tomorrow, I’ll quit for that day). Taking it one day at a time feels manageable to me.
When you stop drinking, if you are accustomed to shutting down your engine with booze, that edgy feeling at the end of the day can be overwhelming at first. The good news is that this does not last forever!- from Breathe and Keep Moving – Gaining Momentum in Early Sobriety
read more on Self Care – Learning Self-Care in My First 100 Days Alcohol-Free
Hurdle #3 –
Accept that any rational voice in your head that tells you it’s a good idea to drink is Lying!
It is simple to stop drinking but not easy when the compulsion to have “just one more” hits. Have you ever woken up thinking “Wow I’m Glad I drank Last Night”. When the “just one more” voice comes calling play the tape forward to the end.
My mantra: I want a drink. What do I want more? One day at a time. Some days were tear-filled, white knuckling one hour at a time. I checked Boom frequently and read quit lit. Got physical with gardening, walks, play with the dog.
Hurdle #4 –
Have you ever heard the term Terminally Unique?
Celebrate your individuality and use your sobriety to find the voice that you have been drowning in alcohol. But when your inner Gollum tells you that you are unique in your need to pick up a drink today… SHUT THAT VOICE RIGHT DOWN … because that is the lie that feeds addiction and drowns out everything truly unique about you.
Remember that you’re playing the long game, and trust that over time, the good days will outnumber the bad. Do what you can to make this day more livable than yesterday.
Addiction doesn’t care if you’re ‘terminally unique’ in fact, being ‘terminally unique’ makes it easier for addiction to keep its claws in you.
Many of us suffer from the thinking that it is uniquely difficult for us to stop drinking. Sometimes I wonder when people are struggling to stop or stay sober if it is more difficult in some situations than others. It takes strength to survive abusing yourself regularly with alcohol and many of the people who download our Boom Rethink the Drink app for community support to stop drinking are what would be considered high functioning. They are raising a family or are the caretaker of aging parents. They are often disciplined, hard-working self-starters. Not all people who develop issues with alcohol are type A personality high achievers but they are almost always the kind of people who can do the hard things, and do do the hard things and yet, the question most often asked in our community is Why is it so hard to stop drinking?
Here are some of the answers from now long term sober members of our community to the question – I drank because … as well as their sober solutions
If they stopped you can too!
It’s in your hands. Rethink the Drink
I started drinking to connect – to allow conversations to flow, to enjoy a shared high with others, to let go of self-consciousness. The last few times I drank.. I think it was as an intended solution. A fix for feeling lost in life, a fix for feeling surrounded but lonely, a fix for the constant call of productivity that I didn’t have the energy to answer, a fix for being bored in situations that were supposed to be fun. And mostly because I was an adult and I just simply could if I wanted to, even if it was wrecking my life. So glad to have the space and knowledge to be able to see those thought patterns for what they are. Boom … From the author of Freely Feeling – Sober the Highs and Lows
I drank to slow down the constant rat-a-tat-tat in my head. It worked for a very short window of time, but there it was again the very next day, clicking away, and every day just a little worse. Cue the drinking to shut it off again. You can see where this is going. Not pretty. I have discovered that after nearly 2 months AF the rat-a-tat-tat is much much quieter and much easier to deal with. … From the author of 5 Gifts of Sobriety – Celebrating Sober With Thoughts on How to Stop Drinking
I drank to numb out both physical and emotional pain.
I got to the stage where it no longer worked and it was having a major adverse impact on my physical and mental health, I couldn’t physically function without alcohol. The more I drank to get the effect, the more suicidal I became.
I finally had enough and had a medical detox.
Whilst I still suffer a lot of physical pain and have depression to a degree, there is no way I would entertain letting alcohol back into the mix.
Alcohol serves no purpose for me and I can manage things so much better AF with a clear head.
To me, there is no nicer feeling than wakening up each morning and remembering everything I said and did the night before and not to have that gut wrenching feeling of utter hopelessness.
That to me is just priceless ❤️ … From the author of 4 Years Sober – From Alcohol Dependant to Loving Living Alcohol Free
I drank for everything. Sad, happy, nervous, ill, to relax, to get in party mode. But for the last 5 years I’ve known there was a problem and for the last year of that I had to drink. I became dependent on alcohol and that was so scary. … From the author of Breaking the Bond that Tied me Down – Goodbye to Alcohol
I drank because I was lonely, bored, sad and stressed. Thought alcohol would ease my stress of never being “enough”. Thought it would help ease intense grief after losing my mother, who helped me through all my other grief. I see now, it only pushed everything back and made everything harder. … From the author of Gray Area Drinking- The Truth About How Alcohol Damages Your Brain
I drank to handle my stress. To handle social situations and be more relaxed. To hide. To forget. To feel “good.” But I am a binge drinker. So I always always have too much. And I didn’t even notice it in my twenties or even thirties because I didn’t drink all the time so who cares if I drank too much when out or at a friends house or at the holidays. But. In my forties and fifties it crept up to daily drinking to cope with being older and dealing with so much still including work home grown up kids helping them and their kids have them move back in and out. My oldest daughters two autistic children. It’s all too much and I thought I needed that wine every day. And I of course never had a glass. A good binge drinker must have at least three or four. Or more. And now I don’t drink. And I’m glad and I will not drink today. … From the author of The Reality of Living Sober
How did I finally stop drinking?
I made sobriety priority #1
I literally took it minute by minute, hour by hour, and kept putting it off. Every time I’d think of caving I’d put it off for half an hour, then another half, then another. And when I felt like I was gonna tear my skin off my body I’d go pound the pavement well clear of any establishment.
I white-knuckled it so hard I’d be really good for like 4 days then on the fifth my lizard brain would start.
But going through this process and focusing solely on my sobriety and work/life of course was all I did for the first couple of weeks.
It’s all I could do.
Don’t expect too much of yourself, sleep as much as you can so you body can heal be grumpy and sulk just allow yourself to hone in on your one thing sobriety. It’s like a naughty child and demands all your attention just give it freely to begin with the rest will come 👍
From the author of How I Stopped Drinking and Stayed Sober – A Shift in Focus
I Made myself Accountable, wrote and crocheted granny squares like crazy
I remember standing by my kitchen counter thinking will this be the bottle that I can’t come back from health-wise? I had multiple therapy sessions where I wanted to say something. But I couldn’t. Once I did I was so sad. I drank that night. And the next. I determined I would drink what I had in the house and quit. I ran out. I told my husband to not buy me any wine. He didn’t ask why.
He drank sitting next to me that night. I was gripping the couch for real clawing my way through the evening of football no less without alcohol.
I messaged my therapist during the game because I didn’t think I was going to make it and that’s the only way I knew… to speak truth and let it out. He replied he would see me at 8 am in his office. I do as I’m told and went. I cried. I was in withdrawal and it was not pretty. But I made it 24 hours and then I just couldn’t give up.
I quickly stream of conscienced wrote all my feelings each day. And I crocheted granny squares! Like a crazy woman, I crocheted to keep my hands busy. I slept a lot those first three days. And then I told my husband. And three close friends who kept tabs on me. Held me accountable. Fear of shame kept me going.
From the author of From I Can’t to I Won’t to I Don’t Drink -Celebrating 6 Months Sober
I pulled myself back from the Brink by connecting and Playing the Tape Forward
I needed to hear/read that other people had succeeded and how they did it. I especially needed to hear how their lives had changed for the better. This gave me something to focus on when I was feeling weak.
Tempted to drink to please my husband? I read my books (The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober and This Naked Mind) listened to my podcasts (Recovery Happy Hour and the Bubble Hour) and went to bed early if I was in a really bad place. Better to get to the next day alcohol-free than stay awake tempted.
Everything I heard or read from people who had successfully quit added to my vision of my end goal which was a better life. When I started to longingly look at a glass of wine or a martini I pictured the alcohol burning on the way down and the dehydrated, pounding head, dull feeling I’d get from alcohol. Then I opened a book, hopped on Boom or started a podcast.
Many times I went from on the brink of considering drinking to remembering why I was working so hard. Protecting your quit is so worth it.
From the author of Hearing the Distress Call – How I Finally Quit Drinking
I try to think of sobriety as a lovely, kind, quiet lady within myself. ( I think sobriety sounds like a lady’s name). And I have to protect her at all costs from the evil wine witch. Sounds Bonkers but it gives me power over the wine witch and allows sobriety to grow within.
At one point my drinking got very bad. I felt horribly trapped with no way out.
I was drinking well-timed airplane bottles of vodka every 3-4 hours lest I get ill and shaky. I was feeling very trapped. So I’d do a mini “detox” on my own over the weekend, and go back to work Monday. But work was “stressful” or whatever other excuse I could come up with and at the end of Monday or Tuesday, I’d do it all over again.
Until my boss called me aside and told me to take time off work and get well. I did. And I’ve been sober ever since. I never want to feel like I was in that trap again.
It wasn’t a real trap, but it did feel like it. I just had to quit, but I did need some medical intervention because of the withdrawals. We have to be careful of that. But any emergency room or what we call Urgent Care in the US will help with that.
From the author of Sobriety? It’s not Magic it Just Feels Like it Sometimes
It amazes me how boredom is such a trigger. I sometimes drank because I was bored, but the trouble was that when I found something to do, I could no longer do it because I was too inebriated. This is one of the main reasons I quit drinking.
My level of anxiety was through the roof. I could not focus on things that needed to get done and things were backing up.
My stomach was bloated.
Sleep was really bad.
One morning about 116 days ago, I just said stop the insanity.
My life is so much better now.
Oh yeah, and I found you wonderful people.
For me spending time on my patio garden reading & staying connected to BOOM was key, it was like my own personal rehab.
Knowing and reading about others who I could relate to was and is a tremendous help in getting past the hopeless/loneliness feelings alcohol trapped me in.
I gradually added other things like cooking/baking, cleaning, redecorating, walks with my dogs, long baths and always BOOM.
I stayed busy as well as reflecting.
The biggest thing was really and truly focusing on living in the now, focusing on one day at a time really is key.💥
From the author of I am NOT the Lie Alcohol Had Me Believing I Was
I was very sick with who knows what. I was in bed for three days and the thought of a drink was nauseating, so I kept healing and no drinking. Then came withdrawal. I was so tempted to drink to tame the withdrawal but I’d quit drinking so many times I endured the withdrawal. I bought books about quitting alcohol. I found this found Boom. I stayed home, which was easy because of Covid lockdowns and promised myself I only have to not drink today. Tomorrow? Didn’t go there. I won’t drink today. Next year? Back to today. Today is all I have. Today is all I can live with hope. So 16 months, minus a day, is what I have. Today I’m not drinkin
From the author of Thawing Out the Fear of Going Sober
Some days, especially in the beginning, it was one hour at a time. I really, really never want to go through withdrawal ever again! If I drank today like I used to drink, it possibly could kill me. This has happened to some.
I was not competitive, hopeful or flirting with quitting. I was damn scared!😨 Today I’m not drinking.
Drinking, for me, became an insidious, lonely, thing I did in quiet solitude. What I had become was not something I was willing to present. Aside from the obvious collateral damage, life in a dark, lonesome, detached place, simply is not acceptable to me. I needed alcohol to function in the afternoon much the same way I need a cup of coffee in the morning. I don’t hide coffee cups in the basement or sneak them into the bottom of the trash. Today, I’m perfectly comfortable and unapologetic saying I don’t drink. In the simplest terms, if something feels like it has to be a secret, we need to give that some serious thought.
From one of the authors of Disarming the Booze Beast – A Creative Approach to Staying Sober
Things I’m not afraid of anymore
Red wine reduction on beef
I’m not afraid of alcohol anymore…..! And that is a really great feeling.
Rethink the Drink
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