Four years ago today, after waking up with what felt like the worst hangover of my life, I promised myself that I would give up alcohol. I’d known my drinking was a problem for at least ten years before that morning, but until then, despite my many failures to do so, I believed I could “control alcohol” by cutting back. I’d never intended to stop drinking completely, but that morning it came to me that if I didn’t do just that, alcohol would kill me. Today I am 73 years old and four years alcohol-free.
“I was someone in a hell of a lot of pain doing the best she could do with the tools she had. Perhaps that’s what is true about your story, too.” (Push Off from Here, Laura McKowen 15)
I was one of those gray-area drinkers whose wine consumption edged upwards from one or two glasses a week in my early 40’s, to one or two glasses a day by the time I turned 50, to a bottle a day for the next 19 years. I told myself when I retired at 59 that I would get my drinking under control, but ten more years would pass before the day I finally quit drinking.
Like so many others, I found my way to this community by Googling “How to stop drinking without AA.” The practical tips I learned here, along with the kind support of people who knew what I was experiencing, got me through the earliest days, weeks, and months of living without alcohol.
Here’s what worked for me between Day 1 and Year 2.5 Alcohol-free:
1. I made it non-negotiable and took it one day at a time. That is, every day I set my intention to stay alcohol-free for that one day, no matter what. I didn’t need to analyze it or understand why it mattered; I just needed to keep my focus. Stubbornness, will power, and a sense of mission had already helped me quit smoking cigarettes many years earlier. I believed that if I persevered, I could improve my life. Once I no longer felt physically addicted, I was able to focus on drinking as a bad habit that I had the power to break.
2. I got rid of the wine in my house and replaced it with non-alcoholic drinks I like: iced tea with lemonade, flavored sparkling water, those lovely San Pellegrino juices.
3. I checked in to BOOM multiple times a day, writing lots of long posts and commenting on those of other people here. Being an active part of this community was central to my new alcohol-free life.
4. I learned about the toxic effects of alcohol on my mind and body, mostly by reading articles here.
5. I worked on rewiring my reward center with regular sober treats, something else I learned about here. This was a revelation to me, and it gave me a wonderful excuse to eat the ice cream and cookies that I craved. Using the advice I got, I didn’t worry about the sugar or the possibility of gaining weight (which didn’t happen–in fact, I quickly lost about 8 pounds just because I wasn’t drinking wine).
6. I counted my alcohol-free days and how much money I was saving. I don’t keep careful track of either of those numbers anymore, but sometimes I Google “How many days since July 30, 2019?” or do a simple multiplication problem; as of today I’ve lived free of alcohol for 1460 days and I’ve saved at least $20,000.
7. For several months I avoided (whenever I could) the people and events that might have triggered the urge to drink. This was easier for me than for many others because I’m retired and do a lot of my volunteer work remotely. Also, I’m a happy introvert whose social life centers mainly on my family, and for the first few months I didn’t have to attend any large, stressful gatherings or put up with questions about drinking.
8. I learned healthy new ways to deal with anxiety, sleep problems, and physical pain. I could probably write a book about everything I tried and figured out! I got a lot of help from the wise writers whose books are noted below.
9. I meditated regularly and paid conscious attention to what I was grateful for. These are two practices I’d put in place at least a year before I stopped drinking alcohol, and they were already improving my moods, outlook, and sense of inner balance.
10. Because living alcohol-free eventually uncovered a great deal of unacknowledged early trauma that I needed to process with professional help, I got myself back into long-term therapy.
In these last four years alcohol-free I’ve gotten better at coping with the anxiety and physical pain that I numbed for far too long by drinking every day. Once I quit, I recognized very quickly that life is going to keep on being life whether I drink or not, meaning that there will be good days and horrible ones, things to celebrate and things to mourn, triumphs and grief, health crises and scary late-night phone calls, so much I can’t control, nothing I can make better by adding alcohol, no problem I can solve by drinking at it.
Read more from this author on her Journey to Four Years alcohol-Free :
These are some of the books that helped me on this journey:
Join us in November for a book club discussion on The Unpickled Holiday Survival Guide by Jean McCarthy, and in January for a book club discussion on No Bad Parts by Richard C. Schwartz PHD. Find these and all of our past and future book club discussion at this link A Book Club About Much More Than Quit Lit
Read more perspective from Four Years Alcohol-Free in our
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