Well, first you stop the actual drinking. But before that you learn about what drinking does to you body to make it so addictive. And before that you try to find other people who care enough about this sober thing that you don’t feel so weird and alone. And before that you have situations where you’re embarrased or ashamed, over and over again. Let’s call that your rock bottom. Because you have had enough.
Before that, you drink whenever you damn well feel like it and judge those who sip a beer or leave wine behind in a glass. Why would you not finish it?
Before that, you hang out with other people who drink a lot, who won’t notice that maybe you are one drink ahead of them on the tab or also talk about picking some up on the way home so they are sure they won’t run out.
Before you start noticing that your parenting style is starting to resemble your mother’s, and a light bulb goes on, so you go to Al-Anon. For the first time, you find a safety net you’ve never had before.
And before that, there were nights on the dirty bathroom floor with your head on the cold tiles and one hand gripping the toilet seat so you could wrench yourself over there to heave up yellow bile and chunks of bad food you filled your belly with to quell the nausea and spins.
And before that there were the bars and restaurants you worked at and got to drink for free with all the other people who did the same thing you did.
And before that was the college bingeing that seemed harmless because everyone was doing it, and then you took the minimum course load senior year so you could spend more time at the bar with a friend, to drown out the sorrow of how you f*cked up the relationship with first person you think may have really loved you a lot but you didn’t know what to do with that pure and intentional attention because you were taught you didn’t deserve it.
And before that…?
But now, right now, for today, that’s behind me. I love who I am, and love all of my other stories that are exciting and make people lean forward for more details because they are unusual and brave and exotic. I also don’t hide from the ugly stories, because they are part of me as well.
Let’s get back to the first question before all of the “before that” examples of what leads up to actually stopping. How do you stop drinking? It is not, of course, simply a matter of stopping drinking. If it were that simple, you would not be reading this. You would simply decide to stop, stay stopped and move forward with ease. But for most of us it is not that simple.
How to stop drinking
Let Shame Turn to Self-Care in Sobriety
It’s the ugly vein that winds and wiggles it’s way through every facet of our lives when we are drinking.
Avoiding early morning appointments. Shame.
Drinking even when I knew I had to pick up one of the kids from a sports event late at night. Shame.
Avoiding making a decent dinner for the family and slopping something together that was fast and easy. Shame.
Fighting with my husband over little nuances in the evenings and not knowing why he was acting mad the next morning. Shame.
Watching a movie and waking the next morning not remembering the plot. Shame.
These moments may seem small and insignificant, but shame kills us by a thousand small cuts. When you stop drinking, even on Day One, the shame starts to recede. It happens slowly, almost imperceptibly, pulling and tugging in the background like a tide receding back to the ocean.
It bumps up against your shore, recedes, then returns again. But the pull of the tide slowly, very slowly starts to weaken. It’s strength carries less weight in your brain as you replace your Shame with taking care of yourself.
Saying no to a triggering invite. Self-care.
Opting out of cooking when you are too tired. Self-care.
Deciding to go to bed before dark. Self-care.
Taking a nap midday. Self-care.
Deciding not to return a call or email that brings stress. Self-care.
Treating yourself to a special dessert. Or flowering plant. Or treat for your dog. Self-care.
When the moments and hours and days of self-care start to build on each other, you start creating a new foundation for your life that has been missing for a very long time. Built of small moments of softness, consideration and pause. It grows stronger over time, so much so that you can begin to turn back to what you’ve started to practice and it becomes something you can rely on.
That something is you.
Welcome back to you. That is what sobriety gives you. A chance to fall back in love with you. The you that was there when you were younger, before this bastard of drink took the wheel. You’ve always been there, and when you stop drinking you meet up again like a visit with an old friend. She is patient and kind and forgiving. She (he) is you.
How to Stop Drinking
Accept that Everything is as it Should be
Everything is as it should be?
This is a tough one for me, well, at least it was tough until I embraced it. By that I mean it has been added to my sober toolbox, and I use it almost daily.
My mantra – Everything is as it should be.
I was brought up to judge, to ridicule and to minimize other’s successes and choices. I didn’t know otherwise, so that’s how I navigated the world, working to create a constant protective bubble so I wouldn’t feel vulnerable or judged myself by minimizing other’s choices. I had no north arrow, instead, I felt like a broken compass with the arrow bouncing all over the place, unsure which direction was next. Alcohol became the soggy blanket I wrapped myself in to make sure I wasn’t hurt too badly.
Older now, I know that the majority of people are so focused on themselves they really aren’t paying attention to what I am doing, except for the judgy ones that are. Stooping down to peer inside their worlds and take a closer look I see they are hurting as well, and when their behavior isn’t appropriate, I turn away from their hurtful or nasty behavior, even if they are part of my family. It’s not my job to heal them. I can only heal myself.
How do you break free from what was taught to you, modeled to you and hard-wired into your brain?
After the first years of struggling through sobriety and rewiring my brain synapses so they support instead of sabotaging me, I can think more clearly and on a larger scale. I can absorb and understand what the mantra “everything is as it should be” really means.
“everything is as it should be”
It helps me through moments when I fall back into dark anger and resentment, when I am tempted to shake my fist at the selfish neighbors or the drunk driver who backed into our mailbox and denied it like a teenager. It also helps me when dealing with unprofessional people at work who are failing at their jobs, causing me more work and pain. It’s all as it should be because I have myself to rely on now. I also now know that I need these tools, mantras, and comfort foods.
I take quick deep breathing breaks on my bed when there’s lots to be done.
Me first. Then others.
I have to remind myself of this daily because it’s the only way through and also the only way I can be a true and valuable partner, mother, child, co-worker, and friend. And everyone is better for it.
How to Stop Drinking
Take every opportunity to look honestly at what alcohol can do to a life
I met a man.
He is someone I knew many years ago. We met again to discuss working together. He’d experienced dramatic life changes, including cancer, and I could see the toll it had taken in his life and body.
But the other story is, he’s an alcoholic. His wife of over four decades was threatening to leave, he had a badly bruised chin and dried blood crusted on his ear during our visit. How did I know he has a drinking problem? He told me so.
This is what the later stages of alcoholism looks like: A resignation to the power that booze has over you, a sadness that it holds itself so tightly in your grip you have let it take the wheel. The ruin of relationships, health and the light that was once in your eyes. All stolen by the drink.
This was a professional meeting, and we are not very close. But he was open and honest with me about his situation. I provided a safe and trusted space for him to be vulnerable. I shared a bit of my drinking story, but only enough so he knew I understood the power alcohol can have over us.
He had quit drinking for seven years before, so already understood the wonders of sobriety, for he’d experienced it firsthand. But now here he was.
I’m not sure he’ll be able to stop drinking again, and he’s not either. He wants to save his marriage, but admitted he didn’t know if he had the strength to say no to alcohol and make it stick again. He admitted to lying to his wife before, so isn’t trying to fool anyone.
The palor of sadness was like a heavy blanket encircling us. There wasn’t much I could say other than I understood and I don’t judge. We all have our journeys, some which end up with sobriety sticking and others, well, maybe not so clean cut.
I left feeling honored that he was so honest with me, and also took it to heart that this was another opportunity given to me to understand what alcohol can do to a life, what it can take away.
I’m closing in on four years sober, and there have been different kinds of bumps in the road this time around the sun, both superficial and deep. I’ve had more temptations to drink this year than the last. Seeing what it looks like to pick up the drink after a long time sober was, well, sobering to say the least.
There are stories living among all of us. Triumphant, clumsy, slippery and everything in between. By showing up completely as yourself you will find your path. There’s no shame in the journey.
“We oft forget we get to write our own story.“
How do you stop drinking? Decide you have had enough of wasting your one precious life and begin to take it back today.
Drinking steals small moments that add up to the life we are living. Next thing we know, we are older and all of those moments are what we have become.
But it’s never too late to shift the sails, to adjust the direction of our small ship in this vast ocean of life. We are at the helm, we are the captain. Not alcohol.
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