I read in Paul Churchill’s book, Alcohol is Sh!t “If you want to figure out why you drink, quit drinking and you’ll find out pretty quick.” That hit home. I drink because I hate my life and it bores me to tears. I drink to make myself sufficiently numb and mindless that I can stand to live it.
Today I will feel good and be productive. I will go home and endure the cravings while I work in the kitchen and if it gets too bad to endure I’ll put the dog in charge (he’s got more sense than any of the kids) and go to bed. Once my head hits the pillow I’ve won. I’ve never once wanted to get out of bed and drink.
Weekend. Dishes, laundry, cooking, dishes, laundry, meal planning, grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, dog, laundry. Monday. Go to work. Sit in my windowless office all day with the door shut because nobody there is worried about COVID. Come home. Discover the various atrocities and acts of vandalism against our home that the children committed today. Yell ineffectually about it. Dishes, laundry, cooking… Almost no help from anybody. Work 14 hours a day, fall into bed. Get up the next day and repeat. Every day the same as the one before. 10 more years until the youngest turns 18. I’ll be 60. Drinking makes that bearable. Drinking keeps me from feeling like I do right now in this moment, as if I would cheerfully take a long walk off a short pier if I could do it in such a way that didn’t hurt my family.
I’m not going to drink today. For starters, it’s the only day I *can* not drink, because tomorrow hasn’t started yet. Also, I am going to try to take it on faith that if I give it some space and time, I’ll see things differently. Maybe it’s not really this bad. Maybe I can find a way to make some time for myself. Certainly, things weren’t good when I was drinking. And every day was the same before I quit drinking, just in a different way. One that was not sustainable. If I didn’t lose my job from impaired job performance due to hangovers, it was going to be something even worse. I had started playing Russian roulette by driving drunk to the liquor store when I was out of booze but wanted more. Sooner or later I was going to lose that game.
I bought a treadmill so my wife and I can get some exercise during the 9 months of the year when it’s too hot, too cold, and/or too rainy to go outside. It just shipped today, so by this time next week, I should be soaking in endorphins with almost three weeks AF. That’s something to look forward to.
Those are my memories from Day 12 after I quit drinking- looking back now from Day 60 sober –
60 Days AF. I was remembering today how when I started therapy in December 2018, I told my therapist that while my previous therapist (circa 2016), my physician, and my wife all thought alcohol was my biggest problem, I disagreed. I thought it was that I was so stressed, because my wife was depressed and not doing anything to help with the housework or the three kids, and I had to handle all of that and earn a living. If I don’t get help with the housework, I said, it won’t matter whether I drink. And if I do get help with it, the drinking will take care of itself. I was very sure of this. My logic was, in my own opinion, impeccable. I was very defensive about my drinking. (Why was I finding it necessary to defend it to so many people? Shut up, that’s why.)
My therapist saw that I wasn’t ready to reconsider this position yet, so he waited for me to figure it out. And now that I have the benefit of 60 days sober for the first time in over five years, I see that everybody else was right and I was wrong. Drinking was my biggest problem, it was creating other problems that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and it was making still other problems worse. In fact
I can’t think of a single problem that drinking didn’t either create or make worse.
Not a one.
“It gets easier but it never gets easy / I could say it’s all worth it but you won’t believe me”
– Jason Isbell
Like the man said, it may never get easy, but it definitely gets easier.
If you’re reading this, you probably have some familiarity with the concept of momentum as it applies to drinking alcohol. Although there are some alcoholics, I’m told, who were alcoholics from their very first drink, for myself and for most of the people I’ve heard tell their stories, it was a problem that was slow to develop. You don’t have a drinking problem until you do.
There were years where they drank socially, “normally”. Their drinking gradually got heavier. They started to wonder if they had a problem. The first serious attempts to moderate or control the drinking are made, and fail. The costs rise, be they in the form of hangovers of increasing frequency and severity, family problems, legal problems, whatever. At some point, drinking becomes less of a choice than a part-time job, a really bad job that you have to pay for the privilege of having, a job that you find to your dismay that you can’t seem to quit.
Every time you try to quit that job, you’re pushing against all that momentum that the habit or compulsion has built up. It’s hard to get through a day without a drink. Whatever compelling reasons you may have to quit, it *feels* like you have every reason to put off quitting until later, and right now would be a great time to have that drink or two, or ten, or all of it. That’s momentum working against you.
Here’s the hard part about momentum, at least for me: If you’re trying to create momentum for something good, to get it working *for* you, it’s a leap of faith at first. The costs of the new habit you’re trying to establish are immediate, the benefits are delayed. You quit drinking and have to endure that terrible first week. Maybe you’ve got cravings, maybe you’ve got physical withdrawal symptoms, maybe your friends are trying to get you to drink with them, maybe you’re still hung over from yesterday’s excess. Meanwhile, you aren’t sleeping well yet. You’re not feeling better yet. You’re not enjoying better clarity yet. You have to trust that the process you’re following, the program you’re working, whatever it may be – is going to work, despite the absence of evidence, the lack of immediate positive feedback.
Eventually, it gets easier. Old bad habits are discarded and new good habits formed. Unsupportive friends fade away. The people who are really on our side are appreciated more. Our bodies and minds feel *good*. Life’s problems are all still there, of course, but we’re in a much better condition to deal with them constructively. Momentum is built.
Today is 60 Days AF for me. I’ve been walking two miles every morning, something made possible by getting out of bed earlier than I used to. Can’t do that with a hangover. I can really feel the momentum of the good choices I’ve made over the past months, all throwing their weight behind me as it gets easier to do the right things each day to stay sober and get healthier.
I was today years old when I realized the literal tragedy of the slang word for drunk, “wasted”. I think back on how much of my youth and potential I wasted for the sake of alcohol, and I could almost cry. “I was so wasted last night!” Yes, child. You were. And there’s nothing to be done about it now but to not waste today, or any of the rest of your days.
I have quit drinking a lot of times. I mean, a *lot* of times. And by this time next week, I will be on my second longest sobriety streak since before I was 21 (back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) and had obligatory dry summers while home from school.
Why is this attempt succeeding for me where others failed? What’s different this time?
- I am all in. There is no part of me that still wishes I could drink. Drinking made nothing better, and a lot of things worse. I see that now.
- I finally surrendered completely to the truths that I had a problem, I could not afford to ignore the problem, I could not manage my way out of the problem, and I could not wait any longer to solve the problem.
- I added resources such as Boom and sobriety books, blogs, and podcasts, which are giving me knowledge, community, and accountability.
- I threw myself into exercise, patiently – I am doing as much as feels good at first, maybe for as long as a month, before I start pushing myself at all. But I’m trying to do it every day, and have succeeded 17 of the 19 days since I started. If I’m dragging my butt out of bed an hour early every morning to exercise, I’d be insane to render all of that work moot by drinking!
- I am reconnecting with other things that I enjoy, such as music, reading, writing, doing stuff with the kids, etc.
What I think will help me in the future is:
- Continuing to use and add to my recovery portfolio
- Remembering that I don’t got this – I still have a drinking problem that would love to re-emerge. I think it’s an AA saying, but I heard someone say that when an alcoholic goes back to drinking, he picks up right where he left off. It might start as a drink or two on a Saturday night, but that’s not where it would stop. I would be right back where I was in short order, and I don’t want to go back there ever again.
- Reminding myself that early recovery sucks. I don’t want to have to go through another first week ever again. No thanks, don’t need to repeat that lesson, I’ve got it down cold now.
Ready to Stop Drinking? Here’s a bit of what to expect-
Day 1. I’ve known I needed to quit drinking for at least 15 years. I’ve tried and failed more times than I can count. But maybe this time will be different, for two reasons. One, my wife is about out of patience with me and I don’t want to get divorced. Two, my oldest friend died yesterday. He was the first new friend I made in high school. He was only 50.
I’m tired of missing out on life to get drunk every night. I’m tired of feeling like garbage every morning. I made a clock in Nomo and made my quit date/time for yesterday at the time he passed. He didn’t get to grow old, but I do. I don’t want to throw away a gift he didn’t get to enjoy.
It’s time to turn the page on my drinking life.
Once my head hits the pillow I’ve won. I’ve never once wanted to get out of bed and drink.
Day 3. Feeling great. Slept from about 10:15 until about 5:45. Seven solid hours of sleep feels a lot better than two, or none.
My wife and I have three kids we adopted from the foster care system. They all have the same birth mom. I wouldn’t trade them for anything but they’re difficult. And my wife has been partly to mostly disabled for years with health problems. I do all the cooking, dishes, laundry, shopping, bill paying, maintenance, what cleaning I can manage, and I work full time. It’s a lot. It’s been my justification for my drinking. My excuse.
In 2015 I went three months without drinking and then started up again. I don’t remember what I was thinking, but I think it was that I was bored and very stressed and I thought it was worth risking relapse to experience something that resembled leisure. That was a mistake.
When I get back to that point, I need to remember that I don’t have it under control. I need to assume that if I ever so much as have a glass of wine with a nice meal, it would sooner or later end up with me drinking a fifth of vodka on a Sunday night. And probably drinking more Monday night just to get through kitchen cleanup, cooking, and dishes. Then waking up Tuesday feeling bad. Lather, rinse, repeat. Stuck back in the cycle.
But that’s a later problem. Today I will feel good and be productive. I will go home and endure the cravings while I work in the kitchen and if it gets too bad to endure I’ll put the dog in charge (he’s got more sense than any of the kids) and go to bed. Once my head hits the pillow I’ve won. I’ve never once wanted to get out of bed and drink. The silver lining of having tried and failed to quit so many times is that I know where an awful lot of pitfalls are and how to avoid them. Heh, all those failed attempts weren’t failures, they were practice. Now it’s time for the show.
My choices were to ignore the problem, keep drinking, and endure the consequences, or to solve the problem by quitting completely and permanently
Day 6. Feeling good. Getting through last night without drinking was an accomplishment. Those kids which do not kill me only make me stronger.
I don’t want to do AA because the whole “higher power” thing doesn’t work for me. But on the Recovery Elevator podcast episode I was listening to last night, Paul was talking about surrender as part of the 12 step deal, and I recognize certain points in my life where I had to surrender my pride, and surrender to reality.
• I had to surrender to the truth that I had a problem.
• I had to surrender to the truth that I could not manage my way out of the problem, that there were no tactics I could employ, no rules I could set for myself, that would make it possible for me to keep drinking without negative consequences. My choices were to ignore the problem, keep drinking, and endure the consequences, or to solve the problem by quitting completely and permanently.
• After a few years of trying to mitigate the consequences (stock up on Vitamin B-12, aspirin, and caffeine!) I had to surrender to the truth that this was a false choice – the cost of continuing to drink was too high to bear, and getting higher with each passing day. My only *real* option was to quit completely and permanently.
• I had to surrender to the truth that waiting any longer to solve the problem wasn’t an option, that I had to solve it immediately.
So, all other options having been exhausted, I am committed to solving the problem I’ve known consciously about for at least 15 years, and subconsciously for more like 20. Better late than never I suppose. I guess I should be grateful that stubborn pride wasn’t literally the death of me.
Oh, and I am finally ready to self-diagnose as an alcoholic. Not sure how everybody feels about that word, but to me, it’s a relief. It gives me permission to quit drinking, because I can’t use alcohol safely. And I don’t have to feel weak or stupid because I can’t solve the puzzle of “how do I manage this drinking problem while still drinking?”. There is no answer, because there is no puzzle. I have a disease. There is one way for me to treat the disease, and that is by not drinking any more alcohol. There are things I can do to help myself, like reading and writing on Boom, listening to sobriety podcasts, talking to other alcoholics, reconnecting with fulfilling things I used to do before drinking crowded them out, etc. But at the end of the day, the not-drinking is the thing that is going to treat my disease.
I’m grateful that I got to this point before I destroyed my marriage, permanently alienated my kids, threw away my career, incurred legal consequences, hurt or killed anybody, or destroyed my health. I’m grateful that the damage I did to myself and my family was, finally, *enough*.
Day 17 AF. I’ve probably “quit” over a hundred times, and made it to 30 days just three times in the past 12 years, and to 90 days once. So I’m definitely not getting cocky. Just enjoying waking up well-rested and feeling good every day. And being present in my life.
The kids tried as hard as they could last night to get me to break down and go to the liquor store, but I didn’t. Wasn’t even that tempted, really. I’m not going to let the demons win. Actual exchange that actually happened:
Wife: Stop talking back to me, [Son]. I’m getting tired of it.
Son: [scornfully] Was I talking back to you? No.
Friends, the child is still alive and walking the earth, and I did not drink. When I die and they make me a saint, please lobby to have me made patron saint of something cool. Thanks, and have a great day everybody.
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