Things You Learn When Giving Up Alcohol

43 days sober.

The not drinking bit has been relatively easy. If I do crave, I find a distraction. Sudoku in the evening is a good one. I can get lost in a puzzle for anything up to two hours, mind on nothing else. Plus it helps send me to sleep.

Here’s the hard part. The part you don’t find out before you stop drinking – unless you’ve done your research. Even then, I think its different for everyone – one of those same but different scenarios. Withdrawal is hard. Depending on how heavy you were drinking. For me it was like having mild flu for nearly 3 weeks.

You have to face all the things you were numbing out with alcohol. There is no hiding. Emotions, embarrassing moments … everything. Come to terms with them, deal with them. These are the reasons I was drinking, they should not be ignored – the risk they will lead to drinking is too high.

My depression is not as deep, but the low mood is more constant. No blocking it out for a few hours with booze. That is emotionally draining.

Prepare to be tired – despite better sleep. Apparently this passes. Last week I took an afternoon off work just to rest.

Not everyone understands why you have stopped drinking. I’ve heard stories of people getting very defensive when coming in to contact with a friend who has stopped drinking. Personally I don’t care what others think about me not drinking. Their peer pressure won’t be the reason I drink again. But it does happen.

There is lots more, but I rambled on enough.

Cravings, Fear and Self-Care – Sober Diary

Craving

At one point during the week I noticed that, whilst I still crave a drink at the usual trigger hour of the work day, my cravings are short lived.  

I finally understand what they mean in meditation by recognise the thought, don’t analyse it, and move on. This is what happened during yesterdays craving. I noticed it, acknowledged it, then went about my day. I don’t even know if it was still there, it felt like it went as fast as it came.

The Fear

I’ve been alcohol free before. Two years ago, for 44 days.  

Despite all the community support and guidance, I really struggled through it. I’ve often thought the only reason was having to face life in all its warts and all glory.  Having to handle my inner demons, no longer surpressing them with alcohol. 

Maybe that is only part of it. 

I remember at the time being scared of not having alcohol in my life. Every one of those 44 days this was in my mind. It was almost like mourning – but with the knowledge that I could bring it back whenever I wanted.  And I did, big style. 

This time around, 28 days as of this blog post, I don’t feel that fear.  I don’t miss alcohol.  No mourning of it.   This time it’s been much easier to be sober because I am not scared.   I am able to appreciate the things I have gained more than the things I perceive I’ve lost.  

In reality I’ve lost nothing – I didn’t realise that last time. I’ve gained so much.

Self-Care

This week I heard an amazing quote from David Goggins

“You don’t care about yourself, so you don’t stay in the fight”

That was so true for so long. But now I care. Now I am fighting.  

I am so excited for the things to come.

Incoherent Connections – Message From The Universe

On the day I am writing this, I am 22 days sober. This week, more than any before it during my sobriety, I have been ground hogging like a champ. There has been a distinct lack of coherent thought and focus on achieving any goals.

The new lockdown, about to hit the UK, has hit my mood pretty hard.

The thought of working from home is the stuff of my nightmares. Hours spent on my own, looking at a screen, took me to a very dark place last time.

I was barely functioning and had daily thoughts of suicide. My drinking also hit its worst.

Hello Mark, Its The Universe Calling!

I don’t know if I believe that the universe sends us messages. But the last few weeks it seems like it has has something to tell me. It hasn’t been subtle, either.

I get the message…..human connection is vital to my wellbeing.

When I went back to work my mood lifted. It felt good to be around other people.

Getting back to a recognisable routine also helped. Having a reason to get dressed, commuting, face to face meetings. It all helped. Seeing people, not just hearing their disjointed voices on a Teams call, was a massive boost.

My Recent Reading List

Every book I’ve read recently has advised that connection is vital to living a good life.

Let’s Do This by Andy Ramage

Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge

Genius Foods by Max Lugavere

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace

Each one of these books has made it loud and clear, I NEED HUMAN CONNECTION!

The Problem

Thats all lovely and the universe can send me as many messages as it likes. But its ignoring one major problem.

I don’t like people. Don’t trust them. Don’t make friends easily. I am crap at maintaining the friendships I have had. The second someone lets me down its a big goodbye – ironic because I am usually the one doing the letting down.

Its all part of being an introvert.

It’s also part of being uncomfortable around people.

If I am going to get through this new lockdown sane, then it’s time to get out of my comfort zone. Time to make more connections. Time to stop being a dick head.

Before I turn my goals towards physical health and nutrition, connection must be my main focus. Its the one thing I have been terrible at all my life. The return to work demonstrated how much being around people helps my mental wellbeing. I need to remember that.

Zombie Coming Through

Day 10 – Move It!

I felt like moving this morning. So at 5am I was out with my hound, running. When I say running, I mean stumbling forward without falling over. Do I feel good for doing it? Hell no. Will I do it again. Yup. Even the dog was looking at me like “wtf”

Day 11 – The Walking Dead

Yesterday I ran, some of you may have read.

While I was running I had Sabotage, by the Beastie Boys, blasting and in my mind I looked like Rocky in one of those montage scenes.

In reality I looked like a 46 yr old, 20 stone zombie from the walking dead – just stumbling along. Not one of the good looking zombies either. I’m talking one with body parts missing, whose make-up was done by a toddler with a permanent marker.

How do I know what I looked like. My body is telling me today. Ahhhh pain.

This is not a negative. I’ll be running again tomorrow – I hope its misty and there are other people around. I want to hear the screams of horror as they see a zombie tellytubby lurching from the fog.

Sad Black And White GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

This is a positive. It reminds me of the toll alcohol has had on my body. 18 months ago I was 5 stone lighter, working out everyday, eating good food. I let booze take over and now the only exercise I get is getting out of the car to grab a Greggs sausage roll.

I am NOT going back to that. Each lurch forward on the run is painful, but one in the right direction for my health.

Day 12 – Betrayal

Turns out I’am the literal princess and the pea.

Dialled my sleep routine in so well, any slight deviation and that pea feels like a boulder.

Usual routine – bed, book, bit of jazz playing low, then when I am ready for sleep I play rain sounds (thats a throwback to spending 18 months in a caravan in Scotland – I went native).

While I am dozing off my little cat Lilly uses me as a bed (literally beds down on my belly) – she’s tiny, but that little bit of weight is reassuring.

Lilly slept elsewhere last night. She cheated on me with a comfy new cat bad. 😢

WORSE NIGHTS SLEEP EVA!!!!

Never knew I was such a sensitive soul. Choosing sobriety is making me feel all the feels. Thats cool, its nice to be feeling again…but DAMN LILLY WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME!!!!!!

Anyway, here’s Lilly….she got chucked off the bed by her big bro and sis. Karma.

Day 13 – Jamie Lee Curtis Ass Kicking

Its day 13 AF, its Friday. I’m not superstitious, but if I can kick alcohols arse on a Friday, on the 13th day then call me Jamie Lee Curtis. Was she even in those films? I don’t know, never watched them. I just know she kicked ass in whatever film.

Jamie Lee Curtis Make Good Choices GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Its been a rough week. Depression, work stress and now back pain. I’ve been ground hogging it a bit. Just getting through. Wake, work, sleep, wake, work, sleep… Its a phase, it will pass.

Happy to report alcohol hasn’t been consumed. On the challenge page they have the bit “The Importance of Quit Lit”. I didn’t realise how true this was until this week. I’ve had the usual stress at work, which brings with it the thoughts of having a drink. On the way home I’ve been listening to Catherine Grays The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober”. Amazing book. Its like a constant reminder of why i’m doing this, so by the time I get home the “need” for alcohol is gone. She’s my new hero.

What has your week been like?

WTF Just Happened!

I’ve lost track of time, 2020 seems to have done that. In winter 2018, I stopped drinking for about 40-45 days. The idea was that it would be the miracle cure to my depression. It was the only thing left I could thinks of.

Over the previous 18 months I’d lost 70 pounds in weight (I thought being fat was why I was depressed), I’d dialled in my nutrition (again, overeating was why I was depressed, surely). Neither of these things had worked.

One Year No Beer

It must be the booze then. I joined the One Year No Beer programme and it was working. I kicked booze for 40 days (I was only a weekend drinker anyway). It wasn’t about being an alcoholic, it was all about trying to break a bad habit that had been with me since I was 18 (I was 44 when I tried to kick it that time). It wasn’t only getting in the way of my mental health goals, but also my fitness goals. Hard to workout when you have a hangover – I couldn’t give it 100%.

But things got worse. I was even more depressed than before. I had a fuck it moment and started drinking again. The slide downwards was gradual. It started with eating crap. Real crap food. I put a little weight back on, but in my mind I was in control.

Then I wasn’t only drinking Friday and Saturday night, I’d also added Thursday and Sunday.

Before long Monday was the only night I wasn’t drinking. Instead of getting better by giving up the booze, I’d got worse.

Many things were happening in my head and in life.

Mr Smith – The Slayer of Dreams and Self Esteem

In the September of 2018 I was promoted. WIN? Not in my brain. Low self esteem kicked in. Even thought I’d worked hard for it, I didn’t feel like I’d deserved it. All the shit I’d been told about myself, by others, kept coming to mind.

Here’s one particular gem of a story, which pretty much made me hate our education system for life.

In our third year of comprehensive schooling we started careers classes. We were about 12-13 years old. We sat in the first class and the teacher, Mr Smith, walked in.

The school I went to was a good one, doctors and solicitors from surrounding villages used to bus their kids in to it.

Mr Smith stood at the front of the class and split the group of kids in two. It was obvious what he’d done. The kids in my group were all the kids of coal miners. The other group were the “rich kids”.

Mr Smith looked at my group and told us that the boys would be coal miners and the girls house wives or shop assistants. That was it, that was our careers advice. Written off before we’d started.

Things like this weren’t uncommon and did a lot of damage to my self esteem. All I was good for in life was manual labour, in a dead industry. It must be true, the teacher said so. So, when I had success beyond that my brain worked against it.

From Promotion To Unemployed?

In September 2019, I was told my job was at risk. There was no role for me at the site I was on. The only option was London (the reasons why that wasn’t an option for me are for a whole different blog post).

This only helped reinforce the feeling I was useless. I know it wasn’t a personal thing, but the brain isn”t always ruled by the intelligent side.

Depression deepened, drinking got worse.

Out of sheer desperation and at the suggestion of my boss, I applied for a job in the company which would be a promotion.

In a weird twist, I got it.

At this point my emotional state felt like it was on the worlds worst roller coaster.

Within a year, I’d been promoted twice and faced redundancy. My head was a shed.

2020 Kicked The World In The Balls

Then 2020 hit. I started it with a mental breakdown, at the end of January (there was about three months of physical illness leading up to it). My brain had decided it had had enough. I don’t do change at the best of times and the last year was more than it could cope with apparently.

I spent six weeks not leaving the house. The day I went back to work, I was told I’d be working somewhere else. More change.

By the lunchtime the same day, we were told the country was going in to lockdown. I’d just done six weeks of self imposed lockdown.

I’m not sure if I returned to work after 4, 5 or 6 months of official lockdown. This year has been a blur. But by the time I returned to the office (I’d been working from home) I was 70 pounds heavier and was drinking more than ever.

I’d stopped working out. Stopped eating right. I’d stopped living – like so many other people this year.

Why 40 Days Sober Triggered All This

I’m not going to use my own words for this but. Someone else recently did a much better job of it:

“The sticking point for me was between days 40 and 90. I would challenge you if you’re listening to this, just do it for 30 days. You can do that. It’s the middle bit because then, the novelties wore off, and that’s when for me the emotional wave started happening. I felt for the first time, I was living life in technicolor and it was like, whoa, I need to turn the contrast down. I don’t know how to deal with this.”

Clare Freeman on the One Year No Beer Podcast

That emotional wave, no longer numbed by alcohol or food, was crippling to me. Clare and I were in the same OYNB group. She went on to thrive and is doing amazing work. I crashed and burned.

Why Do It Again, What’s Changed?

I need to change. I am seriously worried I’ll end up losing everything if this carries on.

The difference this time is that I am already planning for the 40 day technicolour nightmare. I have a counsellor. So when shit gets rough, I have someone to help guide me.

I’m also not trying to do everything at once. I tend to overload myself, then burn out.

I’ve also prepared in other ways. I’ve been reading a lot, in particular about ways to navigate change and improve life one step at a time.

This isn’t meant as a woe is me blog. It’s more a “get your shit together, Mark” blog. Trying to make sense of the things that are happening. I could do this in private, and many people do, but I’m tired of hiding and pretending its all ok. Plus, not many people read this blog so its almost private anyway.