It’s 6.09am on Christmas Eve. I’ve already been to the shop, to pick up the last bits. There are always “last bits”. Bits we never need on any other day of the year and can live without easily.
I came to the realisation, a while back, that part of the reason I’ve struggled for the last 18 months is lack of control. This just got worse during lockdown.
Every time I tried to get a routine going, something happened to upend it. Thats what I mean by lack of control. I don’t need total control over everything, just the ability to set my own agenda for certain things.
What to do about this? Its the small wins, pretty sure every self-help book talks about those. This is where I started. Simply by reading again. Gathering ideas, re-learning forgotten knowledge. Reminding myself what works.
What Works For Me
Every morning, for the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a combination of three approaches to goal setting and self-care.
This was the starting point. It invigorated me and gave me some fresh ideas, mixed with some I’d used to stop drinking. This kick-started a new morning routine of journalling.
This is what I end up with most days – I never thought I’d be doing stuff like this, but then I never thought I’d stop drinking either. Thats working out pretty good so far, so why not try different things.
Before I started those numbers were mostly 2 and 3. They also help target where I need to focus next.
A book I read years ago, but decided to re-visit. Lots I forgot. This helped me evolve the morning routine. I now have structure in the morning and have regained some control over a part of my life. I start each day in a good place now, which helps me cope with whatever happens after.
I’m not totally there yet with coping, but I am a lot better.
Sitting here a bit smug. Seeing the aftermath of the Prosecco drinking, so happy I didn’t drink any. It started with the fizz, then moved on to vodka. Yesterday, well, no one was much good for anything. Zombies have more life about them.
I won’t experiment with booze – some courses suggest doing so. I’d rather not. Seeing the effect it has on others is enough to make me realise I made the right choice.
There wasn’t the temptation to say “I told you so”, they were suffering enough. Plus, being like that helps no one.
On another note. I realised this morning I woke up genuinely happy. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. It took a moment or two to realise what the feeling was – the realisation that I’ve been a miserable bugger to so long did put a chink in the armour lol.
It’s more that subdued “yay” happy rather than the fireworks ecstatic happy. But I’ll take it.
The first Christmas drink was opened last night. A bottle of Prosecco.
I was surprised at how much this tested my resolve not to drink.
The OYNB course does prepare us for these occasions. It was a case of mentally dipping in to one of these lessons.
For me, it was imagining the hangover in the morning. Luckily Prosecco gives me an evil hangover, so this exercise was easy. It was very easy to imagine the banging headache the dry mouth etc. Once that was fixed in my brain, there was no way I was drinking.
But I do need to be more prepared. Go back over the lessons and find other ways for future tests.
Other than this one moment, I am totally in the Christmas mood. Looking forward to the break, I think most will agree 2020 has been exhausting. I wish everyone could get a break.
During the week I post on the OYNB Facebook group, just random thoughts about how sober life is. It helps to be accountable. To hive mind problems and to get the feedback that I’m not alone – hopefully, some of the posts help others.
I thought I’d turn those daily thoughts in to blog posts – just mini posts.
Of course this is for purely selfish reasons. Christmas is coming up and I plan on staying sober. These mini posts will help give me another reason to, on top of the many I already have. You never know which plan b you need to help get through some situations – so the more the better.
Today we have this gem (written on sober day 66). For context, I tend to write these thoughts at about 4am wearing just underpants and socks. Recently I introduced a dressing gown – it was getting cold.
I’ve decided to go back to underpants and socks for my morning writing attire.
It’s my version of the Wim Hof Method. The door is open for the dog, its cold. It’s waking me up. It reminds me of when I had no choice but to be cold – when I was in housing with no heating (somehow this was a thing in the first two houses I rented/owned). Which I never want to go back to on a permanent basis – it was miserable. Also, no one needs to see a fat man shiver. I’m linking that mentally to alcohol and how miserable it made me. I don’t want to experiment with the booze – so I am finding alcohol free alternatives (as it were).
That made me realise that I never solved a problem by thinking why it needed solving. If I have a problem at work and I’m struggling to fix it I never go back to the BIG WHY to help. The question is always WHAT IF I try this, or this. The why always comes after – why didn’t that work, or why did it work. It’s never a big why though.
My big why for stopping drinking has always been I don’t want to die young. If that isn’t a big enough why I don’t know what is. I don’t have time to sit around finding a better why.
But WHAT IF is much better for me, your mileage may be different.
What If In Practice
I can apply that short term and long. It can help mindfulness, keep me in the moment, or it can help me visualise the end goal.
For example in the moment – I’m offered a beer. I quickly ask myself what if I have it. It takes a second to do that internal audit of what if and remind myself of the consequences. Those off guard moments are when I’m at my most vulnerable and I never once went to the big why for help.
Big why is language I never understood when solving problems. Maybe I need to retrain my brain to be able to leverage big why’s. But that will take time, time which could be spent doing something that works for me.
Why is a reactive word. We use the 5 why’s at work to find out why something didn’t happen, or went wrong. Or we ask why are you doing that? Or why do you want to do that? If you’re asking why, then you already know what you are going to do or you’ve already done it or doing it.
Having said all this. Applying WHAT IF is still not easy, it needs to become habit to make it a go to.
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.
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.
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.
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.