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.

OYNB Challenge: Day Eleven

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

Meditation

I’ve used it for many things. From helping me get off to sleep to de-stressing during the workday. I’ve never used it to battle a craving though. I guess it’s worth a go, it works so well in other situations.

Not a lot to say today really. I am finding it ironic that since I stopped drinking my depression got worse for a while and now my gout has returned. These aren’t reasons to start drinking again. Its quite funny, in a warped way.

OYNB Challenge: Day Ten

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

Socialising

There is an “and finally” part of todays exercise, which is stop caring what others think about going alcohol free. There are a four tips before that one, but I see them as steps to that final one. In the case of not drinking, I’m already at the stage of not caring what others think and have been from day one.

One of the other five tips I will be implementing though. Which is to try to arrange social activities that don’t revolve around alcohol.

Whenever I met up with my eldest son, before lockdown, it was often at the pub. We’d have a couple of pints and a catch up. He’s now getting in to hiking, a common interest we can replace the pub meet ups with.

Success

I won’t lie, this last week has been draining. Over the weekend I hit a real low point, a real deep and dark depression. Doing some research I now know this is part of the brains healing process. Things aren’t perfect now, but I feel like they’re slowly getting better.

OYNB Challenge: Day Nine

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

Nutrition

Uh oh!

Eat a better, more balanced diet.

I’ll get on to it. Seriously though, I’ve done this before and for a sustained period. I know what to do, it will just take adjustment to the food we buy in the weekly shop.

We already do part of the process. Weekly food prep for one, with healthy options that can just be re-heated. This takes out the temptation to go for a “quick, easy” snack. This is the trick for me. Make it easy, take away the temptation by limiting the options. If there are no snacks in the house, I will rarely go out to get some.

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

But, I do need to work on drinking more water during the day.

OYNB Challenge: Day Eight

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

What Do I Want?

It took a while to differentiate this one from the Why’s exercise from Day One. I know what I want and why I want it. Not sure why it took me so long to realise that todays exercise was more about using willpower to overcome the “want” to have a drink to the mindset of just not wanting a drink at all. Getting to the point where alcohol isn’t really that important.

Part of that will be replacing alcohol with healthy habits. For me, at the moment, that is blogging, reading more and walking my dog. As I go further, these habits will be:

  • To be back in the gym (when we’re allowed and I’m back to decent health).
  • Meditate more – I enjoy it, but don’t put enough time in to it.
  • Hiking in my favourite places.
  • Taking some courses – I’ve always wanted to get that A Level in physics.
  • Seeing more of my family – again lockdown dependent.

All that feeds in to getting back to what I was like about a year and a half ago. Five stone lighter, working out daily, full of energy, good habits (most of the above). But I wan’t all of that WITHOUT the alcohol, which I have never done – it has always been there to some degree. I’d be fine five days of the week, then weekends would be a washout due to hangovers. I want the weekends to be productive, fully of activity, or restful.

OYNB Challenge: Day Seven

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

Goal Friend

I guess having someone who is going through this too makes it easier. My partner is currently AF too, so my goal friend choice is easy – my dog Murphy.

Murphy - Cockapoo
Murphy Dogg

My partner gets it, so she is the perfect choice. Along with the OYNB community.

The Week In Review

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On one side its been a really good week.

  • Increased focus at work
  • Rediscovered my love of reading – its took my attention away from alcohol
  • I am now planning a bit better for the future, rather than just going through the routine of one day at a time.
  • I am more engaged in life – not fully yet, but better
  • I’m blogging again – this to me is like a mindfulness exercise. Writing my thoughts, etc is pure reflection and helps me understand whats going on.
  • I lost a couple of pounds in weight, reversing the trend.

Then there has been the downside.

  • My depression has deepened as the week as gone on. I now understand this can be a side effect of stopping drinking. I am holding on to the fact that it will pass.
  • If it weren’t for the off licence closing early, due to lockdown, I’d have caved in on Friday and Saturday. But on a positive, I didn’t turn to what alcohol is left in the house.
  • Very tired all the time

On to another week.

OYNB Challenge: Day Six

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

The Backup Plan

The last time I went alcohol free, for an extended period, I went out on a works do. I knew there would be pressure to drink. At that point I had enough resolve not to bow to the peer pressure.

However, I spent a full night not enjoying myself because me being AF was the focus of many of the conversations. It got boring pretty fast. People trying to find out the “real reason” I’d stopped drinking because “I just want a break from alcohol” wasn’t good enough.

Looking back on this challenge and the advice given, I would now handle this differently.

OYNB offers good tips. The break from alcohol is one of the first step tips. But I didn’t try anything else. Now I would use the “I’m doing a challenge” tip. People love a challenge, not sure why.

The next stage is one I’ve been doing for years, but can’t for the life of me understand why I didn’t do it the night of the works do. In the past, when the night got to the tipping point of no longer being fun, I would just go home. Even when drunk I could spot that point and know when to exit.

This is what I should have done at the works do. As soon as it got to the point I was getting sick of the questioning and peer pressure, I should have picked the right moment and left. In a polite manner. People know this is something I do. For some reason, when sober, in my mind I thought it would be rude. I need to get over that.

Success (sort of)

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Friday night was horrible. All the triggers were hitting me. I’m 45 and for as long as I can remember Friday has been a drinking night to ease the stress of the working week. Thats a hard, long term, habit to break.

I’d tried all the counter measures I’d put in place. Exercise, reading, listening to music, etc. But the craving was still strong. Luckily the off licence closes at 7pm, in these lockdown times. In the end I just took myself to bed.

When I say success, only by circumstance. Now I need to put things in place for next Friday night.

OYNB Challenge: Day Five

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

The Slip Up

Here’s a question I don’t need to answer, but I feel there is a decision to be made:

But what if you don’t catch it in time and you do slip up?

OYNB

To simplify things, there are two answers to this question:

Do I start again from the beginning and retrace the steps I have taken?

or

Do I write it off as part of the process and carry on?

Keep calm and carry on
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In the past I have done a full reset, even over a one off blip. Which is fine, but I feel that this has been the wrong approach. Its tedious and I found that I soon lost interest and reverted back to old drinking habits pretty quickly.

Rather than fall in to that pattern, so long as it is a one off blip, I’m going to go for option two. Try something different and see where it takes me. It can’t be any worse than the alternative has been.

What Are My Triggers?

I guess this is the part where the blip is headed off at the pass. With depression I have learned to see the signs of my mental health deteriorating and try to take preemptive action. By identifying my triggers, or as many as I can at this current point in time, I should be able to do the same with drinking.

Trigger One

At Work. The last hour of the working day. Feeling stressed, tiredness after a long day of video calls, technology playing up, general work issues

Trigger Two

I could be anywhere. I feel depressed due to the pain I’m in. The thought to drink follows a day spent in pain. I get to 6pm and think I can now drink to numb the physical pain.

The list goes on and exists in my diary, but this blog post is getting too long, so I’ll spare you.

Good News

One thing not drinking has given me back is reading. I’ve enjoyed reading every night this week. It’s really helped ease the stress from the working day.

OYNB Challenge: Day Four

Challenge guided by One Year No Beer website.

Sleep

One thing I have been able to develop over the years is the ability to go to sleep. There once was a time when I’d sit awake for hours worrying about the day, things said, etc. But, as I’ve aged, this has largely gone away.

However, my pre-sleep routine is shocking. Sitting in bed watching endless YouTube videos, which are barely entertaining.

Today’s OYNB exercise is to put together a healthy pre-sleep routine. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Evening exercise – at the moment, walking the dog as part of the Nerd Fitness 5K Challenge preparation.
  • Reading – power up the old Kindle, kick the iPad out of the bedroom, and read in bed.
  • Meditation – I’ve been doing this in the mornings, but I am going to try to move it to the evening to see if it helps.

I would add drinking one of those “soothing” teas, but I’m of an age where ANY liquids too close to bed time and I’ll be peeing most the night. So, I’ll give that one a miss.

Nothing groundbreaking, or exciting, in that list. But, its all better than what I was doing before. Beer, YouTube, poor sleep pattern.