monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Never look a gift horse….

So I’m on day 18 without booze – and tonight’s my 19th night.  For months/years I’ve tried to control my drinking and have beaten myself up for not being able to.

18 days ago I was hungover, guilty, sad and then… something felt like it clicked and I just said ‘this has to stop’.  I don’t know why but since that morning it hasn’t been an effort or a struggle – it’s been a relief.  Like when you’ve worn really, really tight pants all day and you get home, unbutton them and sigh with relief.

It’s been really easy so far (even with the physical detox headaches, fatigue and sleep problems in the first week) that I’ve started worrying about why it’s so easy.  You know that feeling when everything is going so well that you start wondering if it’s going to turn to shit?  Anyway – when I start getting that nagging feeling I’m just gently pushing it aside and focusing on the things I want in the future.

Some of the early benefits of quitting have included: saving heaps of cash; buying a few new clothes with some of the spare cash; and also dropping a couple of kilograms.  It’s easy to stick to my exercise goals now that I’m not lethargic and hung-over… and a longer term goal is to take some alcohol savings and buy a swish new bike.  I’d love a new lightweight roadbike.  We live in a hilly area and when I ride to work on my heavy, clunky old bike I could probably walk up some hills faster than I ride (especially with a saddle bag full of work things).

So I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth – the current moment is great.  I’m just going to enjoy it.  I’ve got no doubt that there will be challenges ahead – maybe New Years Eve celebrations, maybe next time I get bad cancer results and feel miserable?  Who knows?  I have a strong suspicion that the challenge might be in a few months away when I feel on top of the problem & have some distance from the yucky feelings it caused.

Until then… So long, goodbye, gonna get along without you now.


 

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The advantages of being contrary

I’ve always known but it’s become really obvious in the last couple of weeks that we’re bathed in alcohol in Australia.  I’m guessing that the situation here isn’t too different from many other affluent Western nations either.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve really noticed:

  • My small cluster of neighbourhood shops includes two pubs and 2 bottle shops
  • I have 9 bottle shops in the surrounding 2 kilometres near my house (and they all have really ugly, bright, tacky signage which you can’t miss when you drive down main roads)
  • Alcohol advertising is all through TV, magazines, billboards and the internet
  • Alcohol features in advertisements which aren’t even about alcohol (house and land advertisements with a happy couple sitting next to a pool with drinks)
  • Constant news reports about increases in alcohol related violence, alcohol being the leading cause of premature death in young people, Schoolies Week (school graduation party events), White Ribbon Day and alcohol’s role in domestic violence
  • Most of my social events can all involve alcohol
  • My facebook feed includes lots of friend’s posts about drinking, being hung-over, looking forward to a Friday beer, or those ‘vintage’ joke memes about alcohol
  • My Credit Card company and supermarket loyalty rewards scheme are sending me special offers for cases of wine or cartons of beer

For f*%k’s sake – I went for an evening movie on the weekend to do something which didn’t involve alcohol… and I could now have a drink at the bar while I waited or even take alcoholic drinks into the cinema (and yes – alcohol ads were playing before the movie).

The cultural association between alcohol and celebration, socialising, and relaxation is really strong in Australia.  If you’re celebrating – drink Champagne!  If you’re catching up for brunch – drink cocktails!  If you’re out for dinner – drink wine!  If it’s hot – drink a cold beer!  If it’s cold – drink red wine!  If you want to relax – drink beer!  If you’re reading a book – have a glass of wine!  On Christmas Day – drink beer around the pool (it’s Summer here at Christmas)!  If you’re at a funeral or wake – drink everything!

In Australia we even had a long-running iconic beer campaign which had the slogan “A hard-earned thirst needs a big cold beer, and the best cold beer is Vic. Victoria Bitter”.  In the 1980s every school aged kid could recite the slogan so it’s probably no coincidence that we all grew up associating beer with relaxing from work stress on a Friday evening.  The beer brand might be incredibly unfashionable now but most adults still know the slogan.

The good part about social pressures are that they’re not causing any ‘triggers’ for me.  I grew up with a healthy stubborn streak (stubbornness runs strong on one side of my family).  When everyone tells me I “have to” buy Apple then I’ll go and buy Android.  When my Dad told me to “stop being stupid” in 1992 when I was trying not to eat meat every day – I then went completely vegetarian until 2012.

The more I notice the pressure to drink – the more determined I become not to (or maybe I meant obstinate, stubborn or contrary?).


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Less rock bottom, more tawdry affair.

When I read people’s blogs I hear many different experiences with alcoholism and problem drinking. Often I’ve read about people ‘hitting rock bottom’.  Those stories are often so compelling and dramatic that in the past I’ve used them to reassure myself that in comparison my drinking wasn’t such a big problem.  After all, my life’s not like that because:

  • I had a job and was functional
  • I never drank at work or in the morning – in fact I don’t like drinking before 3pm (even on holidays)
  • I have good relationships and friends
  • I never had any legal problems
  • I never drove my car when I had had any alcohol

BUT now… I don’t care whether I was close to rock bottom or not.  It was getting close enough for me.

Alcohol was dominating my life. It felt like something had a hold over me and was controlling me. I thought about it a lot – I thought about wanting it, hating it, being guilty about it, working out when I could get away to buy it, feeling powerless to stop, working out which store I hadn’t been to recently, which bottle I needed to replace, wishing I wouldn’t do it, how I couldn’t afford it – blah blah blah what a lot of wasted time and energy.

For me, drinking was more like a tawdry secret affair than a dramatic, rock bottom experience. It was a nasty secret compartment – rather than the whole of my life.

Tonight will be my 14th night without booze and I still don’t miss it in the slightest (yay!).  On the weekend there were two social events where alcohol was being offered – dinner with friend’s on Saturday night and Champagne cocktails on Sunday midday.  I dodged both of them and just firmly said “No thanks, I’m fine. I’m off the booze at the moment” (well I actually had to say it 2 or 3 times and hold my ground but I wasn’t tempted).

In the car after the Sunday lunch I finally told my partner that I’m purposefully not drinking at the moment.  We didn’t have “the” talk – but we had “a” talk. He said that was good to know and asked how long I would do it.  I said I wasn’t really sure but quite a while.  He asked “why are you doing it – is it weight loss, or health, or something?”.  I chickened out and just said “Oh just a bit of everything and I just don’t feel like drinking lately”. But yeah – now that he knows he won’t offer me any when he gets his single, tiny glass of wine.

 


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Addicted to the rollercoaster?

Tonight will be my 11th sober night & my second sober Friday in a row. I’m going to celebrate by going for a run and drinking some green tea afterwards – Woo Hoo! Watch out Grandma!  I’m finding it so much easier to muster up the energy to exercise now & when I run it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing steel boots (who could have predicted that?).

I’ve also noticed that I’m starting to lose a bit of weight which is great. Possibly that’s because I’m not consuming >1000calories/day of crap? Again – who could have predicted that?  The last few years are like I’ve had the handbrake on and had to rev the car super-hard just to drive at 60km/hour.

At the moment I’m really happy about not drinking but I realise that when the feeling subsides I may have to find ways to replace the buzz that alcohol gave me. As shitty as alcohol was/is – it was also a roller coaster which satisfied my high stimulation needs.  I’ll either have to discover another way of getting a buzz (without the regrets, guilt or liver damage) or make peace with what feels like a more mundane experience.

Everything seems a bit slow and mundane at the moment. Maybe I wasn’t just addicted to alcohol – maybe I was also addicted to adrenaline, stimulation and the roller coaster?

 


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To tell or not to tell… Nope not yet.

OK… So I’m anonymously broadcasting fairly personal stuff in a really public forum.  BUT… in the real world I have only told one friend that “I’m having a break from alcohol and am considering it being permanent”.  My friend asked why and I gave her a vague answer about cancer results and taking care of my health. Enough said!

I don’t think that any of my close family or friends are judgemental or can’t keep it private.  It’s about my s#%t – not theirs.  I’ve always seen myself as being competent, logical, ‘together’ and the person who others usually turn to. Admitting that I lost control is kinda embarrassing.

ACTUALLY – what’s more embarrassing is that I’ve lied to people a lot over the past few years (or withheld the truth which is sorta the same). I know that if I tell people then they’ll start remembering things and joining dots.  Hmmm he did seem more drunk than I expected at that dinner last year… Maybe that’s why he kept leaving the room…  I wonder where he kept it?  Why didn’t I notice?

The idea of people realising is excruciating. Basically they are realising that I’ve lied to them over and over and over. By definition that makes me… a liar. Oh no – Mr Perfect is a liar!  Actually he’s a really good liar and if he lies about that – then what else does he lie about? (in reality not much – but the seeds of doubt get planted).

At the moment – I have a perfect alibi:

Me:                        It’s about the cancer… I want to make sure I stay as healthy as possible.

Friends:                Oh say no more – of course you should!

It’s not a lie – it’s an incomplete truth (note: forget what I said earlier about withholding the truth).

I’ve always been pragmatic with my cancer treatment – I’ve done every recommendation and lifestyle change perfectly (except booze).  People are used to me reading something, making significant changes and then sticking to them. They’ll probably accept sobriety the same way – and I can add a little bit of truth to it (I don’t like the way it affects my moods, coping, energy levels and I was starting to use it too much to deal with stress).  All honest part-truths!

Down the track when I feel more confident I’ll consider telling people. I know people with drinking problems are more likely to stay sober if they’re open, accountable and supported by the people around them. That’s a goal to work towards (for the future). At the moment I gotta crawl before I can walk!


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Hi me – it’s me.

This post is to remind my future self about why I am giving up alcohol:

For my physical health

Even if my drinking doesn’t directly affect my cancer outcomes, it increases my risk of getting other cancers or health problems like heart disease. I really don’t want to add things to the list and make the situation more complicated.  Being as healthy as possible helps me bounce back from surgeries and treatments much faster. Alcohol also gets in the way of healthy eating and exercise – I really crave crap food when I’m hungover or drunk and never ‘feel ‘ like doing exercise when I’m hungover (although I often force myself).

For my mental health

I’m living with a long-term health problem and sometimes things feel overwhelming & depressing.  When I’m hung-over or drunk it makes the low points worse, dulls the good parts and just makes me feel exhausted and without any reserves to fall back on. That anxious jittery feeling when I’m hung-over makes me over-react to daily stresses and makes things feel overwhelming. There was a stage when the most recent cancer experiences were quite raw when I would drunkenly cry myself to sleep – only to wake up the next morning thinking ‘what the hell was that drama all about?’. Being sober smooths off some of the rough edges and ups and downs (How’s that for a mixed metaphor? Maybe I can add in ‘smooth sailing’ or ‘even keeled’).

For my relationship

Alcohol impacts on my relationship – which is so much more important. We are more likely to argue when I’ve had a few, but even worse, it makes me withdrawn and avoidant. In order to maintain the pretence that I’ve actually only had two beers I become more reserved and avoid interaction (when you’re silent no one can hear you slur).  Physically I also get paranoid about whether he can smell all the booze so I often avoid physical closeness. He deserves more than playing second fiddle to a bottle.  This also applies to friendships. Being intoxicated when my friends are sober or only mildly drunk just means I’m distracted, focused on looking sober, and not really connecting with them (and yeah – I’m often too exhausted to want to catch up).

For my self-esteem

As I mentioned in a previous post – secrecy, shame, guilt and embarrassment are like corrosive acid on the soul. They undermine my sense of worth and make a lot of my positive attributes seem hollow – like chunks of me are just a facade. In nearly all parts of my life I’m an open book – but I have one tightly shut secret compartment and it doesn’t match. I would like my future self to remember the way you felt when:

1)      Your partner went to the drinks spirits cabinet and you were terrified he’d notice that a bottle was missing or half-empty

2)      Your partner was looking for something and you were terrified he’d notice the full/empty bottle you’d stashed in a cupboard.

3)      The fortnightly relief when the recycling bin was emptied and the evidence was taken away.

4)      Not looking the bottle shop staff member in the eye because you thought ‘they know’ (and having a roster of bottle shops so I only went to each one once a week).

5)      Having to wake up feeling like crap and ‘faking it’ so no one knew I was hungover.

6)      Holding my breath when I was in close proximity to people because I was paranoid they’d smell last night’s binge.

7)      Not drinking for a fortnight before some blood tests and hoping to hell that my liver enzymes would be within normal range.

For the CA$H baby!

Holy crap – it’s expensive to drink a lot (even when you buy cheap crap and drink at home). My fortnightly budget is already looking better. I put a bigger amount into savings, have been out with friends twice and I’ve still got heaps more than I normally would. I have wanted new running shoes, formal shoes and sneakers for at least 8 months but each fortnight I put it off because there’s nothing left for a big ticket item after I’ve drunk it all. Future me: what sort of things have you bought or done and how is your savings account?

To focus on my goals

Generally, I am a fairly driven person and I’ve been making achievements even with alcohol weighing me down. I am interested to see what I can do without it. In many parts of my life I’ve had to work extra hard to compensate for alcohol. I’ve had to diet and exercise like a maniac to compensate for 1000 calories per day of alcohol and still keep an ‘average’ weight.  Instead of ‘forcing’ myself to go for a run I might even have the energy to want to do it (I did yesterday for the first time in ages). I can go to work without struggling to keep focused. There are probably a heap of other things I’ll discover that I want to do to fill in the extra 6 hours/day I’m not wasting.

I would like to invite my future self to respond to this post in a few months and give me an update.

 


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Day 6

Day 6.

I’m quite happy so far – I went out for dinner with some work friends and had… grapefruit juice. And on Saturday I went to the movies with my partner and saw ‘Gravity’ – I was quite sceptical about the movie but it was excellent (best movie I’ve seen in ages).

So far it hasn’t been very hard. I’ve realised the month long booze abstinence fundraisers have been a really positive experience.

By doing them over the past two years it’s almost been like practice trial runs. Because of them I know:

  • which situations are challenging

  • what to expect during the detox/withdrawal period – and that the feelings settle down

  • some of the good things which happen after a couple of weeks (energy, weight loss, having more time, being more productive)

  • that the most challenging temptations are the quiet whispers rather than the obvious loud cravings

  • AND most importantly that I can do it (for at least a month) if I put my mind to it

I’m feeling good – most physical sensations have eased up. I still get waves of deep fatigue – so this weekend I’ve had afternoon naps and have gone to bed early.

PS: If anyone’s interested the fundraisers are:

www.febfast.org.au

www.dryjuly.com

www.ocsober.com.au