monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking

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I sorta had a drink

I had a drink… well… not really. Years ago my partner and I made a bottle of fruit-flavoured vodka (cherries steeped in vodka with sugar). Last night my partner was slowly sipping on a tiny shot glass (his first drink for weeks). One of his endearing quirks is that he gets a bit paranoid about food safety. He turned to me and said that it tasted funny and he didn’t know if it was bad or if it was his head cold.

It’s my job to taste food products, roll my eyes and make a disparaging comment. So after a small hesitation I took the tiniest of sips – the sort of 5ml sip you would take from milk which you suspect might be rancid. It was perfectly OK so I emphatically rolled my eyes and declared that “Pffft! It’s fine – your blocked nose is just making it taste funny!”.

The hesitation was tiny but I was quickly scanning and weighing up a few factors:

  • would I be tempted to get myself a shot glass… no.
  • did I feel like I was at risk of losing control… not at all!
  • would he think my reaction was odd if I refused… maybe a tiny bit (like… it’s not like I had a secret drinking problem or something?)

According to the Day Counting App on my phone it’s been 169 days since I had a drink (5 months, 2 weeks and a few days). 5ml of flavoured vodka doesn’t count and I won’t be resetting my day counter any time soon – especially with the 6 month mark so close. It didn’t trigger any cravings or make me want to test my limits.

As I near the 6 month mark, my confidence in different social situations has grown and I feel more sure of myself around alcohol. I’m beginning to trust that I have some control over my drinking problem – I can’t moderate my drinking but I can keep the tap turned off.

The whole sober thing is slowly becoming normalised amongst my friends and it’s less of a topic of interest. I’m slowly morphing into one of those sober people who were always in my network – even back in my early 20s. At the age of (almost) 40 it’s probably much easier to be socially sober than it was for my friends when we were young. Now it’s more common to go to a social event and have people who don’t drink; who only have one light drink; or just can’t drink that night because they’re pregnant/looking after kids/have to drive home etc.

AAAND It’s good to have plenty of sober company at parties because I’ve also started to learn that drunk people can be pretty annoying to be around… Those few lonely sober friends from my early 20s must have been saints!


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Dreamy sleep

The other morning I woke up at 4am with a pounding headache. I stumbled to the kitchen, took a few paracetamol tablets and sucked back two large glasses of water. I haven’t done that for months… Ahhh memories. Sweet memories.

However, this time it was caused by a mix of dehydration, ‘tummy problems’ (the fewer details, the better), antibiotics, a head cold and a chest infection. The last few days have reminded me of how I used to sleep most nights – night sweats, broken sleep, full bladder, dry mouth, feeling parched, pounding headaches, needing paracetamol and waking up fatigued. Those were the good old days – how I miss them (not!).

One of the nicest things about sobriety is a good night’s sleep. Mellow, warm, unbroken sleep when you wake up feeling rested. I can’t wait until this annoying bug goes away – so I can get me some more sober sleep.


A noun, an adjective and a verb.

Epiphany (Noun): a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.

Futile (Adjective): incapable of producing any useful result; pointless.

Surrender (Verb): to agree to stop fighting, hiding, or resisting because you know that you will not win or succeed.

I spent most of 2008 to 2013 miserable, obsessed and exhausted by trying to get my drinking under control but when I finally quit drinking it was easy.

I’m a fairly proud (pig-headed?) person and if I put my mind to something I usually achieve it. Alcohol was a problem that I just had to find a solution for. I just had to try a new strategy or try a bit harder.

I think I tried everything to control my drinking:
• Having non-alcoholic drinks in between – I just gulped them so I could get back to the proper stuff.
• Tracking my standard alcoholic drinks  just made me feel really bad because I knew exactly how much I was drinking.
• Trying to ‘sip’ drinks which I didn’t like the taste of – just broadened my palette.
• Switching to low-alcohol drinks just lead to more quantity & strong chasers to ‘catch up’.
• Going to the gym after work did make me start later but then I just drank quicker.
• Trying to ‘just cut back’ didn’t work. My willpower evaporated after two drinks.
• I changed jobs, changed my routines but things quickly went back to normal.
• Alcohol free days took immense willpower – so I overcompensated with super-big drinking days the next day.
• I participating in those 1 month sobriety fundraisers – with a dream that I would break the routine & then could go back to drinking like a ‘normal’ person… ‘Normal’ lasted for 2 days.
• At one stage I even gave my partner $200 and told him he could keep it if I drank any alcohol during the week… after a few weeks of sneaking drinks I just asked for the money back and cancelled the agreement.

Alcohol was like a python: a Booze Constrictor. Every time I struggled or gasped for breath it squeezed tighter. One by one my ‘solutions’ failed & I felt more powerless and hopeless… but that didn’t stop me from trying over and over again for years. I just needed to struggle harder!

I was stuck for a long time but on one particularly miserable morning last November it hit me as clear as a bell: I just can’t drink. There are very few moments in my life which are that perfectly crystal clear, it was quite literally an epiphany.

All my techniques were dead ends leading to nowhere. I couldn’t control this sucker. I’d met my match. I’d lost. The situation was completely futile.

Finally I surrendered to the thing which I’d been avoiding: I just can’t drink. No conditions. No time limits. No exceptions. No struggling. All I have to do is stop.

When the realisation finally came it was as easy as stepping off a Merry-Go-Round. I was so utterly exhausted that I just gave up – and that’s when things started to get better.

It’s sort of perverse that I had to surrender control of my drinking in order to gain control of my life. Five months later I still haven’t had any major cravings. The thought of drinking just fills me with waves of utter exhaustion and emptiness. I love being sober.

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Waste not what I want not.

My lovely partner hasn’t been drinking for the last few months. He still doesn’t know exactly why I’ve stopped drinking – but he just knows it’s important to me and is doing it anyway to support me. Gee I’m lucky!

BUT some of my Southern German genes are starting to kick in… with both of us not drinking, what will happen to our stockpiles?  The 6 month mark is just a few weeks away & I just can’t let it go to waste. The spirits will keep indefinitely, the ‘good’ wines can be cellared but beer will eventually go bad.

Hmmm a plan:

  1. Some wine can be regifted.
  2. We could host a party and provide free beer.
  3. Maybe it’s time to reinvigorate some Pinterest boards with beer and wine recipes.  Beer batter, red wine risottos, beer breads, red wine stews…

I don’t associate the taste of beer/wine in food with alcohol so it doesn’t cause any triggers… And Winter is coming so stodgy stews and baked goods will be appreciated.  Off to Pinterest I go…

PS:  Oh yeah I should probably tell people to stop giving me wine as presents – especially if we have a party.  We ‘scored’ another bottle on the weekend – just what I want (not).

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Another reason it’s worth it.

Today I’m glad I’m sober because of a meeting I had yesterday.

I met with a person who has previously operated at the level of my boss’s, boss’s, boss’s, boss’s, boss (for good reason). He was fiercely intellectual but also blunt, rude and dismissive. I felt completely out of my depth, comparatively incompetent and incredibly vulnerable. All I could think was…

I’m so glad I’m not hung-over.

Enduring that meeting would have been too much if I’d also been struggling to focus, really anxious & moody, and paranoid that he could see I was hung-over.

Sober: the meeting was supremely unpleasant but also a provocative experience that made me really rethink a whole lot of my work.


Walking down that street again.

It’s easy to think of the things I don’t miss about drinking… Hangovers, guilt, secrets, shame, drunken arguments, ranting Facebook posts, cost, weight gain, sneaking, struggling to function, fatigue, not sticking to my goals, lying, being self-conscious, thinking people know, mood swings… yuck.

But this post is about what I DO miss about alcohol. Over the past few months, a few situations have triggered this feeling: watching friends slowly savouring whiskey at New Year; tapas dinner with friends as they shared a bottle of red; and making overseas travel plans and reading about exotic local foods, drinks and customs.

My most recent moment was going to a bottle shop to buy a friend a nice bottle of Champagne as a house warming present (from the expensive section). For a second I looked at all the bottles thinking how nice it would be. So when I think about what I miss, some of the themes include:

  • Wanting to feel grown up or sophisticated – it’s hard to feel sophisticated when you’re holding a Coke Zero at a posh event.
  • The allure of ritual – alcohol has lots of ritual involved in choosing, matching, making, serving and how to drink it. It’s sort of nice and provides some structure in social situations.
  • FOMO (fear of missing out) & feeling part of the group – it doesn’t matter whether it’s tequila shots, popping a cork or sitting on the back deck talking with a beer – it gives the participants a shared experience. Lately I feel like I’m on the edge looking in.
  • Loss of identity – I was a geeky teen who probably used alcohol to prove that I could be a risk-taker and push things to the edge. I still feel embarrassed to tell people I don’t drink – I feel like I’m a born again prude.

Gees – I’m nearly 40 and those themes are still variations of the reasons I drank AT SCHOOL. There are also other themes I miss such as:

  • Switching off. I’ve got a few anxiety, perfectionism and control issues – I quite like to have things nailed down, planned and organised. Alcohol always symbolised that “the day is over” and that I could completely let go. That’s also why I never had a temptation to drink in the mornings and early afternoon – still had to be hyper-functioning for a few more hours until I could slip into a bottle of wine.
  • Excitement and the rush. Alcohol was a wild-card and added chaos and additional stimulation to mundane situations. Sure you might still be on the couch watching TV – but it felt like the contrast and brightness had been turned up. It also made exciting situations even more fun – drinking Champagne on a plane at the start of a big adventure! Hmmm I’m embarrassed to say that sneaky drinking was also a bit exciting sometimes – the fear of getting caught, rushing etc… Sounds LAME in retrospect.
  • Some drinks just taste nice – DUH! Nothing intellectual here – I always liked the taste of red wine, port, cider, and Campari. This isn’t a big feeling of loss but sometimes I just think “Oh yum – I wish I could have a bit of that”.
  • Some drinks trigger memories. This is an odd concept – so I miss something because it used to make me get nostalgic about things. Like many tastes and smells – some drinks can flash me back to a time or place which was important to me.

So that’s my list of things I miss… Except for the biggest and most important one.

From the first time I got a bit drunk I really liked the warm, glowing, euphoric, exciting, disinhibiting and slightly giddy feeling it gave me. I loved it! Over the years, the more I drank, the more it took to get that buzz. AT some stage I knew the amount I was drinking was becoming socially unacceptable – so I started sneaky drinking to get the same buzz. By the end it took so much effort to maintain both social pretences and to get the buzz that the other things I liked about alcohol got swamped:

  • I wasn’t sophisticated when I was a slurring mess
  • Quickly swigging vodka from the drinks cabinet is hardly a glamorous ritual
  • My desire for alcohol meant that I couldn’t really be ‘in the moment’ or connect with the people around me. I might have looked like a calm swan on a pond but my invisible legs were frantically paddling below the water. I’d be thinking about alcohol, working out how to get more, judging what was socially acceptable at that event, convincing people to have another round, and not wanting to appear drunk or that I was doing all of that.
  • I didn’t really get to switch off – secretly drinking large amounts & covering your tracks is hard work. You’ve really got to be on the ball.
  • Savour the taste? Do you know how much daily drinking costs? $4 bottles of wine are best gulped rather than savoured!
  • I didn’t have time to relax or get nostalgic.

So by the time I quit I had all the awful stuff as a result of my exhausting chase for a buzz and only got some very occasional nice stuff.
Now when I dwell on those rare nice moments – I remember a line I read in someone’s blog (apologies I can’t remember who or when) which went a bit like this “I’ll be able to enjoy a glass of wine when I no longer want to finish the entire bottle”.