monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Putting my training wheels back on.

My last post was about how confident I felt being sober – but today I’m rattled and shakey after a near miss with a mouthful of Vodka.

The situation.

My lower back has been niggly for a few days and yesterday I went to the gym for the first time in 6 weeks. When I got home I was bending over to pull up my pants when I had a sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back. It was so sharp that I collapsed to the floor and crouched there for 5 minutes before I could lift myself up using my arms. I spent most of the day bent over, barely able to walk, and on a cocktail of strong painkillers.

Last night I was having waves of compulsive urges to drink. They were so strong that I jumped up and swigged a mouthful of vodka while my partner was in the shower – just like old times! I stood at the sink with a mouthful of vodka burning like Listerine. I remember debating thoughts like ‘just this once’ versus ‘this is a turning point’ – it was probably only 10 seconds but it felt much longer. I made an active choice and spat it down the sink and rinsed the sink and the acrid taste from my mouth (so gross).

I went and sat on the couch. I was restless and fidgety and was really glad when my partner came out of the bathroom. Within 5 minutes the compulsion waves stopped and I began to feel that sense of commitment again.

Why’d it happen?

Probably two main reasons. The first was just that the pain was (literally) crippling yesterday – it was the worst backpain I’ve ever had. I kept remembering friends saying how a glass of wine really enhanced the effect of painkillers when they have back pain and muscle spasms.

The other reason was the painkillers themselves. They made me feel slightly drunk – spacey, detached, slightly uncoordinated and slow. Each time I took the pills I could feel them kicking in and then a few hours later I could feel myself ‘sobering up’. They reduced the pain but that HALF drunk feeling triggers compulsions that I need more.

The combination of the two things meant that my resolution and commitment were the lowest I’ve had since quitting. I had lots of recurring thoughts about ‘just this once’ and ‘this is a reasonable situation’ and I was really fixated on drinking. I kept brushing away the thoughts but they’d be back a minute later.

Reflection.

Feelings of intoxication are my Achilles Heel. In my last post I wrote about drinking a glass of Champagne while on holidays – and that it had triggered no compulsion or loss of control. The difference was that the glass of Champagne caused no intoxication because it was so small (less than one standard drink), I drank it over a LONG period of time (1.5 hours+) and with a meal. I had felt so in control that when I eventually finished that glass I was able to effortlessly say ‘no more thanks’.

Probably the most damaging thing about the glass of champagne was that it ‘opened the seal’ and planted some seeds about occasional, controlled drinking.

Today I’m sore, a little bit shaken BUT really glad I didn’t swallow that mouthful of vodka. My gut is a bit upset and queasy because of the painkillers which is reminding me of hangovers. It’s not like I had forgotten the compulsion and aftermath of self-loathing and disrespect – but they haven’t been in such clear focus for a long time. Today they’re at the forefront of my mind and have shown that the compulsion is still there and how hard it is to deal with when it gets triggered.

I keep telling myself that I should feel good that I spat out the vodka – but in reality I feel flat and self-judging.  It’ll just take time to pass – although I’m glad I don’t have any desire to drink.

It’s odd. It took 8 months before I felt shakey and really challenged – it might be time to put my training wheels back on for a while.

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A break from sobriety

I’ve just spent several weeks travelling and having a lovely break from sobriety.

At this stage (I recently passed 250 days) I feel that focusing too much on sobriety keeps alcohol at the centre of my life. I had so much fun on during my trip that I think I even went a couple of days without thinking about alcohol (or sobriety).

My holiday wasn’t completely free of alcohol or sobriety though. I had a few interesting experiences such as:

1) Friends and family were generally great about not drinking. Some people asked why and I gave my standard answers about cancer relapse and health. In fact some of my big-drinking relatives didn’t seem nearly as pushy this trip which makes me question if I had been projecting my shit onto them.

2) On about 3 occasions I had tiny sips of my partner’s drinks on a few occasions – to taste and experience some local drinks. It wasn’t a challenging experience. In fact, it appeased one of my fears of travelling – FOMO (fear of missing out). I got to taste some local/cultural drinks without any intoxication. I didn’t get a sudden rush of temptation which was one of my concerns.

3) At the end of strenuous travel and sight-seeing days I really appreciated not being hung-over, strung-out or distracted by how to get my next drink. I don’t think I could have crammed in as much or enjoyed those days if I wasn’t sober. Being sober let me enjoy new experiences more (other trips have often just been about getting drunk in new places).

However, the biggest/strangest/best/mixed alcohol experience involved a glass of Champagne – which I knowingly and purposefully drank. It was a powerful personal experience – but powerful mainly because it was pretty non-eventful.

The situation:
I was with a small group of extended family as a family member arrived with their new wife. No-one had seen each other for several years and my cousin burst into the room with a very expensive bottle of Champagne to toast the recently married couple. We all had glasses thrust in our hands and in the heat of the moment my cousin forgot about the whole ‘He’s not drinking’ thing.

I could have declined – but I didn’t want to shift focus from the newly-hitched couple. Instead I held the glass up and took a tiny sip. And I continued to sip on that small glass for about 1 ½ hours – until it was all gone. I’ve never drunk a glass of alcohol that slowly in my life (actually – towards the end I rarely drank bottles that slowly).

It felt like a detached science experiment. I know I was taking a risk but I’ve been really curious  what would happen – would I get a rush of temptation?  That surge of pressure in my chest and sense of urgency? So I sat there watching myself and taking tiny sips every few minutes.

After about 30 minutes I started to feel secure that I wouldn’t get swept away with temptation or suddenly lose control. I drank it so slowly (and with food) that I got no feeling of intoxication or ‘rush’. I think it’s really the ‘rush’ and sudden onset of warm intoxication which I was/am addicted to – not the taste/smell.

It was a nice tasting Champagne but objectively, without the rush, it just wasn’t special. To be honest, I don’t think many people would drink Champagne or pay so much for it if it was alcohol free. The nicest part of the experience was that I finished the glass and wasn’t tempted to have more. My cousin offered me a glass of white wine a while later and I just said ‘no thanks’ without any internal conflict. In the four weeks since the event I haven’t wanted to do it again. It was what it was: an experiment. It’s made me feel more confident and certain about wanting to be sober.

I don’t want sobriety to be just living without alcohol. I want to be sober because it makes more room for things which are more important.

PS:  I’m not resetting my day counter because of a glass of Champagne. The day is about when I made a personal commitment to quit. Besides which, I got no buzz anyway!