monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking

With head, heart and hands

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A lecturer at Uni once asked us to identify whether we identified most with ‘head, heart or hands’. I know it’s a bit wanky but it’s just meant to mean whether your strongest tendency is to trust logic, emotions or action. I identified the most with Head and then second with Hands – thinking/reasoning and then action/doing.

I reckon that when it came to problem drinking, and finally quitting, my emotions were more important than logic.

For years I was stuck in a loop. Logic told me all the reasons why I had to control my drinking. I had pro/con lists, I knew about health implications, I knew about cycles of addiction, I knew heaps of recommended strategies to reduce or quit, I knew it was damaging my relationship… but my hands still did nothing (well – apart from continuing to lift a glass to my mouth).

I sometimes wonder “what the hell was I thinking?” when I remember some of the things I did – things which were really bad for me and completely illogical. Two situations come to mind:

I’d had surgery and was kept in hospital for a month because of surgical complications. I had been on total nil-by-mouth for a few weeks and I was told to ‘gently restart a normal diet’ when I left hospital. What do you think I did on my first night at home? I got drunk! Seriously dumb.

And another time…

I was being admitted to hospital for a procedure – so what did I do the night before I was admitted? Yep – I got drunk. And not my usual drunk – but really damn drunk. I’m pretty sure I was still a bit drunk, or at least very hung-over, when I arrived at the hospital. Smart thing to do in the middle of major medication changes and before a treatment dose.

Brains, logic and rationality have usually worked well in most parts of my life – but in the area of alcohol my brain was useless.

Emotionally I had probably been stuck for a few years in a protracted process of grief and loss about my drinking (see graphic).


I moved fairly quickly through shock, anger and denial – but I got stuck trying to bargain with ways to keep alcohol in my life. The continued failure to do that really led to depression. My head realised that I had to stop trying to moderate my drinking and just quit completely.

Eventually my drinking got to a point that the fun emotional experiences (relaxing, excitement, confidence) stopped and I was only left with the shit ones (increased anxiety, depressed, tired, worried, self-hatred). It’s not a dramatic ‘rock bottom’ but it was just a point when drinking purely caused pain and stopped being fun. It was at this point that my heart finally started to listen to what my head was saying.

I think my ‘testing’ period was when I started booking into those ‘Sober Challenge Months’ to raise money. I realised that by the end of the month I was feeling really good – and soon after starting drinking I was back to feeling miserable. The sober challenges also gave me some confidence that if I really wanted to I could stop drinking.

When my head and heart finally stopped saying “I should stop drinking so much” and agreed that “I will quit” – I finally got off my ass and stopped. I guess that’s the main point about ‘head, heart and hands’ – all 3 should be in alignment.

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