monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Day 24: Why the shame?

My last post has had me pondering why I feel so embarrassed and ashamed about telling people about my drinking?

I remember reading someone’s blog which compared how people are treated after quitting smoking and drinking (apologies – I’ve forgotten who wrote it).

When someone quits smoking they’re often congratulated and given lots of praise – “Oh that’s fantastic – you’re doing so well. Quitting smoking is one of the hardest addictions to break!”. But there’s a level of awkwardness and stigma that goes with alcohol dependence and quitting.

I have to admit that I have some internalised beliefs myself. I associate quitting smoking with “having the strength to quit” but deep down when I think of quitting drinking I focus on “the weaknesses or flaws which lead to alcoholism in the first place”. I know it’s dumb but it’s an ingrained belief or attitude.

Why does the double standard exist? Is it because:

  • there are more behavioural and social-functional problems associated with alcoholism than smoking (you don’t read about people getting into a nicotine-fueled brawl outside a pub late at night – or crashing their car because they’d had too many cigarettes)
  • there are more negative stereotypes and clichés associated with alcoholism than smokers (your classic derelict homeless person clutching a bottle in a paper bag)
  • it challenges and questions other people’s ideas about their own drinking
  • people pathologise the person and wonder what was ‘wrong’ with them to make them drink in the first place
  • more people are open about being ex-smokers so we’re just more used to hearing it
  • we live in a culture where we don’t usually reveal our vulnerabilities in public
  • you may end up revealing behaviours which might have been quite secretive and involved some level of deception

I don’t know why the stigma exists – but I’m pretty sure that it isn’t helpful.

Any thoughts?

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Day 23: Learning from experience?

This is my third experience ‘quitting’ for a substantial time. The first time lasted over a year and the second lasted 3 months. Quitting is half the job – my biggest challenge is maintaining.

After some initial hard work with quitting I seem to travel along quite happily. I throw myself into other personal challenges to focus on positive things and to replace my drinking routines.

Then I’ve abruptly fallen off the wagon with some of these traps:

  • Success breeds complacency – I start to take sobriety for granted and forget how much of a problem that drinking was. I remember events but I forget the associated feelings like anxiety, shame, fear, powerlessness, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, frustration, disappointment, and physical pain or discomfort. The negative motivations fade away and lose power.
  • I’ve earned this – So I’m coasting along feeling happy and in control. I’ve been really disciplined to reach my other goals (running a marathon, losing weight etc). Then I reach goal and think ‘well now what?’. I feel so in control that I lose my momentum which then leads to…
  • Just this once – I’m not giving up on quitting but <<insert special event>> is happening and I’ve been doing so well, I feel in control, and I just want to relax a bit and join in with everyone else… so it’s OK to drink just this once. (that’s what I tell myself)

Then I have fun and don’t drink too much so I’m left with a false sense of control. Then another special event happens 2-3 weeks later… and then another special event and before I know it – I’m celebrating Wednesday evening with vodka.

There’s also an elephant in the room which I’m just not willing to address (yet). I’ve never told my partner and friends why I go through periods of not drinking. I hide behind a smokescreen of “it’s for health and cancer reasons” and “I’m training for a marathon”. Everyone’s really supportive – but then when I begin to waver they don’t realise what’s at stake.

One day I might have to do something about this one. I know that my partner and friends would be supportive after some initial awkwardness. So what stops me? It’s probably ego, pride, embarrassment, and the stigma of being defined and getting a label. Maybe I could let go of that shit too.


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Day 22: Knot forgotten

I passed the 3 week mark yesterday. Last week I realised how much anxiety I’ve been living with. It’s amazing how you can get used to things if they build up slowly.

Anxiety is a big part of drinking for me. I don’t think I drank because of some deep seated depression or trauma – it began as a relaxing way to deal with daily stress, anxiety and social anxiety.

I drank to unwind and temporarily reduce stress – although I often felt a little bit more anxious the next day. Logically I knew what was happening but I kept repeating the pattern anyway.

Over time I realised that I’d developed a dependence on drinking and I became concerned and anxious about my drinking (on top of the general day-to-day stress). At the same time my tolerance was building up so I had to drink more to get the same relaxing effect.

After my drinking began to exceed what I thought was the ‘normal’ range for my social group some sneaky and secretive drinking started. That really compounded my anxiety levels and added extra lashings of guilt, shame and the fear of being found out. So on and off for the past few years I’ve lived in that state with fairly high levels of anxiety (except for some lovely sober periods).

During week 3 I noticed that the permanent tight knot in my chest had gone away. I didn’t actually realise that the tight feeling existed until it dissolved. I’m feeling relaxed and satisfied and I’m looking forward to reaching the one month mark soon.


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Day 17: Food, glorious food.

In addition to enjoying sleep – I’ve also enjoyed more food! When my drinking is very high I’ve always tried to make room for alcohol calories by reducing calories from foods and drinks. It was never a solution but it did slow down the weight gain (a bit). Now that I’ve quit – it’s like I can eat the equivalent of an extra meal each day (or have a few tasty treats). It’s easier to balance my calories in and out and I’m also losing a bit of weight without much effort.

In general, things have continued to get easier. The worst of the physical withdrawal symptoms (feeling anxious and overwhelming mid-afternoon fatigue) stopped 4-5 days after quitting. In the second week a lot of the random thoughts and temptations aren’t as strong or as often.

I still wake up feeling tired and often get a mid-afternoon slump but not everything is related to quitting. It’s also just the end of the year and I’m tired and ready for a break. I’ve also really increased my physical activity levels which is physically quite tiring.

Some mild tiredness aside, I’m feeling great and am enjoying being able to really focus and stick to my goals.


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Day 11: Competence & incompetence

Today I’m going to just try and apply a work framework to my drinking. It’s not a perfect model – it’s just one of many ways of looking at behaviour change. I like to look at problems from lots of different perspectives because I get a different viewpoint from each one.

Basically the model is about your level of competence as you learn and try new behaviours:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – when you’re not aware that you’re doing something badly.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – when you know that you’re doing something badly and having to think about it all the time
  3. Conscious Competence – when you start doing something new and you have to think about every action to do it well (like driving for the first time – indicate, brake, clutch in, shift to second gear, turn the corner)
  4. Unconscious Competence – when the new behaviour becomes second nature and you don’t have to think about it anymore (you just ‘turn the corner’).

I guess by the time most people are worried about their drinking they have reached the stage of ‘Conscious Incompetence’ – they know they have a problem. For the last few months I’ve been sitting in this stage (yet again) knowing what was happening and feeling bad and powerless.

At the moment I’m somewhere in the early stages of the ‘Conscious Competence’ zone. I feel determined, I’m sticking to my plans but I have to think about things and keep myself focused. I’m also having to find new routines to replace old routines and break associated behaviours (like watering the yard with a beer in my hand).

I know from previous sober periods that I eventually reached a stage of ‘Unconscious Competence’. Drinking rarely crossed my mind anymore and it seemed to have just become a non-issue. In reflection, what slowly happened was that I began to drift back into ‘Unconscious Incompetence’.

Being on autopilot lead to a false sense of security and then things appened which caught me off guard. That lead to drinking fortnightly, then weekly and then daily and then I felt like I couldn’t stop anymore. Welcome back to ‘Conscious Incompetence’!


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10 days and 10 lovely nights

Tonight I’ll celebrate by having a tenth night of good sleep. Man it’s easy to overlook the simple pleasure of good quality sleep.

I’ve been sleeping soundly from 10pm through to 5:45am which is bliss! No more waking up at 3am feeling clammy, hot and cold, needing to pee, having a headache, and then having 3 more hours of restless and broken sleep.

I still wake up feeling quite tired but from previous experience I know that will settle down with time.

Earlier this year I became one of those weird ‘morning people’. I’d just get out of bed, put on my running gear, have some coffee/food and head out for a long-distance training run. No whinging, no ruminating, no procrastinating. I just did it.

I look forward to being back there again.