monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Where’s my pink cloud?

I know we’re all meant to be terrified of ‘Pink Cloud Syndrome’ but really – a few small, rose-tinted clouds wouldn’t go astray. Would they?

I get it. In the early stages of recovery some people feel fantastic and think everything’s rosy. They might not recognise the challenges that lie ahead or they might have unrealistic expectations. Then it all comes tumbling down when they hit a challenge or realise that everything’s not perfect.

BUT

It’s been months now. I feel much better than when I was drinking. I don’t find it hard to not drink but I thought I’d feel a little bit rosier than I do.

I still have a flat mood (not sad – just blahhh), low energy, low libido, and niggly physical issues. Everything’s a bit mundane. I really would like some more spring in my step – to give me some more reward or motivation.

Maybe it’s because I’ve quit drinking for extended times before – and this just isn’t new or exciting? It just feels like everything’s mundane… Wait a second! I just had a thought while I wrote that – maybe that’s part of why I drank? Maybe the drinking was what I used to spice things up a bit and add some pink clouds (before the addiction really kicked in and they became severe storm clouds).

Maybe I just like more stimulus, novelty, chaos and excitement than my day to day life provides? I could just be in a rut and need to go seek out some adventure.

NOTE: I’m not talking about my relationship which is the centre of my world. I’m just talking about the home-work-home-work routine and playing things safe, sensible and routine all the time.

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False confidence and rock bottom

I know that everyone’s ‘rock bottom’ and experience is different and that’s OK. From the outside, I don’t think my rock bottom looked very dramatic. It would probably make a really boring movie trailer.

I didn’t lose my job or get formal warnings, I didn’t crash a car, bash someone, wake up on a footpath… I kept going to work, functioning, looking after my family, doing laundry, paying off my mortgage – but it was still my rock bottom.

The issue I have with quitting alcohol has been false confidence. I’ve made several attempts (some quite lengthy) to stop drinking. The first attempt was the best and I was sober for an entire year (it was a great year by the way 😉). False confidence was a problem in two ways:

  1. “I think I can manage this now”. After being sober for several months I would start to think that I was in control and that I could manage alcohol. Then I’d start drinking again – occasionally, successfully and in moderate amounts… and you can guess how that ends. Within a month I was back to square one – with daily, compulsive and sneaky drinking.
  2. “I can quit whenever I want”. The other ‘problem’ was that my first couple of attempts at quitting went really well. In a weird way, knowing that I could quit also meant that I could quit tomorrow, or next week, or after my birthday… That false confidence became a barrier because it took away the urgency. Each quit attempt became shorter and the drinking periods in between became longer each time.

My rock bottom was when I became scared again. I’d tried my previous techniques. I’d finally told my partner and close friends. I was seeing a psych and I tried taking alcohol-cessation medication… And I still couldn’t quit. I felt like I’d tried every approach and then I got really scared.

I’m not talking worried, anxious and guilty (like the last few years), I mean scared. “What if I can’t stop?” “what will my life be like in 3 years?” “Will my partner leave me?” “Will I have to quit work?” “Will I get heart disease and die by 50?”

I think that when I reached my ‘rock bottom’ it shattered the false confidence. I’m not an AA fan – but I guess that’s what AA people talk about with ‘surrendering’ and ‘realising that you are powerless over alcohol’.

It’s perverse that giving up was the thing which ultimately gave me power.I don’t want to sound like Nancy Reagan but I ‘just said no’… No ifs, no buts, no maybe in the future, no small amounts… just no. I just decided that alcohol just can’t be a part of my life.

So far that’s been working for me. I’m not saying it’s the only way for people to manage addiction – but it’s the way which seems to work for me. For me, abstinence is less effort than trying to control and manage the beast.


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The world’s my oyster

What’s a boy to do next?  Tomorrow will be 31 weeks since quitting booze.

It’s become easy to not drink and I get almost no cravings or temptations. I sometimes get FOMO when we’re travelling or in social situations – but that’s about wanting to take part and try new things. It’s not a craving for the sensation of being drunk.

I’m doing really well on the sober front… which leaves me thinking ‘what next?’.

It’s a good place to be. It feels like I’ve worked hard, I’ve had some time to rest – and now I’m starting to get bored and restless.

Time to get back into running? Take up abseiling? Embrace yoga? Start a pottery class?

There’s lots of possibilities when you’re not trapped in a toxic routine.


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Any excuse for a treat

Yesterday was 200 days and I’m doing quite nicely.

I like milestones and I note them as they pass. I don’t usually do anything significant but I often give myself a little treat.

Round numbers are everywhere if you go looking for them – I can usually find an excuse for a milestone most fortnights:

  • Six months (182 days)
  • 200 days
  • 30 weeks (210 days)

It’s completely arbitrary – but it’s just a way of acknowledging the importance of the change… and I get to eat chocolate or something tasty!

Hope you’re doing well!


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6 Months – YAYYY!

I wrote a giant draft post and just deleted it.  It was all about problems, issues, strategies and solutions…  Urghhhh!

So instead I’m going to say that today is my 6 month soberversary and I’m doing really well.  My life’s not perfect – but the alcohol/sobriety part of it is going really well.  The things I’m really enjoying are:

  1. In my basic day to day life, I don’t really have any strong cravings and it doesn’t dominate my thoughts like it used to.  Sometimes it’s hard to understand how it had such a strong hold over me.
  2. I have a supportive partner and I’ve told 3 close friends who’ve all been great – and it’s reassuring to know that if I did have strong cravings that I have people around me who would give support and probably say “ummm – what are you doing?!”.
  3. I eat and drink more diverse and interesting things. When you don’t have to try to counteract a giant alcohol calorie intake – you can treat yourself with other tasty treats. And when you don’t have the mindless routine which comes with drinking alcohol, you start exploring new drinks and drink combinations.  Maybe one day I’ll do a post on non-alcoholic drinks? My partner has even started drinking one of my combinations during the week because he thinks it’s delicious.

Anyway – my (not) drinking is going really well. And it’s also giving me the stability and energy to get through some of the random curve-balls that life has thrown at me. Hooray and non-alcoholic cheers!


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Medication back-up

Late December I told my partner and my best friend about my sneaky drinking. I also went to my Doctor. He referred me to a psychologist and also prescribed a drug called Campral (acamprosate). I used Campral for a few weeks. It didn’t think it did much so I eventually stopped using it.

Background

There are three main drugs which are listed for use in Australia… Luckily we have a public health system so those drugs are available for highly subsidised prices through our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Campral (The Soother)

It’s meant to help your brain chemistry normalise which reduces unpleasant symptoms (anxiety, excitation, insomnia etc) which might trigger a relapse. It has the lowest side effect profile although needs to be taken 3 times a day (can be hard to remember).

Naltrexone (The Buzzkiller)

It blocks your opiate receptors in your brain and when you drink you don’t get the enjoyable buzz. It works by taking away the positive incentive to drink. The general side-effects are slightly more than Campral but generally OK. But it has one major side-effect: opiate pain killers or drugs don’t work (codeine, morphine, heroin etc). It’s also used for opiate drug dependence. Naltrexone can cause problems in an emergency or surgical situation because it limits your pain relief options if you have severe pain.

Antabuse (The Punisher)

This is the oldest drug and is not regularly recommended for use. It makes people feel sick if they drink – and can potentially hospitalise them. It also has potential liver issues.
My approach:

I didn’t find Campral very effective for me. I don’t think I relapse because of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms – I relapse because I want the relaxing buzz and I give myself permission to do it ‘just this once’. The description of Naltrexone seemed to fit my situation – why would I drink if I didn’t get a buzz? Like seriously, beer isn’t popular because of its awesome flavour! So I asked my Doctor for a prescription…

BUT

I haven’t filled it yet. The pain killer side-effect scares me. A close friend just broke her ankle very badly and her pain was excruciating even though she was taking strong opiate painkillers. It’s not a likely or common situation, but an emergency situation with limited pain relief options scares me.

I’ve decided to keep the prescription as an insurance policy. At the moment I feel motivated and confident to not drink so I don’t need it. If I go through a wobbly period or if I actually relapse, the medication is there as a back-up and I will start taking it. It’s another tool in the toolkit if, or when, I need it.