monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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How times change

I was just driving past a large liquor shop and decided to pop in because they stock Seedlip non-alcoholic gin.

As I walked in it struck me how much things have changed in (nearly) 10 months. I walked in confidently without even questioning whether it was OK for me to be there by myself.

As I walked through the aisles I saw many familiar drinks but didn’t have any twinge or temptations. I ended up stocking up on some zero alcohol drinks: beer, white wines, the Seedlip Grove Gin and some specialty tonic waters.

It was a nice experience!  So tonight I might have a tonic water and Seedlip Gin to try them out. ‘Grove’ is the latest gin flavour and it’s a mix of bitter orange, lemon, manarine and ginger.  Cheers!

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Cabinet of booze & no compulsion

I’m home alone tonight. There’s a cabinet of booze but I can think of nothing less appealing and I feel really confident. I feel really good and I’m enjoying the moment.

A couple of months ago I was going away for a night for work. For a few minutes I got really worried about what would happen if I got a compulsion to drink. It took me a few minutes to think:

  1. Do I want to drink? (No)
  2. Do I feel any compulsion to drink? (No)
  3. Have I had any compulsion to drink since I quit? (No)

Then relax…

Compulsion used to be sooo strong and the memories still scare me. I can’t count how many days I woke up thinking that I was going to quit. And everyday as I drove home I would get to an intersection thinking “turn right and go home” but instead I would turn left to a bottle shop. It was scary, embarrassing and self-shaming to have no feeling of control over my own behaviour. It’s good to have a healthy respect for compulsions but I no longer feel controlled by them.

So right now I’m sitting at home without any craving or compulsion – and it’s pretty damn sweet!


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9 months and no baby (yay!)

Last weekend was my 9 month mark and I’ve got no baby to show for it! Although I’m not crying because I’ve still got gooood quality sober sleep!  And even better – it’s the start of 3 weeks of HOLIDAYS!!!

It’s been several weeks since I last spoke with my partner about ‘it’. This weekend he asked some questions on the weekend about nitty gritty stuff like “how much did you drink?” and “when did you drink?” and “when did it all start?”.  He’s generally very supportive but he has a very bad face-filter.

He reacted with an expression of shocked disgust when I said how much I’d been drinking – it caught me off guard because he’s been so great. The worst thing was that I’d ’rounded down’ the amount… a fair bit. I also reacted quite strongly and told him that open communication also requires non-judgemental reactions.

So anyway, I don’t need to have 100% disclosure. I’ve told him all the general themes about my drinking. I don’t need to put myself through a mea culpa confession about every detail. He can learn to check his reactions.


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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.


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I finally told people

So I did it. I finally told my boyfriend and my best friend. It’s weird but good to be out in the open.

The last few months have been pretty full on. My partner and I had our 20th anniversary and also came very close to breaking up (not related to drinking). My Dad was also diagnosed with a terminal cancer… So to deal with all the drama I started drinking again (because that settles things down, yeah?).

It’s been about 7 weeks of drinking each night, mostly in secret. My relationship issues have settled and we feel stronger than before. Our communication, honesty and openness was really tested and strengthened. So this time when I was ready to stop drinking I did something different…

I finally told two of the people that I’m closest to and asked for support.

It’s been 5 days since I drank. The withdrawal has been minimal this time. I’m feeling good and I can’t really slip up because now I have some people keeping me accountable.

I’m sure this is the honeymoon phase and we’ll have to process some relationship issues in the future (honesty, secretive behaviour, feeling unaware etc). But for now things are good.


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Glass full or empty?

In 3 weeks’ time it will be 1 year since I committed to getting sober.

I’ve written before about a few times that I drank alcohol since November 2013:

  • random sips to taste exotic drinks while travelling (I don’t even count this)
  • having a slow glass of champagne with food for a wedding toast
  • Having wine (a bottle) on my 40th birthday

It’s easy to focus on slip-ups and negatives so I’m going to put this in context with a few facts and numbers:

My 12 month Standard Drink (SD) Tally is:

Random sips:                                             Less than half an SD

1 Glass of Wedding Champagne:              1 SD

A Birthday binge:                                       Approximately 8 SD (a bottle of wine)

12 MONTH TOTAL                                    9.5 SD

I used to be happy when I could ‘limit’ my daily intake to 9.5 standard drinks – and I regularly had more. So on reflection, I’ve had one day’s worth of alcohol spread over a year (1/365). That means I’ve reduced my annual alcohol intake by (at least) 99.73%.

Hmmmmm I can choose to focus on 99.73% ‘success’ or a 0.27% ‘failure’.  I’m going with the 99.73% success.

But going beyond quantitative numbers, I’m also really happy because:

  • I have a sense of calm
  • the daily compulsion has gone (although I know it comes back if I have alcohol)
  • I don’t feel like alcohol and my life are spinning out of control
  • I feel good knowing that my body is as healthy as it can be & I’m doing everything I can to keep it that way
  • I have lots of spare energy to focus on things which matter

PS:  I know I’m not at the 1 year mark just yet – but I’m confident that the chance of me drinking in the next 3 weeks is pretty much zero.


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Obsession or passion?

I exercise about 6 days a week with a mixture of running, cycling and weights. Each week I try to fit in one long run (20km+), which I did yesterday. Today I feel really fatigued, worn out, and my shins and hip joints ache from the repetitive pounding. I’ve been so focused on exercise over the past few months that I’ve considered if it’s some sort of obsession or compulsion – like alcohol.

But I’ve decided that it’s not like alcohol at all – it’s just a hobby I’m really passionate about. Here’s why:

1) Some days I just don’t do any – and it’s not a big deal. Some days I just wake up and say ‘Nahhh. Not today. I want a day off’ and then I don’t feel bad. On the rare days when I had no alcohol it used to take all my effort to stick to the goal. And even though I didn’t drink, I still thought about it for the whole day.

2) I listen to whether it makes me feel good or bad. If I feel fatigued or pain I know it’s probably not smart to exert myself – so I don’t. Ummm ‘cos that would be dumb, ‘cos my body is saying it needs time to heal and recover. Compare that to the harm I knew I was doing with alcohol, the headaches, feeling ill… I drank each evening anyway.

3) If I have something else I want to do – I go and do it. I don’t say no to dinner with friends because I ‘have’ to go running. Sometimes I juggle my schedule so I can squeeze both things in – but that’s just my approach to life in general.

4) Exercise makes me feel good. It makes me feel more energetic, sleep better, gives me a sense of achievement and probably helps keep my moods stable. Alcohol made me feel lethargic, moody, tired – it was not a positive experience towards the end.

5) I don’t try to hide or cover up my exercise. I celebrate big exercise achievements. I’m sure my Facebook friends are sick of status updates about running or something which happened while I was running. When I was drinking I was constantly minimise and cover up how much and how often I drank.

6) I don’t regret it the next day or feel guilty. Even if I wake up feeling tired and achy I don’t regret it or spend hours wishing I hadn’t done it. I reckon I spent several years alternating between 4 states: being asleep; feeling guilty about drinking; planning my drinking; and drinking.

And today – it’s Friday. I’m completely worn out from a week at work and exercising several days in a row. Today I plan to go home, finish a DIY carpentry project and then watch TV on the couch with lots of tasty things.  Because I’m passionate about exercise and training – but not obsessed!

PS: Although I can’t rule out that I might get up early tomorrow morning and go to my local Saturday morning running club… ‘cos it’s fun and I want to try and break my PB time (personal best).

PPS:  But then again if I still feel exhausted I’m more likely to roll over and sleep in.