monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Disclosure: it’s ALL about ME!

I just read a post from Storm in a Wineglass. I really admire Anna – she has a great blog if you want to follow her. It made me think about disclosure, honesty and telling other people (or not).

I still keep my cards pretty close to my chest about quitting alcohol – and I don’t see that changing soon.

Some of my close friends and health workers know why I’ve stopped drinking. There are other friends that I will tell but there just hasn’t been a good time. I need enough time with them to get past small talk and to be in a private space. And these days most of my best friends live in other cities and I don’t want to tell them via text messages or emails.

So my rule of thumb at the moment is that I tell people if it helps me. Telling close friends brings me closer to them, it gives me support and it makes things less awkward in social situations when you’d normally be drinking.

BUT I don’t feel the need to confess my sins to everyone. It’s not about shame. It’s not about hiding. It’s about being aware that I can’t un-tell people or control what happens with the information afterwards. In most social boozey situations I usually:

  • Deflect: I’m OK for now thanks.
  • Tell half-truths or white lies: I’m not drinking during OcSober/FebFast/Dry July (technically true); Oh I drove today (true – but irrelevant); No thanks – I’m training for a marathon (also true – but irrelevant).
  • Use camouflage: When I’m holding a no-alcohol beer, drink or glass people rarely pay attention to what it is.

I’ve learned that in social situations most people don’t pay attention to what I’m drinking – they just want to see a glass in my hand. Most people just don’t care.

I also haven’t told my co-workers because things can affect my work reputation… I’m aware that it can be a stigmatised issue. I don’t think it should be and I don’t think that’s right – but I realise that it can be. So I treat the issue carefully – especially because I work in a conservative hospital health care environment.

Being open and honest can help other people and change community stigma. I know that. As a young gay kid I quickly learned from older Queers that the most important political act you can do is to be open about yourself to your friends, family, workmates and neighbours… If it’s safe.

But right now, I’m still in the relative early stages of recovery and I am my priority. I choose to be choosy. I tell people who can help me – and at times when it suits me.

Down the track I probably will be more open. But by giving myself some more time, I hope that I’ll be more confident and more able to deal with whatever happens.

At the moment I am unapologetically selfish.

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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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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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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.