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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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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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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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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My happiest 6 Months for years.

My 6 month soberversary has come and gone. I had no idea what I should write about but then I thought I’d focus on the things which have helped me reach 6 months.

  • Cancer. There aren’t many perks about living with a long-term chronic condition – but it’s a pretty strong motivation to keep the rest of my body operating at peak performance. The stress which cancer treatment put on me and my family in 2012 really brought my drinking to a head. I drank more to cope with cancer (dumb I know) and of course that ended up causing even more stress. Eventually there was no room left in my life for both of them. I can’t control my cancer – but I had to get rid of alcohol.
  • Experience. I thought that all those MANY, numerous attempts to quit or moderate my drinking were ‘failures’ but with a bit of hindsight I see them as practice runs. I learnt a bit more each time and after the initial sense of failure/disappointment faded I wanted to be sober more and more. It also took me a long time to finally realise I can’t moderate my drinking – so quitting was the main option for me.
  • Supportive partner, friends and family. I have a wonderfully supportive partner – he’s just lovely. I haven’t told him why I really quit drinking – and he doesn’t know how much I was drinking. He’s not only supported my changes – he’s joined in. He’s probably only had 2 drinks at home in the last 6 months. My friends and family have also been OK about not drinking – most of them couldn’t care less (that’s a good thing).
  • Blogging. I’ve been able to get support from my ‘real world’ friends without having to ‘confess’ why I’ve stopped drinking. Reading other blogs and hearing other people’s experiences (both the similarities and the differences) has been helpful. Writing my own blog has also made me take time to reflect on the process of quitting, get a bit of support, and feel a bit accountable. I sometimes just read back through old posts to remind myself what it was like at different stages.
  • Stage of life. I’m a bit suburban and boring now. My life doesn’t revolve around clubs, pubs and parties like it did in my 20s. I didn’t have to make any hard decisions to give up friendship networks, social activities or big chunks of my life. I go out occasionally – and being sober at parties and events isn’t weird or strange. I have nice people around me – and my initial worries about what they would think were mainly in my head.
  • Health knowledge.  I work in health care. I’ve had jobs supporting people to make different lifestyle changes to improve their health. I know the theory and recommendations. I also get a bit of inspiration from the people I work with – sometimes I see someone with so many challenges in their life and I think ‘Holy crap – if they can manage to do that, what’s stopping me?’
  • I’m middle class. Money isn’t everything – but I have a secure roof over my head, food in my belly, a stable job, money for necessities and some niceties. I’m grateful to have those things in my life at the moment – it’s given me the head space to focus on my drinking without being distracted by other dramas.

So at 6 months sober I sometimes have nagging thoughts that I should ‘come clean’ to my friends in the real world and tell them what’s been happening… but then again I don’t have any pressing reason to at this stage. What are my motivations for telling them? Not a lot.

I think that if I was really tempted to start drinking again I would seek help in the ‘real world’ – but for now I’m the happiest I’ve been in years. I don’t want to add drama with long soul-searching conversations, explanations, changed perceptions… For now I’m happy just being sober, feeling good and occasionally blogging.