Until I changed my thinking around alcohol I couldn't break my dependence on it.
1. I’ll stop tomorrow/after that birthday party/next week.
When I was drinking and dreaming of a different life, I used to tell myself that in the future, things would be different. I would stop wasting my weekends being drunk and hungover, and I would get in shape. I would bake bread and grow vegetables, and be a regular at the theatre, and remember my friends and family’s birthdays, and learn to cook properly and be able to identify birds from their songs alone.
In the future, I would change. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not even this month. But soon. And it would be beautiful.
This dreamed of other life grew inside of me, and its difference from my actual reality began to cause me great pain. I started reading books about women who got sober and listening to recovery podcasts, and gradually my thoughts around booze began to change. Or rather, I began to notice the extreme oddness of them.
Listening to podcasts exposed me, for the first time, to people who were admitting, rather than denying, their addiction, and trying to do something about it. Stories of sobriety were hopeful and uplifting, and I began to feel inspired.
I heard someone say that there is no better day than today to quit drinking, and for the first time I really heard it.
“It’s not going to be any easier tomorrow,” the podcast host said, and for the first time, I truly understood what he was saying. It’s hardly a radical idea, but I felt the truth of it. I was ready (or at least approaching ready) to accept it.
Because, how long had I already wasted, dreaming of this better life — precious and fulfilling — the life I actually wanted? Years. Maybe decades.
And so, after yet another absolutely-unintended-hangover and mind-numbing drunk, I found myself willing to try to switch my thinking.
Finally, I was capable of understanding the fact that unless I changed my approach today, tomorrow would most likely be the same as yesterday. Let’s face it, tomorrow might even be worse.
It simply wasn’t enough to say I wouldn’t drink today, no matter what. I’d done that thousands of times and it ended with wine — if not today, then tomorrow. And so did something different. I googled local self-help groups and took myself along to a meeting. I felt like a huge fraud but what other options were there? I couldn’t stop getting drunk!
It was the beginning of a new approach to my thinking around drinking, and one that has filtered out into many other areas of my life. (I’m perfect now, i.c.y.m.i.)
Yes, reader, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you don’t want to quit today, why the hell would you want to quit tomorrow?
There is always a wedding/birthday/break-up/promotion/reason to drink.
And since it will be no easier to stop tomorrow, why not start today?
Change your approach. Ask for help. Take action today to ensure that tomorrow will be better.
2. My drinking is getting better/I’m trying harder to control it.
This was a hard pill to swallow. After all, my drinking was getting better. Wasn’t it? I only blacked out once or twice in my last year of drinking, as opposed to most weeks as a teen/twenty-something.
But although the frequency and severity of my binges were decreasing, my reliance on wine at the end of every day was increasing.
And if I was honest with myself, the effort it took to control my consumption felt terrible.
In the years between my first attempt at a Dry January and my current sobriety date, I began to experiment with not drinking wine every day, and it was difficult enough to be almost impossible.
The drinking hours felt so interminable that I mostly gave in to the temptation of ‘a’ pint.
Why am I being so hard on myself? I would think, as I dropped wine into my shopping basket, seconds after swearing to myself I was only buying spaghetti.
I deserve a treat. And everyone else drinks, don’t they?
All those earlier promises, my hopes for a different way of life would be dashed again. Worst of all, I was happy. Because I’d won! Just for today, I wouldn’t worry about the drink thing.
No wonder buying the bottle was such a relief. The addictive substance causes a desire for itself which only itself can sate. Yikes, conundrum.
Honestly, having a dependence on something feels mostly like having dual personalities. And if you think it’s confusing to read about, you should try living inside it.
So while I wasn’t such a terrible pints-at-the-pub drinker in my thirties, I was an increasingly devoted wine-at-home drinker.
My drinking had shifted from public to private and I knew that wasn’t good. Also, my wine consumption was getting progressively stranger.
The way I measured out tiny thimble fulls into a gigantic glass, eking out my half bottle ration. It was all a bit… sad. And unglamorous. And not at all fun. Wasn’t that what drinking used to be about? Dancing and daring and adventure.
The euphoria of the first sip started to become a bit alarming. Why did my life feel so much better the second I was drinking again?
The research suggests that over time, a drinking problem, generally, will get worse, not better. Ask yourself if your drinking has changed. Is it more frequent? Does it affect you differently?
3. I’m not that bad.
This idea kept me drinking for years. I had a habit of dating heavy drinking men that made my booze habit look extremely ladylike. It was part of the attraction. I liked a drink and I liked drinkers. Teetotallers seemed weird to me. What’s wrong with him? I would wonder. He seems too together, I’d sniff, suspicious.
Even after I got sober, this idea that I wasn’t that bad, threatened to return me to drinking. Being surrounded by heavy drinkers facing up to their problem allowed me to continue to compare myself out of my own. After all, I never lived in my car or got arrested. I only drank in the morning at Christmas or on my birthday (or on your birthday or at a festival).
But gradually, as my life began to improve, I started to see the poverty of this mode of comparison. When other people did it I could see they were doing themselves a great disservice.
I began to want more for myself. And the sober women who were helping me to change my life told me that I deserved more. Much more.
I started to wonder how good I could be.
After all, wasn’t that what had drawn me to sobriety in the first place? The feeling that I could live better. The belief, deep down inside myself, that I could be better. That secretly nurtured version of me who baked and grew and had integrity and accrued wisdom, all without the physical and emotional poisoning of booze.
It wasn’t easy to change my thinking around drinking, but it was the key to changing my drinking habits.
These days, if I notice that I am justifying my behaviour with that old excuse — I’m not as bad as so and so — I take it as a red flag. That doesn’t mean I never resort to that mode of comparison, but I’m quicker to recognise that there is an opportunity to step up here.
Try these mind shifts for yourself and let me know if they work.
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