Life is more manageable when you live it a day at a time.
When I first quit drinking, I had no intention of stopping for good. I wanted to have a break, to sort a few things out in my life, and start afresh. Nothing especially untoward had happened, but I knew that soon it would if I didn’t do better.
I wanted to get my writing back on track, to feel better in my relationship, to look less puffy and dehydrated.
And so, for the first time in my life, I decided to do something about it beyond swearing off. I took myself along to a support meeting someone had recommended, and I sat in the circle and listened.
It was a women’s meeting, and I was surprised to see lots of young, professional women, sitting in the circle. They hugged each other and stood together in twos and threes, chatting.
“Just keep it in the day,” they said to me when I admitted I didn’t really know what I was doing there.
It proved to be some of the best advice I would ever receive.
Life is too big to live in one go.
It is overwhelming and confusing. There are so many decisions. So many ways you can approach the thing. But occasionally, you learn something that can be applied to everything, and for me, ‘keep it in the day’ was one of these lessons.
Walking to town the next day, I passed a sushi shop, and my stomach lurched at the idea of never drinking Kirin Ichiban again. Keep it in the day, I told myself.
I probably would drink Kirin Ichiban again, just not today. I breathed a sigh of relief.
When my boyfriend and his friends pulled beers out of their rucksacks after we’d swum in the river and my heart twanged with longing, I told it, Keep it in the day. We could have a beer after a swim another day. We just wouldn’t drink today.
For the first time in my life, I made it past a fortnight, a month, six months without a hangover.
I began to see what my life looked like without binge-drinking and hangovers.
No arguments, no nausea, no shame. In spite of suddenly needing to eat cake every day I lost weight. My skin started to look sort of fresher and more moisturized. I began to be able to stick to my word more, which helped me begin to respect myself. I learned about boundaries.
Keeping it in the day was really working. So I stuck with it. In the mornings I reminded myself that I wasn’t going to drink today. It was the only decision I needed to make. If I stuck to it, everything else fell into place.
After years of justifying and trying to moderate how much booze I drank, it was amazing how much psychic, temporal and emotional space was created by this one tiny, but solid, decision.
By six months sober, my depression and anxiety had lifted a little, and my self-esteem was gathering.
I was heading into something new, and I felt hopeful. Like I could trust myself to make good decisions and I was safe in my own body. For the first time in forever, I had a stable-ish foundation from which to build.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. At the same time as I felt more powerful than I ever had, I was also meeting the dark side of myself.
I was witnessing, unfiltered, the depth of my self-loathing and self-pity and shame. I was looking past mistakes in the eye, and taking responsibility for past decisions. Memories, long-repressed or forgotten, began to return.
It became clear that I had wasted many, many years of valuable life. It became obvious that I had squandered a lot of potential. There was no way around this, and naturally, these uncomfortable feelings made me want to drink.
But I didn’t. Because my rule still stood. No matter what happened or how I felt, I wouldn’t drink today.
For the first year of sobriety, I was sure I would drink again.
I fixated on managing a year. That would be a worthwhile experiment. A significant achievement. Something to talk about in the pub. To write about, maybe.
But along the course of that year, life and the way I felt about it, changed so dramatically that I understood there could be no going back. This new way of life, with its focus on the present, and its commitment to hope, was better.
Objectively, unabashedly, inarguably, better.
As the end of my year sober approached, the struggle began. I stopped keeping it in the day. I thought about forever. And I longed to neck six foaming pints.
Somehow, I didn’t. I talked to other sober people and reread the list of my worst drunken behaviour and tried to be useful. I continued attending my sober support group and learning about addiction and listening to podcasts.
Sobriety became a drag for while, but I didn’t drink. I had become attached to being a year sober. (This is how a sobriety date can help some people.) I didn’t want to start again, and I knew I’d have to. I knew, by now, that drinking didn’t actually work on any of my problems.
For a few months, I continued, unhappily, to ‘keep it in the day’. I moved through my resistance. And gradually, things got better again.
Writing this, I have been sober for three and a half years, and I hardly ever get the urge to neck six pints.
That thirst seems to have left me. I don’t even mind that I never get to drink wine with dinner. Because there are so many other activities on this earth. And for some reason, for me, these two lifestyles are mutually exclusive. (Oh, hi there, addiction!)
Maybe one day I’ll drink again. It doesn’t take much effort to lift a glass to a mouth, after all. Ten seconds of forgetfulness is all it would take. I hope not, but who knows?
All I need to know is that I won’t drink today. I haven’t got time, there is still so much I want to catch up on. Try it, and let me know if it works for you.
If you’re struggling with your drinking, know that you aren’t alone.
If you relate to this, and you’re ready for something different, try my alcohol experiment. Do whatever it takes to stay sober for 30 days: go to your doctor, try Smart or AA or Hip Sobriety or Soberistas. Listen to Recovery Elevator and SHAIR podcasts. Read This Naked Mind. Try Moderation Management.
There is a whole community of people just waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting for you.