Would you like to stop drinking?
I’m not going to tell anyone that quitting drinking is easy, because it’s not. If you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time, then it’s really hard to stop drinking. Even now, two years on from when I was, what you might call, a practicing alcoholic, I still find it difficult. I don’t crave alcohol like I used to, but I do still miss it and, especially when the sun is shining and others are out enjoying a beer, boy how I do wish I could join them.
I have, however, now reached the happy stage that I can call myself a non-alcoholic. Some would say that I am a recovering alcoholic, but I feel that is a negative term. If you start with the premise that you will never be cured, then I think that will deter some people from even trying. I’ve stopped drinking to excess, therefore I am better. A relapse is still possible and I’m very aware of that, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to be labelled a recovering alcoholic all my life.
My message to all drinkers who have a problem is simple. Don’t ignore it for years and years, like I did. Recognise it, because there is no shame in having a drink problem. The only shame would be if you were to do nothing about it. Alcohol is a freely available, legal, and very addictive substance that, if it were to be invented today, would no doubt be immediately banned from sale. You became addicted to it, so what? Now is the time to do something about it and to stop drinking to excess. Here are some practical tips on how you can go about doing just that.
The first thing to realise is that you are not alone. I know it sounds like a cliché from some kind of counsellor, but what has really surprised me since I stopped drinking is the huge variety of backgrounds of the people who I know have the same issue. As an alcoholic, you have probably made friends with other alcoholics with whom you feel comfortable drinking, I have come to realise that there is such a group of people in most towns, if you know where to look for them. It’s like a secret club; you all know you are members, but you don’t talk openly about why. As you get more accepted into this club, the rest of society kind of pales into insignificance until finally, you feel more at home with other alcoholics than you do with, so called, normal people. This isolation makes you think even more that no one can help you and that you are now ‘just’ an alcoholic. Well, guess what? It doesn’t matter what background you came from; rich or poor, good boy or bad, alcohol can get its claws into anyone and I have met recovering alcoholics from every walk of life imaginable, so don’t think that you are alone, you’re not. Look at it this way; once you make the decision to stop drinking, you are graduating to a new club, a club with millions of members, the recovering alcoholics club.
Take the decision that you want to stop drinking
If you don’t want to stop drinking, then no one is ever going to make you. They can even put you in an enforced rehab situation, but they can’t stop you from walking into the first pub or bar you see when you leave.
Step one, then, is to think about it. Would you like to stop drinking? Make a list of all the things that you would like to do now, but you can’t, because of your drinking. One thing that I did, that really shocked me, was to work out how much money I had spent on drinking, not for a day or for a year, but over my whole, heavy drinking life. My own calculation, at today’s pub beer prices, meant that I had spent £250,000 on alcohol before I stopped drinking.
By the time I had come to the conclusion that I needed to stop drinking I had lost everything. I lost my marriage, my car, my house and my business. I was effectively destitute and homeless. The problem is that when you get that low, it doesn’t make you think; whoops! I’d better stop drinking. It makes you think that you’ve lost everything anyway, so what the hell. You’ve started so you might as well finish.
So, instead of looking back and mourning what you have lost, try looking forward to what you can gain from this experience. For my part, although I would never recommend taking the path of alcoholism that I did, my eventual mental breakdown and hospitalisation has finally given me the opportunity to start all over and re-build my life the way that I want it. I do, of course, regret some of the things that have happened, but I can tell you that it’s really exciting now to think that I can start out all over again and go wherever I want to, but I couldn’t do that if I hadn’t stopped the excessive drinking.
Weigh up the pros and cons of stopping drinking
To help you make your mind up if you really want to stop drinking, make a list of the pros and cons of giving up the booze. Don’t take my word for it or the word of any moralising do-gooder; just work it out for yourself. If you try this, I will bet that before long, you will find a hell of a lot more to put on the cons than you do on pros.
To stop drinking, you first have to believe that you want to stop. Don’t even think about actually stopping drinking yet, just think about it as a possibility for now. If I had a pound note for every time I told myself, while drunk, that I was going to stop tomorrow, then I’d have made back that £250,000. So concentrate for now on deciding that you would like to stop drinking, just don’t take too long making up your mind though!
To set goals, or not to set goals
Some people stop drinking all together, some people cut down gradually, it’s really up to you to find out what will work for you.
Try cutting down your drinking slowly, it might work for you. I tried cutting down; again and again and again. But I’m one of those that simply can’t do that. With me and alcohol, it’s an absolutely all or nothing scenario. Just be honest with yourself, if after a few times of trying, you know it’s not working, then you’re going to have to bite the bullet like I did and just stop drinking all together.
If you read advice on cutting down, you will find that they suggest that you keep a drinking diary where you note down how much you have drunk and when you have drunk it, each and every day. You then set yourself targets for not drinking until a certain time in the day, or drinking a maximum number of units in a day and so on. The only problem with this is that alcoholics are experts at lying, especially to themselves, so it’s easy to tell yourself that you are getting somewhere, when you are not. If you are going to try the cutting down approach rather than the stop drinking approach, then you are going to have to have a heck of a lot of self-control and even more honesty.
Have yourself a rocky moment
This process of taking the decision to do something about your drink problem is probably the most important decision that you will ever take in your entire life, so don’t treat it lightly; even getting this far is a massive step for an alcoholic. Don’t beat yourself up because you are an alcoholic, celebrate the fact that you have realised it and you are about to do something about it. Have your very own Rocky moment. You know, the bit in every Rocky film where Rocky wakes up, realises that he’s got to do something about getting in shape for the fight and finally starts training:
You haven’t won the title yet, but you are just about to go into training for the biggest fight of your life, so good luck!
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