Once you have got through the first few weeks after you stop drinking alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms subside and then the longer battle begins. At first, I didn’t want to accept that the phrases ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ or ‘there’s no such thing as a cured alcoholic, only a ‘recovering alcoholic’ could be true, but I am beginning to realise that it is true. Even after twelve months, I still get the urge to drink sometimes and, on the few occasions that I have tried drinking alcohol again, I have discovered that, despite the fact that I haven’t drunk alcohol regularly for over twelve months now, it only takes a single drink and I start to lose control again.
The general consensus of opinion is that once you quit drinking, you should stay completely abstinent for the rest of your life, or you will succumb to the temptation to go over the top again. The problem for me is that I am, by nature, a very obstinate man and I hate the idea that something has got control over my life, especially something that other people see as an innocent bit of fun. So, I have tried drinking again occasionally, but I can tell you that the little alcoholic devil is still definitely still inside me, just waiting to catch me out!
So, should you remain completely abstinent for the rest of your life once you’ve stopped drinking alcohol? The truth is, the answer is different for different people. I know alcoholics who have returned to moderate drinking, I know alcoholics who are still on that voyage of discovery, and I know alcoholics who have returned to their heavy drinking habits. What I do know is that I believe that I am still an alcoholic and I have it in me to be become alcohol dependant again, even though I have stopped drinking to excess. The logical conclusion must be, then, that the advice is to never drink again and then you stay on the safe side of the debate.
Whilst you ponder the bombshell that you might not ever be able to drink again, here are some ways to avoid the temptation to drink once you’ve quit drinking. These are my own personal ways that I avoided going back to heavy drinking. They may contradict AA and other stop drinking organisations, but they have worked for me.
I found that, from virtually my very first day of stopping drinking, that finding a substitute, non-alcoholic drink, was of immense help. Because I was used to having a drink on the go, virtually all day long, I needed something to replace that. I found that cola was the best bet. It fills you up with gas, it gives you something to do with your hands, and somehow the sweetness of the cola made me feel less like drinking alcohol. Too much cola is not good for you either, so I have now graduated to diet cola instead, but it still helps take my mind off the craving for alcohol, when it comes.
2. Avoid drinking triggers
If you attend any support groups, you will no doubt learn all about triggers. If any particular circumstances or situations make you want to drink, then try to avoid them. Stay away from old drinking haunts and drinking buddies and avoid coming into contact with any temptation and this will help you in your goal to quit drinking.
3. Practice not drinking alcohol
There are some situations that may make you want to drink that you simply can’t avoid. Some activities, for an alcoholic, become forever associated with drinking. Some examples of mine were: watching TV – drink some beer, eating a meal out – drink some wine, meeting some friends – drink beer, and so on. The way I beat the temptation to drink alcohol in these situations was to confront it head on and I asked a friend or a family member to help me do it. When a friend of mine was released from hospital following an enforced detox, he couldn’t believe that the very first thing I did when he got off the bus was to take him in a pub, for a cup of coffee. He now tells everybody, how important this was for him in his own battle against alcohol as it showed him, from the outset, that he could sit in a bar or a pub and drink a non-alcoholic drink and now, he doesn’t make that automatic association between the two activities.
When you are a heavy drinker, you tend not to eat proper meals and that is why your doctor is quite likely to prescribe you vitamin pills when you first stop drinking. But now, more than ever, it is important to make sure that you eat properly. Food fills you up and distracts your mind from the cravings. I also found, that for the first time in a very long time, I started to enjoy my food again and now, I take pleasure from being able to taste and savour my food, instead of going out for a drink.
Don’t panic! You don’t have to join a gym or start jogging round the neighbourhood in brightly a coloured jogging suit. Walking is the best thing and, if you can walk in the countryside or in a park, that gives you both the exercise and some calm time to get your head together. If you’re not used to walking far, start off with short walks and you’ll find that your body soon gets used to it and then you can start going for long walks. Exercise will help keep your weight down if you're compensating for the lack of alcohol with food and it also releases endorphins into your body which will help relieve stress and anxiety and put you in a better mood.
Whether it’s AA, another support group or just a close friend, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. The biggest problem that I initially had with this was working out what the hell to say to these people when I called them. Do I say ‘I’m an alcoholic and I’m about to go on the biggest bender of my life’? I’ve found that it doesn’t need to be that dramatic! When you get the urge to drink, you will probably find yourself in a debate with yourself. One half of your brain is saying ‘I want a drink’, whilst the other half is telling you ‘I don’t want to go back there again’. I have found that quick ten minute chat, with someone who understands, can break that internal debate pretty quickly and you don’t even need to tell the person what the problem is, just talking to someone can help take your mind off things.
7. Develop new activities and hobbies
Hey, you’re sober, you have more money and you have more time, so get out and find new and exciting things to do in your life. Boredom is a dangerous enemy when you’ve quit drinking; your mind will begin to wander into dangerous territory. Keeping yourself occupied with new interests will help keep you out of the pub or bar. Choose an activity that you will enjoy and one that you can’t do drunk. I started to write as an activity to keep my mind occupied. I then found that, not only do I really enjoy it, but I can’t do it drunk or with a hangover, so get an added incentive not to drink at all.
Things could get pretty weird for a while, so be prepared! For the first time in a long time, your brain is clear of alcohol and able to do a bit of catching up. The way that I described it someone recently, was that it felt like my brain was doing the filing; it was picking up all those loose pieces of paper scattered around the floor and getting them into some semblance of order. I had flashbacks of things that I’d forgotten, I had periods of deep depression, and I had periods of ridiculous elation. Overall, I found that I had become far more emotional and this was scary at first. I wasn’t used to either laughing at something funny on the TV, or crying at a sad movie. But, don’t worry, it’s just your brain catching up and it evens itself out after a while. Counselling can help you deal with the emotions that come from not drinking alcohol; I know that it helped me. It can be especially helpful in your coming to terms with what has happened to you, during your period of drinking, and how to cope with all the emotions of guilt and remorse that may come with that.
9. Leave the past where it belongs, it’s all you can do
I did have a lot of regrets and felt a large amount of shame about some of the things that I did before I stopped drinking alcohol. But, you can’t turn back the clock, so you have to accept what has happened and move forward. Think of it as a disease that can happen to anyone and focus your mind on all the good things that you can do now, rather than the things that you can’t change. The important thing is to recognise, and be proud off, the person that you are now. Slowly, but surely, the people around you will start to recognise that new you too.
10. Don’t quit quitting
And finally, don’t give up on yourself, you can do this. Most alcoholics have at least one relapse or try experimenting with a drink or two again. It doesn’t mean that you have failed, so long as you don’t go back to your old ways. Believe me, life really is a million times better without alcohol and a little slip, here and there, is just a way of you learning this. So stick with it, don’t stop trying, and you will get there eventually.
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