It’s that time of year when many of us start thinking about what we would like to achieve over the next twelve months, “New Year, New Me” and all that jazz. 2020 – a year so bad they named it twice – has been horrendously difficult for all of us, for reasons I need not go into here. Yet, as 2020 draws to a close and we choose our endeavours for the new year, this is the first year in a long time that ‘dealing with my drink problem’ doesn’t feature as the number one resolution hanging like an anvil over my head. For 2020, will for me, be remembered first and foremost as the year I finally tackled my Wine Witch and gave her the boot.
I didn’t just quit drinking in 2020, I quit drinking and thrived. As I reflect upon Christmas, I can say in all honesty that not once did I feel that I was just surviving it, getting through, putting on a happy face yet feeling deprived that I couldn’t drink. I loved Christmas, thoroughly enjoyed it and not once, not one single time did I crave a drink. In that sense, I drank as much as I wanted, the want having been eradicated. I’m as surprised, liberated and elated by this fact as anyone, so I thought I’d share how I finally arrived in booze-free Narnia…
Assuming you haven’t read any of my previous blogs, I thought firstly that it would be useful to give you a glimpse of what life used to be like for me, as a heavy drinker. In summary…it was like this: I was miserable, I was sad, I was desperate for change, as a Pub Landlady, I was surrounded by booze all day and I was surrounded by boozers, drinking was my work, my life, my bread and butter, it was the norm, I was hounded by it, shrouded by it, when I wasn’t drinking I was planning on quitting or planning on drinking more, I was secretive, always dancing the precarious beam of respectability, never too pissed in public, always too hammered on my own, I never drank in the morning, I always drank in the evening, I was always making pacts never to drink again, I was always breaking pacts never to drink again, I drank wine, I drank vodka, I drank rum, I drank the optics dry, I drank at work, I drank at home, I drank when I was out, I drank on holiday, I drank on Tuesdays, I drank on Fridays, there was no distinction between a weekday drink day or a weekend drink day, I drank when I celebrated, I drank when I was sad, I drank when I was sadder. I can’t say I drank when I was happy because I genuinely don’t think I ever was.
My drinking is epitomised in this statement: I used to drink in the evening in the shower. I couldn’t bear to be parted from a glass of wine for even the time it takes to wash your bits! I like thinking about drinking in the shower because it exposes the extent of my disillusionment about my drinking, the sham of my beliefs. In my befuddled, brainwashed, fucked up head, drinking in the shower was just part of the self-care ‘have a candle-lit bubblebath and enjoy a glass of wine’ scenarios that I so often chose to focus on. Except the image versus the reality was very different. It wasn’t a candle-lit bubble bath, it was me, wobbly, pissed and naked, stumbling dangerously around an electric-bulb-lit bathroom hiding a wine glass amongst the shower gels.
Drinking in the shower probably isn’t the most horrendous descent-into-doom drinking anecdote you have ever read, but this isn’t a competition. It may even sound like I was a mediocre piss head, and maybe I was. Drinking that much (100 units a week?) certainly makes you mediocre, it numbs you to your core, numbs everything you do into a permanent state of mediocrity where a celebration feels the same as a commiseration, where all your major life decisions are put on hold as you drink tonight and worry about it tomorrow and you end up with a very mediocre life. There’s a terrible waste of talent and deep regret and sadness in existing in that state of permanent mediocrity.
If you have endured any of my previous blogs, then you’ll know that for a long time they followed a kind of pattern. They start along the lines of the usual ‘girl discovers wine isn’t that good for her and finds her tribe, gets help and quits and lives happily ever after’ and descend into ‘girl discovers wine is terrible, she thinks she’s found her tribe but it turns out she didn’t as she believes she’s different, so let’s see how she gets on next time…’ kind of vibe. The good news is, that this one is different and I wanted to share how I transformed from a woman who couldn’t even manage a bathroom visit without a glass of wine to one who has had a fabulous Christmas and didn’t once even consider having a drink…..
In essence, I educated myself about drinking. At first that was reading, reading quit lit: inspirational stories of women who had realised Prosecco wasn’t the heal-all elixir they had been led to believe and had kicked the habit. I devoured these tales like my life depended on it, my life did depend on it, all the while still drinking and hoping that one day, the inspiration these stories provided would somehow miraculously morph into me taking action.
I learned about heavy drinking from others, immersed myself in the sobriety community. The ‘alcoholic’ community. This had a two-fold paradoxical result: I could finally identify with my tribe whilst at the same time excluding myself from my tribe as “I wasn’t as bad as these and this wasn’t really me.” The quandary of the deluded drinker. I spent a long time in negotiation with myself, trying to prove that I didn’t have a drink problem, that I could moderate, the truth being that if your life’s work is proving to yourself that you don’t have a drink problem, then you probably do. I spent a year or so coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t moderate, I didn’t want to moderate, I’d never moderated in my life and that I would have to quit completely. THAT is the hard bit. Once you have made that decision, the rest is just deciding how you will do it and importantly for me, how you will do it happily. I didn’t want tears or recriminations or endless navel gazing. What I really wanted was a silver bullet but I also knew that wasn’t an option.
I looked into every avenue of how I could tackle it. I read, I read some more, I talked to those who identified as alcoholics, I went to AA meetings, SMART Recovery meetings, I listened to Podcasts, watched YouTube quit videos, hooked up with sobriety coaches, used social media, enquired about The Sinclair Method, did a six month sober stint, started drinking again, acquired a mentor, lost a mentor, tried online Recovery Zoom meetings, worked online programs, stopped drinking again, started drinking again, stopped drinking again, started drinking again….on and on it went. I often felt like I was shoe-horning myself into someone else’s recovery strategy, squirming as I went, often wondering “what on earth am I doing here” but never, ever stopping the search, always hunting, learning, seeking until something stuck, until something rang true for me.
Even though I was still drinking, albeit at a much reduced rate, I still immersed myself in the recovery community. I quit drinking regularly, for months at a time and then spent a lot of early 2020 working on my own 5:2 diet – 5 days a week sober followed by a very committed 2 days on the piss. I still knew that I wanted to stop completely and so recovery work was a constant background noise be that on headphones or from the TV or in a book in the loo.
What I gleaned from all this research, was that when people found a method that they truly believed in, placed their faith into it’s efficacy, be that a CBT-based approach or a 12 Step method, that it worked for them. What was then left for me was to find the method in which I could place my own faith. I knew that an arbitrary method, where you just had to have faith that the process works, even when there was evidence that it had worked for others, just didn’t cut it for me. I couldn’t work on the basis that something could work if I followed it correctly, I needed solid proof of why it would work. This almost sent me into a state of permanent despair and heavy drinking. I was faced with what I saw as a mammoth task of researching the way our brain works, understanding neuroplasticity and finding a way to undo all the unconscious programming that my mind had been subjected to over the years. As much as I like a challenge, I am not a neurologist. I realised then that I didn’t have to do that, as someone I truly respected in the sobriety world, admired the work they did, had already done it all. Someone had already done the research and explained the whys and wherefores and had packaged it all very nicely in a recovery program.
That person, was Annie Grace. I had bought copies of This Naked Mind and The Alcohol Experiment a long while back and Annie was my favourite go-to YouTuber, but I’d never actually finished The Alcohol Experiment Program. I wholeheartedly trusted the process she advocates, I knew this would work for me and it was almost as if I knew that if I diligently worked the program I knew my drinking days would be over for good, but paradoxically I was scared of that, that kept me drinking for little while longer? I trusted the process, placed my faith…yet I still wasn’t quite ready.
All the reading, educating, listening to Podcasts, collecting members of the sober community around me like Pokemon lead me down multitudinous, unexpected paths. By mid-2020 I’d stopped drinking but I was still stuck in a kind of negotiation that maybe this wasn’t forever? I STILL wasn’t quite ready – and yet I wanted it! The permanent paradox of the befuddled, confused, spaghetti brain. I hung onto the sobriety community, kept learning, searching for my tribe when BINGO! I found an Instagram post about Grey Area Drinking. This was it, this was me! Finally, I’d found my people. The post lead me to an article, the article lead me to a book, the book lead me to it’s author and her website and her website lead me to a telephone conversation and a conversation lead to her becoming my sobriety coach. This was never anything I had expected but it worked. After just a few conversations my commitment to sobriety, living a life aligned with my true core values and exploring where I really want life to take me was becoming a reality.
As I had stopped drinking, but was still somewhat shaky about the decision, the first task my coach set for me was to complete The Alcohol Experiment. We’d discussed how I believed that it would work for me but hadn’t felt ready to totally commit and – well, I took the plunge, made the commitment and I’ve never looked back. The Alcohol Experiment is meant to be a thirty day program based on rewiring your cognitive associations between booze and pleasure. In reality, it took me a year to complete it. But over the last half of 2020 I really worked it. I started the program from scratch, worked the exercises diligently, watched the accompanying videos, watched the entire back catalogue of Annie Grace YouTube material, talked to my coach, listened to This Naked Mind on a never ending Audible loop, listened whilst out walking, listened when in the shower (no longer guzzling wine), read it again at night, did the exercises, did them again if I wasn’t quite sure where something was leading, filled three whole journals with notes, read the recommended associated reading….learning, learning, learning and all the while believing that, just as she promises, by the end I would not want to drink again.
The content of The Alcohol Experiment is fantastic. I’m almost evangelical about this. I share the same passion about it’s process as AA fellowship members do about their program. I like it because it WORKS. I respected the research, trusted the facts and most of all I believed that if I got to the end, without missing a single element, it would work it’s magic, and it did.
I’m not big on sobriety dates, but around 2015 I started the process of learning about how to undo myself and get well after years of caning the wine. My ‘journey’ has taken me about five years: four and a half years of just reading about it and a year and a half of actually taking action – with the final half year finally loving a life of abstinence from alcohol. I drink as much as I want to, the want has gone. One thing all this learning has taught me, is that just quitting, without a program, is bloody difficult; quitting is just the start and to get on and enjoy what’s on the other side takes work. It is not a straight path from realisation to enlightenment, it can be a rocky road, but it’s worth it. What I learned is that it doesn’t matter which program or path you take, the key elements are the same: believe in the process, find your tribe, find your people and engage actively in that community. The best part of this is the community, I’ve found my people and I love writing and talking about this stuff especially in the hope that it helps a newcomer.
If you have followed me for a while – and if you’re still reading this (it’s been far longer than I ever intended!) – then well done – and a quick farewell from Booze-Free-Betty. I’m going to be hanging up my pen for a while, my blog work is done, for now at least. It’s time to focus on new projects, my own “New Year, New Me” project….and if you have followed my blogs then you’ll know that I have a giant arse to contend with – that’s the new challenge!
Happy New Year