My memory is failing me at the moment, but there was a beer commercial campaign a few years back which ended with the slogan “see where it takes you.” I have always thought that it was pretty ingenious, because that is exactly the way I used to think about drinking. Alcohol had the appeal of making the night offer more promise, of making music more emotive, and just generally making things bigger and better.
Upon reflection, I see now that alcohol wasn’t taking me anywhere, and, if anything, was landing me further and further from where I needed to be. It was only letting me temporarily escape feelings and thoughts that I just did not want to have. It smoothed the edges of life for sure, but it did so more by blurring things out, instead of actually erasing them. All of those worries, insecurities and unpleasant things that I didn’t want to deal with temporarily weren’t there when I was drunk.
But when the morning would come, and by the time I finally collected myself and figured out what happened the night before, all of those things would be back, and even stronger than before. Thus the cycle would continue. Drinking made me do and say things that I would regret, which would be compounded by more drinking to not think about those things.
Alcohol abuse is often spoken of as a spiritual crisis, and even though I don’t subscribe to any particular religion, I am finally seeing the truth in that and what it means. Whether it is genetic, a disease, or just a lack of willpower is irrelevant when you consider the void that it creates and the way it clips the wings of a person’s soul. When I think about the way I used to drink, I now can see how I was lost and without direction. And in some ways, I think the self-destruction was deliberate. I was in a place of little to no self-love. I was punishing myself by putting myself in dangerous situations and tempting the fate which finally caught up with me, on the wrong side of the road and upside down at two in the morning.
The haze of being buzzed or drunk lingered even after a bout of heavy drinking. It wasn’t just when I was wasted that things were fuzzy and unclear. This has only recently become apparent to me, after nearly five years without alcohol. I didn’t realize how much of the world I wasn’t seeing and experiencing clearly during those years of heavy abuse. It is kind of like how the world suddenly came into focus years ago when I first put on eyeglasses. I really didn’t know what I had been missing.
It is still really hard at times to resist the temptation to pick up “just one” drink (which I am well aware would not be just one.) There is an appeal to the relaxation it brings and to the idea of taking the edge off. Those cocktails really do look beautiful in the Facebook and Instagram posts. It does make it easier to laugh at things and let everything just fade away for a little while. There is still that allure to “see where it takes you.”
But when I think of how I feel as a whole without alcohol in my life, I am grateful for not going down that road anymore. Because for myself, it would be a road to nowhere, and more like a ceaseless loop. I feel productive, lucid and more fully in touch with the things that I would like to accomplish while I’m still in this reality. I am looking out the window at the landscape as I pass through life, and the true beauty of the world around me is in focus and being received rather than blurred out and missed. I am grateful for the many blessings I have been graced with, and I am able to receive them with a deeper appreciation than before. It really is a great feeling, and one that I have no desire to give up.
It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want to quit drinking, you can. The thing is, you have to really want it. You have to have reached a point in your life where you realize that alcohol is no longer an option to be included in living the life you want. You have to reach a point where it is no longer acceptable to have another drink, under any circumstances, and with no excuses.
Although I only have first hand experience with alcohol abuse, I believe the same can be said of other addictions as well. It took me a long time to realize I had reached a point where alcohol was becoming a clear obstacle to my overall enjoyment of life and detrimental to my safety. That is how persistent the monster of alcohol abuse is. I had already racked up two DUI convictions, spent time in jail, lost my driver license and totaled my car, and there were times when I was still getting drunk and worse yet, driving also.
You can go to A.A. or use medication or whatever strategy you need to stop once and for all. But you can do it. The thing is, A.A. is not a cure. It won’t make you stop drinking. Medication is not a cure. These things are only tools that you need to use when you have decided that enough is enough. But you have to make that decision, and nobody – not your family, your dog, your brother or friend – can make it for you. And if you decide to quit, it must be to quit entirely. Not halfway, or only drinking beer or wine, or anything short of not having another drink. Ever.
What helped me quit was externalizing the promise that I made to stop drinking. Once I put it out there and told somebody very dear to my heart and who I wanted in my life that I was quitting, I realized that I had passed the point of no return. That was it. I was done.
It is never easy, but then again, ask yourself – when is anything worth having really easy? No, it is hard. And riddled with self-doubt and anger and frustration and just about any emotion under the sun. But you can do it. You just have to want it.
Getting sober isn’t so tough. Staying sober, that’s another story. But what is true sobriety anyway? We are surrounded by a myriad of psychoactive medications and foods that are legal and easily accessible at all hours of the day, all of which can significantly impact our mental and emotional states. The line can be drawn more clearly once you determine that a substance or activity is becoming a destructive force in your life and cutting away at the activities and relationships that once brought fulfillment and joy to your day to day living. For the purposes of this article, “sobriety” simply means abstaining from alcohol….completely.
By the time I finally decided to stop drinking, I had already begun to suffer various negative consequences of my out-of-control behavior. Among other things, I had picked up two DUI’s, one in which I flipped and totaled my car in a collision with a street median (luckily nobody else was involved,) and another which resulted in jail time. Having to buy a new car, hire attorneys, and pay stiff fines ended up costing well over ten thousand dollars. Not to mention behaving in embarrassing or downright belligerent ways all too often, being kicked out and banned from a local bar, and getting jumped because I instigated a fight. Sadly, despite all of these things happening, there continued to be times when I would have drinks and then drive.
It wasn’t enough for me until the morning I surrendered to 3 days in county jail (a consequence of the second DUI.) As if having to go to jail wasn’t bad enough, earlier that morning, my girlfriend had forwarded me some insulting and mean-spirited texts that I had sent to her the night before in a drunken rage. I had absolutely no recollection of sending the messages. That was the point at which I knew that I needed to do something serious to get my drinking under control, because I could see that if I didn’t, it was going to tear away at the most important relationship in my life. I had many prior attempts to “cut down” on my drinking, but it was always just a matter of time before I was hitting it hard again. I knew that I had to stop, and I knew that verbalizing my intention would help me to stick to it. So I made a promise to her that I was done. I wasn’t promising to do it for her, but rather, I wanted to be the best man I could and keep her happily in my life, and I just didn’t see that happening with alcohol in the picture.
That was in January of 2010, and I haven’t touched alcohol since. It hasn’t been easy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, sometimes I find myself thinking “never again? really??” and wondering if I haven’t set myself up for a lifetime of feeling restricted and deprived. But, fortunately, it’s not as difficult these days as it once was, and my moments of doubt or frustration seem to get shorter and shorter as more time passes. So, if you want to stop drinking but are hesitant to commit to it, or don’t think you can do it, here are some thoughts and pointers from my experience that you may find useful.
Change Your Social Circle
The truth is, if you’re serious about getting and staying sober, you’re more than likely going to have to change at least some of the friends that you used to socialize with when you were hitting the bottle hard. This is a change that many people will find extremely difficult to make, even if they do their part, because friendships are two-way streets, and often times the socializing that one is accustomed to may be initiated by the other party that is involved. It may be hard to decline party or hang-out invites without seeming like you’re being antisocial or unfriendly. Many people who don’t have trouble controlling their consumption of alcohol find it hard to understand exactly how difficult it can be for a person who does have a drinking problem to merely be around others that are drinking or to even have alcohol within reach, period. But a person who is seriously trying to get and stay sober is best to stay away from alcohol at all costs, especially in the first few months.
Although it might be hard to deal with at first, a true friend or worthwhile acquaintance will understand the decision of an ex-drinker to abstain from any activities or environments where alcohol is present. My own experience was that, gradually but inevitably, I simply stopped finding myself hanging out with some of my old friends that I used to drink with. Sometimes it was a conscious decision on my part, but it was also an indirect consequence of not attending certain alcohol-infused events (like happy hour at work, for example.) But it didn’t mean that my friendships with those people were over. My relationships with those individuals simply took a different direction or involved activities other than alcohol, with the pleasant side-effect of having much more clarity of thought and recollection of events.
One of the most important things when one is trying to avoid alcohol is to keep busy, and physical exercise not only keeps you occupied, but it helps to relieve anxiety and depression, which are two major reasons why many people resort to drinking in the first place. You don’t have to join a gym or purchase expensive equipment, either. Going out for runs or morning walks while listening to my iPod was always quite therapeutic for me. It provided time for me to reflect on whatever happened to be occupying my mind at the time, and gave me the ability to look out into the world as a place with constantly changing perspectives and possibilities. It can also be a great physical outlet for any stored tension in the body, mind and spirit. Strenuous exercise is a great, natural way to get your feel-good endorphins pumping, and if you are dedicated and stick to a routine, you will get the added bonus of getting into better shape.
Start A New Hobby
Another way to keep your mind off of drinking is to stay productive with a hobby or activity, specifically one that is not conducive to alcoholic beverages being around. For example, I wouldn’t suggest taking up becoming a Blackjack dealer in a casino. Try to find something that needs your participation often, such as a tennis class that meets every week. An activity in which you are learning to do something new, such as play a sport or musical instrument, is particularly helpful because in order to complete it successfully, you will need to stay lucid, and it will discourage you from showing up in an alcoholic haze. Social activities, such as taking a class or learning a team sport, also brings the opportunity to meet new and diverse people, and importantly, you won’t be meeting those people based around drinking.
Okay I’ll admit, the only reason I can say that I’ve been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is because I HAD to. It’s one of the many things that you are forced to do when you get a DUI. But I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend several meetings, and it was definitely a positive experience. I had read a lot about people being scared or nervous about going to AA, but it’s not anything to get apprehensive about at all. In fact, there were a lot of friendly and really approachable people in the meetings that I attended. Importantly, nobody pressured me into speaking or attending any other kinds of activities. I think that is one thing that scares some people off intially. I eventually did speak at one of the meetings, and it felt good to be able to express my thoughts to a group of people that I could relate to. And I’m a person who HATES any kind of public speaking. It wasn’t a big deal to talk about my story because one unique component of AA is the common bond that can be felt amongst those who attend. Everybody there has an issue with alcohol (or possibly another substance,) so there is no judgment, and you can really get a sense that the others in the group know exactly how you feel, especially after hearing their stories. The age range of the participants was very wide, and there was a good gender and ethnic balance. Of course, these factors will vary depending on each group’s location, but it’s good to know that meetings like this are out there.
Another part of AA that can be a major turn-off is the whole idea of a “higher power” and the “God” component. It is there, but importantly, it is presented in the form of God “as you know Him” and leaves it open to your own interpretation. If you don’t believe in God, or believe in God but don’t believe it’s a “Him,” or don’t know, or don’t care either way, it won’t get shoved down your throat. I would best be defined as agnostic, and I personally interpreted the issue of “God” in AA as simply an acknowledgement of a universal force or meaning outside of myself, as a way of submitting to the idea that there was a problem within me that was to be overcome, and that (obviously,) I didn’t have all the answers. In other words, I see it as a way of putting the ego in check, and making it easier to admit that you have a problem.
AA is not for everyone, but I think it’s definitely worth a try, especially if you find yourself with little hope or support in your attempts to stop drinking. I don’t currently attend AA, and don’t feel that I need to. Thus far, I have luckily been able to stay off “the sauce” through my own means, and am very fortunate to have a very supportive girlfriend, family, and friends. But if I ever found myself extremely tempted or on the brink of drinking again, I would most likely start going to meetings again.
“The Best Way Out Is Always Through” – Robert Frost.
I think the above quote holds true for alcohol abuse, in that I think every individual has to come to his or her own point of realization that their drinking has become out of control; it’s not something that can be dictated to them by outsiders. That point of no return will be different for everybody, but a person has to experience that threshold in order for the depth of their problem to truly sink in. Unfortunately, sometimes a person has to cross the line in order to realize that it’s there. It’s not as simple as PSA warnings about the dangers of alcohol or beer ads reminding people to “think when you drink.” What a concept; I used to drink in order to NOT think!
Though it is often extremely difficult to abstain from drinking, just keep in mind that, in time, it will get easier. A person most likely does not become a hardcore alcoholic from one day to the next. In the same way, getting to a comfortable place in life without alcohol may take a long time. It’s very tempting to forget all of the long-term misery that was caused by drinking too much and focus on the short-term benefits that it seemed to bring. Especially when drinking is so ingrained in our culture as an essential part of socializing and having fun. Sometimes I still find it extremely difficult to go to the store and not eyeball the liquor bottles and think back to the fun I had in days and nights of reckless alcoholic abandon. During these moments, I force myself to remember how depressed I also felt when the consequences of being out of control began to take over my life. I think about my kids and my spouse and how much better I can provide for them if I stay in control. And I think of how nice it does feel to know that, if I’m fortunate enough to wake up tomorrow, I won’t have to look back on these moments through a hazy fog and not remember what happened. In good times and in bad, it feels good to be awake, aware, and living life on life’s terms again.