Have you ever taken a step back, looked at your life and thought ‘my god, how on earth did I get here?’
Yes, me too… I’m Lucy, founder of The Live Life Recovery Programme and I definitely asked myself this question. Everyone has their own story. Perhaps you are someone who had a great career, a nice home, family and friends until your drinking escalated slowly and began to destroy everything. Perhaps you are someone who is unemployed, struggling financially or in debt. Maybe you suffer with mental health issues or have experienced a trauma or tragedy that only alcohol could provide an escape.
We could spend hours thinking about how and why couldn’t we? The list is so very, very long. If anyone truly believed they would end up where they did from alcohol use, would they have tried to change things earlier? Would they or could they have tried harder to overcome it? Who knows, maybe. For me, I’m a strong believer in focusing on the present, after all, one can’t turn the clock back. Yesterday is gone and can never be revisited or changed. It’s what we do today that really matters and what we can change now to make tomorrow brighter.
We all have our own reasons for getting to the point we got to, but that doesn’t mean the rest of our lives have to remain spent down that black hole that alcohol use sucked us into. The truth is, the sooner the change is made the easier it is. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the change until I had almost lost everything that was good in my life, so I would not recommend waiting and hoping for things to somehow get better. If only I had known just how bad things would get but you see, that’s just it, you don’t realise at the time. What I know for sure today is the only pattern of drinking too much is that it gets much, much worse and that’s a fact.
The only alternative to stopping is of course to spiral further, so let’s think about this instead. The day we finally realise that everything we want in our life, this one and only life we have been given, will never be found anywhere in the bottom of that glass of alcohol. What a special day that is, the beginning of the rest of this wonderful life.
Is it helpful to keep asking ourselves ‘Am I an alcoholic?’ Labels, labels, labels. The label is completely irrelevant. How about asking these questions instead? Is my drinking getting in the way of how I want to live my life? Is my drinking causing negative consequences? Is my drinking having a detrimental effect on my life and the lives of the people around me? No need to label it at all, if drinking is causing problems, then it IS a problem. It just doesn’t work for some people.
Like I said, what leads to drinking too much and keeps you going back to it time and again will be on that long, long list I mentioned earlier… Complicated lives, stress, anxiety, that job you hate, terrible friendships, failing relationships, unresolved issues, resentments, having no purpose, unfulfilled dreams…. You see, we could go on for hours.
I won’t say that it doesn’t matter how you got to this point because I think it is really important to address what led you to where you find yourself today, in order for you to make sense of it all and begin to understand it. You can then put all your time and effort in to developing an entire whole new set of coping mechanisms that you can use to replace the one you are using now which we both know only too well does not work.
Let’s think about this, imagine that life could be so, so much better than it is right now, would it be worth trying to make some changes? Even if we fail at first, we are still much farther ahead than when we started. Anything worthwhile is never easy. Relapses do happen and they are not a failure, they are a learning curve and a huge reminder of why we wanted to get sober in the first place. Never give up on giving up.
So, can you imagine having better health, more energy, more time, more money, clearer skin, natural self-confidence, better relationships, better career opportunities, no terrible consequences, no feeling awful, disappointed and ashamed? Just free, at peace with yourself and able to live the life you really want?
Guess what? You don’t have to imagine it, this is what is waiting for you, so what are you waiting for? I get it, you’re scared. It is scary, but not forever. Life will not end without alcohol. You can still do anything that you want to do and do it sober. The reason it’s scary is because it feels like a death and that is because grief is a reaction to intense change and giving up alcohol is an intense change with bells on. I can promise you, having been there myself, the only thing that will be dead and gone is a life that was no longer serving you.
Let’s be honest, when alcohol controls your life, it is no life, only an existence. We can always find an excuse to have a drink. What excuses do you give yourself? A tough day? A brilliant day? Feeling stressed? Feeling happy? Your birthday? Someone else’s birthday? Yes, I know, whether it’s something going right or something going wrong or quite frankly, just because. We will always find that excuse to justify having that drink. We are absolute masters at justifying.
The same goes for the reasons we give to convince ourselves and others that our drinking isn’t a problem.
‘I don’t drink in the mornings’ is a good old classic.
‘I don’t drink every single day’ is another.
‘I go to work’
‘I always get the kids to school on time’
‘I don’t drink spirits, only wine’
Can you see where I’m going with this one? Unfortunately, denial doesn’t actually offer any protection from the inevitable dire consequences of alcoholism. There are indeed people who have not yet faced any tremendous losses and consequences but this doesn’t mean they are not problem drinkers. To be functioning even highly functioning does not mean you are not at risk of everything catching up with you eventually.
Like I said earlier the only pattern of drinking too much is that it gets worse. With all other drugs we seem to understand this and wouldn’t even question it but for some reason with alcohol we think we should just be able to control it and that if we are unable to, we must be abnormal.
Remember that alcohol has a very powerful effect on creating things that are superficially exciting. We glamorise it so this can be one of the hardest parts of giving up. I cannot count the number of times clients have said how tough they find it walking past a pub garden on a summer’s day and this is because we glamorise that image in our minds. It looks great, it looks fun, it looks relaxing. The question is will it be fun and relaxing for you? Will you leave after a few drinks or will you be unable to stop?
The only person you should ever compare yourself with is yourself. The version that you would prefer not to be and the version that you are happy and proud to be. It is not a failing to become addicted to a highly addictive drug like alcohol and so it is pointless to compare yourself with a so called ‘normal drinker’. What is normal drinking? Who made up the rules of what normal drinking is?
The truth is, perhaps it used to be fun, relaxing and under control, but if and when this changes and it’s not fun anymore, when the negative is far outweighing any positives, that should be the red flag. So, it doesn’t really matter what others around you are doing, it’s about what you need to do to look after you. This is about making yourself a priority; you owe it to yourself.
When you stop drinking it can feel like a lonely path and a scary prospect and that’s ok. It is seen as ‘normal’ to drink therefore to make the choice not to almost feels like breaking some kind of social pact. People seem to assume that everybody drinks and are utterly confused to learn that actually, some people don’t. No one asks somebody why they are drinking, so I don’t see why there needs to be an explanation as to why somebody is not.
If eating nuts gave you an allergic reaction it would be very unlikely that anyone would expect you to sit and eat a bag of peanuts, so it is not at all strange to choose not to drink when alcohol does not agree with you!
As daunting as it can feel to change something that has been part of your life for so long, sometimes things just need to change when they are simply not working for us anymore.