My Dear Reader,
I am intentionally writing this article without referencing outside sources like A.A. or other “experts,” because I want it to be a letter from my heart directly to yours. This is how I recovered from alcoholism. If I can do it, anybody can. If even one other person is inspired by my story and achieves sobriety, I will have been repaid a hundredfold for my efforts.
Here’s a quick rundown of my story with alcoholism. I started drinking when I was 23, about a year into my first rotten marriage. I was a chronic insomniac of many years, and after trying every sleep remedy under the sun, I discovered that alcohol was the only thing that quieted my mind reliably enough to allow me to sleep.
A habit that started with one or two beers or a glass of wine a night quickly blossomed into four, five, six… at my peak, I could easily polish off most of a fifth of vodka every single night. Half of it put me to sleep, and the other half put me back to sleep after I “rebounded” halfway through the night. Toward the end of my drinking career, I kept a small bottle hidden away in my desk drawer at work as a “hair of the dog” hangover cure and to help me cope with the stress. I never missed a day of work, although there were times I probably should have. I never drank more than a glass of wine around others, and even though toward the last I definitely drove a few times when I shouldn’t have, fortunately, I never wrecked my car or got pulled over for a DUI. I was lucky.
I took my last drink on April 16th, 2011 and never looked back. I was 43. Here’s how I did it.
1. I forgave myself.
Drinking is actually a fairly honorable thing to do. We all want to feel good, and if we’re suffering, we want to feel better. This is simply human nature; there’s nothing wrong with it.
2. I realized nobody else was going to do it for me.
Taking pills didn’t do it. Going to therapy didn’t do it. Going to A.A. didn’t do it. Having my significant others hide the booze didn’t do it. Asking my partners to support me by stopping their own drinking didn’t do it – after all, they didn’t have a problem with alcohol, so why should they quit just because I wanted to? No, I had to do it by myself.
3. I decided I wanted to quit drinking more than anything else in the world, and I would do whatever it took to stop.
I had to want to quit more than I wanted to sleep, more than I wanted to numb out from my stressful job, more than I wanted to be in my less-than-wonderful romantic relationship. I needed every ounce of desire I had to carry me through the tough times ahead.
4. *THIS IS HUGE*: I stopped adding “spin” to the topic of addiction.
If you’re familiar with Law of Attraction, you might have come across the plates-on-sticks analogy. Remember the juggling acts in which the juggler kept dinner plates spinning on the top ends of long sticks? The juggler had to keep wiggling the sticks to keep the plates spinning, and if he stopped, everything fell down.
Well, according to Law of Attraction, things – good or bad – show up in our lives because we’re wiggling the sticks that keep those plates spinning. If we stop wiggling the sticks, the plates may spin for a little while by themselves, but eventually they’ll lose momentum and fall down.
How do we wiggle the stick of addiction? By thinking about it. Focusing energy on it. Making it a problem. Therapy wiggles the stick. Drugs like Antabuse wiggle the stick. Programs like A.A. wiggle the stick. Rehab programs wiggle the stick. Doctors wiggle the stick. Beating ourselves up wiggles the stick. Talking about it wiggles the stick. Here’s how I stopped wiggling the stick:
5. I thought of my alcoholism as a food allergy.
This took a lot of the “spin” off of the alcoholism plate for me. Some people have to avoid wheat or soy. I have to avoid alcohol. It’s really not that big a deal.
6. I used discipline to redirect my thoughts.
The long, sleepless nights were the hardest part of my recovery, and when my eyes refused to close at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. it was really tempting to sneak into the kitchen and break open a bottle of my partner’s beer. Yeah, it was tough — REALLY tough! But I reminded myself that, no, I had already been down that road many times and I knew where it led. So I got up, made a cup of tea, and read a book to distract my thoughts until I felt sleepy, or until it was time to get up. Insomnia hadn’t killed me before, so I knew I’d be okay. Eventually, I learned to make peace with insomnia, and even to sleep normally again.
7. I appreciated the freedom!
No more hangovers. No more reeking, using a tongue scraper and brushing my teeth to try to hide my alcohol breath. No more worrying about stopping at the liquor store to replenish my stash, not to mention all of the money I was saving! No more sneaking around, drinking my partner’s alcohol and then replacing it before anyone noticed it was gone. What a relief!
Now, three years later, I am celebrating my third year of sobriety. In the last three years, I suppose you could say my life turned upside-down and then came back together right-side-up. The lousy relationship I was in ended, and I fell in love with and married another non-drinker. I quit my stressful job and started my own business. And while I still have occasional bouts of insomnia, they feel more like “ho-hums” than big problems. Most nights, I sleep like a baby. And I’m happier, saner, more alert, and more alive than I’ve ever been before.
I hope you find my story inspiring, and that you find the strength within you to kick your own habit. There are a lot of us who started out exactly where you are. We won, and so can you.
All my best to you,
Featured photo credit: Collection of Glasses / Billy Wilson via flickr.com