One From the Archives 2017
In my first year of sobriety I found an approach that has /is proved/ing to be on of the fundamental tools for living alcohol free for me. I haven’t seen it in any quit lit books but recently a couple of people have mentioned it so I wanted to post and elaborate on this. The tool is quite simply - Keep Alcohol Separate.
For me in many ways in my first year, this was The Work. I was not a daily drinker, and often I could stop when I’d had one or two, it was just very unpredictable and I would take risks when I binged …so for years I had no idea where I fitted in the whole conversation about alcohol.Like so many of us, I didn't relate to descriptions of an alcoholic but I knew it was making me miserable...and It’s only when I found a sober forum that I found a space to talk about it and understand why it had become such a problem for me.
Basically I had reached a point where alcohol had become associated with pretty much every thought, feeling and association, so basically EVERYTHING was a potential trigger. Now I did not drink on those triggers all the time but they were there being pushed every day and so everyday would be a dialogue as to whether to drink, to-ing and fro-ing, the chatter starting at about midday and if i decided to drink the excitement and dread wondering if I would go over the top and have a four day hangover with the attendant self loathing and shame and anxiety.
So this incessant association game ... tired? fancy wine, bored? fancy wine, sad? fancy wine, going out? fancy wine, staying in? fancy wine, Sun is shining? fancy wine. Sex? Fancy wine, roast lamb? glass of red, night with the girls, prosecco. Kids arguing, wine oclock bought forward.. on it went. So despite not drinking that many units ( I was very controlled) and looking ‘normal ‘ I had, I think a pretty addicted mindset.
So the first few months it was like digging up weeds , every time a trigger came I had to detach, distract until it had passed, each thought that ended in ‘wine’ I had to mentally challenge or uncouple with ‘I dont drink ‘ .. parties, I can do them sober, stress.. I can cope with it sober ‘I dont drink’ distract, ‘I don’t drink ‘, distract . I would not dwell on this I would just use that mantra and go and get busy doing anything till it had passed. Which (and this was the gold that gave me hope that one day it wouldn't be so hard ) It always did.
If I thought too deeply, if I got it mixed up with other ‘issues’ it all got too confusing . So .. I know I am a perfectionist , if I focussed on that it was all to easy for my head to say ‘You are being too perfectionist being sober. Cut yourself some slack.’ So I would respond .. ‘Keep it separate , I will cut myself slack in other areas , it has NOTHING to do with alcohol ‘.
Basically nothing in your life has anything essentially to do with alcohol , it’s just it’s all got mixed up, too central, feels essential, too important but actually NOTHING has anything to do with drinking alcohol except drinking alcohol .. it's simply the meaning we bestow on it, our brains and bodies getting used to it, the narrative we have ended up giving it.
Now I have about unbroken 15 months AF (although I think the previous 4 years with mostly AF and long stretches AF also adds to the rewiring ) The subconscious has caught up a lot more, so I don’t have to do this mental uncoupling exercise most of the time … sometimes I do , if I am super stressed or at Xmas when the madness starts with advertising etc etc. But I did for months and as I said .. this was the work, repetition, distraction , working the tools. It was fun too, getting to know other istas, freedom from hangovers , challenged , growing but not easy - so don’t feel disheartened if it’s not easy yet.. Fake it till you make it, trust the path and keep it separate!
I just wanted to write this down because it helped me so much. It was a process, I wish somebody had explained to me. I am also a firm believer in sober treats, the self care stuff, dialling down the stress.. all those good practices which make it a lot more fun .. but at the start it was muscle power of this kind , stamina and tenacity which was what was first. BUT I promise it gets easier and easier. Its repetition , which reroutes neural pathways to NOT DRINKING as the default setting , rather than drinking.
Now I can't remember what it was like to have that daily conversation, to feel ruled by wine o'clock , to have that shame. It gets such a lot easier, it's easy to take it for granted , and that's a whole other conversation! I am so so grateful not to be locked in that holding pattern and those circular conversations. To be able to live life no longer under the shadow of alcohol.