Q: I’ve tried to quit drinking about 6 times in the last 2 yrs and each time I find a reason to start drinking again I find I can stop drinking easy enuff but always seem to start again. I’ve bin drinking for the last 6 months and feeling desperate now cuz Christmas is coming and I don’t wanna f… it up again but am telling myself now is not a good time to stop. Please help – shld I wait till new year or go for it now and what if I can’t do it?
A: Hi Mouse, it’s great to hear from you – I’m so glad you reached out and asked a question. I know that this probably took a lot of courage and I salute you for that.
It’s easiest if I answer your question in 3 parts:
1. Stopping drinking and then starting again is a normal part of getting sober. It happened to me and it’s happened to countless other people. I stopped drinking and started again about 6 times before I stopped for good. Somewhere inside us is a part of us that knows that we’d be better off sober and that’s the part that is conscious and determined. That’s the part of us that gives us the motivation to stop. But there’s also another part of us that’s more unconscious (we’re not always aware of it) which has been trained by our past behaviours and actions to automatically reach for alcohol. So, what you end up with is a part of you that wants to live life sober and a part of you that wants to reach for old, comfortable and familiar unconscious and automatic habits. These 2 parts can sometimes seem like they’re in conflict. Sometimes one wins and sometimes the other does.
2. This means that you need to retrain that unconscious part of you so that it begins to think and do things differently. This takes practice and effort. You have to consciously practise staying sober in situations when you used to reach for a drink and, when you do this often enough, that unconscious part of you that does things automatically starts to get on board. Being sober starts to become more automatic and easy.
3. Virtually every sober person I know spent some time stopping and starting drinking again. At the time it was happening, they felt a similar kind of desperation to you. They felt like they had failed. Like they couldn’t do it. I felt like this too. But now, when they look back at this “stopping/starting” phase, they don’t see it as failure, they see it as “practice”. They now realise that they had to go through a phase of practising living life sober because this was something they had to re-learn – they didn’t know how to do it.
Each time they stopped drinking and started again was a step along the way to their confident sober lifestyle. Far from failure, what it was doing was teaching them what to do and how to do it, what not to do and how not to do it. As long as you’re reflecting on what happened, what triggered you to start drinking again and how you could do it differently next time, you’re learning. Check out this vlog: How to deal with slip-ups to help you understand this some more. The important point is that you go easy on yourself and give yourself permission to slip-up, learn and start again. You CAN do this. It’s all just practice for next time – it’s all just steps along the way to the future you want.
4. As to when that next time should be, that’s up to you. There’s always going to be a reason why today, this week, next week, next month isn’t a good time to stop. Today I have a family meal. At the end of this week I have my cousin’s party. Next week I have my office party. Next month I’m going on holiday and I can’t face that without alcohol. Or it’s Christmas. You pretty much need to ignore what’s coming up, what time of year it is and choose a date and time that makes sense to you. That might be tomorrow or it might be New Year.
When I stopped drinking, it was October. I knew Christmas was coming up but I also knew I needed to do it and that there would always be something coming up. I was also terrified that if I spent Christmas and New Year drinking, I might harm myself beyond repair so I went for it and haven't looked back since.
Once you’ve decided on your date, what you do is plan and prepare. Furiously. You plan how you’re going to protect yourself through any social or work commitments, how you can avoid the ones that will be too challenging for you and what your reasons and excuses for not going or not drinking are going to be (if you don’t want to open up and don’t feel confident enough yet to tell everyone what’s going on for you then it’s fine to rehearse your excuses).
It’s really important that you make life as easy on yourself as possible and do a bit of hiding away from the things that are just too scary while you get practising and growing in confidence.
5. And, finally, I recommend that you equip yourself with the right tools and mindset so that you’re even more likely to succeed. Reading and watching the blogs and vlogs on this site will help with your mindset. The blogs will also give you some tools, ideas and approaches.
You might want some face-to-face support and might want to check out local groups in your area (AA isn’t for everyone but it does work for some people). If that’s not for you, you might want to get some support online (I offer a super-effective online Guidance Programme that really holds your hand and tells you what to do and how to do it – click here for more information). You might find that regular email contact with someone is enough support (you can sign up below to get regular support emails from me).
It doesn’t matter whether you get support from this website, from me, from someone else online or from a face-to-face AA group, the important thing is you fill your “Sober Toolkit” with all sorts of tools, support and encouragement – the kind that works best for you and helps you stay positive and strong. When you have your tools, support and preparation/planning all lined up – you go for it. Be prepared to work hard, practise and focus at the start but for it to get easier and easier as you progress. And, keep reaching out to maintain your strength and commitment.
Mouse – you absolutely can do this – you have the courage and the strength and you’ve done it before. You just need a little support along the way. Keep practising and let me know how you get on.