Quitting

When I fell off the wagon at a music festival, I spent several months after that heavy drinking. The details are all in my book, “Not Alcoholic, But…” so I won’t go into that experience here. But eventually I landed in a spot of trouble through my drinking, and once again I had a moment of clarity.

I had got into trouble at a works drinks, full of wine and argumentative with the boss. Around the same period, I had had a big row with my girlfriend when drunk. I knew I had to make amends but at this point I had no plan to quit alcohol.

The Sober version of me

Then a strange thing happened. While I contemplated my next move, I had a vision of myself as a non-drinker. I imagined myself chatting to people at a boozy party, sober and enjoying myself, laughing and making jokes and pouring drinks for other people, and being unbothered by booze. It was as though I had spotted the sober version of me, the version that had perhaps always been around – a bit like in the film Sliding Doors – two stories running in parallel – both about the same person – me.

The important thing about this vision was that I really liked the sober version of me – to look at. I was observing him from afar, but he seemed so content and happy and in control. He made me realise that life without alcohol is much simpler. You don’t have to worry about how you behave or what you can and can’t do. You could drive to Scotland after your own birthday party if that’s what you wanted to do. You were entirely free it seemed.

a matter of choice

And that suddenly seemed overwhelmingly attractive alongside the shitty little situation I had got myself in, as I planned a dry January and hoped to demonstrate my drinking was under control. I realised that what separated me from a life in control was alcohol. Suddenly the idea of being in control seemed more desirable than anything else – not just because it solved a lot of immediate problems – but because it would go on solving problems all the time, and that seemed impossibly wonderful. But as impossible as it seemed, I realised also that it was a matter of choice. I could choose between chaos and control. I had been in chaos for so long that the idea of control seemed fresh and new and desirable.

But I really wasn’t sure I could just stop drinking. People didn’t do that sort of thing, so I knew it was naïve to suppose that I could.

setting a date

What I did was to set a decision date. On that date I would decide whether I would quit drinking or cut down or carry on. In the meantime I would contemplate a sober life; see how it sat with me. I would chat with my girlfriend and let her know what I was planning. And most importantly of all (so I realise with hindsight) I thought about every drink that passed my lips. I worked out what I wanted from the alcohol and what it was actually delivering. It was December, and so people were in drinking mode generally, and I realised how unexciting, by comparison, drinking was to me. Drinking was my default position. I did it whenever I could. It accompanied everything, and if it was missing, then I would do everything I could to include it, or leave. Much of the time I drank alone, so Christmas drinking didn’t have any great appeal. In fact, the excitement around it at Christmas struck me as ridiculous. I wasn’t interested. It helped to put me off drinking. So, on I went towards decision time – about 2 weeks away – after Christmas itself, but before New Year’s eve.

analyse every sip

With every sip and glass of booze, I figured that I had done this thing, drinking, quite a lot. I wasn’t sure what I still wanted from it anymore, but I did it anyway. Drinking alcohol wasn’t something I analysed. It was a habit. But if asked, I would say good things about alcohol, without question. If I actually analysed why I thought it was good, I couldn’t say. Drinking to “switch off” was a phrase I might use But why was being “switched off” good? I didn’t really know the answer to that. I had never stopped to ask why I was doing it since the day I started – aged 14. And by 16 years old, I was drinking at every occasion.

In thinking about why I was drinking – what I was getting from it – I started to realise that maybe I wasn’t so accepting of it, after all! There might just possibly be another way; that sobriety might not be the thing to dread. On the contrary, it might be the thing to crave.

I wasn’t there yet, but I was beginning to feel it. Lots would have to change, but my desire was driving things, in much the same way that my desire had always driven things – just a different desire now.

follow this tip

So, if you’re sober-curious, try the below list of tips…but remember you’ll need an open mind. If you have set upon a fixed back story about why you drink – then forget it. It won’t work. You have to be prepared to challenge your old assumptions and beliefs with your own new beliefs and desires.

  1. Think about what each drink promises to deliver. Then analyse how well it matches up to expectation.
  2. Ask yourself why your state of mind is better than it was before drinking.
  3. Think about your sober state and why you want to leave it. Is it the sober state or the problems you want to leave behind?
  4. If you want to “switch off” and give yourself some “me time” how exactly is alcohol achieving this in the moment? Why is the feeling of intoxication good?
  5. Be aware of the emotions you want to feel by drinking and the ones you want to leave behind when you are not drinking.
  6. Be aware of the role that habit plays in reaching for the bottle.
  7. Set a date for making your mind up what you want to do. Cut down, quit or carry on.
  8. Let people know what you are doing so you can get support and also deal with any objections that people will throw at you.

once I quit, if ever I felt I had made a wrong decision or felt a craving, I would recite the following mantra to myself:

  1. There is nothing more that alcohol can offer me that I haven’t experienced many thousands of times over. I’ve done it all
  2. If I have another drink, I know where it will end up – it always does eventually
  3. I’m on a brand new journey of discovery – all about myself – no turning back now.

For more tips and examples, have a look at my book Not Alcoholic, But…