by | Feb 14, 2019 | 14 comments

There are a few people that keep repeating those early days of sobriety over and over again, they get the first day or two (or even three) under their belt, and then slip up again. It highlights a conflict I have over what advice to give people when they slip up.

On the one hand if people slip up there is no point them beating themselves up over it. What’s done is done, and putting yourself through the wringer isn’t going to help. In fact in many ways it can make things worse. We tend to drink to relieve negative emotions and the guilt of falling off the wagon can be a further trigger to drink in and of itself. So all in all there’s little to be gained in berating someone for failing to stop.

But the problem is with this approach is that the less of a big deal you make of drinking again, the easier it is to do. Your commitment to stopping drinking is like a nail, upon which you hang your life of sobriety. Every time you start drinking again, you’re pulling the nail out of the wall, and your life of sobriety goes clattering down on the floor to be smashed to pieces. Then when you stop you bang the nail back in the same hole and try again. Then you start drinking again and out comes the nail. So what happens? The nail gets loser and loser as it keeps going into and coming out of the same hole. In the end it’s so loose it just falls out all the time.

There are several reasons for this. One is certainly. Allen Carr taught us over 35 years ago that certainty is a huge part in defeating addiction. The spiral of craving is you thinking about having a drink, about how nice it would be, how relaxing it will feel, how miserable you are without it, how all your problems will just miraculously drift away in a sea of euphoria if you were to just have that one drink. If you start thinking along these lines all you’re doing is torturing yourself and making yourself miserable. If you are absolutely certain that you’ll never have a drink again you don’t even waste time thinking about having a drink. You may think about alcohol generally, but you don’t seriously entertain the thought of actually having a drink. It is the latter, and not the former, that causes the craving.

If you are constantly stopping and starting then there is no certainty. If you have stopped a hundred times and started again, then why should the next time be any different? In fact all indications must be that this time you are as doomed to fail as all the other times, if not more so, because the certainty of your stopping decreases every time you fail to stop.

So how do you get round this? Well, you need to start all over again, to bang that nail in an entirely different place. Start afresh. Don’t use the same gaping hole you’ve used on the last 20 occasions. How do you do this?

Firstly, and most obviously, you need to analyse what went wrong. An argument with your partner, a social occasion, or you just finished work one day and wanted a drink. You need to sit down and think about that situation and think how you will react next time round knowing you cannot drink when it comes around again. Argument with a partner? Go out for a run or walk. Social occasion? Plan in your mind how much you will enjoy watching all the idiots lose control, how nice it will be to leave whenever you like and drive home, and when you get there to sleep well and wake up refreshed. Wanted a drink after work? Go home, sit on the sofa, watch a film, order a meal.

Plan for these occasions, plan for the one that made you fail, and any others you can think of that didn’t crop up but might have, and might cause you a problem.

This first point, in essence can be summed up in one word; PREPARE.

Secondly, when you stop, make it an occasion and make a proper commitment to it. Don’t go through the endless cycle of drink, hangover, remorse, stop, day 1, drink, hangover, remorse, stop, day 1, drink, etc etc. Cut that cycle dead. Give yourself a day when you will take your very last drink. Don’t go out that day, drink at home, on your own. Concentrate on every last syrupy, sickly, poisonous, disgusting mouthful of it. Use it to solidify in your mind the entire pointless miserable cycle of drinking. When you’ve had your fill and are ready for bed, take one last drink. Make a commitment at that point to never ever drink again. Promise yourself that whatever happens for the rest of your life, good times or bad, that you will never ever drink again. Know that if you do drink again that you have FAILED. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. You need to appreciate that this is a battle, you either win or you lose. If you drink again, you’ve lost. You cannot go in with the mind-set that if you drink again it’s no problem, you can just stop again. If you go in with that mind-set you’ve already failed. You make it far too easy to drink again and put off stopping to the next day. And the next, and the next. Before you know it 20 years will have gone by, 20 years you’ll never get back, and you’ll spent them puffy faced, bleary eyed, miserable, tired, overweight, riddled with anxiety, and hating yourself.

You need to get away from the idea that if you stop enough times something will eventually ‘click’ and it will all suddenly, miraculously, fall into place. Lots of people stop time and again and then suddenly crack it. But they don’t achieve this by repeating the same, tired, doomed to fail, formula. They get there by analysing, preparing, learning, thinking and improving. Thomas Edison supposedly tried and failed, over 1,000 times before inventing the lightbulb. Trust me, he didn’t just do the same thing 1,000 times or he’d never have got there. Allegedly, when asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he said;

“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Remember, a step is moving forward. Doing the same thing again isn’t a step, it’s languishing.

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14 Comments

  1. Amy

    This is definitely a post I needed to read. I’m at a year and 4 months and I’ve been having thoughts of drinking again. I haven’t given in but that inner battle has been reignited and it bugs me. I’m not sure why after all this time off I would even entertain thoughts of drinking again and believing it will be fine and that I’ll be able to moderate.
    I suppose it’s because I really haven’t fully bought in to never drinking again. I know I never want another day 1 though and I see all the positive changes in me so ??‍♀️ Anyway thanks.. maybe I need to read Jason Vale again!

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Wow perfect timing on the day one cycle! I had 21 yrs. of AF living and then thought I could moderate. So I basically have spent the last 4 1/2 years of my life trying to get off the merry-go-round again! I would get a couple months and then start off drinking again… it’s an exhausting cycle. I don’t want to waste anymore time Thinking about drinking! today is going to be My last day one. I am going to bring out more tools and be prepared To kick alcohol to the curb once and for all! I will listen to your audio book again as well as This Naked MindI’m going to do it! Thanks William!

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    I must agree wholeheartedly with William on this. the last time I drank, I knew only full well that it would give me that fleeting and very temporary buzz, knowing very well what was to follow. And it sure did-and then some!
    I must say something about ‘eurphoria’ – there are very real moments and strings of moments where euphoria is experienced. Not the least of which just the other day in the snow here in Vancouver Canada! We don’t get this often. I got out there and enjoyed the snowmen and people sledding and cross country skiing by the beach and all the happy fresh faces! Mine was one of them. When I run, which has been sidelined because of this snow, I experience euphoria which remains with me as I enrich all the good experiences that I can. The list goes on. It is indeed a decision for oneself, by oneself and for the great good of oneself. William, your words are always spot on! Thanks so much!

    Reply
  4. Patricia

    This was so helpful. I look forward to reading “Craving, Stopping Drinking”
    Just had a big slip.?

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  5. Chris power

    Absolutely amazing once again William Porter….what a guy an how you’ve helped me so much on my journey of sobriety ??✊? To date the most helpful book I have read in my entire life.There is no better description for alcohol other than POINTLESS!! ✌?

    Reply
  6. Fran

    I love this. I wish back in the day when I was stopping an starting I could have visualised that nail in the wall. Thank you x

    Reply
  7. Lark

    William,
    Thank you again. This is going to be my last time. It’s horrible what alcohol keeps doing to me. Yes, this will be the thousandth time. But this article may be the final straw of logic needed. Thank you for the encouragement your book and blog posts give.
    P.S. I recently read how the word “ Decide” means to completely cut off ALL options. Same root word in suicide, homocide, genocide, insecticide, fungicide, etc. A big help
    The key for me is to really decide!
    By definition decide.
    Cut off any other option.
    I know it can be done, and this time I’m gonna be positive about it.
    Keep up the writing

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Thank you William. Just what I needed to hear today.
    Decide and leave it!

    Reply
  9. Mark

    Hi , I’ve read your book , truly helped me , then read today’s post , just topped up my resolve to never drink again .longest time I’ve stopped in 30 years was 18 months. In between it was like you describe, stop , start , stop , start , after awhile not drinking , I thought oh , I can moderate now . So many times I did that just to go back to 6/7 nights a week , drinking to oblivion.im not an alcoholic , with this knowledge and information I’ve learned from reading your book and The naked mind I’ve rewired my brain and now I’m 100 days clean and don’t want a drink , but I will always be on my guard for the monster lurking in a weak moment . Thank you William !

    Reply
  10. Shelley

    I have wondered many times about the not beating yourself up philosophy…I can see both sides…a counselor once said to me…when you say you’ll try, you already set yourself up to fail… leaving yourself an out. I LOVE the nail in the wall analogy! I’m holding onto that!! It was nice to see you checking on your people in your group and providing guidance that so many of us need.

    Reply
  11. Tara

    Thank you. Very powerful.

    Reply
  12. Joanne Czarnik

    Wow- I feel like this was really what I needed to read! I have read it over now several times and will continue to do so over the next few days.

    Thank you for writing your book and continuing to post these excellent posts!

    Reply
  13. Joanne Czarnik

    Wow- I feel like this was really what I needed to read! I have read it over now several times and will continue to do so over the next few days.

    Thank you for writing your book and continuing to post these excellent posts!

    Reply
  14. Vicky

    Alan Carr got me sober for a short while 15 years ago and you did this for me a year and a half ago, William. Thank you for this and for your help when I struggled last year. You were kind And strong . This is a step further. Thank you . You are a life saver .

    Reply

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