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.