One of the problems we encounter when stopping drinking for good is reconciling ourselves with the decision to never ever take a drink again. When we start drinking it all seems like sweetness and light. We have fun evenings out, hangovers are manageable and even the bad ones we take on the chin and see them as a right of passage, something to laugh about and be proud of.
Over the years we start to think that drinking takes far more than it gives, and this creates the desire to stop. However although it creates the desire to stop, for most of us it doesn’t give us the key to stopping. This is because our mind-set at this time is that although the bad outweighs the good, there is still good to it. The main problem is that we get the good, then the bad the following day. When our lives become a struggle we couldn’t care less about the following day, what we want is some relief from our problems NOW (be these substantial and very real problems, or just the stresses and strains of everyday life that sometimes just seem to build up and build up until we just want a few minutes relief from them, to feel carefree and happy, just like we did when we were younger).
These are the years we tend to yo-yo between drinking and not drinking. We want some relief, we want it now, we don’t care how we feel tomorrow we just want to feel carefree and happy and young again. So we have the drink. Then the next day we feel miserable and regret drinking. Because people keep jumping from one to the other they start to question their own sanity, they think there is something deeply wrong with them. How can you want to drink so badly one minute, then regret it so bitterly the next? In fact there is nothing incomprehensible or insane about it, we do something that is in principle identical to this virtually every day of our lives, sometimes several times a day. Indeed it is a central facet of our society. It is called CAPITALISM, or to use a term that most people are more familiar with, SHOPPING.
When we buy something we exchange money for goods. We swop something we want for something else we want. We don’t like parting with money, but we do it to get the thing we want. Most of the times when we buy something we pay upfront, we swop the money for what we want in a single transaction. Often when we buy something it is tangible and lasts for some time. We get it and keep it for a while. But this is not always the case. Think for example of paying for a holiday on a credit card or getting out a loan to pay for it. You go on holiday and have all the pleasure, then when the holiday is over you then have to go through the pain of paying for it.
This is essentially what we are doing during these years of stopping and starting. We are getting some relief from the stresses and strains of life, but then the next day we are having to pay for it. There is nothing insane about wanting the relief but then not enjoying paying for it, in the same way you wouldn’t consider yourself insane just because you enjoyed the holiday but didn’t enjoy receiving the credit card bill afterwards.
However the lucky few move on from this stage. They get away from ‘the good outweighs the bad’ which is the stage of drinking then regretting it, and move onto a stage where they understand that there is no ‘good’ at all. This is the main purpose of Alcohol Explained (and indeed many other books on the same subject). If you can get to the stage of understanding that alcohol provides no boost at all, then this is the key to actually allow you to stop. The desire to drink has gone, and so has the addiction.
However there is another element, another stage if you will. This is reconciling yourself to your decision to never ever drink again. Over the years we tend to use alcohol as our outlet, our pressure valve, it is the thing we use to relieve the stresses and strains of life. These can be huge, monumental and life changing calamities, or they may just be the constant minor stresses and strains that form the background noise to our lives; bills, kids, upkeep of the house and work. However as we get older we also face other things, things like contemplating our own mortality, contemplating our parents mortality, realising that our hopes and dreams are probably never going to come true, realising that the unrewarding life we have fallen into (usually more by accident than by design) is as good as it is going to get, accepting that we’ve had our best years and now all we have to look forward to is the downhill slog to the grave.
For years we’ve believed that alcohol relieved these fears, pressures and worries, and allowed us, for a few minutes, to feel like we (think we) did when we were young; carefree and happy. In our minds we link drinking to nothing less than being able to return to our youth, to accept our mortality, to accept our lives without resentment.
Understanding that alcohol has caused rather than relieved these fears provides the key to our freedom, but for some there is a feeling that in removing drinking we have removed our ability to feel carefree again. To shrug off the stresses and strains of life and to feel young and bold again. These are generally people who can see the benefits of stopping, who understand how alcohol fools us into believing that it is giving to us when in fact it is only taking and partially restoring, but who still struggle with the concept of never, ever drinking again. On one level they feel that they have given up their ability to shrug off the worries of the world and to feel young again. Stopping drinking feels like cutting off a link to their younger, happier, selves.
This is a subtle but a key point, and in essence is exactly the same mechanism as every other aspect of alcohol. Alcohol at the very least disturbs our sleep, prevents us from absorbing key nutrients, interferes with the delicate chemical balance of our minds, and for all these reasons leaves us far less mentally resilient than we would otherwise be. This causes us to worry about things we wouldn’t ordinarily worry about, and to worry far more about those things that would ordinarily worry us. It then partially anaesthetises those fears and thus provides the illusion of relieving worry, when in actuality it has either caused it, or has greatly exacerbated it in the first place. Alcohol doesn’t make you feel young, it makes you feel old, but then partially relieves that feeling. It doesn’t relieve fears and worries; it increases them and then partially relieves that increase.
The feeling of being young again, of being carefree, of facing your own mortality and accepting the course your life is running, and accepting all these things with a sense of humour and an appreciation of the ridiculous, comes from mental resilience, self-confidence and self-assurance. These are all things that alcohol robs you of and then partially restores. These are things you can only fully obtain from weeks of good quality sleep, of allowing your body to absorb all the key nutrients it needs, and above all by no longer interfering with your brains delicate chemical balance.
Very good material; thank you for the work you are doing to educate us.
Boy did this hit home! Thank you.
Wow I needed this today! Thank you!
Thank you, thank you this hits home for me too!!!
Thank you for putting the effort into writing the truth about drinking and more.
Thank you for serving our country.
This is so true. I appreciate your amazing insight and ability to write this down for so many of us to read and take in. Thank you !
Perfect timing for me this – thanks v much 🙂
Fantastic article! I print these out then stick them in my Alcohol Explained book (paperback) and continue to highlight and ‘study’, as it were. Bedtime reading! Thank you, a million times over!
This is the best!! You are so right! I’m almost at 8 months Alcohol free and I see a big difference in my anxiety levels! I worry far less and I’m more confident! Sleeping soooooooo much better! I am one of the people you described in this post! Thank you! ????????????????????????????????☺️
Wow I was get to g depressed there for a minute as we went down the road to meaningless life and mortality… but you brought it back and inspired me once again to a desire for great health and mentel resilience. Great article.
This article met me right where I am. Thank you for your book and for this blog.
Great article… I loved the shopping/vacation analogy. You make an excellent point! We like to get, we don’t like to pay!
This is a really important and insightful post. Thanks Will.
I’ve read such a lot about alcohol and joined groups and paid money online and I feel so positive at first. I’ve done 46 days 50 days and 30 days af and various smaller amounts but I keep on going back to it. I understand what you’re saying and you really explain it well. I’m 69 and I really want to give up for health reasons and I KNOW it makes you feel so much better mentally but when I feel like that I think ???? oh I can just have a couple- always in company not at home alone- and then I do that too often in one week and try to quit again. I can’t find the lasting resolve. Thanks for your book. It’s the clearest explanation of the effect of alcohol that I’ve read. My dad was an alcoholic and an aunt died from it and I’ve got a sister and a niece who are. Happy days ????
Thank you so much for yet another well explained article. I so agree with thoughts and there is a sadness in that each if us us entirely responsible for where we find ourselves on our path through life. The word courage comes to mind here. I am finding the courage to be totally responsible for all of my life, each moment and decision. The only way I can do that is by being AF. Now I stop blaming life, others and anything else.
Your insight is always spot on. When I gave up alcohol I felt so vulnerable that ‘banter’ style comments that I will now be really boring scared me. But it also galvanised me to really analyse what they were saying – was I boring in my teens when I didn’t drink? Not at all – far from it. It was a bit of a light bulb moment and completely changed my attitude to a life without alcohol. It was a gradual process but I am closer to that teenager than ever in my adult life. Now the comments are not how boring I am but more along the lines of ‘are you sure you haven’t had a drink?’ !!
Great article. I so agree with you Victoria as well. I have now been AF for 6 months and I feel so much more like my younger pre-drinking self than when I was chasing that care-free feeling with alcohol! I just keep telling myself that I am getting back to my youth, just the one before the booze! Keep up the good work William, your book has done so much for me. It made me realise that if I were to start again, I would just be back to where I left off. This realisation is keeping me from drinking ever again, and yes it is a scary thought sometimes but I am feeling so much better now than ever before.
Fantastic top shelf book.
I have now found your website and am absorbed in the blogs
This blog so resonates with me.
Brilliant William Porter.