Falling off the Wagon

One of the reasons we tend to drink far too much when we fall off the wagon is because alcohol isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; we exaggerate the effects in our mind and build it up to be the elixir of life when all it really is, is a drug in a drink form. It’s the waste product of yeast. Or yeast shit, to put it bluntly. We give up our lives, money, relationships and self-respect to consume bacteria turd. But turning back to falling off the wagon, let’s examine the process in a bit more detail.

Let’s say you’ve stopped drinking and you have a really terrible day. You just want to take the edge off it. You think a drink will do that; it will take you from feeling utterly miserable to actually feeling happy and positive. You think of all the times you were happy and drinking, and you want that back. So you have a drink.

If that drink actually made you happy and you really wouldn’t have the need or desire for another would you? If you went from misery to happiness you’d be good to go. Sure, you might want another when the first drink started to wear off and the happiness started to wear off, but there’d be no great urgency to it.

But this isn’t what happens at all is it? That fact of the matter is that when we’re drinking regularly we simply yo-yo between the withdrawal and relieving the withdrawal. When we’re not drinking we suffer the withdrawal and we feel miserable and anxious, and when we drink we relieve the withdrawal and fee much better (or how we’d feel all the time if we’d never drunk to begin with). So alcohol does seem to relieve stress. Let’s say we are plodding through life, and something bad happens causing five points of aggravation. We already have five points of aggravation from the withdrawal. So we have 10 points of aggravation. We have a drink, and we get rid of the 5 points caused by the withdrawal. Of course we don’t analyse it to this extent. All we know is we’ve suffered a blow and alcohol has made us feel far better.

So even though it’s an illusion, we do genuinely feel better for a drink when we are drinking regularly.

The problem is that when you’ve stopped for any period, you have no withdrawal to relieve. Of course your subconscious doesn’t know that. It just knows a drink seems to help when things get bad. So when things get bad you immediately want a drink.

So if you’ve stopped for a bit, and you have a bad day and have a drink, the problem is that you have no physical withdrawal to relieve. So you are miserable and unhappy, you take a drink expecting to feel loads happier, but you don’t. You still feel miserable and unhappy, but now you feel slightly dulled and miserable and unhappy, in fact even more miserable and unhappy because you’ve started drinking again. So what to do? Well there’s two trains of thought, both leading to the same station.

The first is when we’re telling ourselves that we’re just having the one drink to take the edge off things. In that case we think that the drink we had didn’t do what we wanted because maybe it wasn’t strong enough, or there wasn’t enough of it. So we take another, and another and another, and so we go on as the drink continues to not have the effect we want. The other train of thought is where we didn’t drink to just have one drink, we started drinking again to get trashed. In which case the one drink doesn’t do what we wanted it to, nor does the second or third or fourth, but pretty soon we’re hammered anyway so we don’t really know what’s going on.

Either way we don’t get what we wanted, which was some substantial relief from the misery. But of course we were never going to get that because the drink only ever gave us relief from that element of the misery that was caused by the chemical withdrawal. Which we didn’t have in the first place as we’ve not been drinking for some days. So we drink and drink, we go from dulled to inebriated to utterly insensible, but what we don’t get is the lovely feeling of clarity and peace and confidence and happiness that we believed that drink would give us.

The annoying thing is that we still pay for it the next day. We get a hangover and all the anxiety and self disgust and misery, but we didn’t actually get the relief we were after in the first place. We pay the full price of admission without actually enjoying the show. But the next day we do get the withdrawal, because we drank the day before, so then when we take a drink we’re off and away. And so off we go again round and round on the merry go round we were looking to escape from in the first place.

When you stop drinking life is better, but no life is perfect. You’ll still have bad days. But if you’ve stopped for any length of time, a drink won’t even give you the illusion of offering you any relief. I don’t have the answer to your problems, and if you can’t find that answer yourself you may just have to suffer them. But I do know one thing from personal experience, a drink won’t help your problems, and if you’ve been off the drink for any length of time a drink won’t even take the edge off them. In fact all a drink will do is make you feel a whole lot worse.

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24 Responses

  1. Hi
    I have been 18 days alcohol free and if I hadn’t read this email I would have been off out buying and tomorrow would have been another wasted day
    So thanks so much

  2. Me too Carol. Me too. Took a quick swig of my husband’s brandy last night after 23 dry days. Just an irresistible urge in a weak moment. Boy did I need this message today. Thank you William.

  3. So so true I keep going months and months without a drink and life is amazing then bang I take a drink and the drink takes me ….I will drink for a few days chasing something that can’t be caught then bang I click out of it and do another sober stretch so frustrating

  4. If you can manage to resist, I find the most rewarding days are the ones where you were tired and irritated the night before and really wanted a drink but resisted. The next morning you feel so thankful and re-amazed at how wonderful not drinking is. This was me Friday night and I’ve had a great weekend. Even when life gets tricky you can’t beat your sober perspective to look after you and work it out. (106 days and counting…)

  5. Great nudge again William. It is sharing thoughts like that remind you of why you stop and why you want to stay Alcohol free. Once the regular habit, say the weekend gets broken the days roll into months. Then Christmas is here and you volunteer to drive for the office party everyone accepts that you are driving and no one questions your decision. New year well what happened last year? Bit of a non event fireworks went off corks exploded shout and holler for five minutes: old cokey cokey taxi home: HOW MUCH! Then the questions are asked. Why does my head hurt so? Who has puked in my room? On and on the questions go. Then the statements begin like, never again.
    Am now past all that and have just done a birthday with the milestone in three days of a year sober. So a year done! So thank you William. Once it was explained why and then what, was happening, it was apparent, it was messing me up. So I decided that life is to short to have all it’s wonders dulled. So, be strong. Remember the danger of those “Oh F it, let’s have a beer/bottle. Just remember what Williams says in the book. Life is good.

  6. William you are brilliant at getting the message across.
    Keep the emails coming.
    I also love the comments. Thanks. Xx

  7. Fabulous thinking yet again. I refer to your writing on alcohol a lot to people who ask me why I’ve stopped drinking. I haven’t looked back but I’ve had some interesting close calls, such as just the other day sitting with my partner at the kitchen table. He drinks a few cans of beer in the evening, it is holidays, I’m relaxed and I unconsciously reached over to grab the can on the table and take a swig. I couldn’t believe it! I’m 101 days AF. I resisted but having this visual of chasing the effect will assist in making an informed decision in moments like these.

  8. This email came just at the right time. Am caregiving my boyfriend with terminal cancer. The chemo reaction days are the worst. 4 months sober and started to drink the wine again. Just as you stated, I paid dearly for it. Back to not drinking and just focusing on the little things in life. Thinking, how can I willingly trash, waste my life while he is so desperately clinging to his. Thank you for your email. Your book is my go to reference when I’m feeling like I just want to numb everything. Your emails really do help.

  9. Thank you, William! I had 108 days af and made the wrong decision to drink over this Easter weekend! Feeling absolutely horrible about myself again and am scared I won’t make it! I really don’t want to drink and i know and understand the body and brain reactions and i still did this to myself! Getting on the horse again !!!

    1. I came close too this weekend. I think it was the sunshine. Good luck and remember that it was just one day out of 108, plus the rest of the year. Don’t beat yourself up, you’re doing amazingly well x

  10. I definitely fell under the new DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) alcohol guideline’s severe  band, ticking 6 of the 11 symptoms listed. These included “have you more than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to but couldn’t?” If you say yes to the question “ in the past year  (note: year, not week)  “have you had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?” you qualify as suffering from full-blown AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder).   

  11. I’m 67. I have been drinking alcohol since I was 17. Never a heavy drinker. 2 to 3 Beers a night during the week. More on weekends 3-4 Beers with 1-2 hard drinks. So I would not say this is heavy drinking, but it was very consistent over many years. So I actually got to a point where I was just not enjoying the drink very much and decided to quit. I’m about 5 days dry, but incredibly tired. I’m reading that this is somewhat typical, but the ‘fatigue degree’ feels like this would apply to much heavier drinkers. Or is 30 years of consistent drink really ‘heavy drink? Would like some perspective here. Also, any time range estimates for when this goes away? Thanks

    1. Have a look on the website on the article about how long it takes to feel better when you stop drinking. It’s completely normal. And 2 or 3 drinks a day is more then enough to trigger this.

  12. Every time I stop drinking I’m exhausted for at least 2 to 3 weeks afterwards. I’m not sure if it is because my brain chemistry is screwed up or what. What does William think?

    1. Have a look at the article on the website about how long it takes to feel better after you stop drinking, particularly stage 3.

  13. My husband has been AF for almost 17 years, would’ve been 17 in 2 days. But I caught him drinking last night. Couldn’t believe my eyes.

    1. Yikes!!! Did he give you a reason??? I had stopped for 5 years and started up. Continued on for 15 more years. Now I’m at almost 2 years. Will not make that mistake again. Not worth it. Hopefully, your husband will decide it’s not worth it either.

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

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Alcohol Explained

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