Monday, 18 April 2016

Relapse Stories

I get many heart breaking e-mails from people who've quit booze for months, even years, at a time, but then are lured by the dream of 'moderation' back into drinking.

Within weeks they're back to square one.

I've been there too, and yet - even now, after thirteen months of not drinking, I still get haunted by that false promise.

In fact, in some ways it gets harder as, with time, the bad memories fade, and you're only left with the rose tinted ones.

It goes like this: You're overreacting! You were never a 'proper alcoholic'. Now you've 'reset' your relationship with booze and you can drink 'normally'. You're aware now, you know more. You'll never let yourself get into that position again....

I find that what helps me the most when I start thinking like this, is to hear the stories of people who've listened to the wine witch and picked up a drink after a good, long sober stretch.

Because it's never pretty. There's never a happy ending.

So, I'm hoping that any of you who've been there, done that, can comment below, so that all of us who need an extra boost once in a while can read those cautionary tales and find strength in them.

(If you're having problems commenting, then go to Blogger.com and set up a user profile. It's completely anonymous, and can be under any name you like. Then you can comment on any Blogger websites, and even set up your own blog).

To kick things off, here's mine:

My only other long sober stretch was about three years ago. I was getting increasingly troubled by my relationship with booze, and how it seemed to be dominating my life. I desperately wanted to cut down. So I read Jason Vale.

By the end of the book I'd completely changed my view of alcohol. I realised that cutting down wasn't going to work for me - it never had in the past - and that I really could go alcohol free.

So I quit. For nearly two months. I joined Soberistas.com, but that was really the extent of my involvement in the sober world.

Then I had a bad day. I drove for a solid nine hours to Scotland with three squabbling children and a cooped up terrier.

When I, finally, arrived, I thought I really deserved just one glass of wine. After all, I'd reset my relationship with booze now. I knew how dangerous it was. I'd be cautious. Aware.

Within an hour or two I'd drunk the whole bottle! And after two months sober the after effects were ghastly.

Still, I wasn't worried. It was a good lesson. And, indeed, I didn't drink again for a whole week. When I had two glasses. See! Moderation in action!

Suffice to say, that within a month I was back to drinking just as much as before. And the amount kept creeping up, millilitre by millilitre.

It took two whole years for me to find the resolve to quit again. And this time it was harder. Much harder.

So, I know that it's just not worth it. I know that I'd only end up back at the beginning, and that from there the trajectory is in one direction: down.

And yet, sometimes I still hear that voice saying after more than a year you really must have cracked it....

Which is why I'm asking you to share your stories too. Because stories really do have the power to change the world.

Love SM x

49 comments:

  1. Yes I need to hear too. Will be a year on 11th May for me and I still don't think in terms of forever. I don't have a daily battle with thoughts of drinking but it's there. ....

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  3. All my relapse stories date before I really got sober in 2004. But 2003 - 2004 I had relapses all the time. I continually stopped drinking thinking I could get the hang of control the next time I started but continually I'd have one or two the first day then... boom a day or a week later with increasingly difficult to predict timing I was back on it as bad as before - often worse! It became this nightmare relapse wheel. Stop... wait a few days or weeks. Convince self I was ok. Have one or two. Rapidly rise to the 15 or so a day. Try to get a grip and get control. Then stop... repeat ad nauseam!
    The first does the damage - when I heard that it was so flipping obvious really!

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  4. Sounds all too familiar SM. I have heard this over and over in AA meetings. We think we can have just one or two, moderate and then boom it becomes worse. I ended up drinking much more and getting very sick. It's an illusion that is a dangerous one. We have to realize it's the addiction (wine witch) that tells us we don't have one.

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  5. I stopped drinking 3x in 3 years including this time. Both the other times were for about a month. Both of those times did not have the goal of quitting. The goal was to reset so that I could drink normally again. I am part of a moderation online group so I had done a ton of work on dealing with triggers and learning to cope. Despite all of that, Within a week I was back to previous drinking levels. I really thought I was special. That I could be the special one who only needed two drinks a night. They would be my treat after a long day. My antidepressant since real antidepressant didn't work. Yes I kept drinking down to 2 drinks a night on several occasions, but it always bounced way back up despite all of my hard work to learn about moderation. I've watched so many in my moderation group do so well with abstaining for a long period of time to reset only to do the same thing I did.

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    1. OMG! I really thought I was special too! When I tried to quit other times and then went back and started at 1 or 2 per night, I thought I had it! Little did I know!!! Your "special" line really hit home for me. Thank you for the reminder that I am NOT special when it comes to wine!

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    2. I know huh? I've seen others say they thought they were special too. Turns out none of us are special. And maybe that's a good thing. Because once we realize it, we end up here. No alcohol and ultimately a much better life. THAT's when we are really special and brave and courageous and health and awesome!

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    3. Btw for me antidepressants accelerated my drinking and increased the effects. I believe it tipped me over to the disease. There is a warning label on all of them stating this. If you take them do not drink!

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  6. I started trying to cut down in 2014 then did Dry July. 31 days AF seemed HUGE to me!! Then I started drinking again but as like you have all said, within not time I was back to nightly drinking. 10 days after I started drinking again I stopped for a month, then took it up again. And so a pattern emerged. I would manage months AF here and there but I would always succumb to the wine witch. One of my problems was that I couldn't face the idea of forever. Now I try not to think about it and take each day as it comes. I'm up to 148 days this time and I don't ever want to go back to who I was when I was drinking. I am interested in hearing what others say too. It seems thought that there is a common thread - we all thought we could moderate after a sober stretch but it's just not possible. I hope that has sunk into my brain this time!! A x

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    1. Oh, this sounds just like me! Except I'm on day 3 not day 148...great job on 148 days!

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  7. I gave up for 6 months when my mum passed away. I would have been under Hammersmith Bridge with a cardboard box otherwise. Interesting I associate that with rock bottom alcohol wise rather than the endless blackouts that followed when I did resume drinking again.
    I remember the day I started again so clearly. The Husband was being super annoying, I was stressed with resulting child care issues plus I was convinced not drinking was dull and depriving me of life.
    All the usual stories to myself "I've changed my relationship with wine." "I'm different now" etc etc. Within about 12 weeks I was back to square one then in the subsequent months worse than.
    Anxiety through the roof and then load on top of that the grief phases, recipe for disaster.
    In some ways I am glad I've gone through that as I know returning to drink does not work xx

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  8. Thank you for your post. I have been thinking about this a lot during the past week or two, perhaps it is something in the spring air that makes us think we will be fine if we just try a drink and give moderation a go. I will share my story so that perhaps you won’t want to try it.

    About three years ago I quit drinking for a year, I felt great and it was actually quite easy to quit. I was not what one would consider a “huge” drinker, I probably drank less than most, but my body just can’t handle alcohol, it never has. So three years ago I woke up and felt disgusted with myself and quit. After a year I decided my body was clean enough and I could start drinking moderately again, because I had obviously never had a problem to begin with. I talked to my husband, we decided I would only drink on Fridays and Saturdays, etc, I made all the planning you can imagine (this from the person that did not have a problem!!). Like many of the stories you hear, it all worked fine for a few months. Then it all went down hill. I became obsessed, thinking about when and how much I could drink (I loved your post on “reasons to quit #8- because it is easier”, so true), until I got to the point that I was hiding my drinks. Remember, “I don’t even drink that much”, sometimes it was “only” two glasses a night, others nothing and others a whole bottle, but with that I felt physically and emotionally terrible, and I was hiding because I was not keeping my end of the deal. I got back to the point where it was difficult to wake up in the morning and do anything. So, back in December 2015, two years after I started “moderately” drinking again, I decided to quit. And please pay attention because this time around it has been physically VERY difficult. When I quit the first time I was 40 yrs old, I was tired during the first few weeks after I quit but nothing significant. This time, I am 43 not that much difference in age, BUT unlike the first time I have been exhausted, I have not lost weight, I am feeling and looking better but very, very slowly. The second time around recovery is much, much, much, much more difficult and definitely slower. I had read somewhere that if you clean your body and then drink again and then try to clean it again it is very difficult, I did not pay attention, and it is true. Please believe it :)

    Also as one gets thoughts of drinking again, we always have that voice telling us we were not “proper alcoholics”, because we did not do this or that. And this reminds me of a book I recently read “The end of average”, and although not referring to alcohol consumption, I think it can be applied (like everything else!). The author makes a point that the assumption that we use metrics to compare ourselves to an average and that this might reveal something about us is flawed. The book gets a bit technical about how we have used averages for everything in our lives, but I came to apply it to my drinking. If one were to say you are an alcoholic if you are within these set parameters, many of us would probably not fit in as “proper alcoholics” and would see this as permission to drink again. However, in my case I have to remember how I am personally feeling when I drink vs when I don’t drink alcohol (independent of the amount and if this amount is considered normal) - I have no need to compare myself to others or fill out questionnaires to determine if I fall with in a parameter that defines me as a “proper alcoholic”, I just know everything about me is better when I don’t drink.

    OK. I never post and this went a bit long!!
    Thank you for writing everyday! :)

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    1. What a great and thought provoking post. x

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    2. I can totally endorse your experience. I stopped for a year seven years ago at the age of 47, after watching my father drink himself to death. I was a party animal but never someone who drank every day. It was a huge success and I looked and felt my best ever. But then I thought I was maybe a bit boring at boozy girls' lunches and parties. Perhaps I could drink at those? After all, I'm a strong and determined person - it will be easy(HA!). And then it was, this is a pretty boring weekend, feeling a bit fed up, maybe I can just buy a bottle for the weekend? And so the drinking levels grew again. Since then, indeed probably forever, I've known the time will come when I will stop finally. And when I started to experience bad perimenopausal symptoms.that was my signal to stop. It has been MUCH more difficult this time, even though I was "only" drinking 3 or 4 bottles of wine a week at most. I have been exhausted and have mainlined sugar. No weight loss here so far! I know it will get better but I don't want to go through this again. And I much prefer being sober. I wish us all success.

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    3. So that's why I am falling asleep early in the evening and dragging myself about a bit. Thank you so much for posting this SM and Waxwing. I can now relax into recovery mode. I am on about day 18 after having over a year messing around with moderation. I was always destined to give the moderation game a try because I did not stop forever, I stopped to regain control (hahaha). I didn't go back to drinking as much as I used to but only because I was so aware of how rubbish it made me feel - even small amounts. Despite this awareness I have found it incredibly difficult to get up the impetus and refind the mindset to make being sober sustainable. I believe I am now there and your blog SM has played no small part in that. Thanks again x

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    4. All these stories are amazing and thank you everyone for sharing. I quit about 4 months ago and am now wondering if I could just be a "social" drinker, so thank you all for saving me the trouble of having to quit AGAIN. Bookmarking this post to read over and over!

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  9. As you can see from my blog, my goal is one year. I once went 10 months a few years back, but then, out of the blue, decided to have a drink just to monitor what affect it had on me now. I really told myself this. I would see how it affected me and report back to the rest of the world. I had two drinks instead, and continued to drink for THREE MORE YEARS without going more than a few months without drinking. They are completely wasted years. It took that long for me to get myself re-motivated to quit. It's so much more difficult to get the momentum going.

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  10. Ok here goes, I have been trying and failing to stop drinking since the end of 2013. I have managed numerous 2 months, 3 months, almost 5 months, but never longer. All I do is drink and give up...over and over. Every time I try to moderate, I fail. I set rules that I never stick to. I look for loop holes, like if I say I'm going a year without wine, can I still have the occasional beer? Can I take annual leave of say a week or two a year from being sober, because being sober is a job and surely I deserve a break, right?

    Going to an event last year I thought 'it's silly to put restrictions on myself, I'll just have a drink tonight and start again tomorrow', after 12 weeks sober I didn't start again for another 3 months.

    I did 65 days this year and am now on day 3. It's never ending. Yes, I think it's easy to forget how crappy you feel. You don't notice that you no longer feel mildly sick all the time, or that you are sleeping better. You don't notice all the extra things you have been doing, reading, walking, swimming whatever it may be, until you start drinking again and it all stops.

    I'm sure none of you in longer sobriety miss having this conversation with yourself at 3am 'Ok, this has to stop, you will not drink tomorrow, no way'...7am in the shower 'I will not drink today, I need a break...gee I feel sick'...4 pm 'hmmm, I know I said I wouldn't drink tonight but...'

    Please don't forget not sticking to your own goals for even one day! I'm sure lots of us have been there.

    Like Belle says...if you have some sober momentum, you don't mess with it.

    I hope to learn this one day, but for now I'm on day 3...one day at time. I'm so envious of people who make it to a year or more. I wish it could be me.

    P.S I'm glad to hear the Jason Vale book helped, my order has been shipped and should arrive any day :)

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  12. Thanks for this post, and for all of the relapse stories in the comments. I'm on day 135, happily sober, but I can imagine moderation thoughts trying to sneak in through nooks and crannies. I've pinned this to my secret sober pinterest board, adding it to my other weapons against the wine witch!

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  13. This is a great post. Well done sober mummy. I went without for just over five years. I stopped for about six months before I got pregnant with number 1, stayed sober until well after number 2. Cue wine witch.

    I met some other mummys who drank fancy wine moderately. So I joined them. It was ok at first but alcohol doesn't relax me it fires me up. I want more and more and more. Of course I naturally found my equals who would also drink glass after glass after glass. I knew that I wasn't in control but it took nearly two years to stop again.

    I'm about 2 months sober and I really struggle in social situations. I haven't fessed up to quitting again and I'm always making excuses. It's really hard. I've even had my friends tell me how great I am when drinking. I'm fun, carefree, crack hilarious jokes which makes it even harder. But I know deep down my truth. Alcohol takes me to a dark, unmotivated place full of apologies and self-loathing.

    I'm looking forward to the day where I feel comfotable in my sober skin in social occassions again.

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  14. Great post SM, you have helped and inspired me so much. This is my day 3 after going 34 days and then relapsing. That awful voice in my head saying "I deserve a glass of wine" as if I've ever had A glass in my life! The litany of why: because divorced, raising 2 kids alone, one with special needs, a career that while successful is also stressful. I'm finally realizing that I'm a good person so no I don't deserve to wake up feeling miserable and ashamed and exhausted. I slept through the entire night last night and woke up refreshed and optimistic. I'm going to come back and read your post when that vicious voice in my head starts telling me I deserve a drink.

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  15. After several dry Januarys I would adopt a policy of moderation - just weekends, just when socialising etc etc. But slowly and surely old habits returned, if anything a bit worse each time. The best thing about being completely AF is never having to think about moderating. Sticking to the moderation plan became,for me, a constant and exhausting mental battle. Although I do still struggle with the idea of 'forever' - I know that the decision to stop completely is totally liberating.

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  16. After several dry Januarys I would adopt a policy of moderation - just weekends, just when socialising etc etc. But slowly and surely old habits returned, if anything a bit worse each time. The best thing about being completely AF is never having to think about moderating. Sticking to the moderation plan became,for me, a constant and exhausting mental battle. Although I do still struggle with the idea of 'forever' - I know that the decision to stop completely is totally liberating.

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  17. This is the timeliest post ever ... I'm 280 days (40 weeks) sober, and I just ... can't deal with it. I'm ready to chuck it all. Thank you for all your stories of not sticking with it and being unable to moderate. It makes an impression. Sigh.

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    1. Keep going Ulla. You're just having a dip (we all do). Just try to remember how bad it got when you were drinking. If you drink again guaranteed you will end up feelibg bad again.You've done amazingly well - keep going.

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    2. Keep going Ulla. You're just having a dip (we all do). Just try to remember how bad it got when you were drinking. If you drink again guaranteed you will end up feelibg bad again.You've done amazingly well - keep going.

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    3. Hi Ulla, I'm 7 months (around 31 weeks) and I have the same thoughts. I am tired of dealing with it and am hanging on by my fingernails. Keep re-reading the stories above to find more motivation. Started exercising yesterday to give myself a boost. Going to renew my library card today. We can do it!

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    4. Thank you, both of you :-) You are right, of course, but one thing is knowing that, another is not going crazy. Getting some exercise is a great idea, Blue Moon. That would lift my spirits :-)

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    5. Ulla and Blue Moon, I had a rough time around 7-9 mnths. Yoga helped me a lot, it was the only thing that could stop the "crazy train". Hang in there, it will get easier, I just celebrated one year and I feel things are starting to come together.

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    6. Huge hug to you Ulla! You've been doing so well, and are always so positive, so I hate to hear you feeling so down. Is it PAWS, or has it been going on for longer than a few days? Hang on in there, we're all with you xxx

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    7. Oh, it's been going on for a few weeks. I can't put my finger on it, actually. We've had some challenges with the kids, but those are mostly behind us now, and they don't seem to affect it. I'll just have to grit my teeth. Maybe it's the spring - I always associated drinking with the good life, good times etc., and being happy about the good weather is bound to bring an urge for wine, I guess - which I just realized now. That must be it. I'll have to figure out another way to celebrate spring and summer coming.

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  19. Thanks again SM. Worrying temptations and PAWS this week. Sound advice above and scary just how fine a line we tread.

    Justonemore

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  20. I decided to be sober in 2014--to recalibrate. Except! for when I was traveling because who wants to be a kill joy at the destination wedding in colombia. I made it almost six months, was going to take a week off, then back at it. Well, the back at it never came. And it was a bitch to start over ten months later. But I did and 4/29 is my one year anniversary! Whenever I start thinking about moderating, I tell myself I'd rather forget about drinking..get to the point where I could but I'd rather not. And that comes from one place only--long-term abstinence. It is possible. I feel that way (detached) from cigarettes and I used to love them. So I'm holding out for that.

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  21. 15 December 2013 (after nearly 400 days of sobriety) I decided that I didn't want to miss the 'fun' of Christmas, and that I was going to drink - in moderation - over the festive period and then stop after New Year's Eve. Easy. And so many people give up on 1 January, there'd be no reason for me not to stop again....

    Fast forward to 5 January 2016. That festive period lasted three years, and the moderation very quickly turned into two bottles of wine a night, sometimes more. And the fun soon turned into self-hatred, depression, weight gain, hangovers and everything else that alcohol involves.

    Believe it. Abstinence rules. And - I love this quote - there's nothing so bad that alcohol doesn't make it worse.

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    1. If your dates are right, it's 'only' two years, but still. Point well taken.

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  23. Hello all, I am on day 26 of what I plan to be my last go at being a non drinker ...moderation, does not work for me. And each attempt has proven to send me further off the rails each time..finding.this blog and all you strong supportive people has truly made the difference to my mindset. I am hoping to draw on my experience of stopping smoking decades ago, but it still remember the battle...After many attempts I finally stopped and was doing fine for two years, then my boyfriend starting smoking at parties..late 1980s. I thought I could do the same, within weeks I was smoking more than I had done before I gave up,,it took 7 tortuous months to stop again..have never smoked since. I have an all or nothing personality...so it has to be nothing...and it feels like freedom....:)

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    1. Hi PhoenixRising! Welcome and huge congrats on 26 days. You know, the more time goes on the more I realise that my experience quitting drinking has been spookily similar to quitting cigarettes. And, like you, I quit smoking for a year then started trying to 'smoke socially' and within a few weeks was worse than before. It took me years to quit again. I'm exactly the same with booze. All or nothing ;-) x

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  24. Thanks SM, strangely it gives me confidence that I managed to stop smoking..I just became a non-smoker..simples ....!! Joking... I am now a non-drinker....just have to get used to the new me and so do others...x

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    1. Oh yikes, Mrs Mac, I was trying to reply to your brilliant post on my iPhone and my fat thumb accidentally deleted it! I'm so sorry! Do you by any chance have the energy to repost it? It was really helpful! So sorry!!!

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    2. What MrsMac said:

      I'm on day 22 (not for the first time). I really hope anyone who is thinking about drinking again reads these posts, as they all speak the truth.
      When I decided to start drinking again, I truly believed it was going to be different. I absolutely did not want to go back to downing a bottle or two of wine a night, every night. I enjoyed being sober and was determined to be the social moderate drinker - I definitely went into it with my eyes wide open.
      Well, it all started off good. However, somewhere, down the (not very long) line, I was back to drinking a bottle or more of wine and hiding more and more bottles from my husband, so my drinking didn't look as bad as it was. Somehow, I also started drinking vodka because in my deranged way of thinking it didn't look as obvious how much I was drinking! I was exhausted. I was so disappointed in myself but it still took nearly 6 more months for me to find the energy and the right mindset to stop drinking again.
      So now, when I hear that voice in my head telling me I should have a drink because it'll be different this time or I wasn't that bad. I'm going to read my post and all these other amazing posts and say to that voice “liar!”

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    3. Thanks so much for finding this and reposting, Ulla! And apologies again Mrs Mac! X

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  27. After two DUI's you'd think it would be obvious to me that I have a problem. I never wanted to give up the fantasy that I was in control of everything. I wanted to be able to prove that I could conquer this beastly addiction by sheer force of will. That my mind was stronger than my body. That as some of you ladies have so poignantly stated, that I was "special", that I didn't really have a problem, I just needed to "reel it in a bit, or slow my roll....". Yeah, well, that didn't happen. Little did I realize that the mind and body are always entwined, and addiction does not discriminate, does not respect your need to feel special. Even after I became a mother, even after nearly 18 months of sobriety, that little wench the wine witch convinced me that I "deserved" a drink. What does that really mean? I deserve to feel like crap? I deserve to poison my body/mind, I deserve to risk ruining my life, my husband's, my child's? NO ONE deserves to have a drink. We deserve to be healthy, happy, and free. Alcohol made me a slave. I thought feeling high was freedom, but it's an illusion. All it did was restrict my abilities in every arena of my life. REAL freedom is bravely facing the demons of your past so that they don't poison your future (and it is not easy, but not as hard as we imagine. Really, what other choice do you have? Either find a healthy way to live, or get busy trying to hide and die). REAL freedom is not being shackled by the pretense that anything but feeling your feelings will make you feel anything. REAL freedom is freedom to feel.

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  28. After 16 years of heavy drinking I quit in September 2015. I lasted 120 days. Then the voice inside my head kept getting louder, telling me I had succeeded and could go back and be a social drinker. I started off with one bottle a week then it quickly went to two. Within two months I was back to one bottle a night. In a way I am glad I tried and failed because I will recognise that voice the next time it returns. But will it make me stronger, more determined to soldier on? I Hope so.

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  29. I'm slowly working my way through this wonderful blog, so my post is somewhat late to the 'party'. I quit totally on 31 December 2011. I distinctly remember standing at the sink as the NYE fireworks went off around me, pouring the remaining half bottle of ( good ) champagne down the plughole. I was determined. And I did it. I quit for a whole year and reading all these great posts brings it all back to me. I lost 15 kg, ran a 10km race, finished my degree in psychology, and felt pretty good about myself. Pride before a fall?

    In early 2013 I felt I could handle moderation. I felt I deserved it. Those sparkling moments were calling to me - when the sunlight shines off a chilled glass of bubbly during lunch with friends at the Boathouse Restaurant on the beach, or the candlelight glows through that lovely shiraz with roast lamb and good company.

    Within a month I was drinking a bottle a night on weekends, and then Wednesday was included as it was hump day. Then bugger it I like to drink and what's wrong with that. I'd rather live big than small and mean etc. etc.

    Our addictions lie to us using our own voice.

    But I'm now back sober - since March 1st - and I *know* moderation is a lie. Good luck to all walking this road.

    love

    Rob

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