Friday, 2 March 2018
3 Secrets to Getting Sober
There are a few dates that we never forget: the dates our children were born, the Battle of Hastings (1066 is the only thing I remember from years of history lessons) and our SOBERVERSARY.
And today is mine!
3 years ago today, I woke up after a rather long and riotous birthday party, and - after trying to cure my hangover by swigging red wine from a mug at 11am - swore I'd never drink again.
One question I've been asked, and I've asked myself, more than any other is what made that time different?
It wasn't - by a long shot - my first attempt at quitting. So, why did it work that time, when I'd failed so many times before?
Well, after pondering that question for three whole years, here's what I think are the three secrets to getting sober:
1. Knowing that moderation is not an option
I don't think I've met a single big drinker who is really keen, in the beginning, to quit altogether. What we want, what we really really want, is to be able to drink moderately.
We're desperate to get rid of all the bad drinks. The ones you really don't need at 2am, that make you lose your keys and forget how you got home, and accidentally spill your best friend's deepest secret....
...but we don't want to let go of the good ones. The birthday champagne, the toasts at a wedding, the cocktails on holiday.
If you start on your sober journey with even the slightest suspicion that you will be able, at some point, to drink 'normally' then you are unlikely to succeed.
This is because as soon as you hit a hurdle, the wine witch will start telling you that you've done so well. You've 're-calibrated'. You'll never go back to drinking the way you were. Of COURSE you can just have the one...
Then, within a few weeks, you'll be back to where you started, just more so. Because that's how addiction works.
The truth is that if you are addicted to alcohol, if you are an 'all-or-nothing' person, not only is moderation not possible, but it's exhausting.
It is way easier to just quit altogether, and - after a few difficult months, you'll find a freedom and serenity you didn't think possible.
So, if you haven't yet quit, and you're not yet totally sure about this one, then experiment. Try just drinking one small glass of wine a day and see if it's possible. Or does it drive you crazy?
Have you given up before, for January maybe, and sworn that you'd drink moderately in the future? How did that work out?
Did you ever smoke? If so, were you just a 'social smoker' or were you a total addict? If you quit smoking, do you believe that just one cigarette would send you right back to a packet a day? What makes you think you'll be different with alcohol?
Are you one of life's natural moderators, or are you an all-or-nothing type?
If you CAN drink sensibly, moderately and happily, then go ahead!
But, if you've tried this many times and failed, if you want to quit altogether, forever, than you need to know, deep down to your bones, that moderation is NOT AN OPTION.
By the time I finally quit, three years ago (did I say that already?) I had tried, and failed, to moderate for years.
I'd given up drinking for months at a time, then just one drink would send me spiralling back, like landing on the longest snake in a game of Snakes and Ladders.
I knew I couldn't do it, and - more importantly - I knew that trying to moderate would always make me miserable, as it was sapping away my self-esteem. Every time I failed I hated myself more.
In Johann Hari's incredible TED talk on addiction, he ends with the words the opposite of addiction is connection.
One of the fundamental reasons for AA's success is the 'fellowship of the rooms' - the other people you meet who share their stories and help you on your way, then encourage you to help others in the same way.
I didn't go to AA, but it was the connections I found through the internet that made such a big difference.
Through this blog, and through Soberistas.com, I found women (and men) just like me, who made me feel less alone and showed me the way forward. Whenever I was tempted to drown everything out in a bucket of sauvignon blanc, I'd think about how I'd feel if I let them down.
It doesn't matter where you find your tribe - at AA, SMART Recovery, Club Soda, Soberistas, right here - so long as you find one.
Don't try to do this alone. There's no need to!
I get hundreds of e-mails from people about quitting drinking, and I can generally tell who is going to succeed and who isn't (just yet).
The ones who say 'Today is Day One and I am SO EXCITED!' will make it, and the ones who say 'I know I have to quit and I'm going to try really hard, but I don't think I can do it', won't.
That's because the most important secret to success is really believing that you can do it, and being excited about it.
If you start on this journey thinking that you are depriving yourself of something, then you will never be happy sober. It's like being on a never-ending crash diet.
Instead, you need to believe that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Life isn't ever going to be the same again - it's going to be WAY BETTER (once you're past the hard first few months).
What made me switch from dread to excitement was reading the book Kick the Drink, Easily by Jason Vale. It made me totally change the way I thought about booze. Alan Carr's book does the same thing, as does Annie Grace's This Naked Mind.
Pick whichever one of those suits you best and read it.
I also recommend (obviously) reading The Sober Diaries (click here, and choose the 'look inside' feature to read the first few chapters free!) if you want to see all the ups and downs, comedy and tears, of the first year without booze, and how it will totally transform your life.
Picture the future as you want it to be - imagine yourself with more energy, more money, a better parent and partner and friend, thinner - imagine liking yourself again. All of that is possible!
If you can do those three things - know you're not a moderator, find a tribe and be excited, then you'll make it. And it will be amazing.
Now, I'm off to eat a piece of cake larger than my own head.
Love to you all,
P.S. If you are in the USA, you can find The Sober Diaries here.
P.P.S. You can now follow me on Instagram @clare_pooley and Twitter @cpooleywriter