Quitting Drinking Isn’t Just About No More Hangovers.

You might think quitting drinking is all about just letting go of the drink: swapping wine for water, enjoying fresh mornings instead of horrible hangovers hiding under the bedclothes, and honing a svelte physique to replace the muffin top you’ve been nurturing as a result of all those booze calories. Quitting drinking is all of those things. But it’s a lot more besides…

  • Drinking put me in really dangerous situations with very dangerous people. It masked my innate fear radar, making me bold and reckless, taking silly risks that only by a series of miracles didn’t result in major catastrophe – at least, not very often.
  • Drinking made me run away from my emotions instead of working through them and growing as a human being.
  • Drinking kept me locked inside a teenager’s immature state of mind – all melodrama and narcissism and misplaced priorities.
  • Drinking kept me from my responsibilities to the people I loved. It came before them and prevented me from seeing what really matters, from doing the right thing by all those who loved me.
  • Drinking made me stare into the mirror and hate the person who looked back out. It made me want to crawl out of my skin and escape the very fibre of who I was.
  • Drinking stopped me from aspiring to reach goals and fulfil my potential. It ensured that I always aimed low and persistently knocked me back every time I ever dared to want more for myself.

And what happened to me when I quit alcohol? All of this…

Peace of mind, inner contentment and a sense of emotional balance.

I started putting other people before myself for the first time in my whole adult life.

I began to work hard and believe in myself, knowing that I could achieve anything I wanted.

My ability to be a consistent and reliable parent increased massively.

I could look at my reflection and not hate the person I saw there.

I got really fit and began to enjoy properly hard physical challenges.

I opened up a big desire to learn more, explore more and know as much as possible about the world before I die.

I noticed a million tiny things all around me that I’d never previously paid attention to – a passer-by smiling, a flower, clouds in the sky, a lofty tree, a beautiful sunset…

I didn’t panic at the onset of feeling my emotions.

I learnt to love other human beings fully and with all my heart.

I recognised the power of creativity and fell in love with the buzz of making something that didn’t exist before.

I started to understand my place in the universe and to obtain a deep sense of calm from acknowledging both our significance and insignificance as human beings.

Planning for the future became manageable as opposed to something guaranteed to send me into a tailspin.

I got to know who I really am.

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Freedom

“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” Martin Luther King’s words changed the world, his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech being one of the most moving and inspirational orations of the twentieth century. Freedom was the end game of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s in America – freedom simultaneously being one of the most taken for granted rights, and one of the most precious, depending on whether you are lucky enough to enjoy it or not.

Freedom can arise in many guises; freedom from imprisonment, torture, pain and suffering, from acts of cruelty that are inflicted upon us by others. But it can also mean a release from our own actions, the gift of being able to live free from the restrictions of addictive and destructive behaviours. Wayne Dyer, self-help author and motivational speaker, once said, “Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery”.

And isn’t that precisely what addiction is? A form of slavery that holds us back and restricts us, maintains its control over our every thought and action and response? We are not ourselves when we are operating under the cloud of addiction. We are not making free choices when those choices are governed by patterns of thought that rule our body and mind.

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When we spend our money on alcohol, we are not free. When we show ourselves up and act in a manner not true to the real us inside, we are not free. When we cannot look in the mirror because we despise the person we have become, we are not free. When we are unable to be the friend or parent or partner that we are capable of being, we are not free. When we destroy our liver and brain and heart through excessive alcohol consumption, we are not free. When we put ourselves in dangerous situations, walking home alone late at night, drunk and out of control, we are not free.

Conquering addiction means granting ourselves freedom. It means we are able to choose how we behave. It means we know exactly what or who will make us happy. It means we fulfill our potential as a friend, parent or partner. It means we possess peace of mind. It means we know ourselves inside and out. It means we no longer spend money on the things that damage us. It means we take care of our bodies and minds and give ourselves the best chance at a long and happy life. It means we have dignity and self-respect. It means nothing or nobody exercises control over the person we are, apart from ourselves. It means remembering the finer details of every day and every night. It means being free to like the person we are.

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Freedom is a precious gift, and being free from addiction is incredible. This state of existence, being released from the walls that once held you back and kept you lying facedown in the dirt, can feel like a rebirth. A fresh start. A chance to see life for what it is; amazing, in all of its complexities and its banalities.

What Lies Beyond?

What lies beyond that obstacle, the one that prevents us from making real and lasting changes? The obstacle that takes residence in our hearts and in the pit of our stomachs, the one that governs our actions and holds us back in a place that, while familiar, is not necessarily where we want to be. The fear that stops us growing and moving forward in our lives can be almost tangible; I am aware of it festering in my whole being at times, and it can be an almighty challenge to ignore it, refuse to bow down to its demands and ultimately, to overcome it.

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I’ve been frightened of so many things throughout my life but my biggest fears have arisen when I’ve been contemplating quitting bad habits – alcohol and certain boyfriends, primarily. I have often been virtually paralysed by the dread of what lies beyond that which I know, the thing that may have been causing me so much pain, but the thing that I am familiar with. Better the devil you know. The comfort of not changing can be so enticing that we are frequently rendered incapable of taking a leap into the unknown and embarking upon a new way.

This is how I look at things now, largely aided by my successful mission in stopping drinking (I always say to myself, if you could do that, you can do anything!). I ask myself first, what will happen if you do not see this person/eat that bar of chocolate/any other behaviour that I am trying to not engage in? Will the world end? Will I crumble? Will anything around me change in any way at all? Will I be in danger? Will my children be badly affected? Will there be any catastrophic consequences as a result of me not doing this thing? The answer to all of these questions is, obviously, No. Nothing will happen. I will sit with an uncomfortable feeling for a few minutes, yes, but that’s it. The sky will not cave in. I will not spontaneously combust.

These emotions, the slightly edgy, raw feelings that come from just sitting with a craving, will reoccur, several times, maybe for a few months, intermittently springing up out of nowhere and making us feel unpleasant for a matter of minutes. But that’s it. That’s all that will happen.

In the midst of those unpleasant feelings, I now try to find the space to sit down in a quiet room, breathe deeply, focus on whatever the behaviour is that I am trying to stop, and to bring back a sense of calm and order to my headspace. Or I go for a run in the woods and listen to music. I have learnt not to allow the spiral of discontent and negativity to erupt within me and send me into a whirlwind of bad thinking. It never helps. It never did.

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Eventually, with a little bit of patience and time, bad habits and unhealthy behaviours can be relinquished to the past. Without hardly realising it, you can find yourself in the place that you were so frightened of initially, the place where the unhealthy relationship, the drinking, the overeating, no longer lives. And when you get there, you’ll wonder why on earth you were so terrified of making the shift.