For years, I woke up every other morning with the stench of alcohol on my breath; nauseous yet hungry; a throbbing headache and no recollection of the previous night. I would be terrified to look at my phone, to learn what I got up to in the haze of alcohol. I would swear to never let myself drink that much again, only to wake up similarly hungover in another day or two.
They say you need to hit rock bottom to be motivated to quit drinking. I always waited for my rock bottom. I fell on my face, had alcohol poisoning more than once, attempted suicide more than twice but I kept drinking.
Every time I tried to cut down to just three beers on a weekend, it would last only for a few weeks. Until a crisis popped up—a fight with a friend, a panic attack or just a hectic day. I would binge one night and then be back to old habits—making excuses to drink, drinking shots of tequila in secrecy and being in absolute denial of my addiction.
I had tried to quit cold turkey two times before but always found myself back at the mercy of the bottle. I guess third time’s the charm because just two weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown, I quit drinking after a friend’s suicide. I started regular therapy a week after; and so far, I have not relapsed.
The pink cloud
In the first few months, I experienced the pink cloud—a kind of euphoria that comes in the initial days of de-addiction and sobriety. I felt clean, hopeful, energetic and wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner because it seemed very easy. I would marvel at the number of days I had abstained from having a drink and share milestones with friends and family.
But within a month and a half, the initial excitement died down and the novelty of being a recovering alcoholic ran out. Life without alcohol started to seem mundane. The lockdown added loneliness to the mix and I started to crave.
During my therapy sessions, I discovered that since I started drinking at the age of 17, alcohol had become my go-to for any intense emotion that I was experiencing. I would attempt to numb emotional pain with alcohol and wake up feeling worse than before.
New ways to cope
I needed new ways to cope. In the beginning, the cravings would match the intensity of the emotion I was experiencing. They were too hard to deal with in any healthy manner, so I chose to sleep over them. If something angered or upset me, I would cry it out and take a nap. If the lockdown blues got to me, I would curl up under the blanket and nod off. Sleep was my only way to cope.
I then took up the project of redecorating my house. Cleaning old dusty cupboards, getting rid of things and planning to make my space my home. I realized what a therapeutic activity cleaning was. I replaced sleeping off the intense emotions with cleaning. When something triggered an intense emotion in me, I would pick a chore and vehemently get to it. Soon, I added other healthier coping mechanisms: playing the piano, calling a friend, doing a grounding exercise or playing a video game.
My de-addiction hacks
Since I work in the space of mental health, I’m no stranger to the science of addiction. I always knew why my body craved alcohol and why I was an addict. The knowledge of how addiction works never motivated me to quit but when I did quit, I was able to craft my own hacks to beat it.
One hour at a time
In the beginning, it was hard to see myself staying sober for a long time. A week seemed too long, forget a month. I reduced my foresight and focused only on that particular day. On some days, the cravings were so bad that mentally, I could only get through an hour of sobriety at a time.
I’ll have a drink tomorrow
I still crave intensely when I am overwhelmed by emotion. But I’m aware that it is a momentary urge and it will pass. I tell myself that I will get a drink the following day and pick up any of the other coping mechanisms. The urge passes and the following day, I no longer want the drink.
It’s not going to be the same
The liver is a self-repairing organ. The minute I stopped drinking, it started to heal. Even a month or two into my recovery, my liver was exponentially cleaner than the day I quit drinking. This meant that alcohol would no longer provide the comfort I was seeking. Instead, I would be left feeling guilty and would have to start my quit from scratch. I would ask myself “Is it worth it?” The answer was always no.
New emotions to cope with
De-addiction unexpectedly brings with it, its own set of demons. Suddenly, the world is bright and your position in it is clear as day. I realized what my priorities were, what my goals should be and began working towards them. But other things surfaced too, the many things that I had done under the influence of alcohol.
Every alcoholic has a rap sheet, a list of humiliating and hurtful things they’ve done. When the clarity kicked in, so did the guilt. The consequences of my actions suddenly made a lot of sense. I had to come to terms with everything I had done and dole out sincere apologies. I then had to rebuild relationships with friends and family with a new foundation of honesty and genuine respect. And while all of this has paid off handsomely, I still feel a huge sense of remorse when I think about the things I have done.
Apart from the guilt, another emotion that I severely dealt with was regret. I cannot count the number of times my loved ones had told me to assess my relationship with alcohol and I always told them I had it under control. I didn’t and eventually, it took a friend’s death for me to see the possible effect my drinking has and could have on those around me. And while nobody said “I told you so!” I certainly wish I had quit sooner.
The benefits of sobriety
I turned 35 recently and I wondered how I had lost so much of my life to alcoholism. But better late than never because since I quit the bottle, my life has changed drastically.
I enjoy a good night’s sleep. I wake up fresh and motivated (mostly). My memory is brilliant again, I am able to savor all the wonderful dates with my partner. My relationship with my family has been so much easier because I am now completely honest with them. I am saving a lot of money and my physical health has never been better.
My mental health has improved significantly because now when I am upset or angered by a situation, I confront it. I deal with the emotion, cope using healthy mechanisms and move on from the experience in a smooth way.
People have been asking if I will ever drink again? The truth is I don’t know; I haven’t made that decision yet. I am currently winning against my addiction and I’m going to continue to win as long as I can. My decision is that I will not drink today.
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