The journey to freedom from alcohol addiction begins with a wish…………….. a wish to be free. In the quest to find freedom we meet many stumbling blocks along the way, the path is rarely smooth.
I have met a few people who have given up alcohol without any struggle because there was a major event in their lives that took away any struggle because their desire to quit was greater than the desire of their unconscious mind trying to keep them addicted.
The story of Amy was one person who quit drinking for the first time and never looked back. Her story was for many people normal. Brought up with parents who both drank, to socialise, to celebrate, to commiserate, to deal with the stresses and strains of life, and she learned at a young age that alcohol was a normal part of everyday life once you became an adult, once you were grown up. Both she and her brother started drinking at University and continued for many years after, neither had ever tried to cut down or stop and why would they? Their belief was that alcohol was a normal part of the life of an adult, parties were not parties without alcohol and their circle of friends were also people who like to drink alcohol.
The years passed, she had two children and she became what she called a functional alcoholic, she held down a full-time job, she raised her children while drinking every night after work and more at weekends. Her life when she was not at work was planned around access to alcohol. Picnics with the children would include wine for her and her husband. A day out was not a day out without access to alcohol. Her units of alcohol increased over the years and were only kept in some kind of check by the hangovers that she woke with every morning.
She lived like that day after day, year after year until her brother died suddenly of alcohol related liver cirrhosis. He was 45 and he had died because of his addiction to alcohol.
In that moment, her mind was reprogrammed. Her whole belief system surrounding alcohol that had been ingrained from a young age was demolished and replaced by the reality that alcohol is not the feel-good party drink she had believed for over 40 years. It was a murderer that had poisoned her brother. It was not the elixir of life; it was a cold-blooded killer that had taken her brother away from her and left his daughter without a father.
This sad event changed her life and she never drank alcohol again. She did not just give up alcohol, she went on a crusade to find health and fitness and put all her focus on moving on to something new, not on giving something up.
She had a project, to get fit and healthy. She began running and to keep her motivated she applied to run first 10K races, then ½ marathons and finally a marathon. Her diet, which had never been unhealthy became first vegetarian and then vegan. She just kept running forward, both in her mind and in her body and she never looked back because she knew that alcohol belonged in her past and that there was nothing there for her now.
HOW TO START WITHOUT A LIFE CHANGING EVENT
For most of us trying to give up an addiction there is no life changing event, there is just the slow dawning realisation that what we are doing is not good for our health. Perhaps it is the hangovers, the minor ailments like heartburn, stomach problems, headaches, insomnia, or night sweats as the body tries to get rid of the toxins you have been pumping in during the day.
We try to cut down, we try to give up and find we can’t, and this is the normal start of the journey ot freedom from alcohol addiction. Perhaps, we finally manage to give up for a few days, a few weeks or perhaps a month, and you begin to feel better, pains go, we no longer need to take painkillers, heartburn tablets, we no longer need two strong black coffees to get us started in the morning and take the edge of the hangover. We start to feel healthier; we have more energy and we become focused on a future goal, all the good things that happen when we quit poisoning our minds and our bodies.
We start to believe we are free, we can do this, but the brain is just as clever as you are and it is a cunning creature, it is not going to let you go that easily. It has kept you addicted all these years; it knows you better than you know yourself and it knows all your weak points. It will always find a chink your armour to drag you back to your addiction,
It starts to show you times in the future when you could be enjoying a drink, it will use all the picture of the past good times and change them to a future time. It will use events where you enjoyed yourself with a drink, Christmas day, a birthday, an anniversary. The picture will be different for everyone because they will come from your memories. Memories of times you enjoyed a drink, the best of times and your brain knows exactly which memories to use, because it was there with you, it watched you enjoying yourself and it will carefully select the best memory, the one it knows will press your button.
The picture will always have alcohol at the centre of the picture. If it is Christmas dinner what you will notice is the cocktails, the wine, the champagne not the meal and the company. If it is a meal out it will be the bottle of wine that is the focus of attention. It will all come from memories you have stored in your brain and it will show you the picture in your mind’s eye to entice you and to get lost in the moment.
What is your subconscious trying to do? It is trying to feed the doubts
The brain recognises that you are determined to quit, you are counting the days, you are coping with cravings and you are determined not to give in. Your unconscious mind goes into panic mode, you cannot do this, you need alcohol to calm you, to socialise, to de-stress. It becomes determined to fight this all the way, with every trick in the book.
At the same time you are starting to feel better, you feel healthier and the doubts start to creep in, maybe I wasn’t that addicted, maybe I over reacted, it’s not as if I am sleeping on a park bench. Perhaps I just need time off and now I have quit I can do it any time. Right? No, but you probably already know that.
But here comes the unconscious mind with its tempting pictures and so you start to plan for the future. If I give up until I go on holiday, until Christmas, until my birthday, if I can just get through a month then I will deserve a drink, won’t I? No, but you probably already know that too.
As soon as you have set an agreed date you are doomed to failure because you have let your brain know that on my birthday in one month I am going to celebrate with a drink.
Do you think your brain will forget that?
No, it will now keep pushing a dopamine soaked happy birthday picture into your mind’s eye that will become even more colourful and brighter the closer your chosen date gets. If you think day to day cravings are bad wait till you approach your birthday and try to fight it armed only with willpower.
So, it is my birthday, what’s the problem, surely I can give in for one day and enjoy myself? I can give up again tomorrow.
Anyone who has ever been addicted to anything will tell you that, that will not happen, you have given into the temptation devil and whether it takes a day a weak or a month the chances are very high that you will return to the level of drinking you were at before you tried to quit.
FIVE WAYS TO STOP THE TEMPTATION MONSTER
So, what can we do to stop drifting back to our addiction when we were determined to quit.
- Recognise it – you need to notice when it happens. It is easy to spot, it will be a time in the future perhaps you already have something planned, an anniversary, holiday, wedding and you will notice that you start to plan that you will have drink – only on this date. In your mind’s eye you will see pictures of a future you are enjoying yourself with the drink of choice.
- Talk to your mind – do not be shy, it’s your mind and you know we talk to ourselves all the time. Just let it know that you understand what it is doing. You understand that it is it’s job is to keep you addicted (it does not understand that alcohol is a poison that is slowly killing you) but right now, at this time in your life, it is not what you want anymore. You have made your decision to get fit and healthy and you plan to stick to it.
- Change the Picture – Alter the picture to suit you, if you see alcohol change it to water or a soft drink that you enjoy. Change the scene to the morning after, getting up refreshed and looking forward to your day. Full of energy and hope for the future.
- Don’t allow yourself to go into a daydream – don’t become hypnotised by the pretty pictures and find yourself lost in a fantasy world that does not exist. Just like the story of Odysseus and the Sirens where mortal man could not resist their singing, the siren song was too alluring. But, when we block our ears and change the message then the images will fade away as on any journey we will reach a point of no return.
- Stay focused on your plan – there is only way you are going and that is forward. Focus on the reason you gave up and now need to focus on the new life you have decided to carve for yourself. Don’t look back it will only take you in the wrong direction.
In our journey to freedom from addiction the best place to start is in the present. Stay focused on this moment, not the past and not fantasy images of the future. Live for the moment, for every moment because each one is special and should be enjoyed to the best of your ability.