And she was now telling me that, like me, her drinking had reached its 'best before' date - we are functioning on the same borrowed time before the bad produce label descended.
This below, is a guest post written by Rebecca on the subject of her sobriety - now standing at 9 months. I'd like to thank her for reaching out in the first place, and for bringing me out of my skin, or out of my 'comfort zone' by doing so.
|Rebecca and Harry on the day sixth form exams ended -|
After realising I had an unhealthy relationship alcohol which was resulting in severe anxiety levels and frequent panic attacks, I was recommended by Doctors and Psychiatrists to abstain from drinking. With their medical help and the staff of Cygnet hospital , I suffered few withdrawal symptoms as my condition was monitored for the first few weeks. The real difficulties began the moment I left the safety of the hospital’s walls - which is what I am going to write about today.
Having spent a few years enjoying a bottle (or two) of wine in my bed whilst watching Netflix every evening, I was unsure what to do with myself in the evenings to overcome this habit. A habit is defined as “an acquired behaviour pattern that is regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street”. I was amazed at how much I was a creature of habit. Although I had made the conscious decision to not let a drop of alcohol touch my lips for the next year, there were not one, but four or five instances within the first few weeks of leaving the hospital that I found myself in the kitchen with a bottle of wine in my hand.
As a reader you must be thinking to yourselves “But how did she let this happen?” The answer to that, my friends, is habit. I always walked back from university the same way, which led me past a Londis, and every day without fail, I would enter the shop, pick up a bottle of wine and pour a glass once I reached home. This habit was so ingrained in me that I ended up picking up the wine involuntarily, as the definition suggests. Luckily each time I realised before I had poured a glass and immediately poured the entire bottle down the sink before I could cause any further damage (!).
I ended up breaking this habit in a very, very simple way, by crossing the road and walking down the opposite side from the Londis. By doing this, I would have to look and cross the road safely to reach the Londis if I wanted to buy wine, which would remind me that I was not drinking anymore and had no reason to frequent the shop. A small and easy change in behaviour was one of the first steps to ensuring I did not drink that first glass of wine; the glass that would lead to another glass, then a bottle and be the cause of anxiety, regrets and hangovers without fail. (N.b. I have only just started to go into that Londis intentionally again 7 months or so after I stopped drinking).
The next change I had to make was to fill my time in the evenings with something other than drinking. But what? I chose three new habits to adopt:
1. AA Meetings
During my first few weeks sober I attended an AA meeting almost every day. I am lucky enough to live in Leeds where there are plenty of meetings that are easily accessible. As a student who had been given some time off due to “health complications” (ie anxiety issues directly caused by alcohol consumption), I had plenty of free time to go to as many AA meetings as I wanted. Although people have mixed opinions of the AA, I personally found that the majority of people in my meetings were very welcoming and non-judgmental. There was always free tea and cake and never any obligation to say anything if you did not want to contribute.
|Still ok to go a little outside the lines|
The first few meetings I attended I simply listened to what others had to say and was amazed at how much I could relate to their struggles. I felt as though I belonged somewhere even though many of the other participants were quite a bit older than me. AA really helped me through the tough first few weeks when I was very tempted to drink again as I felt that the only place I would be happy was at the hospital where I could be monitored safely – and where I was not allowed to drink as I could not leave the premises unaccompanied. That was one of my main struggles: that I could not believe in myself enough to believe I would be able to break free from the vicelike grip alcohol had over me. Now, I am far less reliant on these meetings – but I still have a few numbers of friends I met there and I know that if I was about to pick up some wine I could call any of them and they would talk me out of it.
2. Colouring in
Whilst in the hospital we did all sorts of creative therapy to pass the time. I had been given a special mindfulness colouring book for Christmas and spent a lot of time colouring in. Although I am not an artistic person, I found it very relaxing. The staff at the hospital encouraged me to continue this past time “on the outside world”. It was easy enough to do. In the evenings I could still come home and put Netflix on, but instead of reaching for a bottle of wine, I would reach for a colouring book.
Keeping my hands busy seemed to help take my mind off drinking alcohol and although it is not the most thrilling of hobbies it had many advantages for me. Firstly, I did not have to rely on anyone else to do my colouring in so I could not use that as an excuse. Secondly, it is a cheap hobby (one colouring book and a cheap set of colouring pencils last a very long time!). Finally, it can be quite time consuming. The patterns in the book I had were incredibly intricate and it usually took me over an hour to complete one page of the book. Finishing one pattern was satisfying and I would often continue and do 2 or maybe 3 patterns in one evening. The more time I spent colouring, the less time I could spend drinking – so it was a very welcome distraction!
The final, and as I am sure you can imagine, the hardest habit to adopt was going running. Thousands of people struggle to motivate themselves to run every day whether they are alcoholics or not! I tend to run late at night (between 8 and 10pm), and managed to get into a habit of running mainly because some friends and I had been silly enough to sign ourselves up for a half marathon in May. This left me 4 months to train for it.
|'The way we were'|
The pressure of having a race to train for, along with the social aspect of the running had me hooked. One of the best things was that the more I tired myself out, the better I slept in the evenings. I was used to drinking myself to sleep so did not realise how much I struggled to fall asleep without the help of alcohol until I sobered up. Being with friends was also a pleasant distraction as we would often sit around and chat after our evening runs whilst we caught our breath. I find it much easier to stop myself from drinking when I am in the presence of others so this was very beneficial for me.
Although I still have prescription medication to help me sleep at night, I can safely say that exercise has done wonders. I completed the half marathon in 2hours and 2minutes, I have lost over 10kgs and feel so much fitter, happier and self-confident as a result of this new habit.
The aim of this blog post is to show that adopting new habits can dramatically increase your chances of breaking old habits. It does take a lot of commitment and willpower to stay on top of a drinking problem but if you want to succeed you need to provide yourself with the best possible chance to do so by creating situations where you feel in control of your actions. Many thanks to my friend Harry for letting me contribute to his blog.
No Rebecca, cheers to you!