36. Ditch denial
Denial is the alcohol abuser’s best friend. It happens when you kid yourself you’ve drunk less than you have. It happens when you blame something or someone else for an error or disappointment, when the fault lies with you and alcohol. It’s when you say you are ill; you have the ‘flu’ or a ‘bug’, when really alcohol is making you ill. It’s when you tell yourself you are drinking because of your problems, but in reality alcohol has caused most of them.
You’ve already started ditching denial by the very act of reading this book. Build on this step by keeping a drinking diary, recording all alcoholic drinks that you consume.
Friends, family or people at work have probably noticed you smell of alcohol. Some people have said they shower, clean their teeth and use a mouthwash yet a work colleague has still accused them of smelling of alcohol. The smell of alcohol can be on the breath or in sweat on the skin.
Collecting all of your empty bottles and cans over a period of time will allow you to see how much you are drinking at home. Throwing away your empties every day can lead to a false impression of the amount you drink.
In the UK, during 2000–2001 the average drinking level was 11.5 units per week (men average 15.5 units, women 7.9 units) according to government statistics [ref 2]. But people were under-reporting, as Custom & Excise data suggests that in 2000 each person aged 15 and over consumed 10.2 litres of pure alcohol per year, which gives an average of 19.3 units per week (not 11.5 as reported).
37. Take responsibility
Taking responsibility for the consequences of your behaviour, especially when that behaviour is under the influence of alcohol, is a big step towards tackling the problem. Do not blame other people or things. In every situation you can ask yourself: what was my part in that incident? How did my behaviour affect that situation?
38. Say ‘no’ to drinks
You may need to practise a few times. ‘No’ comes in handy to lots of other requests. Don't burden yourself with requests from other people. You are giving up drinking, so you need to look after yourself at this time.
You may not want to tell some people, such as work colleagues, that you are not drinking due to a problem with alcohol. If you want an excuse not to drink, invent one you are happy saying. Here are some examples:
‘No thanks, I have a really busy day tomorrow.’
‘No thanks, it makes me tired.’
‘No, I've got a stomach ulcer and drinking aggravates it.’
‘No, I can't drink I'm on antibiotics.’
‘No thanks, alcohol gives me a terrible headache these days.’
39. Flexible thinking
Avoid black-and-white thinking, all-or-nothing thinking. Between the black and white is a rainbow of colours, not just shades of grey. Avoid ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘ought’ and ‘can’t’, as they can make you feel guilty or disappointed if you don’t do the task. Try instead ‘I would like it if …’ or ‘It would be good if I tried …’. If you try something and it doesn’t work out, try not to blame yourself: look at other factors. Look at the experience positively by saying, ‘it doesn’t matter this time’, and ‘I’ve looked at what went wrong and next time I can try something different.’
When we resort to drinking to forget problems for a while, we are burying our heads in the sand instead of actually facing the problem or sorting it out. To face life as it really is, without drinking, is difficult initially. When you feel scared, stressed, or angry it can make you feel like drinking. Your new way of coping is to remind yourself who you are. ‘I can cope, I am a father and I’ve been through all sorts of situations with the kids‘. Or ‘I can deal with this. I am an experienced worker dealing with all sorts of problems at work.’ Write down who you are. You are not a person who has a tantrum like a child. You do not panic or get hysterical. You say, ‘I am … and I can deal with this.’ Take some deep breaths try and let it wash over you.
You are in control of your life. No one else is – you have choices, and fate does not control your life. You may find this viewpoint difficult to accept if you are feeling depressed and overwhelmed by your current situation. Heavy drinking is linked with depression, which in turn may lead to suicidal thoughts or even attempted suicide.
For most people, depression has been triggered by a loss, or series of negative events. One view of depression is that it is not an illness, but is a condition caused by the way we think. If we think negatively about ourselves, that affects the way we feel. Burns distinguishes between sadness and genuine depression. Sadness is a reaction to a sad event in life, such as bereavement. We all experience sadness, but dealing with this emotion can help us build self-knowledge. However, depression suffocates people, closing their view to other possibilities and opportunities.
The spiral of negative thoughts causes a person to blame themselves. They then do less; they may avoid situations and people, then think even more negatively, and feel more depressed.
What can help?
Practise positive thinking. Challenge your negative thinking – realise that it’s distorted. Is the negative conclusion you’ve come to based on reality? For example, if you feel that you’re a bad parent, try thinking of times when you felt you were a good parent. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling you should always be happy and rational, and giving yourself a hard time if you don’t behave like that. It’s all about achieving a balance. Children would have a false concept if they thought adults did not get upset or angry. Another positive thought is to say, ‘I have been happy before, and I will be again.’ Accept that mistakes and failures happen to you and everyone, and learn by them.
Be assertive. Assertiveness is about expressing your needs and feelings in an open and honest way without violating the rights of others. It enables you to say no to other people when you want to, so you are looking after your own needs. Rehearse it; try it, do it again. Tell someone when you feel upset, angry, liked or loved. Complain. Ask someone to do something for you. Assertiveness is about you knowing you can say no. You have the right to change your mind and make mistakes. You can have your opinions, needs and feelings listened to. You will feel more valued.
Try to build up higher self-esteem, valuing and liking yourself. Self-esteem is about your sense of self-worth, and is not based on your achievements, or public adulation. It’s about believing you are a good person, deserving of love and happiness.
Reach out to friends and family to support you, and support them in turn.
Balance your life. Managing work, stress and demands together with time to look after yourself.
Exercise and do more. Being depressed makes you feel like doing less, so start with simple goals and build them up.
Have your thyroid checked out: ask your GP to do a blood test. Depression is often related to an underactive thyroid. Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include: lethargy, depression, indigestion, constipation, poor memory and weight gain.
To beat cravings, nearly everyone finds they have to keep busy.
Distracter tasks can be anything you are interested in doing. Physical tasks that are purposeful seem to work better, such as cleaning, running, cooking, DIY, mowing the lawn or gardening. It can be very rewarding doing a job you’ve been putting off. Mental tasks that help distract include ringing a friend, going out to see someone, and socialising. Or do something relaxing like having a bath. Watching TV isn’t engaging enough for most people, but if you watch TV whilst doing a puzzle, playing a game, making something, knitting, or crocheting you may be able to take your mind off alcohol. Sign up for home work, stuffing envelopes or making products, and then you’ll be paid too.
Exercise: run, swim, walk or join a class. You will feel better about yourself and that will help you beat the cravings.
Get a dog. Go out walking to help beat the cravings if you've given up drinking. Exercise can also help beat depression as it gets the endorphins going. Other people with dogs will talk to you, so you may get to know other local dog owners. Even stroking a pet can help cheer us up.
Take up a new hobby. Try something new or daring. Try The Artist’s Way[ref 4]. This book encourages you to keep a diary and to try doing something you think you can't do, such as learning to swim or writing. What’s stopping you? You can do it! You are never too old. How do you know you cannot do something if you've never tried? Is it really that daring or scary, or is it your imagination that makes it scary? If other people can do it you can (though perhaps not as well ... yet.) Learn to swim, create some art, or go to a foreign language class. Who told you that you couldn’t do something? Was it perhaps just you? It's probably that you wouldn't do it, not that you couldn't.
Play computer games to distract you from the cravings (but be aware that this can become an addiction.) Look up something interesting on the internet. Or go to an internet chat room. There are all sorts of chat rooms, and you’re bound to find ones that match your hobbies and interests. But do take care of your personal safety if you decide to meet up with one of your new-found internet friends.
Ring an old friend that you've been meaning to get in touch with for ages. Some people find it easier to write a letter initially. Writing the address on the envelope first, then writing the letter later may help to get things going. You can try to find old friends on the internet: try looking at Friends Reunited or Facebook.
Find a spiritual programme that interests you. Go to church or other place of worship. AA’s 12 steps form a spiritual programme. Many people have found joining such groups very supportive. The support maybe spiritual, from friendship, from people helping each other, or from finding ways to keep busy.
Do some voluntary work. Just a couple of hours to start off with – build up to more if that’s right for you. If you don’t not enjoy the first job, try a different one. Helping others often results in people helping themselves: they enjoy improved self-esteem, feel happier and gain a sense of co-operative community. Again you may make friends, or just keep busy for a few hours.
Voluntary work can help you develop new skills and interests, gain confidence and a sense of achievement, a chance to gain references, and may be lead to a paid job. There is a Volunteer Centre in most towns with a variety of placements helping people in the community, or improving and protecting the environment. You need to find the right one for you. Look up Charitable & Voluntary Organisations in the Yellow Pages. You can find a selection of websites about volunteering on page 31.
42. Analyse what makes you happy and do more of it
If you wake up and feel good you must be doing something right, so what did you do the day before? Heavy drinking will not bring you any happiness. Don’t put off the things that you know will make you happy. Getting drunk may make you think you are making plans but will always get in the way of achieving them.
What do people want out of life?
The US philosopher John Dewey believed that people’s deepest desire is to feel important. Similarly Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyst, argued that a person’s greatest desire, apart from sex, is to be great. Abraham Lincoln believed humans were driven by a desire to be appreciated. If this makes sense to you, you will have to try and work out how to fulfil your desires of being important, great, and appreciated.
Building a satisfying life might include some of these aspects: doing a job you believe in; being loved and loving; feeling part of something – a family, a group, a community; socialising; having some dreams, ambitions and goals and following them through (although it can be difficult for some people to know what they want). Only you can decide.
43. Write a list of your good points
Write a list of all your good points, what your friends like about you. Make a list of your achievements, and what qualities you have that helped you reach those goals. You can use those qualities to fulfil your current goals. When you have a craving, look at the list; maybe the craving will go away, or you will feel more determined to beat the craving.
Some heavy drinkers describe themselves as being stuck in a downward spiral. When they are drinking, negative things happen; they then feel guilty, anxious or low. They then drink heavily again to alleviate those negative feelings, but this again ultimately creates further negative feelings and so perpetuates the craving or need to drink. Heavy drinkers feel trapped in this downward spiral.
Everyone has something that provides a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone has some dream or interest. Stuck in the trap of alcohol addiction, it may seem difficult to find, and even more difficult to imagine achieving it. But many people have climbed out of the trap and found interests, hope and goals. They may lapse and fall back in a few times, but the positives from their new life far outweigh the diminishing positives they were getting from alcohol.
Alcohol may help you think or talk about your dreams, but ultimately it pushes them out, as it de-motivates you to act upon them. Alcohol is the ‘easy option’ to feel good for a short period, but as drinking becomes heavier the lows become lower and they last longer. The negatives caused by alcohol now outweigh the gains, and people are ready to change. But by this time some people’s self-esteem and hope is very low. Some do not even know what they want out of life. Some people need to be away from alcohol to find their goals. These goals are a lot easier to achieve in sobriety when you have regained your energy and motivation. Make changes; try to achieve some of those things you talked about over the years.
Counselling may help you find your hopes and goals. Some people take up new (or old) hobbies, some return to education or training. Some people need to move out of their drinking environment, or at least go and stay somewhere else for a while so they can assess their life. As the AA phrase goes: ‘If you hang out in a barber’s shop, sooner or later you’re bound to get a haircut.’
Some people do the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps to help them find out who they are and what they want from life. Some people who have had alcohol problems go on to train as addiction counsellors/workers.
‘… but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst ... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life ... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry ... you will someday.’
(Lester Burnham, last lines from the film American Beauty)
45. Appreciate your life
Think about all the good things in your life and your good fortune and qualities.
Think of yourself as a lucky person and you will be luckier. Richard Wiseman [ref 5] has found that lucky people create their own luck by creating more positive opportunities. You are in charge of your own fate. If you feel you have very little control over your life, you may feel depressed; this is the learned helplessness theory of depression (Seligman) [ref 6]. You can regain control of your life; create a life you want to live – a sober one. Many people change their lives by changing their attitudes. Counselling, psychotherapy or life coaching can help.
This belief may be preventing you from changing your behaviour. It does seem as if some people become addicted to some substances quicker than others do, but there are so many other factors. These factors are mainly psychological, such as your attitude towards drinking, other ways of coping, attitude towards achievement, and social isolation. If you have an addictive personality, does that mean you become addicted to any substance very quickly? It takes a while for any one to become addicted to, say, smoking. The first few cigarettes weren’t even enjoyable. Did you become addicted to smoking quicker than any of your friends?
The difference is psychological. For example, most people would have withdrawal symptoms after only a couple of doses of morphine, but reactions to that withdrawal can be very different. Somebody who has just left hospital may think they are suffering from ‘flu’. They think it's flu but it's actually the withdrawal symptoms from morphine. They are not craving morphine; they are feeling they have flu. Someone else feels like they have flu, but they know it's the withdrawal symptoms from a similar drug, heroin, and they crave it.
Some people love the high they get from alcohol, and the feeling that they are more interesting, attractive and witty. Others hate the sensation; they hate feeling out of control.
As more research on genetics is done, researchers are concluding a stronger influence of genetics on alcohol addiction [ref 7]. People who abuse alcohol are more likely to have had parents who also abused alcohol, but this is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. (These factors are explored in more detail in the extra info section (here).) There are plenty of people who do not abuse alcohol, yet their parents abused alcohol, and plenty of people with alcohol problems who do not have close family members with addiction problems. You do have a choice.
You are you, completely individual. If your parents abused alcohol, you do not have to do the same. You are different from them. You can do what you want. You saw the mistakes they made – can you learn from them, not copy them? Take responsibility; do not blame your family or friends. Move on, and take action.
47. Relapse isn't the end of the world
It is very common for people to relapse when they are giving up something. Hopefully next time you won't relapse. Have you learnt what triggered the relapse? Can you avoid that situation? What did you learn about yourself?
48. Cravings will subside and disappear
Cravings are normal. Unfortunately, whenever we try to give up or cut down on something we crave it, physically or psychologically. Physically our bodies can get used to some substances and adapt to them, but when consumption stops, the body does not work the same as it used to. The body needs time to re-adapt and the brain’s chemical balance to return to normal.
Try and change your thought patterns. Instead of saying ‘I need a drink’, rephrase and say to yourself ‘I don’t need a drink. I want a drink because I feel stressed. I can cope with stress without a drink.’ Think about the positives of giving up, the reasons why you wanted to give up. You’ve come this far; you don’t want to go through the symptoms of withdrawal or hangovers again. Look at your list in Task 3.
Clean your teeth with strong toothpaste and a mouthwash (alcohol free!) and the alcohol will taste bad afterwards. Repeat at every craving – or chew gum. (Be careful if you are still ill from heavy drinking as anything like toothpaste can make you retch or be sick).
Sugary drinks and snacks can help beat off cravings. Some people drink lots of cola or high-energy drinks to keep the cravings at bay. Others eat lots of doughnuts or chocolate. It may seem like you’ve replaced one addiction with another, but sugar is the lesser of two evils at this point.
Resisting the cravings will become easier – they do become less and less. Organize as many activities as possible during the time you used to spend drinking (consider the ideas given in tip 41). Some people find it helpful to have a craving activity that becomes a ritual.
The cravings will eventually subside to the point when you reach the end of an evening and realise that you haven't thought about drink that day. As a guide, for each year you abused alcohol it will take a month for the craving to subside. For example, if you‘ve drunk excessively for five years, it will take five months for the day you do not miss alcohol to come.
49. Don’t think you will become boring or bored
Lots of rebels, rock stars and other people living an exciting life do not drink or take drugs. For example, Gene Simmons from the American rock band KISS has never taken drugs or alcohol. No one thinks Ozzie Osborne is boring, even though he doesn't drink now. Ozzie Osborne likened alcohol abuse to the moth burning its wings on the light. The moth flies again and again towards the light it is compelled towards. How many times do people have to burn themselves before they realise they have a problem?
Have you got a rebellious streak?
Is that one of the reasons why you drink? If so, you will have to find another outlet for that rebellious side. Could you create some outrageous art? Or join a band? Go to lots of gigs? It doesn't matter how old you are – you can do what you want, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone and it doesn't involve drink or drugs.
Some people drink too much to calm their nerves at social gatherings or in other situations that make them feel anxious. They’re convinced that drinking gives them ‘Dutch courage’ to overcome shyness.
Giving up drinking doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit. There’s only one way to overcome your anxiety about socialising when sober: go through the situation without alcohol. You are the same person with the same qualities and personality without a drink in your hand. You have to tell yourself you do not need a drink, you can get through it. You are more likely to embarrass yourself if you’ve been drinking. The more often you expose yourself to social situations without drinking, the easier it will become. Lots of other people feel nervous too, you’re just less likely to notice that if you are drunk. Being shy is not an unattractive quality – being brash and drunk is.
50. Try the miracle question
Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and a miracle had happened: you felt your life was great (and you didn't feel like drinking), how would you know the miracle had happened? Write it down, all the things that make you feel the miracle has happened. Describe what is different. Now, how do you get to live like that? What do you have to change to get there? (Metcalfe, 2006).