Often in various recovery forums, and in particular those specifically to do with alcohol, people who express struggling with not drinking are advised to try mocktails and other alcohol free options such as 0% beer, alcohol free wine and so on. Advice often also includes suggestions of activities that avoid alcohol altogether, such as going to a gallery and similar. Whilst this is all sound advice and I get the idea, I also think this is shaky ground.
For those of us who really do feel we’ve sacrificed something good – da booze – and now feel deprived and perhaps a little lost, maybe it does help to drink something that resembles the real thing. Perhaps we also do need to remove ourselves from situations that normally meant drinking. It’s just that in my case, this wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t have worked even for a second. Avoiding booze and everything associated with it (which is fucking EVERYTHING!) isn’t living, at least not the way I see it. Sure, I’ll happily grab a 0% beer – may I recommend Birra Moretti Zero, by the way? Delicious! – but if I drank it feeling it was a substitute for something I wanted more, I’d be doomed. I drink it because I like the taste – I can’t stand soft drinks so all those are out anyway, and why drink a sickly sweet mocktail when even ethanol as an ingredient wouldn’t have me touch one back in the day? The substitution strategy wouldn’t have worked for me, simply because I never drank for the taste of wine. The TASTE! That makes me laugh out loud because it’s so fucking stupid! Make no mistake – I drank for one reason only: I drank because of what I believed alcohol did for me.
Most food and drink I consume 1) to stay alive obviously, but always also because 2) I enjoy the taste. This includes 0% beer. When it comes to actively trying to substitute something you REALLY want, it just drives me bonkers. Like pretending courgette pasta is actually pasta. It fucking isn’t. And eating it just makes me want PASTA more. If, on the other hand, you eat it because you genuinely prefer it, that’s a different story. What I’m saying is just that this method doesn’t work for me, it just makes me miss what I’m trying to substitute much more. We’re all different, eh.
I’m not trying to make light of stuff someone else might struggle with. The sort of advice I’m referring to simply scares me. By substituting I think we merely keep the illusion alive that we can’t live without it. By avoiding the places we associate with drinking I think we only reinforce the notion that we’re going without.
Yes, I loved the pub and do you know what? I still do! It’s not that often I go to one these days, but when I do it’s still the same thing I love about it and it’s nothing to do with alcohol – I love it because it’s a relaxed and friendly environment, a meeting place and a somewhere to go with friends and sit and have a great conversation. I never loved the pub because of alcohol any more than I ever loved my park bench (AKA my couch) because that’s where I used to sit and drink. What I loved about the pub was the environment itself – I live in the UK and the British pub scene is traditional, charming and utterly lovely – and the connection with the people I was with. It was never about numbing myself – that was just a tragic by-product caused by my addiction, and mark my words, there was nothing charming about THAT.
A lady posted in one forum about being on a trip to London. She’s American and has always wanted to visit and now she’s here for a few days. She was feeling down about not being able to drink, not knowing how she’d “get through” this holiday without alcohol. I know EXACTLY how that feels! I’ve been there! That miserable dread thinking you can’t enjoy life without the vino. Yuk, it’s such a shitty place to be. So I felt compelled to add my two-pence just as others flocked to suggest mocktails and spend time in museums, avoiding any nightlife and the whole area of Soho altogether.
“HELL NO!” I thought to myself and added my bit:
“When I quit drinking I had three huge Prime Drinking Occasions already booked: a weekend in Paris, a Foo Fighters concert in Gothenburg and a holiday in Italy. To my mind, those were initially can’t-not-drink-then hall passes, because how could I possibly do any of those SOBER?! How dull and pointless! It all seemed impossible when just the freaking IDEA of any of those made me yearn to drink. But then….. I really experienced Paris! I fully took in the city and its sights and enjoyed it without the constant slavery and stress over finding my next drink. I tasted the food and was so present for it all. Thank GOD and… WOW!!! Then the concert that again was a million times better because again I was present and truly in the moment. And don’t get me started on the beautiful island of Lipari that didn’t get spoilt by being either drunk or hungover and instead savouring each moment. So WELCOME to my magical hometown of London, my friend – please enjoy, take in each moment, get lost in its bustle and magic and truly experience it without dulling your senses. This town is spectacular and it’d be such a shame if booze took any of it away from you. You can go to any bar or pub or club and be part of it all – drinking alcohol won’t make you more part of it, it’ll make you LESS part of it. Enjoy London and your freedom to truly BE here. Again, welcome and be sure (if you have the time!) to walk along Regents Canal from Little Venice to Camden – it’s a magical stroll! Big hugs to you. You’ve got this.”
The lady responded: “Anna, wow. Your comment made me cry. Thank you.”
“It makes me cry sometimes too! Life is freaking awesome now! Come on, girl – join the party, it’s all here for you to enjoy! Let us know how you find London! Oh, for a lovely view of the skyline, if you do the Regents Canal walk – go up to Primrose Hill when you’ve got to Camden, it’s postcard perfect! Christ, I’m getting all excited about you exploring London…!
PS. What I’m saying is throw yourself into it! Life isn’t something to avoid or structure with “make do” options (like trying to find things that are either substitutes or distractions) – now you can truly live, for goodness sake!! All the things you enjoyed before are just so much better, and that’s the only goddamn difference!”
I don’t know if it helped in any way. Perhaps my way of seeing it doesn’t work for her and my attempt at trying to show her how I perceive life to be sober isn’t in line with her perspective at all. I don’t know. But at least I put it to her and this is genuinely how I see it. I used to say, on this blog, how I would rather eat a bowl of dog shit than drink alcohol. Nearly two years down the line this is still true. You couldn’t fucking pay me to drink. Perhaps with a gun to my head but that’s honestly what it’d take. Hand me a spoon to scoop dog shit into my mouth any day of the week if that’s the choice I had. That’d be a much better option, because whilst it’d make me vomit and leave me very sick for probably days, it’s unlikely it’d kill me. Alcohol WOULD kill me. First it’d make me a shittier version of myself, stop me doing lots of things I enjoy and make life a struggle. Then I’d die. The End. No thank you. Dog poo for me, ta.
If you are someone who genuinely drinks wine for the taste and a passion for various types of fermented grapes – alcohol free wine might be a really lovely alternative if you are sick of ingesting ethanol! And yes, an alcohol free beer works for me because I like how it tastes. Do go to the latest exhibition at the Tate if art floats your boat. But please be careful if you do all of that because you are pining for booze and trying to avoid it. If that’s the case, I would suggest exploring what you believe alcohol adds to your life. How does alcohol make life better? And does it REALLY?
For me, booze was an enhancer. Glitter to sprinkle on my life. I thought it made happy happier and fun more fun. It never did any of that. Hell, it’s a depressant for starters! All it did, I finally realised, was rob me of what makes life magical. And here I am sober. Happy is now truly happy and fun is really fucking fun! Shit still happens and it sucks. What alcohol does however – for ME! – is put a dampener on happy and fun and make shit that happens much worse. No two ways about it, that’s what happens without exception.
What are your thoughts? This is just how I feel and how I see it. It works for me. But my way is just that – my way – and we’re all different. Does substitutes work for you? I.e. when it really is a case of wanting the real thing but making things a little easier by having something that is almost it? Tell me.
Friday once again and I feel like myself again after the emotional rollercoaster I was on there for a while. Hubby and I are off to see Russell Brand’s show ‘Recovery Live’ in Reading this afternoon and I can’t wait. Brand, I think, talks a lot of sense when it comes to recovery and being connected and in particular I love his take on the 12 steps. I can’t wait to see what this show is all about and what lightbulbs I may experience.
Today I’m not going to drink.
Sometimes I think I forget to allow myself to be small and weak, that I somehow in recovery expect everything to just be freaking awesome and that I’ll now conquer all the things I wasn’t able to face when I drank. Last week was a crushing defeat – or, rather, it felt like one – when in fact all it comes down to is I’m still human, but even more importantly, I’m still Anna. I’m still anxious sometimes and some situations overwhelm me. AND THAT’S OK. But I lost sight of that for a while.
I’ve been working and studying and as usual there’s lots going on around me. AKA life. AKA what is. I’ve bid adieu to a work situation that was throwing me off balance due to a bully, I’m putting my all into studying and I’m in therapy too. Last week I’d also bought tickets for a two-day workshop that I was quite nervous about – a two-day conference with lots of talks relating to addiction and mental health held by industry experts and other important folks. And lil’ ol’ me. Well, that’s how I felt. I even contacted the organiser ahead of booking tickets to check it wasn’t just aimed at these experts but OK for us greener industry wannabes to turn up too. It was absolutely OK, she reassured me and told me to come find her and she’d introduce me to people and make me comfortable. Nice, eh? Stop right there. Come find her? When I crumble at the idea of walking up to people I don’t know and introducing myself?
Anyhoo. Hubby came with me and basically in the moment, right there in the busy conference hotel lobby with people milling about and making small talk, I realised I just wasn’t going to do it. I freaked out and we left. Not a big dramatic meltdown or anything, just quietly tugging at Hubby’s sleeve and whispering “let’s bail”. And we did. And I felt like shit. All the way home through autumnal London on the bus I fought back the tears and felt like the most pathetic loser in the world. Great – clean and sober and back to being me and oh, here we go, I can’t fucking do it. It took a while to pick myself up again and accepting that I’m not the world’s most awful and ridiculous person. I find these things difficult. So what? And I’d had so much happening and feeling wobbly anyway with how things had turned out. Walking into a conference, which to me in that instance felt intimidating and a little scary, just proved too much in all of that. A friend from the counselling course told me “So what? We’ll skip this one and just hit the next one instead. Wanna meet for a coffee instead?” She was going to come with me the second day, given the subject matter is her area of interest too and I felt like such a fool having to tell her I wasn’t up to it. “So what?” she repeated, “I get anxious too.” This was gold dust being falling on my less than ears at precisely the moment I felt like I’m a failure and no one else in the world is as silly as I am.
So here we are and I feel better. Yes, being sober means I can do so much more and BE so much more, but it doesn’t mean everything is suddenly easy and requiring no work. Wine or no wine, I’m still a shy creature who doesn’t always do well in flock situations. That’s just how it is and this time I’d just bitten off more than I could chew, set expectations on myself that perhaps were a little too high and needed to just breathe instead.
Whilst Bully-Face told me there’ll always be a place for me at the rehab and he wants me back to do bank support as I did before this new role materialised, I closed the door on it for the time being. The past couple of months really knocked me and if his goal ever was to cut me down to size he did a fine job of it. I’ve been driving myself nuts trying to weigh up the pros and cons but in the end I just made my peace with the fact that I can’t function like that. So now the road is pretty open (and scary) again. Some options are lined up and I know it’ll all turn out fine.
That’s plenty. Today, perhaps more so than usual, the Serenity Prayer is worth focusing on:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
With that in mind and doing just that, I’d say on balance I’m doing really well.
Today I’m not going to drink.
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