“I am NEVER drinking again!”. My words every Sunday morning through tiny bloodshot eyes, a pounding head, ridiculous nausea and vomiting and walking hunched over so the ground didn’t wobble. I have lost count of the number of times I said this to anyone who would listen. I have also lost count of the number of responses that went “until next week”. I really thought I meant it when I said it and this would be my day one.
It was never my day one. By Tuesday, I would happily sip a glass of wine on the evening, unless the drinks police (aka my husband) gave me the familiar disapproving look, then I might have to wait until Thursday as apparently Thursday is the new Friday when you’ve been a drinker for over 20 years, well if you’re like me anyway.
But when it really was my day one, it was different. I knew I would just stop and be OK. I can’t explain how and I have never put any real pressure on myself to count the days because I feel free. I mean, sure, the first 30 days were a challenge, the next 30 were up and down, but by day 90 I felt free and happy and all bouncy on my beautiful big pink fluffy cloud.
All too often I see people beating themselves up about their blips and failings or their absolute stupidity. Is this actually necessary because if you’ve returned to day one, you obviously had some success before you drank again, right?
I think there are two ways of looking at this and in honesty, I have experienced both. My interpretation of how two of my favourite Authors describe returning to day one, are below.
The first way is as the wonderful Clare Pooley describes it in her blog and in her book, The Sober Diaries. She describes an image of standing in a beautiful field with flowers, sunshine and fluffy bunnies but over time the field becomes miserable – her analogy for drinking alcohol over time. It is rainy more often and its just not as pretty anymore. She explains how you meet people who tell you there is a better field if you will only get to it over the massive obstacle course. You set off not knowing how far you need to go or how long it will take and at first you do really well. After hurdling many obstacles and feeling more and more exhausted you give up and go back to your field. At first, Clare says, it is “great to be home”, familiar. But very quickly, you realise your field is awful. Clare explains that this is like returning to day one. The first few weeks are the hardest but every time you go back, knowing what you have to face to get back to where you were, it feels harder and harder. I experienced this on my penultimate time of quitting. I gave up for 35 days, which was tough as I did this with very little help or self-education, then started drinking again when my will-power ran out. The next time I tried, the first 35 days (of what has now become my success) were gruelling because I was right back where I had been 10 months previously and I knew exactly what I had to go through to get to day 35 again. I felt like a failure but Clare was right. This time I went at it knowing I would succeed and armed with Clares analogy of the obstacle course. This time I had ammunition because I had the promise of a beautiful field if I just kept going. This euphoria and freedom really does exist and it really does take about 100 days to realise it and about six months to get there. In fact, I got there in about four.
The second way of looking at returning to day one is as the amazing Annie Grace explains it. Her Alcohol Experiment is about changing relationships with alcohol whether that to be a more mindful drinker or to quit for good. Annie implies that often people don’t see a relapse coming and if it does, they are cruel to themselves. It is a case of being vigilant and mindful and that to be free from the grip of alcohol you should decide upon wanting freedom more than you want a drink. She explains (and I am paraphrasing here) that if you relapse, it isn’t a failure because once you have given sobriety a good go (at least 30 days), you have the tools to try again, this time knowing what the pitfalls are. She says “let each temptation, each battle bring you closer to winning the war. Learn from each fight, discovering your truth about alcohol and its role in your life”. On my final attempt at stopping drinking, I didn’t have to rely on willpower. I was educated and empowered and Annie had taught me all about cognitive dissonance and how to realign my conscious and subconscious mind to get on the same bloody page. This time, I read and read and read and I started to understand. And I really did change how I feel about alcohol – I no longer even want a drink. So, I guess if I had to evaluate this, having been there several times myself, I would say that both ways of looking at returning to day one are correct. What helped me the most was having an understanding that the pink fluffy cloud would eventually come and if I started to fall off, I knew how to get right back on again. I finally had a full toolbox!
Every time you have to start again, it is more and more difficult. You know exactly how hard that beginning part where you have to use pure willpower to get through an evening is, but you also know you’re capable of doing it. Whether you choose to count your days as a mark of success or take one day at a time is your choice. Anyone working through their recovery and on their road to freedom, get off your own back. You are brave, strong and courageous or you wouldn’t even be reading this blog. Stop self-deprecating and beating yourself up for being a failure. You only fail if you stop trying. My advice to you, is to definitely stick it out for at least 100 days before you try to decide and I doubt very much that you will even want to go back, oh, and read, read and read a bit more.
Read Clare Pooley’s blog here: http://mummywasasecretdrinker.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-obstacle-course.html
Read Annie Grace’s article here: https://thisnakedmind.com/q-alcohol-relapse/