Those first reading This Naked Mind can often think that it’s easy to solve alcohol addiction once you’re no longer drinking. What they really want to know is “Annie, Did you ever have an alcohol relapse?”
Fear Controlled Me
Cutting back or quitting was impossible for me when I believed I was receiving a real benefit from alcohol.
After consideration, I realized I had so much fear about quitting – or even cutting back – for two reasons:
- I thought stopping meant a life of missing out, living sub-par and not truly enjoying life.
- I didn’t think I could do it – I just honestly didn’t.
Thus, I was crippled by the fear and so it was more acceptable – in my mind – to continue to drink and just deal with the negative aspects – than it was to face the fear and the reality that I might need to stop.
In hindsight, it seemed I had two choices, continue to drink until the negative completely eclipsed the good – which I also understand can be called a ‘rock bottom’ or to try and change my perception about alcohol being beneficial. All along, I had this tiny little voice reminding me that I didn’t used to need to drink…
It Wasn’t Always Like This
I was really lucky in a way because while I drank a bit in high school, I drank very little during my college days. In fact, my serious drinking started during my career. So I had lots of memories, some of the best memories of my life, without alcohol involved. I had proof – in my memories that I really did know how to have fun without drinking. We all have that proof if we go back far enough.. . Maybe even to childhood.
Find out more about how our positive memories can bring us freedom from alcohol. Start reading This Naked Mind!
The Unexplained Pain
Meanwhile, I had another aspect happening in my life. I was suffering from severe back pain which no doctors could diagnose. Following this, I read a book by Dr. Sarno – Healing Back Pain – The Mind Body Connection – and a light bulb went on.
I stopped drinking and about 4 months later did a self-experiment. At this time, I started to doubt what I had learned – that most of alcohols benefits are placebo- and wanted to put it to the test.
The Alcohol Relapse Test
No tv, no friends, no music.
Just me, my 2 bottles of wine and my video camera
You have to do this after the physical symptoms have gone – at least 30 days. The nature of alcohol means, just as it is with nicotine, your body does have physical withdrawals from it. Not to mention psychological withdrawals. When you are pining for something and end up getting that something – the relief of the desire is part of the pleasure you associate with it.
Like scratching an itch – you’re OK until you can’t scratch it.
If you drink and it relieves the lows that the alcohol withdrawals have created – however slight – then you will find it more pleasurable than it really is.
It Felt Wrong
This experiment, for me, sealed the deal. What I felt that night which was nothing remarkable, mostly blurry feelings, combined with what I watched on the videos the day before (yikes! I really thought that joke was funny!?) took away any lasting desire I had to drink. Now I just don’t want it – not at all, not even a little bit.
The idea of drinking alcohol makes me feel heavy and sick – I have done a complete 180 and not only do I not want to drink, I feel grateful – on an almost daily basis – that I never have to drink again.
If You Do Have An Alcohol Relapse
That being said its worth talking about how to deal with an alcohol relapse when you do have one. Since alcohol hasn’t been my only addiction – I have some experience in doing something again after I’d made a commitment to myself not to do it – I can understand the feeling of defeat that comes with it.
The Alcohol Monster
Your alcohol monster may reawaken, maybe more than once, during your journey to his final death. You must know that even with the best intentions and the strongest commitments, you may, someday, allow alcohol back into your life. We must face this reality. We cannot hide from it. Our intelligence allows us to protect ourselves, avoiding traps by understanding how they work. Awareness of risk diminishes it.
Drinking again may not be a big deal. But more likely it will become incredibly painful. The alcohol monster will awaken stronger than before.
Worse Than Before
You may find yourself deeper in the pit than ever. Your loved ones have seen you healing. Even if you never verbalized commitments, they have been made through your actions. Drinking will mean breaking those commitments, not only to those you love but, even harder, to yourself. You may lose trust in your own judgment, resolve, and strength. This is not a reason to avoid commitments.
Your strong decisions are a vital part of destroying your thirst for alcohol. But if you do fall prey, you may find yourself deep in a pit of self-loathing, addiction, and despair. So deep that freedom appears impossible.
You’ve Lost A Battle, Not The War
Addiction is a war with the highest stakes imaginable. For me, the most terrifying thing about alcohol relapse is how easy it is to believe that, by relapsing, we have lost the war. Society tells us that if we are unable to stick to our decisions, we are weak. If we break promises, we cannot be trusted. It’s easy to believe that making mistakes makes us useless. We figure that if we “fall off the wagon” we might as well “go all the way” because “it’s too late now.” We feel beyond repair, no longer worth fixing. The internal guilt piles up, convincing us deserve the hatred of those we love. So we punish ourselves, often by drinking more—even to the point where we are sick. We drink
to oblivion, we binge to numb ourselves to the horror of our failure. Hating ourselves more each time. Falling further and feeling lower than ever before.
It is a mistake to believe that by losing a battle we have lost the war. The truth is that each battle makes us stronger as long as we remain committed to a better tomorrow.
We must fight this battle with compassion and forgiveness. That lost battle must be a reminder of all the reasons we quit rather than an unforgivable mistake. We must remember: Losing a battle does not mean we have lost the war.
Drinking Is A Reminder
Drinking will remind you why you stopped. You will remember how much effort it took to moderate. How painful hangovers are. You will remember the internal struggle, the recrimination, and deception. It may come after that first drink or down the road after a time of successful moderation when your willpower runs out.
Let your mistakes become powerful reminders of your freedom.
Let them tell the story of how far you’ve come. The mistakes must be a stepping stone on your journey.
Why Did You Drink?
Examine why you drank. Perhaps, as you heal, your reasons for not drinking alcohol seem less important.
The pain fades, and you wonder: Is alcohol really as bad as I imagined? Am I missing out? Can I now, with enough distance, moderate?
Maybe you feel socially isolated and desire connection. You wonder if you would fit in better and have more friends if you had an occasional drink. If you struggle from loneliness, you must find connections.
Alcohol will never heal your loneliness or provide friendship.
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, you may begin to wonder if a drink would take the edge off and provide relief. Remember, drinking is like turning off your check engine light. It may temporarily numb your symptoms, but it can never heal you.
Alcohol Tears You Apart
You may drink to fill a void in your life. Societal conditioning convinces you that alcohol is key to filling the holes inside you. This will never happen; alcohol can only tear you further apart. And again, if you have a strong physical addiction, freedom may not be easy or even possible without others to fight alongside you.
You may need a rehabilitation center or an ongoing support group.
You may need to call for backup. Call for backup now. Discuss this possibility with those close to you; ensure they are prepared to fight with you when the battle comes. Get whatever help you need.
Asking for help after alcohol relapse does not make you weak; it makes you strong.
You will overcome this. 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. Alcohol does not define you. Alcohol does not give you worth. It is not who you are. It will not fix your problems, solve your loneliness, or provide any of the answers you seek.
This is a journey, not a destination. It is a road that no one can walk but you. These are choices that no one can make but you.
Know that by committing to a different future, no matter how many battles you have ahead of you, the war has already been won.