So you want to quit drinking and stay sober.
I’m not a doctor, just a recovering addict, but I can share with you my experience. Maybe it can help you if you want to quit abusing a substance. While I abused drugs, alcohol was my primary addiction. At the time I quit, I was consuming an average of 15 drinks a day, 90% of which were beer or wine. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get Delirium Tremens, which can be a part of late-stage alcoholism withdrawal. I was not a late-stage alcoholic, though I’d been drinking pretty much everyday for ten years. I was more or less in a “middle stage.”
Everyone is different physically and mentally. Different weight and metabolism, different levels of cerebral goings-on. Some people physicalize things more than others, while some “mentalize” them. There really is no true distinction, however, between the two. The body informs the mind and the mind can influence the body. I had physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as some tingling in my fingertips, mild heart palpitations (irregular heart beat), and general unease, but mostly it was a mental thing for me, getting through the acute mental anguish, depression, the negative thinking of that first 48-72 hours.
If you’re ready to quit, and you’re going to do it on your own (meaning not check into a treatment facility), first, get yourself to the most comfortable, safest place possible. And then you may consider the following:
- There should be no alcohol around you. The people in AA say “I’m just five minutes away from my next drink,” because alcohol is on every street corner. If possible, find yourself a place far away from town. If you’re in a city, you know, that’s going to be challenging. In whatever way you can, make it difficult, if not impossible, to go out and buy drinks. Turn over your car keys. Board over the door. Whatever you can. Get every last bottle of booze out of the house. Nothing stashed in the back shed either, or in the basement. No place is safe. Get rid of it all.
- Make sure no one around you is going to be drinking. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people think they can get sober and stay that way with other people drinking around them. In order to get clean and stay clean, your whole environment has to change. Don’t worry about the long run right now – you don’t have to reorganize your whole life and get all of your friends to quit. You just need to tell them that they can’t drink near you for a little while. If they refuse, or can’t do it, then you need to go somewhere else. (Lots of addicts are surrounded by friends and family members who drink – it tends to be a “family disease.” And lots of these other people don’t know their problem yet, or are in denial of it. It’s not about changing them for you to change. You can’t change anyone. If they will support you with their own abstinence vigil, great. But your sobriety can’t be contingent upon theirs. “Quitting together” rarely works – you’ve only doubled your chances of relapse.)
- Have some things to help you. There are over the counter, non-addictive anxiety pills like Hyland’s brand “Calms” and “Nerve Tonic.” Melatonin can be also good to take. Herbal tea helps too, like Chamomile. Ginger ale, too. No caffeine, until maybe on the third morning you feel like a cup of coffee. (I ended up quickly drinking way to much coffee in the years following the day I quit, and it didn’t help the lingering anxieties. I have since switched to half-caffeinated coffee and feel much better, because, as an addict, I tend to pound five or six mugs of the stuff each morning.) The things I mention above can be found in most any common drug store.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Go for long walks (but not past any liquor or grocery stores if you can help it). Do some mild, light exercising when you feel ready.
- Avoid negative TV or shows that are horrific or thrilling or wacked-out during that first 72 hours. If you are going to watch something, watch something fun, like The Great Outdoors.
- Stay off the internet. Maybe you are researching something about drinking, fine. But avoid Facebook and email and all of that while you’re getting through the detox.
- Once you’ve made it through 72 hours, be patient with yourself. Someone said to me once that my brain was new and I had to give it time. Your chemicals have to reset. Your thought process has to change – and it will. In the short run, though, I highly recommend joining an AA group within the first three or four days of your last drink. Or, become an outpatient at a clinic and go to group three or four days a week. Most of these places have sliding scales and won’t cost you any more than it cost you to drink. And AA is free, of course. (My case of getting sober and staying sober without AA is rare. I had the luck of my family and the woods to protect me – my brother had remodeled part of his little house and I stayed there, miles from civilization. I had no wife, no major job, no mortgage payment. I was able to disappear from the world for a while and not leave some big hole in it. This is not usually the situation. More likely, you have a family and responsibilities and so it is critical you are able to go and get the support you need.)
- If you absolutely cannot manage to go to AA or to an outpatient clinic, you still need support. If you can, you have to involve your family. To not let parents or loved ones know is to not be committed. Period. They love you and they will understand. Or, if they don’t quite get it (most loving parents think the sun shines out of their offspring’s ass and/or they don’t want to face something that might reflect back on them), they will come to get it in time. Point is, you’ve got to have one or the other. You need AA or outpatient, or you need total family support. It wouldn’t hurt to have both, either.
- If you don’t go to AA or group, or even if you do – seek out recovering addicts wherever you can. Go online and find websites and groups. You need to talk about what you’re experiencing – that is critical. You’ve got to talk, and you’ve got to listen. The great thing about other recovering addicts is that in listening to them you find all sorts of things you have in common. Addicts are everywhere – we’re a dime a dozen. And we all have the same universal truths in our lives – our active addiction became unmanageable. But the variation and detail of each addict is beautiful. Some might have stories that just blow your hair back. You may realize you are lucky. Or you may find you can share something of your own story with someone that helps them. This becomes your new family. Not as in your mother/father/wife, but the other family you used to have – your drinking family, the people you spent all that time with at the bar, or on the porch tipping back cold ones – the recovering addicts are your new family now. We’re like a cool motorcycle club. You can get tattoos. You are legitimately tough now, and you didn’t even have to beat anyone up. (Except maybe yourself.)
- In the long run, you are going want to reorganize your life. Everything changes. And it’s all good. Nothing of value goes away – value only gets added. As you change things and develop your new routine – maybe a morning jog, or at least telling yourself how good you feel to not be hung over, and remembering all the bad shit you experienced is behind you – you will also be cultivating the awareness of something you can learn to love more than drinking. This is critical for long term sustainability. And it’s not something that becomes a goal you achieve, either, this thing you want more than you want drinking – it is going to be the rest of your life. Recovery is, as they say somewhat ad nauseam, “One day at a time.” But the reason this gets repeated over and over is because, as an addict, you are a total fucking moron, and thick as an ox. You need to be told, every single day, that this day, the one right in front of you, is what you’ve been given. You stay sober that day, and you do what you love that day – or work towards doing what you love. There will always be something a person can love more than drinking.
- Sobriety is an engine with many parts. It is a tent with many poles. There is not one “trick” to sobriety. To toss in another metaphor, you are sort of spinning multiple plates. The more you have going, the better. When you are exercising, keeping busy with productive work (but not obsessing over that work), and when you are attending meetings, or talking with other addicts, and reaffirming yourself daily, you’re in decent shape. Sometimes it’s not possible to be doing all of these things at once – life has its demands. Your sobriety still needs to come first, though, even amid those demands – like taking the oxygen mask that drops from the plane and putting it on your own mouth before the loved one beside you – you have to prioritize it. That’s why it’s good to have multiple things you do, because on some days you can only manage to do *this* thing, and other days you can only manage *that*. So, it’s not just going to the meetings. It’s not just staying busy, or meditating, if that’s what you do. It’s these things in combination. Eventually they will become habit, become routine, but you need to stay one step ahead of complacency. You never arrive anywhere as an addict. You never reach the end of the road. It might not even be a road, per se. It might be a circle. And you are in the center of it, and you bring into it good things, and you radiate back those good things to the world.
Good luck, and see you later on down the road.