Twelve months ago I would not have joined this challenge. Although my diet was full of healthy, whole, mainly low carb foods, I ran each day, and was outwardly fit and healthy, the idea of 21 days without my evening glass of wine (or 3) would have seemed impossible.
I wasn’t really clear how I had ended up in this situation. All I had really done was follow the script: hard day at work – lets go for a drink, we deserve it. Celebration of a milestone – hey break out the champagne! Feeling tired and a bit down – a glass of wine will make me feel better. Over the years, and then decades, that glass of wine became a beacon at the end of the day, and the glass all too often turned into a bottle.
I knew that I was drinking more than was good for me. Alcohol interfered with my sleep and I was often awake at 3am vowing that the next day would be different and I would not drink at all. In the morning, fighting my foggy head and distaste for my own behaviour I would drag myself out for a run, but sometimes feel like I might die. By 5pm I would be making deals with myself – I would only have one glass. I would only drink sitting down. I would only drink mindfully. So I’d have that first drink. And then as they say, the drink would have a drink, and then the drink would have me.
I couldn’t see a way out. I’d tried so many times to use my will power to stop and never lasted even a day, but I was in no way prepared to apply labels to myself – I was not an addict or an alcoholic, so treatment programmes were not for me.
I never reached rock bottom. I never missed a day of work, crashed my car, or neglected my children, but my health started to suffer. By my mid-fifties regular check-ups started to raise questions about my blood pressure. In my late 50s my thyroid tests started to get dodgy and I was diagnosed with low vitamin B12. I started to suffer from heartburn and had tingling sensations in my fingers. And without a doubt my mental health and relationships were negatively impacted. My relationship with alcohol began to be the most important one in my life – and was one that I kept very private.
If there was a turning point it was a couple of days after my father died in March 2018. I was out late at night running and fell over the dog, injuring my leg. In a visit to the emergency doctor I mentioned the chest pains. Once I had convinced her that it definitely was not my heart she asked about my alcohol consumption. For once I was honest. This got reported back to my regular GP and because she had a particular interest in addiction she followed up with me, not believing me when I told her, “don’t worry, I’ve got this”. But, given my absolute refusal to accept a referral to addiction services (because that was not me), she really had no answers. But at least I was forced to admit that I had a problem, and one that only I could fix.
You know how the internet seems to be able to read your thoughts? I don’t think I ever even googled anything about alcohol, but towards the end of 2018 facebook started to feed me ads from an American called Annie Grace. Through her programme This Naked Mind, she promised to help me control alcohol. At first the programme she was selling seemed far too expensive for me to consider, as I had no faith it would work. Then, just before the end of the year she announced she was releasing a new programme called the Live Alcohol Experiment – starting on 1 January 2019. I preordered her new book and signed up for the experiment. I figured that at US$47 I didn’t have much to lose.
It took me a couple of days to get my head around it. January 1 in the States is January 2 in NZ,so that was a good excuse to put it off a day. January 2 I was busy and still finding excuses, but only had one glass of wine. January 3 some minor little issue arose, so I had a bottle of wine to deal with it. January 4 I woke up with yet another hangover and decided to commit. I started reading the book and caught up on the daily videos provided with the programme. As suggested, I made my two big lists. I found I had a very, very long list of reasons why I wanted to stop drinking, and a very short list of reasons I drank. I also joined the closed facebook group for the 2,000 people across the world who had joined the experiment. Perhaps most importantly I sat down with my husband, talked honestly about my drinking, and asked for his support for the 30 days. That day was the beginning of my sober life.
Working through the programme that month was a revelation. I understood that I was not alone. I learned that my brain was working exactly as it is intended to – but that our brains are hard-wired for survival in a very different environment to how we live today. I accepted that it was not my fault but was my responsibility. I developed skills to manage my habitual thinking habits and tactics to survive the urges and cravings I experienced. I also connected with a community of intelligent, successful and thinking people who shared their experiences and supported each other through the hard times. At the end of the month I made the choice to continue to be alcohol-free. I also did so with no feeling of hardship or deprivation, as I felt I had lost nothing and gained the world.
I’ve made sure that I’ve put in place systems to keep me on track. I followed up the January Alcohol Experiment with a three month This Naked Mind Intensive programme (yes the same one I thought was too expensive), then signed up to the 100 Days of Lasting Change programme. In total this has given me 7 months of support, including through daily vidoes and on-line communities.
8 months later my life is so much better that it is hard to describe. As well as freedom from the physical results of drinking, I have freedom from self-loathing and fear. I have more money to spend on holidays and treats, and more time to spend doing things I enjoy. Because I no longer drink to numb my feelings and deal with conflict and stress I have had to develop healthy emotional and coping skills, and I practice deliberate daily self-care. In fact I have discovered that much of the conflict and stress in my life was caused by alcohol! I am working on healing and growing my relationships with my family.
I’m not saying that I will never drink alcohol again, but right now I can’t imagine why I would. After all alcohol is just a fermented drink that’s really an addictive poison. There are plenty of other wonderful things to drink – and eat – and do!
Guest post by Lisa Burch.