perhaps we come across the tools we need at the right time for us, whether in sobriety or in any other endeavour. we keep stubbing our toes on the necessity for them until we can’t deny them any more. this is the case for me with several things, in particular therapy and meditation. maybe there is a logical order to using tools, too. for example it is literally only in typing these words that I’ve realised that perhaps I needed to employ those tools in that order – therapy prior to meditation? because prior to therapy the inside of my head was like a Wild West saloon, and you didn’t go in there and sit quietly in a corner with your eyes closed – you went in with clenched fists and pistols drawn in case of trouble.
there are a few things however that with hindsight I wish I had cottoned onto earlier. they would have eased my early struggles and stopping drinking is fucking hard enough as it is. they may not be right for you, but here are some thoughts:
firstly, I didn’t discover sober audios until early in 2014, when I was two or three months sober. I hadn’t subscribed to Belle’s podcasts when I started, but had saved them ‘in case I needed them’. which was like looking at a life-belt floating beside me, and deciding that I didn’t need it yet.
so then I started with Belle’s podcasts (free 11 minute sample here), and quickly found The Bubble Hour, and Since Right Now (both the latter entirely free with lots of back episodes to listen to. if you haven’t yet listened to these, a grand place to start would be with Mrs D on the Bubble Hour or Paul from Message in a Bottle at Since Right Now).
these voices wound their way into my day to day life, accompanying me on car journeys, and runs, and at points in my working day. and their words sunk into my soul, and healed me in a way that I had previously not discovered.
and all I have learnt since starting to get sober about neuroscience, and how neurons that fire together, wire together, supports me in this – that the associations with sobriety that this builds into my day to day life are incalculably invaluable. physically hearing a message, a human laugh or catch in the throat, integrates it into my very heart, my own identity, in a way nothing else can. words read on a page are two-dimensional in comparison. and when not-drinking becomes part of one’s own identity, the idea of doing so again becomes an idea that makes me shrug in bemusement. why would I do that?
the spoken word has massively helped me leave behind my identity as a drinker, without any of the barriers that we tell ourselves stop us from doing so:
not money – mostly free, or, like Belle’s, worth every penny. I see my podcast subscription as a monthly and very small thank you for the enormous support she provides and continues to provide.
not time – these are all things that can be done around other activities, and indeed can enliven and brighten otherwise dull tasks.
and perhaps most importantly – not exposure to a real life situation that could be risky for us. it puts us close to others, giving many of the advantages of community, without the leap of trust (and very real courage) that doing so in real life would require. it is not a substitute for doing so, but I think can be a stepping stone.
the second thing is other people, and I’m going to shamelessly cheat here because that’s actually two things 😉
firstly, I wish I’d known earlier that most people don’t give a monkey’s whether I drink or not. and when I say ‘most people’ I mean the majority – say 80% of the population – who have no shade of dependence upon alcohol. they really, really don’t care what’s in my glass. I thought they did. I was wrong. in the 22 months since I have stopped drinking, I have had maybe three what can only be called cursory conversations with moderate drinkers about why I don’t drink.
one thing that I can liken that attitude to is that of a five year old boy towards his hair. he knows it is there. he sees it occasionally. it would be a bit odd if it wasn’t in his life, but he gives no thought to it from day to day.
whereas those of us who have carefully honed and crafted our cunning and maleficent dependence on the stuff, pay as much attention to it as a fifteen year old does to his hair. it consumes vast quantities of attention, time, money (and hair gel). how it is behaving can affect the whole tenor of his day. a difference imperceptible to others can make or entirely mar the whole thing.
in particular I thought my husband would mind that I didn’t drink. he doesn’t. the exact amount of importance he gives to this, if it were possible to physically weigh it on the scales, would come up with the quantity ‘not a rat’s ass’. he cares that I am happy. full stop. end of story.
the corollary to this is that a minority of people will care a lot about whether or not I drink. I may have pre-empted this by ditching a whole gang of heavy drinking friends a while before I stopped drinking, in my attempts to moderate. it may be that if you are reading this you still know a lot of people who drink heavily, which will be by its nature considerably more difficult. I read somewhere recently that when we say “let’s go out for a drink” that’s exactly what we are doing. it is all FOR the drink. not for the company, or the conversation. the purpose of the evening is to drink. anything else just puts a gloss of respectability upon it, so we can live with ourselves. look how many friends I have! look how much fun we are having together! no. look open-eyed at how much the evening revolves around alcohol.
the on-the-other-hand of people is finding your sober tribe. and I have been hugely blessed in meeting and corresponding with some wonderful friends, both locally and overseas. my wish-I’d-done-sooner is the meeting in real life bit. and there is no ‘should’ winding its way towards this paragraph because the only thing I think you need to do is what is right for you. for me, meeting others in real life was such a game changer, lifting and releasing a pressing weight of unacknowledged shame. I didn’t do it until I was 10 months sober, and if I’d done it earlier my load would have been lighter, earlier.
one reason I think this happens is that we are so conditioned to think of AA as the only possible route. I wrote that off for myself because I live in a small town and also to be honest I have insufficient faith in the anonymity of anything I might say in a meeting, which if it is full of other people who are at least as confused as I am is not an unreasonable conclusion. I’ve spilled my beans to a therapist and not to a room of equally troubled individuals. safer that way.
but there are so many other routes you can take now, which do not involve impossibly inconvenient weekly trips to a public venue. I am a huge fan of sober coaches, who have often come through the ranks of recovery themselves. they often run one to one packages including person to person contact. Belle offers a Sober Jumpstart class including live calls. the wonderful Lou runs an online course including an optional live call. Lou also runs one day Saturday workshops in London giving you the tools you need to quit drinking. there are a couple coming up… if you are in the area, could this be an option for you? Club Soda is growing rapidly in the UK, offering a chance to meet others in recovery. one facility you might be interested in is the weekly online social, which you can participate in from anywhere in the world. do any of my overseas readers know of any equivalents locally to them?
from my perspective there are more ‘ways into’ recovery that have sprung up over the last couple of years. the rise of Dry January, and Go Sober for October, for example, are now socially acceptable ways of at least opening the door to not drinking and peering fearfully around the edge into the unknown. I have massive reservations about these initiatives, too, but they can be at least a step towards greater self-knowledge.
however far you can personally go towards contacting other people, finding the opportunity to interact with others in recovery, whether as an email penpal, or by telephone call, Skype, online conference or in real life – go there. in doing so I have made firm friendships, even if we are separated by where we live in the world. I read once that we live in a post-geographic era – we are no longer divided by geography, which is pretty damn wonderful. we can help one another fight off life’s sabre toothed tigers, wherever we live, and regardless of whether we ever meet in the flesh.
last on the list of ‘things I wish I’d known’ is a better perspective of how alcohol fits into our world. it may be of course that perspective is something that can only be achieved with time and experience. that we can only internalise words that mesh with our own dawning understanding.
one great place to start if you are new to this recovery fun-fair is this post of Holly’s, in which she generously references her own top ten mind-altering reads.
I only discovered Holly when I was 19 months sober. I am constantly amazed at the breadth and depth and the compassion that I continue to find on this Internet.
I will take every scrap of wisdom I can, as early as I can, and make them into my own beautiful doorway to understanding my life.
here’s some music for your day. things are looking up! Prim xx