How do I deal with these thoughts of quitting drinking?
April 21, 2016 9:15 PM   Subscribe

I stopped drinking about 5 weeks ago. I'm still baseline low key depressed like I've been most of my life (with occasional swings in either direction), but in general I am calmer, less confrontational, less impulsive and less argumentative. There are zero downsides to not drinking alcohol. But as the time since my last drink increases, the more I worry how disappointing a relapse will be. How do I keep a realistic perspective? And how do I stop this internal belief that alcoholism is my "destiny?"

This is the longest I've been without alcohol in I don't know how many years. At least 5. I'm happy with that. If you had asked me the day before I stopped drinking if I could go without for even a week I would have told you no.

I'm not thinking about alcohol day to day anymore. My cravings have already decreased. In fact, the thought of drinking sometimes makes me feel disgusted. But I'll admit that in moments of weakness I still get an urge.

I'm worried I'll slip up. And oddly, the longer I go without, the more pressure I feel to not drink. And deep down there's a voice telling me, "It's only a matter of time. Might as well drink." Part of me even thinks being an alcoholic is what I deserve, for the way I've treated friends when I drank in the past. I would lash out over perceived slights/rejection and end the friendship, only to come to my senses when sober. I would delete numbers from my phone, block them through my carrier, delete them from Facebook, and then take it all back within a day or two. One time I deleted my entire family from Facebook. Since not drinking I have had zero arguments with friends or family.

I'm in therapy but I would like to hear from people who may have had similar experiences. How do I deal with the guilt of my past actions, and challenge the belief that I am destined to be a lonely, bitter, old alcoholic?
posted by blackzinfandel to Human Relations (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you aren't an alcoholic. Maybe you are. But I do know that you can't change the past. The best you can do is make amends where appropriate and behave better today. And I don't necessarily mean formalized amends in the AA sense. Making amends should mean whatever works for you. Maybe you can't apologize to someone you've harmed for whatever reason or apologizing today just wouldn't make sense or be welcome. So donate to a charity, volunteer, do something to help someone who is struggling. You don't have to make a big deal out of repairing a relationship--just keep trying to be the type of person who doesn't have to repair relationships. For you, that apparently means not drinking. The people you've already harmed will either come around or they won't. But it's up to you to do no more harm.

Fate, destiny, all those things are just excuses to not take responsibility. If you truly believe that your destiny is to be a lonely, bitter, old alcoholic you can and will take all of the actions necessary to fulfill that destiny. Self-fulfilling prophecies are real. If you'd prefer a different outcome, imagine a different destiny and take responsibility for that one.
posted by xyzzy at 9:41 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

a) there's a lot of AA haters on the green, so take with a grain of salt: go to some meetings. if you don't consider yourself an alcoholic, go to what they call 'open' meetings. just listen.
b) ramp up your exercise
posted by j_curiouser at 10:01 PM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

This all seems very, deeply, incredibly normal. Obsessive thoughts, justifications, weird logic: you are craving alcohol even if you're not aware of obvious cravings, and this is how it's coming out. This process is going to take time - give yourself that time. This process is going to fill up your head with kind of crazy thoughts - fill your head with other things like good books, healthy social interactions, and distracting films. Or alternately, learn to empty your head in a way that is healthy (not destructive, as alcohol can be) like mindfulness based meditation, physical exercise, and time in nature. This might be a good time to join a Sierra Club walking group or go to a yoga class (or boot camp if that's more your speed). You'll meet some interesting and different people there. And it will keep you busy. One idea: Write down the reasons you enjoy being free of alcohol - it's benefits to you. Imagine where you want to be in 6 months or 1 year: Perhaps having made some amends with loved ones? Put time and effort into imagining a future free of alcohol (to replace your current thoughts that you will inevitably start drinking - which is not a fact, but just a thought).

You are normal, this is hard. AA may or may not be for you - I have my own criticisms of it - but they sure do make some good tag lines: One Day at a Time.

You're doing great work - I believe you can stick with it.
posted by latkes at 10:27 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm finding SMART Recovery's guidelines on disputing irrational beliefs really helpful in early recovery.

I am super proud of you. Quitting drinking like you have is really hard. Getting this far shows that you have willpower and resilience. I know he thought of going back to your old life is scary, but you're catastrophizing. You're assuming the worst will happen: that you'll relapse, that suddenly you'll be powerless again.

Take your current sobriety as proof that you are NOT powerless. If you get nervous seeing the days stack up, literally just take it one day at a time.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:44 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I linked a blog post about disputing irrational beliefs that doesn't actually make as sense as the actual entry from the SMART Workbook. For me, having it explained to me and applied to different situations that are brought up during SMART meetings was even more helpful and has helped me look a my own emotional meltdowns in a more rational way.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:47 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Part of me even thinks being an alcoholic is what I deserve, for the way I've treated friends when I drank in the past.

You see the paradox there, right? That this self-punishment only perpetuates the problem? But of course you don't deserve that! Look, your ability to plan and regulate your actions and emotions were compromised for the whole time that you drank. (On a given night, the day after it, all those years.) Keep reading about the short- and long-term effects of alcohol use and abuse. Beyond the physiological stuff - which is significant - you drank for a whole complex of emotional reasons. Work to understand them. It'll take time, be patient with it.

Many people have imperfect coping mechanisms and patterns. (If it's not about drink, it'll be something else). Lots of us live in a kind of tension between unhealthy but familiar ways of dealing with challenges, and the responses our better selves (often, better-positioned selves) might take. We slip; we try again. That's all anyone can do. It's true, there will be times you'll want to use the most comfortable way of dealing with something hard. It might happen. But even if it does, you can get back to the direction that you know is better for you (and people close to you).

What you can do is prepare for those moments by building a support system - by tending to your friendships from now on, as xyzzy says, and by reaching out to people who've been where you've been, and experts who can help. And by learning new ways of caring for yourself, getting right down to basics.

(At some point, when you're more on an even keel, it might help to think about other kinds of changes you can make to give yourself the best odds of doing better for longer. That might mean a move, or a change of job, or even career. One obviously can't avoid every possible stress, life will still bite you in the ass sometimes, but with some help, you can set yourself up so that you're better equipped and have more resources (and resilience) when it happens.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:49 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

You're doing great. Drinking really suppresses a lot of emotions, and they're coming up now. It's good you're in therapy, please talk about these with your therapist.

People change. YOU can change. You're already making changes. You have to be kind to yourself and just accept that you weren't always acting in the way you'd like, and forgive yourself for that. And try to do better going forward.

You're not doomed to be an alcoholic. Maybe drinking will never be good for you, but you see that and are in control over it.

I'm coming up on 4 years not drinking. I'll be honest, the last couple weeks have been hard. I've been thinking, "I could just go get a bottle of wine and drink it, it's not like anyone would know." But I haven't. I have weird nostalgia for drinking, but I know it's fake; ignoring how shitty I felt and how I would drink to not feel things. I try to remember gross hangovers, and the anxiety, and all the ways I didn't act like myself. And I eat some candy instead (not the best, but the sugar kind of works to shut off that physical craving side of the brain. Just be mindful of what you're doing) and work out and do other relaxing things.

These are normal feelings you're feeling. Don't think of this time you've been not drinking as "pressure", try to be proud of all those days where you didn't. That's why AA focuses on "one day at a time." You're only not drinking today. This hour. This minute. That's the only one that counts.

Also, these thoughts about "it's only a matter of time before I drink again..." For me, it was more, "it's only a matter of time before I REALLY mess something up, if I keep drinking." And it was really pretty easy to stop once I started feeling like I cared for myself enough to prevent that. So I managed to find not drinking pretty powerful. It was for protecting and honoring ME, and cutting it out was all about taking care of myself. It's not a sentient monster, it's something that's not good for you. It only has the power you give it.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 10:53 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

And even if you do decide to have a drink, or go out and get drunk RIGHT NOW, that still doesn't mean you're doomed to be an alcoholic. I'm not going to fact-check this, but I sometimes think of something I read ages ago that talked about how alcoholic rates were really high in some certain conservative Christian churches that were very much against drinking. Because there's this thought that "Well, I'm drinking so I'm already damned, so I might as well do it all the time!" That's not true, life is full of gray areas and stops and starts. Even if you fall back, you can go forward again.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:05 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

I read your question and I imagine you're saying something a little bit like that cartoon cliche: 'It's quiet; too quiet.' Like you're waiting for a shoe to drop. You've got this doom thing hanging over you. It's not a real doom though, it's anxiety.

Just because you can't visualize a sober, happy future doesn't mean you can't have one, and you absolutely deserve one. That's the thing about changing habits and patterns: it's really hard to anticipate, and to believe in, what we haven't experienced. We've got to walk blind for a while, and take it on faith. Here are several voices telling you there's territory beyond your map, even though you can't see your road. It's there, and it's for you, not just other people.

Drinking is the devil you know. Sobriety is The Great Unknown. Unfamiliar and scary, right when you've sworn off your coping mechanism. Your anxiety is working overtime, trying to get you back into that familiar bubble - even though the familiar isn't healthy, it's comforting.

The longer you go, the more investment you have in your accomplishment, the bigger the 'fall' if you relapse, and it's almost totemic, that number of days/weeks/months, and I think it's worth noting that it puts pressure on a person, the weight of that number. You've already got ideas about how you don't deserve happiness, and guilt stuff, and I'm not you, but for me it's like a setup for some kind of self-sabotage guilt shame self-loathing blowout. Can that be avoided? Can the pressure come off you? Relapses happen sometimes; people carry on. They don't fail, they just get back on track. And they get there.
posted by Fantods at 11:31 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

You need to remember to take care of the person you hurt the most when you were drinking, and try to do better by them. That person is you.
posted by rudd135 at 4:07 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Have you considered a fellowship like AA? I'm not an alcoholic, but I really like AA meetings. There's a lot of acceptance in that room and everyone there has stories to tell that will show you that you're not alone. You can talk about these feelings with other people who are also not drinking. You can get insight from people who have been sober for 5 decades, 5 years, 5 months, 5 weeks, 5 days, 5 minutes. Seriously. It can be helpful.

You may not think you're an alcoholic and therefore don't belong in an AA meeting. One of the things you'll learn there is that you don't have to believe in everything 100%, just take what you need from it.

Try a few meetings, perhaps it can help. If not, what have you lost?

There are Atheist AA meetings if that's more your speed.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:31 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

A practical point to add to the great advice above, you need an activity to fill the time you spent drinking. A friend of mine took up archery when he got sober and years later is a state champion. Another good friend started a landscape business. Volunteering is a part of recovery programs for the same reason - to keep you active and mindful of the world around you. I'm happy for you on this great path you're on.
posted by areaperson at 5:05 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Five weeks after five years? Good for you. Good work.

deep down there's a voice telling me, "It's only a matter of time. Might as well drink."

Part of me even thinks being an alcoholic is what I deserve, for the way I've treated friends when I drank in the past.

this internal belief that alcoholism is my "destiny?"

How do I ... challenge the belief that I am destined to be a lonely, bitter, old alcoholic?

I'm two years sober. I think I'm a pretty rational person, but it was helpful to me in recovery to consider thoughts like this as if the addiction is another entity inside my mind. Because that's exactly the kind of defeatist stuff it was saying all the time, for a long time, after I quit drinking. It always has more reasons why the only sensible thing is to say 'screw it' and have a drink. It's a clever trick. Addiction a liar and it doesn't care if it destroys you. Don't listen to it.

(Really, always. I still think about it that way, because it pipes up sometimes about how I ought to drink, it doesn't matter, I'm safe now, I can quit I proved it, there's no one around, bla bla bla.)

How do I deal with the guilt of my past actions

For me, this part was about coming to terms with the fact that drinking as much as I did made me a fool. People I care about were angry with me, saddened by me, and disgusted by me. AA says you're supposed to apologize to people, right? Well I never did that, because I think it would have been about me, not them. I can say that I would have tried to be sincere, but what do I know? I wasn't even really there in those times. I don't think anyone would care to hear my apology, and I think doing that would be an act to assuage my own guilt. So for me, the guilt IS the not drinking, in that it reminds me, forever, of what alcohol turns me into. And I can deal with that feeling of guilt a lot more easily than I can deal with being that person.

But the longer you stay sober, the easier it will be for you to see that your shameful past behavior wasn't inherently you. And you don't have to be that way anymore. You're already choosing not to be that way. Good luck.
posted by heatvision at 5:11 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

A lonely old, bitter alcoholic who is on the wagon is better than a dead alcoholic.
posted by AugustWest at 5:59 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you are incredibly brave for taking these loving steps for yourself by not putting alcohol into your body and facing the thoughts and emotions that arise as you begin allowing what is.
A part of what is happening perhaps is a belief that the disappointment if you "fail" will be unbearable and the fear of what will you do if you do "fail". Not conscious to your mind. No, if you drink, you will stop, again and again and again because you are already on that awareness path. That doesnt mean youare aware of this belief fully but something is happening and bells are going off, like a monster is waiting and its coming to get you. So let it. When it comes let it. Whatever you do you will do or you will keep running from that. Youask how do i stop the belief alcohol is my destiny. Dont try to stop it, allow it. Allow the belief of (a collection of words conditioned) to be there because what you resist persists. When you allow it, what happens? What do you feel? Not what do you think. The resulting emotions are what you need to feel to let that pass through you, sadness, anger, and out of you. Having deep seated shame is terrifying to experience emotionally and if you look at the mind as trying to"protect" you you can soothe it when it comes..."Its ok, I am here" (as you sweat or perhaps pace whatever happens). That's the emotions (past in you) arising and you seeing that in fact you are ok...over time this experience will let the panic subside and a calm abiding state develops, although thoughts/ emotions may be high, your actions do not create the same outcomes (drink to suppress) because less is suppressed as you have allowed what is...feelings, to be felt and seen as "irrational" shame/fear etc(they were "rational" or rather suppressing felt necessary at one time but now you are ready to stop suppressing and causing you to hurt the body). A beautiful thing and brave, brave brave, reward yourself.

I am not a fan of the word deserve, because it means if you deserve this thing (good thing) you also must deserve the other thing (bad thing). Instead once you become fully aware of your humanity through the process you are on, the hurting the body etc will go and you will be. Deserving is not a thing the mind can play with anymore.

Goodluck and best wishes, we are rooting for you.
posted by RelaxingOne at 8:57 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

You're statement that you think it's a matter of time before you drink reminded me of Marc Schoen's book Your Survival Instinct is Killing You, which I would suggest reading. Schoen talks a lot about how we have become a society that doesn't have much tolerance for discomfort - and that increasing your tolerance for discomfort is the way to make changes in your life. He used an example of someone who is a drug addict and can't tolerate the discomfort of wondering if she'll use again - so she does so just to get it over with. This sounds like some of the thoughts you're having. You're not destined to drink again, and even if you do at some point, don't ever give up on yourself. You should feel immensely proud of yourself for what you've already accomplished. You can do it. Best wishes to you.
posted by FencingGal at 9:24 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I might get pilloried for even mentioning this, but I think that Moderation Management might be a good option for you. I've been in a similar situation, and found AA to be not only not helpful, but downright depressing - in my (admittedly limited) experience, it felt like the worst aspects of church without any of the good ones.

That's not to take anything away from anyone who gets value from AA. It just wasn't for me, and I don't think it's for everybody. Maybe MM is more your thing. I don't know. Only you will know.

I do know this, and this is something that I wrestled with for a long time: An "all-or-nothing" approach was more of a negative for me than a positive, and it simply didn't work in the long run. If I decided one day that I could never have a carrot ever again until the day I die, or I could never have a steak, I would always look at those things with a sense of regret. But they are okay to have every once in a while, in the right situations.

Life should be happy. And frankly, it sounds like you're in a pretty happy place right now. Maybe just enjoy that, and don't worry about some false inevitability or destiny that you'd built up WAY too big in your head?

Be happy. Go buy some really good chocolate and gummy bears. It's Friday, watch some crappy TV and be happy with who you are. (I can personally testify that a 50/50 mix of Gatorade and tonic water is utterly satisfying.)

You are doing great. (MeMail me if you'd like to chat more.)
posted by jbickers at 9:24 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey congrats. One of the reasons that AA is big on "one day at a time" is that it keeps you away from beating yourself up about the past OR the future. And at some level you don't even know what your non-drinking life will be like because you just started. And maybe it will include some periods of relapse (which is normal, if it happens, and normal though less likely if it doesn't). You've outlined a lot of really good things that you're already seeing about your life and yourself because of positive choices that you made. You get to keep that knowledge even if you become someone who takes another drink. There's definitely some popular culture fear/dread centered around "the relapse" and hey they suck because you feel like you let people down and all the rest. But honestly? Being able to at least, at the smallest step, say "I stayed sober today and it was a little challenging and go me!" is a gift.

Speaking as someone who grew up with an alcoholic on the family and has a somewhat distorted relationship with alcohol, part of the thing alcohol does is masks your ability to deal with bad feelings because you just drink them away. So there will be some "sitting" with bad feelings like anxiety and worry and concern and depressive thoughts. And part of being a non-drinker (in whatever way that works for you) is learning to manage feelings that might otherwise be something you'd know you could dull with alcohol. It's not a ton of fun, but it's definitely a growth experience.

And another part of AA (it's not my path but I know that it's helped some people and I take from it what I think is useful) is making amends when you go and tell people that you're doing this and that your sorry, some may stay pissed but others will be genuinely happy for you and proud of you. And that's a good feeling you can bank and which can help you stay centered and reduce the dread that can be based on what you THINK people are feeling about you but they're not.

Five weeks is good and you've got that today no matter what else happens. Nice job.
posted by jessamyn at 11:19 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am a big believer in the effectiveness of communities of people getting sober together and supporting each other. There are online resources if you don't want to go to meetings. Here's one: the Sober Recovery Forums. Good luck.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:56 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's another online community for you: /r/stopdrinking.

People post questions like yours all the time, so there's plenty of wisdom in the archive if (like me) you prefer to lurk rather than dive straight in. You can even sign up and get a little badge that counts up your days for you.

Good luck!
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is already a lot of great advice in here, so I just want to add my voice (6 years sober, but I remember well what it was like five weeks in).

"One day at a time" definitely is helpful. I was pretty convinced I'd start drinking again at some point. How could I stay sober when I never had so far? Doesn't matter! Maybe you'll start drinking six months down the line. But today you won't. Repeat the process tomorrow. And the day after. Don't worry about six months from now - you'll be in a completely different mindset then. Don't worry about a week from now either. Worry about that in a week! I still can't tell you with absolute certainty I'll never start drinking again. Doesn't matter. I'm not drinking today.

How do I [...] challenge the belief that I am destined to be a lonely, bitter, old alcoholic?
I'm not sure how helpful this is gonna be, but... whenever I see people who didn't overcome their addictions, I see a version of myself. That could've been me. It was me, for a long time, but I got out. Why? I have no idea. I got lucky (I also had great support, which helped for sure, but most other people in my program relapsed).
I'm no better or worse than the people who still drink. I could still be a lonely, bitter alcoholic, and they could be me. (And they might get sober tomorrow! Or they might die of cirrhosis in 5 years.)
But there is no "destiny" about it. It's just that one of us picks up a drink, and one of us has managed to develop other strategies to deal with crap.

How do I deal with the guilt of my past actions
That one's easy! What would those you have treated badly say if you asked them? Don't do that thing that makes you do crazy shit. (And that's not to put more pressure on you. But don't beat yourself up about the past. The greatest thing you can do for your friends & family is remove alcohol from your life. Which you are doing! So it's all good. Concentrate on that.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:23 PM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

epony-serious: A lonely old, bitter alcoholic who is on the wagon is better than a dead alcoholic - August West
posted by j_curiouser at 4:54 PM on April 22, 2016

For some people--and maybe for you--the all-or-nothing/black-and-white approach is too stark. It sets you up to either win or lose, not to succeed.

Is it possible to think a little more flexibly? You've been sober 5 weeks. That's 5 weeks in the bank. And even if you were to have a drink tomorrow, you still will have been sober for these 5 weeks. Nothing can take that away. And if you do have another drink, you know how to make a change and get back on track, because you've done it before.
posted by MrBobinski at 5:23 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

How do I deal with the guilt of my past actions, and challenge the belief that I am destined to be a lonely, bitter, old alcoholic?
If you tell yourself you are a loser or that you are bitter and lonely, you are likely to find it very difficult to make healthy choices for yourself. There's a term for this kind of belief in CBT, "self-talk."

One way I like to think of this as a sort of internal propaganda. Just as governments sometimes use news media outlets to push a pro-[insert political perspective] message, you are pushing a pro-"lonely, bitter, old alcoholic" message to yourself. No matter what happens, you're going to try to justify it in terms of your beliefs about yourself.

One solution is to sort of push the needle back the other way. So if you know that you have negative self-talk around your weight, for example, but you need to lose weight, start focusing on your accomplishments in other areas and internal attributes like willpower or dedication, which makes you feel better about your ability to succeed. You have to force yourself to focus on these positive qualities to "spin" the story that your brain is telling you in another direction. This sounds like delusion, but it's actually just working around the delusion of your negative self-talk and bringing you back to a neutral, logical place where you can start to work toward your goal.

I would look into a CBT type therapy program to help develop some strategies for working around your self-talk. It's a lot more common than you think to have problems like you are describing.
posted by deathpanels at 6:14 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my early twenties I quit drinking cold turkey and stayed sober for five years. I fell off the wagon hard on a snowy night in an Econo-Lodge during a particularly difficult time in my life. The main thing I took away from that night was that my problems were still fucking there. Drinking again did not do anything good.

Keep in mind the good parts of how you're feeling today and rely on them to keep you sober. Congratulations and best of luck.
posted by bendy at 7:34 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

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