Quitting drinking and staying sober

On the morning of June 1st 2014, I woke up with the worst hangover ever and I’d endured some devastating hangovers in my life. Sunglasses well into the nighttime kinda hangovers and this one was a two pair of shades, forty paracetamol kind of hangover. Finally, I open my eyes, noticing stickers on my chest and slowly the previous evening’s activities began to unfold in my mind; copious amounts of whiskey, pain, hospital, shame. I knew something had to change. I knew I was at the end and that I couldn’t carry on living like this but I had no idea where to begin. The thought of not drinking scared the shit of me. All my friends were drinkers. All the activities we did involved drinking. My whole life revolved around the pub or the consumption of alcohol. Without it, I would have nothing. I had no hobbies. No creative outlets. No spiritual path. No girlfriend. No nothing. Drinking was my everything. The previous evening in the hospital, the Doctor had told me to lay off the drink for two weeks or I could do some serious damage to my liver. This was the second warning that my liver had given me in three years and honestly, I was worried. I imagined the third warning would mean cirrhosis, liver disease or worse. I promised the doctor and myself that I wouldn’t drink alcohol for the two weeks as advised.

Later that day, I left my home town to drive the four-hour drive to where I worked. I still felt terrible and my passenger seat was stacked with bottles of Lucozade in the hope it would carry me through the journey. Three-quarters of the way into the journey, my car lost all power and began to freewheel along the motorway. Luckily, it had enough momentum to get me to the next lay-by. I stopped, sighed, took a large drink of some Lucozade and tried to start my car. Nothing. I called the rescue service and they advised me to wait away from the car. So that’s what I did. I sat on the crash barrier, took a cigarette out of my packet and as I smoking it, I began to question how much more I could take. How much more shit could I suffer in my life. The night before was a physical warning. I was financially fucked. My head was full of constant noise that the drinking cured but also caused. I honestly felt like the universe was sending me a huge neon message saying “IF YOU DON’T CHANGE, THIS IS HOW IT’S GOING TO BE”. I couldn’t take another day of this. I couldn’t suffer the embarrassment that I’d suffered the night before. Not again. I could not risk a third warning from my liver. I had to change. I had to try. I was at the end but I no idea where to begin. All I knew was that I was going to try and stop drinking for good. I had to. I was convinced the next warning on my liver would mean serious health problems and I had so much I wanted to do in life.

Eventually, the AA van arrived, the mechanic explained that the cam belt on my car had snapped and the engine was finished. Basically, the car was now a write-off. He towed me to the nearest service station and that’s where I sat in my car, with my head on the steering wheel, waiting for a tow truck to take me home. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be me. I drank because I hated my life and myself. I didn’t think I had the courage to approach these issues or how I could even begin to get a grip on the shit going on outside and inside my head. It was a close call which was in a worse state; my outer life or inner world. I was so deep in debt that my outgoings were on par with my income. I looked terrible. I had a job… just about. My car was now written off. My head was a dangerous neighbourhood I dare not enter unless I had the courage of drink in me. Every emotion I had pushed down was in there under pressure but not creating diamonds. My internal monologue was basically a constant barrage of negativity that had me believing I couldn’t achieve anything. I was potless, felt worthless and sitting in that car park, I felt hopeless. If I had enough energy I would have cried and if I wasn’t shot scared of the health implications I would have had a drink.

The next day at work was brutal. I still had a hangover and reality had started to creep back in. My financial situation took centre stage and hung around my neck like a lead life jacket. This caused me to be moody, irritable and generally not very nice to be around. Which apparently was normal. It’s just that I was “Too hungover to notice,” before. This carried on for the first week. And then the second. In those two weeks, I stayed away from the pub as I was gasping for a drink and sitting in the pub is where I went wrong the first time. I started going to the sauna because I was convinced it would help clean me out. I watched films, read, spoke to people who I’d known a long time, anything and everything to keep me busy because the slightest thing would make me want a drink. And everything reminded me of drinking; Look it’s nearly home time… pub time. Feeling stressed? Have a drink. Had a good day? Have a drink. Somebody pissed you off? Have a drink. Then there is the advertising constantly reminding me that I was missing out on great times and beautiful women. Thankfully the feeling I had sitting on the side of the road, lost and broken, was still pretty fresh in my mind. Like a friend of mine says, “When I drink it isn’t a Bacardi Breezer advert,” how right he is.

By staying busy I managed to do the two weeks that the Doctor recommended but I’d started to feel better so I opted to do another two weeks. In true addict style; if I feel this good after two weeks without a drink, imagine how good I’ll feel after four. So that’s what I did, another two weeks. I had a bit of a routine going by this point; swimming twice a week, practicing guitar, reading all the half-read books I’d started, talking with people I knew, I stayed away from pubs, meditated, when the urge to “Get out of my head,” basically escape my thoughts happened I just let it pass.

After four weeks, I got paid and to my surprise, I still had money left from the month before. That was enough of an incentive to keep going. I went to six weeks without a drink. My general outlook had improved. My sleep had improved. My life, in general, had improved. And then it hit me; I was bored shitless. I couldn’t carry on doing this, it was dull. I felt like I was waiting for something exciting to happen and then I realised it was never going to come. Boredom was always an excuse to drink for me so this was a bad time and I needed some advice. I phoned the alcoholics anonymous helpline out of desperation. I smoked five cigarettes, talked myself out of it and then convinced myself it was a good idea numerous times, before eventually making the call. A lady answered the phone and asked my name before telling me hers. She asked how she could help and I told her my situation; how I didn’t want to drink anymore but I was bored shitless, that I had loads of time but was now missing something as my life had been spent in the pub. She asked me if there was any alcohol in the house and I said “Yeah, there’s half a bottle of red wine, two bottles of white wine, four lagers, some gin and some vodka. Why?” she said, “Why do you know how much alcohol is in your house to the measure?” I can remember thinking that was a stupid question surely it’s normal to know how much alcohol in your house. I mean what’s the point in having alcohol in your house and not knowing about it?

“Do you stare at it?” she asked, which brought me away from my rumination.

“Sometimes when I am bored,” I said.

“I think you should go to a meeting,” she said.

I was actually offended at the suggestion. Me? Charlie J Lofus? Attending an AA meeting? Those things were for hobos, winos, meth drinkers and piss stinkers…

“It can’t be any worse than sitting in here staring at the wall but I must tell you that I am not an alcoholic. I am just a man who drank a bit too much,” I said.

I found a meeting in my local area and went along expecting to walk into a scene from the Hollywood version of Skidrow. To my utmost surprise, there was someone I had worked with previously at the meeting. He was about my age and certainly smashed my prejudices. I was greeted on the door and asked if it was my first time, what my name was and if I wanted a cup of tea. Everyone there was great and as they shared their stories I began to relate. I was asked if I wanted to share my story and with a wobble to my voice, I began to tell what had happened over the last few years. The people nodded along in agreement. Some had smiles as they recalled a day gone by. When I finished I couldn’t help but think “Oh fuck! I’m in the right place.” When it was time to leave, people offered their phone numbers and support. It was not only useful but reassuring that I wasn’t alone. That was five years ago and although I have had a fractured relationship with AA, at that moment, they helped me immeasurably.

If you’re struggling I suggest you give them a call. https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/contact

https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/need-help-with-a-drinking-problem

Thank you for reading,

Charlie.

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