Dry January and beyond. The benefits of long term sobriety.
January 16, 2018Alcohol
There are people who simply overindulged over Christmas. They see a dry January as a good way to detox. That’s fine. A party every day is no party at all. It becomes the norm – like the Queen going to yet another banquet. Surely the fun in life is in its contrasts.
But these people sometimes wonder how much better they would feel if they were to abstain for longer than a month. Would they keep feeling better and better?
Certainly, in my case, I did and I still do. I never did drink excessively, in the way some of my medical school contemporaries did, but their subsequent experience was a preliminary wake-up call to me. Or should have been. The heavy drinkers are dead.
I stopped drinking alcohol – and using other addictive substances like nicotine, caffeine, sugar and refined grains – because, at the tender age of 47, I could at last see where I was going.
Other people – my wife in particular – had seen my Rake’s Progress for many years. But I was blind to it until it was causing me so much pain that I had to change. Somehow.
But then I found that I didn’t know how. As a doctor, I had been trained to observe the consequences of a high alcohol consumption and I did. In other people.
I also saw the results of cigarette smoking. In other people.
And of over-eating. In other people.
What I had not been trained to observe was the common addictive process behind these behaviours.
Nor had I seen that the most common feature of determined efforts to control compulsive behaviour is relapse.
And, of course, I didn’t see that any of this applied to me. I was fine. Just fine.
But I wasn’t fine at all. I earned my living and provided for my family. And everything in my external life was hunky-dory.
By contrast, my internal life – my relationship with myself – was a mess. I felt empty for no obvious reason. I felt I was in a ‘minus one’ emotional state. So – perfectly logically – I went looking for ‘plus ones’. And when I found them I stuck to them.
Why ever not? They worked. They lifted my mood so that I felt normal. Yes. That was it. I wasn’t looking to get high. I just wanted to feel at peace with myself.
Alcohol achieved that happy state. So did nicotine, caffeine, sugar and refined grains. They hit the spot.
Potatoes and carrots had no emotional effect on me. So I didn’t bother with them.
But in time, as my addictive nature progressively took over my life, I got progressively more damaging consequences.
It would have been smart of me to have recognised that, if I was on a slippery slope, I should get off it as soon as possible. But I wasn’t that smart. I went on, determinedly trying to prove to myself and other people that I was in good shape when I clearly wasn’t.
The only thing that turned me round was pain. When other people bailed me out from the negative consequences of my compulsive behaviour – such as when my wife took on more work to pay my gambling debts – I got worse.
Nowadays, as a result of avoiding all mood-altering substances, I feel better and better. And I’m happier and more creative than I’ve ever been. I’ve given up nothing of any lasting value. And I’ve gained a great deal.
I like the taste of fizzy water, tomato juice and freshly squeezed orange juice. I like chicory, aubergines and avocados. I like risotto. I like grilled prawns. I like lots of drinks and foods. I don’t need alcohol, sugar or refined carbohydrates. They provide a shot-term lift but a long-term drop.
I no longer enjoy drinks and foods that other people say are fun or even vital. I don’t smoke cigarettes or drink or eat anything that contains caffeine. Those substances wouldn’t be fun for me nowadays. If I were to start using them again, I fear I might go on and on and not be able to stop before I got myself into difficulty.
So I don’t start. And I work the Twelve Step programme as a daily preventive. I use it as a vaccine, not as a treatment. I’m not particularly concerned over my last drink. It was a long time ago. But I am worried about the prospect of my next one. I don’t want to relapse and go back down into the pit of despair again. I want to live and love. And I do. My life really does get better and better.