It’s Really, REALLY easy to Stop Drinking TODAY. I’ll Tell You How. You Probably Won’t Like The Answer.
(Please note. This is being written as a response to lots of people asking me about this subject on Social Media. I’m not claiming to be a Guru or An Inspiration or anything so daft. This is just my experience. Thanks.)
Let me try to counter a few misconceptions before we start things properly.
First off: I’m not here to convince you that drinking is bad. Nor am I particularly bothered whether you actually stop drinking or not. I don’t have a book to sell, nor a CD, nor an MP3 program or anything like that. I’m not part of AA or a medical person or such. This is solely being written because I’ve been making status updates on Facebook documenting my quitting drinking for the last few weeks, and rather than type out the same stories over and over again, I figured it’d be easier to have a helpful piece that i can quickly link people to should they ask me advice, as has happened. If you find anything helpful in here, glad I could help. If not, I’m only telling you the way I did it, and it was a series of logic problems rather than needing a sponsor to confess things to, rehab, not going to the pub anymore or anything of that nature.
While, as I say, I’m not a medical expert, part of any self-help program or anything like that, what i am is someone who has done huge, and quite possibly irreparable damage to my life aided in a huge part by ‘Things That Seemed Like a Good Idea When I was Drinking On A Regular Basis.’. I drunk alcohol at LEAST once a week, every week since I was 20 and more often most days of the week when I was working in the West End or putting together Plays and Cabarets as part of the theatre group I was involved in. Or just playing with my band, back when we used to play at least three nights a week at various open mic venues around London. Now I do not drink any form of booze at all.
Let me summarize that briefly, for those of you who are doubting what I’m saying. In July 2013, I was someone who went to the pub on a regular basis and drank alcohol. It is now October 2013 and I haven’t touched ANY booze in weeks. Nor do I miss it or vaguely feel tempted to start again.
I’m not here to tell you that you should stop drinking or that you need to do anything. ‘Should’ and ‘Need’ are two of my particular trigger words and whenever someone feels they have the right to tell me that I SHOULD stop doing something, they might as well have said ‘I would like to reverse psychology you into doing the thing I’m professing to dislike.’. If YOU have made the decision that it would be better to stop drinking, then carry on reading. Nobody likes someone sitting in judgement of them (Something we’ll come back to.) and in all honesty, it makes no difference to my life whether you get to the end of this and use what I’ve said to never drink again or whether you give your credit card to your local off-license and set up their delivering a crate of Red Stripe to your house every morning. I’ve really got enough ‘Bad Things That I Have Done And Will Forever Be Judged For.’ in my history to have time to pick up my metaphorical gavel and start telling you why you’re a bad person for having a pint.
What I am here for is to explain exactly why, and then how I stopped drinking, cold turkey. And if you’re not particularly interested in why I got to that point in my life, I’ll even tell you my super powerful key to not drinking now, and save you having to read my story.
Here it is.
The Secret To Not Drinking Is Not To Ask For Alcohol.
Yup, that’s it. Yes, it’s incredibly simplistic. It’s probably naive, stupid and any amount of negative terms you want to throw at it. It’s also absolutely true. You can go to the pub (As I do, quite a lot.) go to any amount of social functions where booze is readily available. You don’t have to do any exercise, keep a journal of your feelings, eat tofu, take up Yoga or Knitting. Again:
The Secret To Not Drinking Is Not To Ask For Alcohol.
I’ll confess, the 1st couple of times I went out with friends to places where booze was for sale, I nearly slipped, because I’d programmed myself over the years to walk up to the barperson and say ‘Pint of Strongbow, please.’ After a particularly nasty drunken incident, I changed it to ‘Jack Daniels & Coke, please.’ because in my head, moving from pints to spirits was ‘Being healthier.’ Then when I made the decision to stop drinking, it became ‘Jack and-Oh, wait, no. Pint Of Orange Juice, please.’
I apologise to those of you wanting some kind of traumatic, cold turkey Hubert Selby JR/Chuck Bukowski recovery story, and this probably sounds like I’m taking the mick a bit, but it really was as simple as just changing some of the words in one sentence that I say on a fairly regular basis. I really wish I could provide some narrative involving a Herculean struggle of some sort, because, frankly, that’d have been easier to sell as a Self-Help book.
So, WHY did I quit drinking?
I was mumbling Peter Parker as a kid. I was petrified of everyone, I was tiny and wore massive glasses. I was a walking target for bullies at school to the point where I’d bunk off school on a regular basis because it was easier than getting crap off people for being particularly poor (I have no idea whether buying your clothes from a charity shop marks you out to have people pick on you now, but it certainly did then.) I had no idea about How Girls Worked, so I managed to screw up everything by deciding I was some kind of teenage Henry Miller. My attempts at Steamy, Sensual Poetry ended up on the 6th Form Bulletin Board for everyone to see, which was enough for me to just write off going to school entirely, rather than be beaten, ridiculed and maybe mugged all in the same day. Every day.
Then I went to America. Long story, but all you need to know for this story is that it gave me the bright idea that I could become an actor and get a job over there and leave all ‘this’ behind. I enrolled at college and realised that, actually, at this college, despite it being literally 5 minutes away from the school, I could also change my name to whatever I wanted. I’d been reading an Irvine Welsh book the day of the interview, and there was a particularly funny drug dealer in there called ‘Ally’, so that would be that. I would be Ally.
After months of the poor lecturer explaining to me that there was no point in my saying clever things onstage if nobody could understand a bloody word I was saying, something in my head finally clicked. After most of my life of being totally inaudible, everything I’d learned via osmosis of listening to Bill Hicks, Denis Leary, Dean Martin, Steve Martin, Lenny Bruce, etc exploded. I wasn’t the shy kid with the curtains haircut anymore, I was Captain Mouth, with a wisecrack for almost every occasion. Lecturers liked taking me to the pub because I could totally understand why they’d get wound up with difficult students. Students like taking me to the pub because all of my respect for ‘Authority’ was learned from M.A.S.H, National Lampoon Animal House and Police Academy. I’m also a pretty viciously accurate mimic.
Down the pub, I was rewarded for coming out of my shell, and at 1st, as I’d get drunker, to paraphrase Doug Stanhope, I’d get funnier. Great times.
Except it turned out removing the inhibitions of shyness via alcohol would also remove the inhibitions of how naturally angry I was at Life In General. And my main drinking buddy was a lecturer who was equally good at getting drunk and we’d have huge arguments about EVERYTHINg. He and I didn’t tend to think anything of it the next day, but that approach tends to alienate everyone else, who weren’t so keen on having their lives and motivations entirely deconstructed and mocked for whatever reason made perfect sense three bottles of red wine in at 2am in a restaurant somewhere.
There’s obviously more content to this story, but it ultimately follows the same pattern. Drink, become funny, get rewarded via Validification/Sex/’You’re a bloke who tells it how it is, Nevs!’ comments. Then irrational anger and abuse rear head. Lose job, alienate friends. I’ve ended up homeless at least twice as a result of that pattern, and it was only when I burnt the last bridge a few months ago (It’s pretty ugly, but the thing ended up with a guy trying to strangle me for totally justifiable reasons.) due to that pattern that the chances were, this wasn’t going to end well. Hence switching to JD & Coke.
And after one night out drinking with a friend, I realised that the shift to spirit was still fooling myself. I’d gone from having fun to leaving her company to feeling that irrational rage rising up. That same rage once left me so full of The Red Mist that I still have a 2 Inch scar on my forehead where I’d finally had the scales of delusion lifted and could see no other recourse but to headbutt every lamp-post and bus stop between Clapham Junction and Wandsworth to try to give myself Brain Damage so I’d totally forget all the harm and damage I caused to both myself and others and be able to start again.
And I made the decision the next morning. Sometime in late August, 2013, that I would never drink alcohol again.
And I don’t. By very simply asking for a pint of Orange Juice rather than Booze every time I go to the bar.
That’s it. And every time I feel tempted because I don’t think I’m being interesting enough, or I’m a bit jealous of how loose or relaxed everyone else seems to be, I pretend I’m playing with my hair, but I’m actually touching the scar. And I order another Orange Juice.
A Few Things Worth Mentioning.
This idea tends to work fine with kicking caffeine, also by just getting a Decaff coffee instead. All you’re really doing is replacing the substance but maintaining the ritual, which is what you’re actually addicted to. Expect really, really big headaches for the 1st couple of days off the caffeine. Drink lots of water. It will hurt. Then it will end. You’ll live.
I have not found a suitable way of making this apply to smoking, since there don’t seem to be any ‘harmless; smokable cigarettes that you can replace tobacco with. (I’ve had at least 3 fags since I started writing this.) If such a thing exists (No, not E-Cigarettes. Something you actually smoke by lighting with naked flame.) Let me know.
Dirty Looks And Stern Lectures.
This has probably been the most difficult bit of sorting my life out, to be honest.
Here’s the thing. You can always find a good reason to drink. You need a drink to unwind after a long day, your favourite football team just won a League thing (I know nothing about Sports, sorry.) Your girlfriend has left you. It’s a nice day and you want to be in the pub garden, you’re insecure and you think you’re funnier with a couple in you. You want a quick one while you bitch about your boss with your workmates. You need a reason to chat to the hot Barmaid and she won’t fancy you unless you’re ordering a Man’s drink. You’ve just got that dream freelance job you’ve wanted for ages and you’ve bloody well earned a half. You’re quitting drinking tomorrow so you’re going on the wagon in style.
Reasons, Justifications, Excuses.
The thing with quitting, as with everything else, is that there is no tomorrow. Tomorrow will be Today. And You will still be You. And if you do stop, if your drinking and resultant chaos has (or Is) anything like mine, that will be the point when people will want to have…Words. They will be able to detect that You are now Safe to Talk To. More than likely, they will want to explain to you exactly how destructive your behaviour has been. They are going to remind you of totally horrible things you have done. And I’m not interested in lying to you, so I’m going to tell you the Truth.
It will feel absolutely shit. You will feel huge lots of guilt, mortification, shame. You will not want to leave the house and be seen in public. If, like me, moving away isn’t an option, then you are going to have to deal with this. If an apology is due, then you’re going to have to say it and mean it, because the fact that the person was only able to say this to you when you sobered up is probably an indication of just how bad you were when you were drinking. You are not going to be clever or offer reasons why they’re stupid to be upset with you. You are going to look them squarely in the eye with all the humility you can offer and say that You. Are. Sorry. Hopefully, that will be enough. Don’t be too surprised if it isn’t.
Also, that happens if you’re lucky. If those people you’ve hurt are willing to understand you had a drinking problem and are making efforts to change your life. I can tell you of at least four people off the top of my head whose lives have been massively benefitted by my being alive this year. Who, if I’d been successful in my attempts to disappear back in 2011, might not be around now. I know that most of my life is dedicated to making other’s existence a bit easier to deal with. I know that, and can back it up with empirical evidence. Despite all that, there will be people who subscribe to the notion of ‘Goodies’ and ‘Baddies’, and if your actions get filed under ‘Baddy’, then you are done. You will be excised from their Facebook Friends, Unfollowed on Twitter, etc. They will not be interested in your explanations. They will look at you like you are scum because in their mind, they either know or more likely, have heard enough about your actions to feel they have the right to judge you as ‘Bad Guy. End Of Story.’
And, again, it will make you feel like shit. Regardless of how much good you’ve done, and continue to do. You’re going to have to write those people off as collateral damage of your drinking. If you want to use that rejection as an excuse to start drinking, I’m not stopping you, but it won’t help. If they are gone, they’re gone. Find new friends, do something else. I realise I’m making it sound simple. I promise you I’ve only recently started visiting my old haunts again and I have a terror in my heart something akin to a full on heart attack each time I do, but it does get easier and there will be people who get it. Walk through the Panic one footstep at a time.
This has all happened. You don’t have to go back to your old program anymore.
Your Sentence Is Up.
You walk up to the Barman, or the person running The Off-License, and you don’t ask for Alcohol.
It’s that simple.