What it’s like to quit alcohol without labeling yourself an alcoholic or going to AA
It seems like everywhere we turn these days, there’s a “sober challenge” on social media or a new “quit lit” book that hits bookstores.
Sobriety is trending.
This is not why I quit alcohol for good in 2018. I quit because I was drinking almost two bottles of wine a night (yes, two bottles of wine). I quit because alcohol was hurting my career, my relationship and my health.
I quit to save myself and my soul, and to prove that you don’t need to label yourself a diseased alcoholic if you don’t want to. By AA standards (a program that was invented by two white men in the 1940s for other white men struggling to “put the plug in the jug”), I am 100% an alcoholic.
By my own standards, I am 0% alcoholic, and here’s why.
Calling myself an alcoholic made me feel like shit about myself. And when I felt like shit about myself, I went to happy hour with friends and then went home to drink some more with my partner, rather than working on why I drank in the first place.
When I read Annie Grace’s The Alcohol Experiment and learned there are alternatives to the AA way — alternatives that don’t put labels on behaviors, habits and compulsions — I was finally able to let go of my dependence on wine to get through some pretty significant grief and past traumas.
By not labeling myself an alcoholic, I was finally able to quit drinking. I chose to personalize my relationship with alcohol by naming it after a vile creature from my past (in my case, that would be “J”), which is one of the recommendations Annie has in her Alcohol Experiment program.
I hate “J.” I don’t want to be anything like “J,” because I can’t think of anyone in my life who has ever been as cruel, selfish and vindictive as “J.”
If “J” is bad and wine is like “J”, then wine is bad. Just like that, I just stopped drinking. Was it easy? No. Of course not. It was unraveling 20 years of behaviors linked to past traumas I needed to address in order to win at sobriety.
What’s it like to quit alcohol without AA and the labels that come with it?I’ll get to that in a moment. Before I move on, I want to emphasize that in no way am I dismissing the importance of AA programs. It will always be there to save lives and give people who need a certain level of structure and fellowship to change their lives one day at a time. For me, though, quitting booze was a deeply personal journey. I lived with my thoughts, fears, anxieties, grief and expressed them in journals or confided in friends (some sober, some not).
Stuff that got me through the first several months. Lots of things, and I encourage you to “customize” your own recovery program by taking what works for you and putting what doesn’t work for you back on the shelf for someone else.
A tracking app called I Am Sober. I was able to count my days of sobriety as well as how much money I was saving.
Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind. Her transcendent way of thinking about alcohol and dependence is truly groundbreaking, approachable and kind.
Everything on The Temper because it’s an incredibly female, deeply empowering perspective on women and addiction.
I also committed to a yoga practice and fitness routine that eventually rewired my brain to “need” those workouts more than I needed “wine downs.”
I spent a lot of time alone and discovered that I really like being by myself. That doesn’t mean I’m a shut-in, but it just means I go out less and stay in more doing activities I enjoy, like knitting, puzzling, Netflix bingeing, meditating, talking with my partner.
From day 1 to year 1 and beyond, here is what it’s like to become alcohol-free for life.
First off, for those of you counting your days, hours or minutes, know this: it will get easier and better. Although everyone’s experience is different, here is what I can tell you after 16 months alcohol-free.
Day 1. You’re motivated and that hangover from the night before has you committed to 30 days. You can do anything for 30 days, right? Answer: yes, absolutely. Longer, even.
Day 2. Everything is a-ok but why are you suddenly craving cookies? Right, alcohol is made up of ethanol, sugar and a bunch of other shit. Eat the cookie.
Day 3. A friend asks you out for a drink. You know it won’t be just one. Say no thank you.
Day 4. You’re starting to feel the urge to crawl out of your own skin. You are alone with your thoughts. All of them, feeling the good, bad and downright ugly. Right, this is why you drink. This feeling will last a long time. Longer than you think, but it does go away. Let it motivate you.
Day 5. The anxiety is bad and sleep doesn’t come easily. You wonder what these experimenter assholes are saying about having all this energy and sleeping like a log. Fuck the pink cloud.
Day 6. Almost a week already. NOT even a week yet? You will feel proud and pitiful.
Day 7. Another happy hour invite. Say no.
Day 8. When will it get better? Not for a while. Be patient. Your body and brain are working hard to detoxify so you are prepared to let in the healing that needs to happen.
Day 15. Sleep is coming more easily and you feel truly rested. Your eyes are clear and gone is that bloodshot gaze. You can’t wait for more good sleep. Take a nap.
Day 30. 4 p.m. is still a nasty mind game. Choose forward. Resist the default setting. It’s in your past now.
Day 45. Now you’re on a roll. You can make it through happy hour without drinking but find yourself having to explain why you’re not. This is weird. Just go with it.
Day 60. The weight is finally starting to come off and people are noticing you look different, better, rested. Fuck yes.
Day 90. Three months. THREE whole months. Go buy some smaller clothes as a gift to yourself … and also because you need them.
Day 180. Holy shit this is really happening. You still resent friends who drink but you’ve also accepted it’s just not good for you. You have made the right decision. The best decision.
Day 250-ish. You’ve stopped counting days in the app, but keep it running so you don’t really lose track. You’re excited to workout at 4 p.m. instead of going out. You are annoyed by drinkers. They stink. They’re obnoxious. You want to tell them they should stop, that it’s no good, it’s ruining them. Pass no judgment on yourself or others.
1 year. You still have anxiety. Bad shit still happens. You have to feel things and sit with thoughts, but you’re getting used to it. Everything is easier. Coping with family illness, past traumas, future pain, fear and sorrow. Things that would have pushed you to a bottle of rose now push you to a yoga class. You drink in all of life now because every moment matters. Every moment counts. Every moment is a miracle.
What’s next? I have no plans to drink again. Period. Life is in full color, at full volume, in complete control. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that if you got this far into my essay, you are worried about your drinking habits or you want to quit drinking.
So quit. Be done. Don’t wait for the first of the month or after Halloween, or right after that wedding, that birthday, the holidays. Just be done. Make this day your best future holiday.
Stay committed. Be kind to yourself. Answer your needs first, then others’. And always, always avoid the assholes.