A week into my 30, I almost gave up and started drinking again. The thought running through my head was that I desperately needed a “treat.” Looking forward to my evening wine had been a part of every day. When things went badly, I could soothe myself with a reminder that I just had to get through to wine o’clock; when something happy happened, I knew just how to celebrate.
That first week of being alcohol-free was hard work. At first, I could not even fall asleep, and although I suffered no scary withdrawal symptoms, I was tired and cranky. I was especially cranky around wine o’clock, that hour (or three) in the early evening when I would usually start my drinking. The simple act of not drinking took up far, far more energy than seemed imaginable. Oh, did I mention that I decided to drastically cut back on sugar at the same time as I quit alcohol? Not recommended, for very good reasons, but I still think it was the right thing for me at the time because sugar has a way of drastically increasing my alcohol cravings.
I tried to focus hard on the positives to help jolly myself along, and wrote things like this:
Kind of tired and blue today, which is actually not uncommon for me on an overcast Saturday when my SO has to work and I don’t have any particular plans. The difference is that I’m not promising myself the treat of some wine later. Earlier in the day, a part of me was fuming about the monstrous unfairness of this, and was convinced it would only get harder as the day went on, but instead the sense of deprivation seems to be trickling away. No wine treat, but I get the treat of a clear head tomorrow. And my face is WAY less puffy today.
Around the sixth or seventh day, I went shopping and stocked up on treats. Dark chocolate, thick Icelandic yogurt, fresh raspberries & avocados, tasty cheese, salty nuts, more dark chocolate. My second and third week were full of treats! Not just food, but cozy, comforting movies, early bedtimes, and small presents for myself. My partner started making me a cup of tea every evening (tea is not such a treat, but having someone make me a cup because they care about me touches a pretty deep chord), and other similar gestures, which also helped. I ordered a book I’d wanted for awhile, and promised myself another book when I made it through the next week.
In fact, I am saving a lot of money by not drinking so much, and could easily convert some of that into regular treats or rewards for my continued good progress. Early on, I thought that would be necessary, but something else has started to happen instead: not drinking sometimes feels like a big enough treat on its own.
I still experience cravings and urges to drink, sometimes really powerfully. I almost talked myself into heading out for “just one” drink two days ago, in fact (hint: if I want a drink that badly, it’s a lot harder to keep it to just one). But there are also evenings where I sit at home, sans alcohol, and just think, “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Or days when the fact that I’m not planning to drink that evening is just a simple, straightforward relief — oh good, I don’t need to think about that today.
Having an occasional drink or two is also a nice treat, of course. It’s one I try to indulge in only when the thrill of drinking feels about equal to the thrill of not drinking. That is, either one would be a treat, so I am comfortably able to make a reasonable choice based on what fits better into the day/weekend/plan. Still working on that, but I’m sure it’s something I’ll write about more.
The truth is, without alcohol ruling my life, the need for treats has faded. When I read about the neurochemistry of alcohol addiction, I get a sense for why this is (how alcohol creates an escalating need for more “hits” of pleasure & reward, and makes us feel more deprived without it). But it is one thing to read about it, and slightly more amazing to actually live it.