How we quit drinking

  Have you ever quit smoking?  

Quitting drinking has a lot in common with it. 

I quit smoking many many times before succeeding. It turns out, the same is true for quitting drinking. Practice makes perfect.

We are almost at  beyond 5 months of no alcohol. What was different this time?  

Probably the biggest was a true readiness.  What is true readiness?

It was setting ourselves up for a “perfect storm” of differing elements helping instead of knocking us down.

Here are some notes on how we quit drinking:

  1. I had a health scare.     This was my catalyst but you don’t have to wait for this! Reading up on what regular excessive alcohol can do to our physiology is a good reminder of what a health scare can look like.  Mine seem to really help me stop effing around. Most of us get that health problems can turn into disasters. I did not want to wind up drooling in a wheelchair with someone changing my diapers. If my behavior today can avoid that, I am going to listen. I would feel like such an idiot to find myself drooling in a hospital when I could have avoided it.     
  2. I talked to a Doctor. Funny, my health scare was crazy high blood pressure out of the blue. I went to the doctor and my regular doctor wasn’t there. I talked to a new guy. He said, “Look, we (he included himself in the conversation)  are at the age where we can’t get away with this anymore. Our bodies can only take abuse for so long and then there will be consequences. Eating right, quitting drinking and exercise need to happen.” He being the same age as me and tying himself into the behavior kind of helped. I’m not stupid. I had heard about alcohol abuse increasing risk of heart disease, cancer, etc. I did not want to have that happen. Maybe I was just ready to hear it.  
  3. I read up a lot on what others did to quit. When I quit smoking 25 years ago, I found a book by the American Cancer society that outlined each day and what was happening physiologically to me (called “Fresh Start”. It is now out of print). I carried it around like a bible and read each chapter many times til I memorized it. It was my anchor to get to the next day. Today, I can just Google “quitting drinking” and read the mountain of articles on the subject. Some I bookmarked to re-read and I kept them handy on my phone. During the first month, on certain days, I re-read them a LOT.
  4. I slept a lot. Early to bed like 8pm. Going to sleep means you got through one day and you had one more day to add to the count. Each day gets easier so just go to bed. The upside? Glorious deep sleep. No alcohol affecting my brain meant really good sleep. I still revel in the joy of going to bed as it is so damn enjoyable!
  5. I had a partner, my DH. I think this may have been the clincher for me. I was ready to cave a few times but my DH held firm. When he was ready to cave, I held firm. If one of us had caved, it would have been all over. How do I know? Because it had happened in the past. One of us was ready, the other wasn’t. We pulled each other back in the wrong direction. This time we kept moving each other in the right direction. Timing was everything.
  6. A list of worst drinking experiences. This was an excellent tool as recommended by www.stopdrinkingalcohol.com. They have really helpful behavioral tips and tasks. This one was a great one to be reminded of when you gets nostalgic. A lot of drinking is nothing attractive. Snotty-holier-than-thou drunk arguments, horrific judgement calls, maybe not even realizing you were making a social faux pas until you were sobered up (that was a good one. Not.). Yep, good to remind oneself of these for the quitting to sink in. 
  7. Exercise. We joined Planet Fitness. It was our idea to hit that after work every day instead of our hard-wired happy hour. We have been very good about this. When we don’t feel like going, we just go and walk on the treadmill. No, I don’t have a model’s skinny physique yet but I know I am doing great things for my brain, bones, heart, lungs, etc, etc, etc. There aren’t many instances where exercise is not going to be a good idea.
  8. O’douls beer. This has been a game changer for me. I had drunk a lot of NA beer the time I quit before, so I knew it was a tool for this journey. We learned which stores had bigger selections of NA Beers pretty fast. Are they the best beers you have ever tasted? No. Ever gone to a party and they had beer but you didn’t like any of the beer options but drank some anyway. It is sort of like that. The funny thing, I mean amazing thing,  for us, it REALLY tricked the ol’ brain into thinking you were having a drink. The whiny 2 year old shut up. YES, I know, there is a tiny amount of alcohol in it. A normal grocery store beer has about 5% alcohol. O’douls has .5%. On a tough day, I have tried drinking 2 really fast and well, I convinced my brain that I was getting a dose of feeling better, but really didn’t feel anything. The trick here, was convincing my brain to get past this moment where I really wanted a drink. Meanwhile, all that monumental healing of liver, brain, lungs, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, was still going strong. I got through another day and felt good.
  9. Got busy. One of the most significant things to note when you quit drinking is how much frigging free time you have. We No longer were:
  • hitting the likker store
  • hitting the grocery store for grapefruit juice, sparkling water, limes, cherry juice, sugar (for making simple syrup), wine, champagne, etc.
  • buying new wine glasses because we got drunk and broke one
  • hitting Bed Bath and Beyond for more soda stream co2 chargers
  • buying ice (our ice maker still can’t keep up!)

We did however, go to the gym, start taking online classes, cleaned and organized the house more, did little projects around the house, did more stuff with the grand kids, napped. I started taking care of my skin more as I wasn’t collapsing into bed at night. I got a real night time routine that included skin car

10.  Re-did our finances. The money! Gawd. For a frugal fanatic, quitting drinking is like getting a substantial raise. That was based on us drinking at home. If we had been hitting the bars, it would have been like winning the lottery. We found we were spending about $200 a month on drinking and all the accouterments that went along with it. For the first 5 months, we spent about half that on O’doul’s beers. They were a psychological life line and if it kept us from buying real alcohol, than it was worth it. Now we are phasing that out. I just got bored with it. I’d open one and forget about it. At $1 a beer, I don’t like to waste them so we have slowed down buying tremendously.

What we didn’t do:

  • We did not give ourselves Rewards. These just don’t seem to work for me/us. We did set them but did not redeem one single one. Just wasn’t necessary. For example, we said after not drinking for:
  • 1 week: kayak trip
  • 1 month: new couch
  • 3 months: 2 kittens
  • No trip, no couch, no kittens but we are going strong. I just buy things, do things when the time is right. It is not a motivator for me/us.   Pictures coming when we get kittens. Lots of pictures.
  • We did not go to AA meetings. I have been to them. I quit drinking 20 years ago and used the AA approach. I see the value. I did learn things there. I don’t like the meetings. Yes, I tried other meetings. For me, it was not one of building me up but tearing me down. Clearly this works for lots and lots of people. This is not to take away from their experience (so please don’t berate me in the comments. I get it.). I am all for what works for you. I went back to one meeting this round and all the things that did not work for me were still there. My life is NOT out of control. I have a good happy life. Strong marriage. Great job. Good relationships. I have a 30 plus year drinking habit (like my old smoking habit) that was going to wreak havoc on my health if I did not stop. I did not need a 12 step program for quitting smoking either.
  • We did not Romanticize drinking: When I would think longingly of that feeling of cold vodka coursing through my veins, I would instead focus on things like: cloyingly sweet cocktails in a bar (ugh!), the smell of beer, particularly stale beer, the smell of a sweaty person who has a hangover (ewww!), and I would spend some time visualizing it. Don’t underestimate this. I just needed to get past the moment where drinking alcohol seemed like a good idea. A few thoughts along this line got me moving in the right direction. One suggestion I read was to imagine a glass of red wine as blood. Gah.
  • We did not give up Netflix: Watching Netflix and drinking was a go-to for us and I know it is for many. Just like mindless eating, mindless drinking can take you beyond where you know you should go intelligently. I had tried steadily making my drinks weaker through the night but inevitably, my alcohol tinged brain would at some point say, “You would know what would make all of this evening a LOT better? TWO shots in that cocktail!” and I’d fall for it. I really thought Netflix would have to be phased out. Luckily, the same positive effect of mindlessness happened and I’d be sipping on an O’doul’s and getting into the show and then couldn’t be bothered to get another one and there I was, watching hours of mindless Netflix and not drinking. So they really aren’t hand in hand, for us.
  • We did not focus on what we were missing out on: Tied in with Romanticizing drinking is feeling like you are no longer having fun or missing out on all the good times. Taking the image in your mind and running it all the way through is a helpful exercise. For me, that was the joy of bringing a cooler of beer to the beach in the summer. Romantic version: Low chair settling in lapping waves, cool breeze, hot sun, cold beer, that nice beer buzz….Reality, sometimes i got a cool beer buzz but more often than not, cuz I drank a lot, I didn’t get that cool buzz. Just kept drinking, trying to get it. Got dehydrated, headache from too much sun, ran out of beer, bought more at ridiculous boardwalk price, now technically too much to drink to drive home, did it anyway, grouchy and hot, got into squabble with DH about needing to use the bathroom on hot ride home, then into squabble about which direction I driving home. Yelling at each other until get home, take shower, nap. Cooled off but still headache (early hangover), spend the rest of the day/evening feeling lousy until start drinking again. What was I missing: poor use of money, headache, ideal at beach that never happens, dehydration, too much sun, possible DUI, fight with DH……this is not an ideal day that I am “missing out on fun”.

 

I hope these tips and tricks are helpful to anyone out there who is trying to quit drinking too. I feel much better, I KNOW my brain is firing on many more cylinders. Funny, while I was drinking I felt good and alert. I just feel that more now.

Taking care of your health is a sure fire way to support frugal living.  Oh, and we got through the holidays with flying colors!

What are your thoughts on taking care of your health to live a frugal life?

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