Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Getting Over the Hump

The other day I reached the 9 month sober mark. Now, counting dates and marking anniversaries is not something I'm necessarily all for (as I saw someone write, 'what am I going to do, count every day of the rest of my life?') and it's true, as the years since I stopped drinking pass by they become less and less noticeable. But I'm just at the beginning of my journey when it comes to weed, and 9 months of no smoking feels like quite an achievement for someone who couldn't get through 9 hours not that long ago. 

The reason that it is useful to keep track of time, whether you attach any importance or sense of achievement to it or not, is that things change, and it can be difficult to notice those changes when you're right in the middle of them happening. Time gives you a bit of perspective. It allows you to see that while only 5 months ago you might have been throwing a childish tantrum in the park and crying because you couldn't smoke a joint, now you are sitting in the sun, playing your ukulele and feeling perfectly satisfied with the way the world is right at this moment. This is progress, and it only possible with the passage of time.

When it comes to addiction and the quitting of substances, people often talk about getting over the hump. Of persevering through that beginning tricky stage where it's all uphill, only to reach the summit and coast merrily downhill into lifelong sobriety with a cheery 'wheeeeee!' This is an incredibly simplified version of events - recovery is less a smooth molehill and more a craggy mountain strewn with ravines. But the idea of the beginning being the toughest part is one I can relate to, and can personally attest to things getting easier over time.

That's some fucking molehill. Photo by Karol Jaworski on Unsplash
The reason I can say this is precisely because I have given it time. Many of you will have heard of Dry July (or in the UK Dry January, although as my excellent best friend pointed out, 'what's the point of that, it doesn't even fucking rhyme') and Sober September (clearly chosen because it's the only month that begins with 'S', but props for alliteration). These are campaigns which encourage people to stop drinking for the chosen month, and while I think they raise awareness about drinking levels and encourage people to start thinking about their drinking (now that's a fucking rhyme mate!) I'm not as pro these campaigns as you would think. Because the big thing they are lacking is time.

Now, you might be reading this, aghast at the idea of not having a drink for 30 whole days (and you wouldn't be alone), but hear me out. It can take your body up to 3 weeks to detox from alcohol (lets not forget it is a poison, after all). So for most of the month what you are experiencing are the feelings of getting sober, and they are kind of shit. It's harder to sleep, you have low energy and the toxins in your body make you feel like crap. You think, this not drinking lark is a bit rubbish, thank god I can start again come February, and all your efforts are wasted with the first big night out on February 1st. What you are missing out on are the feelings of being sober, and that is a very different kettle of fish.

Once you have detoxed, you start to have more energy. Your eyes and skin get brighter and better, and you start sleeping properly (not drunk sleep. Real sleep.) You discover more hours in your day for exercise, reading, macrame (or whatever you do for fun). Weight that you gained consuming empty calories and midnight kebabs just falls off you (believe me, I lost so much weight in the first few months of not drinking I had to keep looking behind me on the street to make sure I wasn't dropping bits of myself all over the place). Positive loop after positive loop means that after a year, you might not even know yourself, and your mates will be wondering who the fuck this bright eyed bushy tailed person chugging pints of water in front of them is. But it doesn't happen in 30 days. 

There are a couple of obstacles our brains throw up that makes getting over the hump a challenge. The first is that we are used to quick fixes. Using drugs and alcohol are a symptom of this - we don't want to put in the hard work and effort needed to achieve a certain mental state, we just want to feel that way now. We need to learn to be patient, to invest time and energy into something, rather than just expecting it to happen straight away. Life as we know it compounds this problem, with phones and ever-accessible emails meaning people want immediate responses and are not prepared to wait. 

Another is your addictive voice. I heard this brilliantly described by Catherine Gray in a podcast, The One You Feed. She talked about that seductive persuasive voice in your head telling you to have a drink, buy those cigarettes, reward yourself, treat yourself, go on, you deserve it. We all know that voice, and it can be hard to resist. 

If you're finding it hard getting some time under your belt to gain that perspective, if that hump is more mountain than molehill, give some of these suggestions a try:

To deal with that addictive voice, you need to realise it's not you, and start to separate yourself from it. Catherine Gray suggests naming it, giving it a personality that isn't yours (she calls hers Voldemort!) so that you can hear what it has to say, but not have to give in to it. It may never fully go away, but realise that you don't have to listen to it. Voldemort doesn't want what's best for you, he wants what's best for him, and if you can remember that, you are indeed the chosen one and will win the day!

"Have a drink Harry, you know you want to." "No. Get fucked you freaky trickster. You have no power over me." Boom. You're free. 

Keep a journal. If that's too 'dear diary' for you, start a blog and force everyone you know to read it (hey, if it works for me...). Keep track of how you feel as you feel it, and write it down so you can look back on it later. We sometimes forget how tough the tough times really were, so having a record means you can see how far you've come. 

Meditation is an excellent habit to take up. If you want to ignore that addictive voice, to notice your cravings but not give in to them, you need to practice observing your thoughts and your feelings, and that's what meditation is. It's noticing, not judging, and just being interested in how you think and feel. Start small, with 2 minutes a day. Download an app like Headspace to get you going. 

But maybe most importantly...make a start. You don't need to wait til the New Year, but this is where Dry January can really make a difference, because it provides people with the motivation to give it a go. Going into it with the mindset that it's a chore to be endured until you're finally allowed to drink again probably won't lead to any lasting change. But using it as the impetus you've been looking for to make the changes you want to can be empowering. Give it time, and I promise, that shit gets easier. 


If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.

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