I am often asked how long it takes for the challenging period to subside when you first give up drinking and to be in a place where the thoughts of alcohol are few and far between.
When you stop drinking alcohol the first week or two can feel like a really tough challenge, you will have made a huge change to your life and will no doubt be thinking about (and possibly craving for) drink quite often, this is perfectly normal and my advice is to accept the thoughts and allow them to simply pass you by. Just observe the thoughts as if you were sat on the bank of a fast flowing river, the thoughts are the rapids in the water passing you by. All you need to do is observe them. Don’t get into the water and become swept away with the thoughts and emotions (this can lead to drowning).
I read a brilliant description of how those first days and weeks feel – it said that it is a bit like you are at the start of a really tough obstacle course, you know there is a beautiful field full of flowers on the other side ready for you to lay down on your back in the sun. But you don’t know how many obstacles are between you and the beautiful field.
So you clamber over the first massive obstacle, only to be presented with another (this one is even bigger) but you manage to make it over and guess what there is another one. You start wondering if there are hundreds of these bloody obstacles and whether it is even possible to ever make it to the end. You even notice some people giving up and returning to the start, but you keep going over more obstacles and lone-behold, there were only a handful of them to complete, you are soon at the finish and you got over them really quickly. Before you know it you are laying on your back in the beautiful field with the sun on your face. It wasn’t that hard after all, so much of it was in your mind.
From my own experience I found that I thought about drinking wine quite a lot during the first month (after all I had drunk a bottle or more every night for over twenty years – this was a big change). I needed to use my resolve and discipline myself not to drink and I made sure I was never in a situation where I could get caught out, I avoided pubs, drinking friends and functions as if they would kill me!
Being able to change my mindset from ‘can’t have’ a drink to ‘don’t want’ to drink really helped me, I was excited about being sober and embraced the new lifestyle. If you are white-knuckling it and feel like you are missing out by not drinking the obstacles seem even bigger and harder.
In month two I spent periods on a pink cloud as the dopamine levels in my brain recalibrated, I couldn’t remember feeling so happy in a long time. Sadly it doesn’t stay like this forever, enjoy it while it lasts though.
These feelings of happiness were interrupted by the odd day or two where I felt really down and questioned why I had become sober, these few days were among the toughest as I felt so sad and emotional. I could easily have given up and returned to drinking. However, I had read about PAWS (make sure you are aware of this – read my blog post about it) and I knew it would pass, so I observed the feelings rather than getting swept away in the fast flowing river and let them pass, sure enough they did and I was soon back to feeling at peace and happy again.
Month three is where I noticed the biggest change, if I had to put a number on it I would say somewhere around 90-100 days is where I realised I was hardly thinking about wine, alcohol or drinking any longer. Yes, I still had the odd thought, for example if I went past an inviting looking pub I imagined sitting in there and having a long pint of beer but I knew it was just in my mind and let the thought pass and it quickly faded away.
After four months sober I can say that I probably only think about drinking once or twice a week at the very most and they are only passing thoughts. When I started out on the sober-journey I thought about wine all the time:
- Did I have enough wine for the evening? Best get two more bottles just in case.
- Does the guy on the supermarket checkout notice how much wine I buy?
- How long until I can start drinking?
- Just go to bed (to my son), so I can get stuck into this bottle of wine.
- Can we just get work out of the way, I want to go home and drink.
- Do the neighbours notice how many empty wine bottles are in my recycling bin.
- I wish this hangover would clear, it will fade away when I have the first glass of wine.
- My anxiety is all over the place today, that glass of wine will calm it all down.
- On the school run – I wonder if I am over the drink-drive limit this early in the morning?
The list goes on and I am sure you get the point and I am thankful my mind is no longer full of thoughts like this.
However, the brilliant news is that after three to four months the truth is that you won’t be thinking like this any longer either, those thoughts about drinking subside and fade away.
Get through those first weeks and the first month by reading sober-books and ensure you have support around you (you can join the private Be Sober Facebook group for this) and you will soon find yourself on the other side of those obstacles and probably in the happiest place you have been since you were a child.
If you are reading this, well done on taking the steps towards sobriety – stay strong and stick with it.
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