do i still think about drinking?

This is a long post, both the question and my attempts at an answer. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts…

This message from Lurker M:

Belle, can I ask for your patience and ask you a genuine, serious question. I am so tired of thinking about drinking. I want NOT to think about it. I imagine life like a ‘normal’ person for whom booze is a ‘sometime treat’ just like chocolate cake is for me. But when it’s not there? Who cares? I occasionally fancy some cake, enjoy it, but wouldn’t dream of wolfing the lot down. (Excuse the pun.) I don’t spend my time analysing my cake intake, feeling shameful and guilty. I have my cake, eat it, then move on. If cake were somehow never, ever on offer again, I wouldn’t care. It’s wonderfully good while it’s there, one slice, but…I don’t need it.

So, here’s the thing, the question. I want to feel the same way about alcohol. I want never to have it again, but more crucially, I want to obliterate my feelings about it, to return to being ambivalent about it. It exists but it doesn’t connect with me. One way or another. Whether I have it or not. I want to feel ‘normal’ about it, like it’s a toaster or a 2nd pillow or a lipstick. Good stuff but I can do without them and not miss them if they’re not there.

I love and value these sober blogs, Belle but, the truth is, I feel depressed thinking that I’m locked into having alcohol possess me and my thoughts as a sober person, just like it did as a drinker. I don’t want to have to give it airtime at all. I want to just be free.

In short, am I like Eve now; I can’t undo my knowledge/experience of having had the forbidden, poisonous fruit. That I have to feel its presence whether I’m indulging it or not.
Can I ever be alcohol free, if I’m counting days and thinking about (not) drinking all the time, just like I thought about drinking all the time when I wasn’t sober?

Belle, this feels important to me and yet I’m worried it’s a dumb, vapid question. Insulting, even. I love your blog so much and need it. But I am wondering if you ever get tired of thinking about drinking, now that you’re not drinking, just like you you were tired of it, when you were? ~From me with love

And my answer …

happy to hear from you 🙂 and it’s not a vapid question at all … I think it’s a ‘teetering on the edge’ question – and I understand that 🙂

since you’re brave enough to ask an honest question, I’ll give you an honest answer. and these are my opinions, I am not a counsellor and I don’t know jack shit about anything except my own navel.

Think of it as if our brains have a tiny bit of OCD. You’d like to magically have that disappear, but that is unlikely. you’re not going back to the way you were before and you’re not going to go to bed and wake up in someone else’s life, or wake up and BE someone else. you’re going to be like you. And who you are is just fine 🙂

How this tiny-booze-OCD acts up in our thinking, is that it makes us want booze all the time, and one glass is never enough. we plan our days around it, we plan vacations around it, we watch how much other people drink, etc. we want it, don’t want it, think about it, start and stop, moan and wretch, begin and begin again, and it’s a shitty place to be. It’s like an itch that has to be scratched. This is all if you’re at the good end of the booze-OCD spectrum. (I was at the good end.)

But if you’re further sucked into the booze-OCD, then bigger shits starts to happen. vomiting, falling down stairs, blacking out. planning to quit and not able to do it.

And if you’re even further sucked into the pit, then physical dependence kicks in and even if you want to stop you can’t without medical intervention. people go to jail, get arrested, lose their kids, lose their teeth and keep drinking. They go to rehab, drink, go to rehab again, drink. The OCD/wolfie in their heads is SO LOUD that common sense just doesn’t have a place at the table any more. They’re unable to act in their own best interest.

Now if you’re where I was, let’s call it Phase 1, you drink more than you WANT to. The quantity isn’t even important. there’s no measurement that says “a-ha there’s a problem.” We are drinking too much, and we know it. There are some small consequences – disappointment in someone’s eyes, missed deadlines, missed opportunities, telling other people’s secrets when drunk, telling people at the dinner table about your husband’s vasectomy, etc. All that AND the noise about how to get alcohol, plan for it, arrange for it, is there enough, etc. is continuous.

Once we quit drinking, the voice tends to gets quite angry at first (temper tantrum), for about 7-10 days. Then wolfie realizes he’s not going to win. For me, at about 16 days, i turned a first corner and begin to breathe more easily. Other milestones, day 30 and 60 were feeling more solid. After about 100 days (slightly different for everyone of course, but around 70-100 days for me) the wolfie voice got MUCH much quieter. It’s like a volume button being turned down. We see booze in the store and we know we’re not going to drink it. we have hard days and we practise other ways to avoid drinking.

Then around 6 months it gets better again (now it’s like we’re really during the volume down to about 3 out of 10) … and sometime between 8 to 10 months sober the volume is even better still (volume 1). I’ve heard from others, and I believe them, that after one year it’s even easier again (mostly zero with occasional static).

Do I think about Not Drinking all the time? No. I spend about an hour a day writing emails and/or writing on the blog. maybe 2 hrs tops on longer days. That’s my personal choice. lots of sober people certainly spend no time at all writing/blogging. Am I spending this time because I’m trying to ward off an alcohol craving? No, quite the reverse.  I seem to be able to articulate booze-shit and so i have been a sober penpal. At times I feel flattered, then scared that there’s so much need, then I feel grateful, then I feel thrilled when Simpson Sister is on a plane (sober) on her day 35, and she’s never been sober this long in 10 years and she emailed from the plane to tell me she was sober! That rocks.

That’s why I’m still involved as much as I am now. I get to be a tiny cheerleader for some amazing sober journeys.

But me personally, do I think *about drinking*? maybe once every 4-10 days for about 10 minutes. I think it’s getting less and less. If it’s possible to understand, I can write about it like this to you, but in no way does this make me want to drink, nor do I even consider this *thinking about drinking* … I feel like it’s a connection to you, a human, with a real question. My own wolfie is NOT speaking to me at all when I write about quitting, or managing cravings, or dealing with stress, or even when i write about drinking.

[I don’t even know if that makes sense.]

if our brains have a mini version of OCD, a disordered thinking, it’s not going to change at all until the booze is removed. the alcohol itself feeds the wolfie. it feeds into the depressed, hopeless, cyclic thinking. only once the alcohol is gone for a brief period of time (100 days ish) might you begin to figure out what you REALLY think about everything. And you know, if you hate being sober at 100 days … you can drink again 🙂

You’re not broken. If you are broken then so is every other person who’s gotten sober. We all started somewhere, and it’s possible to be sober without angst because a bunch of us have done it. Are doing it.

I am alcohol-free. I’m not counting days. I have an Excel chart and I can look up the day, but I never know what it is anymore. I see booze and it doesn’t scream ‘drink me’. my husband can drink and I don’t care (he isn’t now, but he could, and did). I have dinner parties and vacations and I travel booze-free. I never thought I’d be here. never. never. ever. It’s better than I can even describe. the freedom from the noise, the freedom from the bondage, the freedom from the never-ending grief. Being sober is way fucking easier. that’s why I’m here… it’s like a gift. that you get to open every day …



I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • Just reading this post and thinking about how my obsession with booze has changed, especially over the past month or two. I’m just over 11 months sober and I can finally say that I can look at alcohol in a shop and not panic. And sometimes I can look and not have any emotions at all.
    On bad days I still want to do something to feel better, like immediately; but no longer does my brain want alcohol. It’s like it knows already that it won’t make me feel better.
    The only times I vaguely get tempted is around celebrations; when it’s about because it’s a reward and something nice to do and join in with socially. It’s then that I start to think I could join in and that I might be missing out.
    So my wolfie voice is certainly much quieter and hardly interrupts my life… but I am aware that it wouldn’t take much to convince me that it’d be okay to have just a few bevies this Christmas; so I’m still making sure I stick close enough to sober supports who remind me of what the reality for me is if I decide to drink again.
    😁 Too much to lose that’s for sure

  • I hear ya Katherine. I too have the warm fuzzy memories of being at the beach , cold drink in hand. Yada, yada, yada. Then a blabbering , nasty fool who passes out. Those memories are painful for me sometimes. But, I’m OK with it cause I don’t ever want to effin forget where I left off and where I could easily go back to.
    I’m sober today and happy 🙂

  • I have taken in every word, Belle. Five days sober today. Doing it quietly to keep Wolfie as subdued as possible. Erica is right; I want to drink, but right now, I want sobriety more. Bless you all, wonderful, wise, sober owls.

  • Great post Belle! I was just wondering if this ‘thinking about drinking’ every day would ever end. I was just cruising along just fine in my sober car at the 10 month mark and was so happy that the cravings have gone and that just thinking about drinking was a lot better than feeling that fuckin’ wolfie howling at me.

    AND then I did something seasonal…I got in our pool for the first time sober…and BAM, it triggered the fuckin’ wolf! I remembered floating in the pool on the raft last summer and sippin’ on wine all afternoon and feeling the warmth of the sun, cool water and the wine entering my body like a tranquilizer and it felt so good. But then I continued to play out the rest of the day in my thoughts and that romantic, relaxing scene went away quickly…cause then I saw the mom who didn’t make dinner, the gal who couldn’t walk or talk straight and then later the gal who shouldn’t have been swimming DRUNK! Flash backs are still happening to me and they aren’t so pleasant, but I figure they are with me for a reason. They keep me sober. Not sure if I’ll ever not think about drinking…maybe when I’m 100 years old. 🙂

    • I realized that I didn’t say that I made myself a giant iced tea with lemon wedge and got on that floaty sober and enjoyed the sunshine and afterwards I made dinner and was able to walk and talk and was a tad crabby…but was proud of myself for resisting the urge! Fuck you wolfie!

  • Great post! This was a question I wondered about a lot too before I quit. I think you answered it wonderfully Belle. Nicely done!

    Of course, AA isn’t for everyone and I loved Erica’s quote above. What a great author Augusten is! I will say, though, that before I went into AA, I thought all that was talked about was drinking, but now I know that’s not true. It’s a part, obviously, but there are also things like emotional sobriety that I’ve found really helps.

    I don’t think about drinking too much now (I’m hovering around the 80 day range) and it’s wonderful. Being sober is amazing. I have so much room in my head. And freedom. Ahhh sweet freedom!

  • This post really resonates with me. I have almost 6 months of not drinking, but before that 20+years of heavy drinking. So everyday of my life since college my brain has been obsessed with: how/when to acquire booze, where/with who to drink the booze, getting/being drunk, recovering/swearing off booze.
    So I’m trying to stay friends with my brain by letting her still think about booze a little bit everyday. In my head I have a visual of giving my brain a little pat & saying “I know, its hard to let go, but we have to say goodbye to that demon bitch”. And to be honest, when my 2 toddlers are really being toddlers, I sometimes have to scream at my brain to please shut the fuck up (& there’s no kindly shoulder pat).
    I also do believe I rewired my brain with my alcohol abuse & it is still learning we do not need the booze to survive. Not just cope, survive.
    I love sober blogs & sobriety memoirs, but I do not do AA. To quote Augusten Burroughs in his fabulous book This is How “Drinking alcohol with your mind isn’t freedom. Talking about alcohol everyday when you cant drink is not going to work for everyone. What has worked for me is to find something I wanted more than I wanted to drink, which is a fuck of a lot. The only way to stop drinking is to want sobriety more. And when you feel a craving, feel the craving until it passes. But don’t act on it-any more than you wouldn’t kill somebody you feel like killing when they cut you off in traffic. Relapse is the temper tantrum you allow yourself to have when you forbid yourself from drinking”.
    Ahhh Augusten, how I love you!
    Anyway, back to thinking about drinking- every story I’ve ever heard about relapse involved the person forgetting. Forgetting what it was like when they got drunk & screamed at their kids, forgetting what it was like to wake up & want to die from shame, forgetting what the hangovers felt like, forgetting how much better sober is!
    If I’m lucky, I have a feeling I will spend at least a moment, everyday, for the rest of my life thinking about alcohol & remembering.

    • Rebecca you are absolutely right & I totally agree. AA is A LOT more then just talking about drinking. Whatever works, & I’m so glad AA has worked for you!

  • A guy in my SMART Recovery group used to say, “A thought is not an urge and an urge is not an action.” I think (at least for me) that when we are deep in our behavior, they cascade so quickly they SEEM like the same thing. And you kind of have to undo them backwards. So it’s hard to quit because when you think about it you act on it. And it’s hard right after you quit because when you think about it you want to act on it but you can’t, but you want to, but you can’t — etc. But then you start to realize that the thought isn’t the same as the urge so you don’t have to treat it like an urge if it’s just the thought by itself. You don’t have to worry that it being on your mind means you must want to give in to it. So then you just have thoughts mostly, and those are a lot easier to ignore when you know they don’t “mean” anything more than any of the other thoughts that pop into your head (from oh-right-I-need-to-buy-baking-soda reminders to detailed I’ll-seduce-Portia-di-Rossi-and-we’ll-live-in-a-yurt-and-raise-goats fantasies).

    I am still very new at untangling from booze, but I have experience under my belt dealing with binge/purging and disordered eating. After years of flailing I started working with an amazing coach who got me on track. One day on the bus (I have an hour commute in the mornings) I realized I was bored. Insanely, agonizingly bored, out of NOWHERE. I could not figure it out. Then after a couple days of this, I realized — I wasn’t thinking about food! I’d used to spend entire commutes obsessing over it, and now suddenly that was gone, and I hadn’t found anything else to put in its place to keep me occupied! My brain was just *cricket noises*. Which is its own problem, heh, but a much more pleasant one to have.

    When you’re in it, it feels impossible to change — somebody might as well tell you by the time you’re 6 months sober you’ll only need to sleep once a week or won’t breathe oxygen more than a couple times a day — heck, I was convinced it wasn’t going to work for me even though I trusted it to happen to everyone else on Team 100. You just kind of have to remember that if your feelings were good predictors of the future, your gut would have made you a lotto winner or given you a multimillion-dollar stock portfolio by now. So all together, we’ll grit our teeth, breathe, repeat whatever mantra works best for us, and then one day, like passengers in a sleeping car trying to figure out what woke them up and realizing the engine has stopped, we’ll be startled by the sudden silence and it will take us a second to remember what used to be yelling in its place.