There’s an overused sentence that I’ve consistently heard in everyday conversations with friends and acquaintances. Yeah, I’m an alcoholic, as they say. It’s thrown around so carelessly that people use it nowadays to describe their weekend endeavors instead of truly understanding that alcoholism becomes part of your life, more than just at your regular Saturday night bar. In fact, every day is a Saturday night, and drinking turns into a necessity that attacks every form of your social and personal life.
My story began at the age of 9 when I had my first drink. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, and thus, was presented with many opportunities to have my famed initial drunken night. On that specific day at a typical family party, I decided to try Aguardiente, a national drink loved by many in Colombia. One sip quickly turned into a full bottle, and I had a chance to experience the wonderfully dreadful effects of hangovers the next day.
I continued downhill at an alarming rate, going from liquor to weed at age 14, and eventually to the hard stuff. Cocaine, heroin, ketamine, and a myriad of other drugs led to my incarceration at 23. I went to jail, got out, and began a full change and recovery of my past life.
This list is something I put a lot of time into because I want people to understand that they are not alone when recovering from addiction, and sometimes it helps to have a guide laid out for you:
#1. Go To Your Doctor
After accepting that I had a problem, and considering how I looked to my friends and family, I needed help. That initiative of going to a doctor was similar to the feeling I used to get when I was going on a trip, and having the realization really hit me once I was in the airport. Except, in this case, the airport was a waiting room with uncomfortable chairs and a rude receptionist.
Just like any other disease or sickness, the beginning stages were symptoms. These can vary but include panic attacks, intense anxiety, tremors, and tachycardia. It’s important to get immediate medical attention once one or more of these effects start to appear.
Doctors who treat alcohol abstinence syndrome usually prescribe medication that helps ease the symptoms, which is why it’s a good idea to inquire about them. My epiphany came from a conversation I had with the bulgy doctor rocking an overcome. I didn’t have to feel alone in my fight for sobriety, as he stated, that it wasn’t unmanly or laughable to ask for help in dire situations.
#2. Make Your Intentions Known
Some people might sit down with their family and tell them, others might keep it to themselves. After my conversation with Mr. Overcomb, I kept my momentum going by asking for the help of friends and family. I craved the support, like fans on the sideline cheering for the 100-meter dash. The effects of that decision were spectacular. People made efforts not to talk about drinking or partying around me, they shared their own recovery stories, and they were there to help every step of the way.
We have the strange tendency to think that coming forward with our problems turns us into a burden, but in fact, everyone I held dear and close to me was more supportive than I could have ever imagined.
#3. Keep Yourself Occupied
This might have been one of my biggest challenges. I frequently found myself staring at a wall on some evenings, fantasizing about how great it would be to have a drink. Basking in those thoughts was dangerous because if you overthink something for long periods of time, you’re able to convince yourself of whatever outcome you most desire.
Of course, the options to fill up downtime were practically limitless. I could have tried to learn a new instrument, join a support group, volunteer, take up a new sport, read more often, write some, and the list goes on.
One major breakthrough was putting aside time to exercise. I quickly got into a daily routine and learned about muscle groups, proper posture, helpful diets and most importantly, setting goals for myself. Through lots of training, I pushed myself to have the stamina to run a marathon, in which I eventually participated. Exercise is key to recovery as endorphins are released both when working out AND when drinking. Not to mention, I improved my physical shape and overall happiness while continuing my recovery.
#4. Gradually Reduce Your Drinking
The phrase quitting cold turkey can vary based on what kind of person you are. I had a friend who woke up one day and chose to quit smoking, so he never lit a cigarette again. Obviously, he dealt with side effects of quitting smoking, but he was able to stop, just like that. Another friend tried to do the same and ended up smoking double the amount he used to. We are all different in how we deal with quitting.
Gradually lowering the alcohol intake was beneficial in helping me recover. I knew that if I tried to quit cold turkey I would relapse, so I found alternatives. The most important part of this stage was understanding how weekly limits worked and how they could be implemented in my daily life.
#5. Remember The Bad Times
Oh boy, there were many of these. I’m sure I can relate to most readers when I remember some of the nights I had out and physically cringe at the thought, usually while riding on the metro or staring at my reflection when getting a haircut. On the flip side, there were many nights that I still think of to this day that were beautiful and heartfelt moments which included alcohol.
However, at this stage, it became more important to loathe rather than to reminisce. I vividly remember a girl named Sara from my school days. She had a nose so curved it looked like a ski jump. She admitted that she had a crush on me and I rejected her, but from then on she started doing something strange. She put an elastic band around her wrist and would walk around school pulling it up and letting it slap down, making red marks all over her arms. When I asked her what it was about, she said she would slap her wrist every time she thought of me so that eventually my image would be associated with pain, and she would forget about me sooner. Damn.
I adapted her technique, but not so drastically. I convinced myself to think of those tough and embarrassing liquored moments every time I had thoughts of drinking. Pretty soon, I had trained myself to associate drinking with embarrassment and hangovers, dry mouth and headaches until I cringed at the very thought of alcohol.
#6. Reward Progress
It’s important to sometimes take a step back and let progress sink in. Through these stages, I often forgot about my advancements and simply greeted new challenges and obstacles one after another. From days to weeks to months I improved but needed to remind myself to sit down and contemplate how far I had come. Other times, my friends and family were there to tell me how great I was doing.
A great tip that I used was that I calculated how much I would normally spend in one week on alcohol. At the end of each week, I put aside the money that I would have used to get smashed and save it in a jar. Then, at the end of the month when I had my four weeks worth of savings, I would go out and buy something; anything I wanted. After the initial rush of spending that money, I turned it into saving 2 months worth, then 6, and so on.
I was surprised at how much I had wasted down my throat in the end.
Great changes in life such as these are not made easily. They take great amounts of effort and motivation, drive and consistency. It can be overwhelming not knowing when to start, but seeking professional help as well as help from friends and family can truly build the support base needed to succeed. After I occupied my time and gradually cut out alcohol from my life, I realized that the rewards of being sober are that much better. More importantly, I haven’t had to relive any tough moments that involved my addiction.
Do you agree with this list? Are there any other tips you could add? Please comment below!