How to Stop Being a Drunk – The Payoff

This is part 2 of an ongoing series.

I Just Wanted the Pain to Stop

By the end of my drinking all I really wanted was for the pain to stop. I didn’t have great expectations for the future. During my twenties I’d managed to get sober for 2 years and was then able to completely turn my life around, but this time I didn’t feel deserving of such good results. My self esteem was down around my ankles. During most of my drinking years I managed to hold onto an optimistic outlook, but faith in my ability to land on my feet had disappeared completely. My life was a mess and I knew that if I carried on drinking I’d be dead soon. I suspected that whatever guardian angel had been looking after me before had decided to cut me loose.

Modest Ambitions of a Drunk

If I had bothered to write down a list of my hopes for sobriety it would have included modest ambitions like;

* I no longer wanted to wake up disappointed in the morning because I was still alive.
* No more having to force that first bottle of beer down my neck for breakfast. The ability of my stomach to tolerate this would determine the course of my day – if I couldn’t keep the alcohol down I could look forward to 12 hours of shaking and feeling like crap.
* No more stomach pains.
* If my liver was damaged beyond repair I wanted to have a couple of sober years before my death.
* I no longer wanted to make promises that I’d no intention of keeping.
* I wanted to be able to treat my girlfriend better – like she deserved to be treated.
* I no longer wanted to see the look of disappointment on people’s faces because I’d messed up again.
* The ability to eat food without first being drunk.
* I wanted to be able to read a book and remember the contents the next day.
* No more blackouts and the fear of not knowing how I’d behaved the night before.

The Monks Made Me a Promise

I finally managed to break away from my addiction at a Thai temple. The monks at Thamkrabok made me a promise – so long as I kept away from alcohol my life would keep on improving. It sounded like a great plan, but I didn’t really believe them. I knew that if my expectations were too high it would doom me to disappointment. The amazing thing is that the prediction of these monks turned out to be accurate. I’ve no idea how it works but my life just keeps on getting better and better. I do have bad days but when I look back on what’s happened during the last six sober years it is simply astounding. I’ve become the sort of person that I always envied. I’ve discovered that the comfort that I once believed could be found in a bottle is there in sobriety.

Payoff for Getting Sober

We do get a payoff for getting sober, and it can be more than we would dare to imagine. It’s a great deal because at the end of the day we are only giving up something that is killing us. The rewards are a bonus for doing the right thing. I have a theory for how the universe works – at least as it applies to humans anyway. I believe that each of us has a purpose in life, but it is up to us to find that purpose. The universe tries to help us using a carrot and stick approach. Our life deteriorates when we are on the wrong path, but it rewards us for being on track. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who could find holes in this theory, but it does work for me. The monks at Thamkrabok held a similar view of things. They also believed that addiction was a sign that people had lost their way in life, and that once they got back on track the need to abuse alcohol and drugs would fall away.

There is no need for drunks to accept my new agey views on life for them to understand that there will be a payoff for getting sober. It just makes sense. There may be an element of unfairness in the world but generally speaking when people do the right thing they will get good results. Those who have ended up as drunks should have no problem accepting that the opposite is true. When people stop being their own worst enemy there life is going to get better. How could it not? The only question is how much better? My experience has been that it doesn’t take that much effort to achieve impressive results in recovery.

Addiction Can Be a Great Teacher

It is possible to benefit from addiction but only if we survive it. The experience makes us stronger, and it teaches us some valuable lessons. The most important thing that we find out is that we can become a different person – a leopard can change its spots. Many people go through their life without really appreciating this, and they end up accepting a mediocre life. The addict is put in a position where they either change or die. It is a terrible situation to find ourselves in, but it can also have a real impact on our future. If the person knows that they can change something so significant about themselves they will be able to change almost anything. Ending and addiction is empowering, and this new inner strength doesn’t go away. We can approach our future with confidence and determination.

The idea that drunks are weak willed is a myth. Most of us would have crawled across broken glass if it was the only way to get to the booze. The life of the addict is not easy, and it takes a high degree of commitment to maintain any semblance of normality. Some of us were high functioning for most of the time. I was able to train as a nurse and appear outwardly competent even though my drinking was out of control. Addicts have to work hard to keep things together. Even the homeless drunk will survive because of their street smarts and determination to enjoy the next bottle of booze. If anything the addict is stronger willed than the average person and when they become sober they can turn this into tenacity – this gives them the ability to get things done.

Giving Up Alcohol Is a No Brainer

When I was planning this post I did consider writing down at least fifty reasons for why drunks should give up alcohol – I’ve written something like that before. In the end I decided that it wasn’t necessary. The benefits of giving up on alcohol are obvious – it is a no brainer. The choice is between a life that is steadily getting worse over time or one that is going in the opposite direction.

I’m not going to lie and say that life is perfect when we get sober because sometimes it just isn’t. The fact that we’ve stopped self destructing does not mean that we get a free pass in life. The difference is that we can cope with these bad things and when we come through them we always end up benefiting from the experience. The reality is that we grow as humans when we face hardships – unless of course we are a drunk.

Despite the occasionally bad days my life is good – more than good. I don’t miss alcohol. If somebody came to me tomorrow with a foolproof method for social drinking I wouldn’t be interested in it. The biggest prize for me in sobriety is a mental peace that I get to enjoy most of the time. I wouldn’t risk losing that for anything. Outwardly my life today is unrecognizable to how it once was. I’ve achieved so much and I’ve so much to be thankful for, but the real magic has occurred within. The despair has gone. Instead I wake up excited most mornings because I know that there is a day of adventure ahead of me. That is the real payback for getting sober.

How to Quit Being a Drunk Series

Part one – Welcome to the Series
Part two – The Payoff
Part Three -Alcoholism is a choice
Part Four – Rock Bottom Myth
Part Five- The Problem with Ambivalence
Part Six- Getting Motivated
Part Seven – From Arrogance to Willingness

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6 thoughts on “How to Stop Being a Drunk – The Payoff

  1. Thanks for the article I’m trying to get sober at the moment in Thailand and everything you wrote made sense!

  2. It’s just not that easy getting off it! Seem to do well for a bit and then straight back into it! I can relate to everything you have said in your article!

    1. I remember feeling so fed up with stopping and starting again – it was like being caught in a revolving door. I’d be just starting to get my life back together, and I’d mess up again. Looking back I can see that in a way it was a good sign. It meant that the part of me that wanted to live a better life hadn’t given up. Maybe this time you can stop for good.

  3. I’ve been on again off again for 30 years. Not just alcohol, but all sorts of drugs. The only place I have drawn the line is heroin. So, I feel confident in saying that it is not that easy.

    I do however believe what you have said about the peace of mind you get when you are sober. I think in a large part this is due to the lack of disappointment that you and others experience when you are sober. I also feel that if you want to do anything that requires a long term commitment you need to be sober. Drunks and addicts cannot commit.

    At the end of the day for me it is he despair and hopelessness that keeps driving me back to drugs and alcohol. I hope this isn’t simply a character flaw and there is something I have been missing in my life that allows these feelings to continually return, even after years of sobriety.

    1. Hi Steve, you are right about how alcohol or drugs can prevent us from committing to things. Another problem for me was that I’d sabotage my own efforts. It was always at key moments in my life that I’d really mess up. During my early twenties I returned to education and worked hard to gain entry to university. On the day that I got accepted into university I ended up on the streets. I did this sort of thing repeatedly. I think part of the problem was that deep down I didn’t feel deserving of any success in life. It was easier to justify my excesses if my life was a disaster.

      I’ve found it easier to completely quit all alcohol or drugs (with the exception of coffee) than to go off them for long periods. I would have months where I’d remain sober, but it didn’t make much of a difference because deep down inside I was still a drunk. It was only when I reached the point of complete surrender that the real progress began to occur.

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