Stopping drinking is a contest between our reward system demanding that we drink and our determination to stop, and it is not a fair fight. Our reward system operates at a primal level that is invisible to us and it is armed with something we have no equivalent defence for and that is dopamine. This chemical is released in our brain with the express purpose of making us behave in certain ways, and for us this has become catastrophically linked to the acquisition of alcohol. Dopamine released by the reward system directs us to drink, and that is its express purpose. This isn’t us exercising poor choices, it is our brain explicitly commanding us to drink and the purpose of the reward system is to make us behave in a particular way. We have executive cognitive functions that far exceed those of other animals. They have little capability when it comes to judgement, problem solving or planning yet they live perfectly successful lives and this is because their actions are not random but are directed by their reward system. They don’t plan their day by figuring out which direction they will go in search of food or what it is they’d like for lunch, they lack that capacity. It is their reward system that directs them which way to go and it is the reward system that identifies likely feeding opportunities and directs them towards them. The reward system is what makes billions of creatures thrive and survive and it is those same mental processes that drive us to seek out alcohol. It is enormously compelling and we should not underestimate how difficult it is for us to deliberately do the opposite of what it commands. It is difficult once, it is very difficult many times in a row, and it is extremely difficult many times in a row for days on end.

Cravings are cyclical. They rise to a peak before fading away and resolve has a similar rising and falling pattern. It is essential that we not only do what we can to manage the intensity and frequency of the cravings but that we also do what we can to manage our ability to overcome them. The importance of this is clear. If at any time the power of a craving exceeds our power to overcome it then we will drink again. We don’t have to do this once or twice; we have to do it time after time. Eventually the challenge becomes less intense, but it is still the same contest. If at any time the urge to drink exceeds the will to resist it then we will drink again. We notice the cravings because we feel them directly but we have no direct way of knowing the state of our resolve. This makes us inclined pay attention to the noisy part of the problem and ignore the silent part, but we do so at our peril. The acronym H.A.L.T is instructive in this respect. It is used to warn people of times at which they are at increased risk of relapse: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. But look at this more closely and you will see that only two of these (Angry and Lonely) are drinking triggers, the other two are times of low resolve. Relapse is just as likely to result from lowered resolve as it is from a heightened call to drink and this means that both sides of the equation are important. It is easy to overlook the silent part of the problem but we need to pay as much attention, if not more, to managing our resolve as we do to managing cravings. The more we can do to lift our resolve then the more secure we make our effort. Indeed, if our resolve is perpetually high then we will never be at risk of relapse, regardless of the cravings.

In the preceding chapters we looked at lowering the intensity and frequency of cravings but now we look at managing our resistance to them, and this is examined in three parts; things that destroy resolve and how do to reduce that, things that boost and replenish resolve and how to increase that, and how to maintain resolve over an extended period.

Contradicting the instructions from the reward system is a big challenge and it is not short-lived. At face value the challenge should get easier as time passes but this is not quite what happens. Yes, it is true that the longer we go without a drink then the more cravings we will overcome and the more we will make drinking triggers lose their strength: the cravings will reduce in intensity. But we don’t necessarily drink when we get an intense craving, we drink when the intensity of the craving is greater than the will to overcome it. The urge doesn’t have to be powerful; it only has to be greater than the will to resist it. Unfortunately there is something that changes our resolve over time and it is spectacularly unhelpful in this regard, but it occurs on the side of the equation we have no awareness of, the silent side, so we don’t notice it happening.

Our drinking triggers slowly give up their strength as we resist cravings but they never lose their power completely. If we stop and check ourselves we can notice that this is happening because cravings that were once ferocious have become significant but are no longer debilitating. At the same time as this happens the emotional consequences of alcohol-tolerance also begin to fade and the feelings of anxiety, stress, fear, and hopelessness all begin to recede. It seems like we are winning the fight but there is another change that is very difficult for us to detect, and this is that the urgency that drives our initial effort to stop doesn’t last. It doesn’t just sometimes fade, it is guaranteed to fade.

When we first stop drinking we do so because we have reached a point that something has to change. This is often referred to as “the gift of desperation” whereby we reach such a low point that we become desperate to escape our trap and this gives us determination far beyond what we normally have. The gift of desperation gives us the extra boost that propels us out of the jaws of the trap, but it cannot last. As the time from our last drink increases then our brain undoes more and more of the defensive measures it took against alcohol and our mood brightens dramatically. While it is wonderful to feel this release from despair this has an unwanted and invisible effect on our resolve because when are relieved of the hopelessness and depression then we cease to be desperate, and when that happens then the extra strength that we got from that desperation disappears too. As our distance from despair increases then our resolve to stop drinking plummets, but we have no direct way of knowing this. You know it now.

Relapse in this period is not at all uncommon. In the early stages of going without alcohol the effort is continuous and we have to be constantly vigilant and ready to fend off cravings as they come. Relapse at this later stage is often attributed to becoming “complacent” but that’s not really what happens. What happens is that the problem changes and so does our perception of it. We no longer need to live on continuous high-alert because the constant onslaught of devastating cravings has diminished and this coincides with a significant lift in our mood as the consequences of alcohol-tolerance are reversed out. The urgency of our cause fades and it is replaced by doubts about whether or not it is still necessary. It is, but the need isn’t so apparent. This is why it was suggested at the very start of the look that you take the time to record exactly how bad things were. We need to be able to convince ourselves that stopping drinking is still essential even though our lives seem to improve dramatically. It is vital that we maintain the belief that stopping drinking is necessary because without it our resolve collapses, and this can’t be stated any more plainly. If we neglect to maintain our resolve then we will drink again.

We can sense our reward system in operation by noticing the urges it creates, but we have nothing to directly alert us to the state of our resolve. Our resolve is low when whenever we are tired, hungry or run-down and we can do something about this if we notice it, but the simplest indicator of resolve is how we feel within ourselves. If we are emotionally low then our resolve is also diminished. Negative emotions hit us in two ways; they bring on cravings, and then the accompanying self-sabotage saps our determination. At first there are so many things to stay on top of that we can’t do them all and we can’t do them all of the time, but there is one new skill that we must acquire. We must become sensitive to our emotional wellbeing. It takes time to build up this self-awareness but it is essentially the answer to the question “How am I?” If I am less than calm and relaxed then I need to recognise that my resolve is low and that I need to do something about it because low resolve means heightened risk.

Things that destroy resolve: negative emotions

All negative emotions bring on cravings and resisting them drains our resolve. In general we can apply the same remedies to cravings caused by emotional triggers as we do for regular cravings and these are; delay, distract and deny, but we can do more for these specific triggers. Distraction will help but we can make this even more effective if the distracting activity is one that ends by improving our mood. Activities that leave us with a sense of accomplishment, or that we’ve done something worthwhile, displace the emotion that caused the problem and this means that we won’t re-trigger ourselves when the task is complete. So it is well worth identifying a list of jobs, projects or tasks that will do this and it is also worth taking the time to have everything ready to be able to start them at a moment’s notice. But there are other things we can do, and for each adverse emotion there are specific things we can do to mitigate them.

Feeling Down: If we are feeling miserable, sorry for ourselves, trapped, lonely or lost then we need to lift our spirits. This is the emotional equivalent of moving away from alcohol to reduce the intensity of a craving. Do something that makes you feel good. The things that make us feel good vary enormously from person to person but are some ideas to get you started: take a long bath, enjoy a scenic view, give yourself a food treat (sweets, savouries, a special meal), play some uplifting music loud and dance to it, or watch a favourite happy movie or engaging programme. Make a list of things you can go to quickly in order to break out of a low mood and keep it somewhere handy.

The opposite of feeling sorry for ourselves is gratitude and we can use that to help ourselves too. If we catch ourselves feeling down then mentally listing thing we are grateful for will turn the mood. Imagine losing the things you’re lucky to have and you will appreciate them better. We don’t even need to be too successful in this as the mere act of thinking about what we are grateful for will help. We can narrow the search down even further by listing just the things we are grateful for since we stopped drinking. Don’t forget to be grateful for the things we don’t have any longer because some of the biggest benefits I got when I stopped drinking are not what I gained but what I lost. I no longer come to in the shower remembering bits of what I did the night before and panicking about what I can’t recall. I don’t have the hangovers to push though for hours and I don’t worry about how much I spent. I don’t have to keep lists of who I need to avoid or how I am going to explain myself to them, and I don’t start the day fretting about how I get my next drink; when, where, what and with whom. There is a lot I’m grateful to have lost and searching out some of these will often break a spell of “poor me!”

Frustration: We get frustrated when we are unable to change or achieve something that we want to, and the key word that helps us here is “unable” because frustration comes from absence of control. Frustration is a self-imposed pain. Nothing is gained from it and our distress achieves nothing because the object of the frustration remains unchanged. There is a very simple way to fix this but as with so many things in recovery simple is not the same as easy. To remove the frustration from an event all we have to do is accept that we cannot change it, and that’s it! If we can’t immediately change something then we must accept it or we bring pointless frustration on ourselves and that frustration will trigger a craving. Acceptance removes frustration but it takes practise to achieve because it isn’t straightforward. First we have to successfully identify that we can’t control the problem and then we have to move the problem into acceptance. It is what it is and wishing it different won’t make it so, no matter how long or how hard we try. Let it go.

Anxiety: Anxiety is a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. We guess and double-guess what the future will bring but this is pointless. There’s a Chinese proverb that says “When men talk of the future, the Gods laugh”. The truth about the future is that our ability to predict it is spectacularly poor, yet we still do it and we make ourselves suffer by doing so. The remedy for anxiety is to bring our mind back to concentrating on the present. There are many tricks we can use to do this and a simple one is this. Find a clock; note the time, the day of the week and the date. Then say out loud the time, day and date and ask yourself “What should I be doing right now? What should I be thinking about right now”. Whatever answer comes back then go and do that immediately. A simple way to reduce one cause of anxiety is to adjust how we prioritise our time. If we do the things that we should do before the things that we want to do then this improves the satisfaction we get from the day and it reduces the nagging stress we get from knowing that we still have tasks outstanding.

Anger: Our brain pays more attention to information that is associated with emotions and anger is the most potent of them. This causes the cravings that are linked to anger to be extremely powerful, but they are brief. The biggest thing we can do with a craving brought on by anger is to buy ourselves some time. Do something immediately; walk away, walk in the opposite direction from any alcohol source, and cool off. Do anything to avoid drinking in the immediate aftermath of getting angry and know that you don’t have to resist this for long, it will calm down soon and the cravings will come back under control.

Guilt, Regret and Remorse: In exactly the same way that anxiety is brought on by speculating on the future, guilt, regret and remorse are brought on by dwelling on the past. The remedy for these is the same as for anxiety: get yourself back to thinking about the present… “What should I be doing right now? What should I be thinking about right now?” Our minds are avid time-travellers but we don’t help ourselves when we do this and we need to learn to actively direct ourselves back to the present. This line helps distinguish between looking at the past and dwelling on it: “It is OK to look at the past, but don’t stare”. So develop the habit of noticing and correcting this when it happens.

Fear of missing out (FOMO):

Something we need to challenge hard when we get a bout of FOMO is whether or not it is real. Are we missing out on fun or are we missing out on drinking, because they are not the same thing. If there is a particular event you think you may be missing out on then imagine that scene except replace all the drinks in peoples’ hands with cups of tea. Do you still want to go? This test allows us to identify out what it is we are really missing; is it fun, or alcohol? The image always has two components; people enjoying themselves, and alcohol. If we linger on this image then we start triggering cravings because our reward system can’t distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. But if you reimagine the scene without alcohol in it then you can separate the fun from the drinking. If you find that the scene no longer commands your interest the way it did then it is not the people enjoying themselves that you are being drawn to, it is the alcohol. However, if you find you still think that you are missing out on fun then don’t hold back and go to the event. Take some precautions; have a way to leave, take your own alcohol-free drinks, and be accompanied by someone if you can, but go and enjoy it. If you find that the scene isn’t interesting once the alcohol has been removed then you aren’t missing out on anything worthwhile at all; you only want to go there because of the alcohol. In that case what you are missing out on is the chance to upset your friends or colleagues, do stupid things, embarrass yourself, do things you regret and so on. Your life is improved without all of these so you aren’t missing out at all by not going, you are gaining. You can also look at whether or not you are the cause of your own FOMO. Are you turning down social invitations that pose no risk of drinking? If so then say “Yes” immediately to these invitations and deal with the fear of going later. Many of us develop a fear of meeting groups of people because it is so long since we socialised sober that we aren’t certain that we still can. But once we are at the event it flows along easily enough. What I found once I stopped drinking was that I was no longer the last person to leave a party, often I was among the first. I also found that being around drunk or partly drunk people was incredibly irritating and I didn’t want to stay too long anyway.

There is one sense in which we are actually missing out and that is we no longer get the regular but artificial emotional lift we got from alcohol, and we need to deliberately fill this gap. So make a plan to put some joy into your life every day. Set aside some time each day to do something that is just for you and this will ensure that you always have something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be anything large as long as you have something. Also, deliberately search out new experiences and give them a try. If they don’t turn out to be your thing then nothing is lost, but if you don’t go, you won’t know.

Shame: We evolved to live in communities and a part of that evolution is that we adopt the standards and behaviours of the community. We aid our survival by being in a group, so we serve the aspirations of the group as well as our own and this is how we win the support of the group. The way we evolved to make our behaviour to conform to that of the group is that our mind punishes us if we fail to meet the group’s standards. We feel shame when our behaviour is not aligned to that of the group, and our drinking definitely does not meet that standard. But we don’t only impose shame on ourselves; we feel it from others too. Public opinion doesn’t usually make a factual judgement about alcoholism, it makes a moral one. Regular drinkers have a completely different daily experience to us when it comes to alcohol. They do not have an out-of-control reward system, they are motivated away from alcohol when drinking is unwise, their memories are not hopelessly biased in favour of alcohol, their mood hasn’t changed in response to regular drinking, and their ability to freely choose if they should drink or not drink is intact. All of this has a direct bearing on how people judge us because things like praise and shame are only applied to actions that are freely willed. Only actions that are freely chosen are seen as deserving of credit or blame and this is where people draw an incorrect conclusion. Regular drinkers expect that we have the same free-will regarding alcohol as they do, so they assume that we have chosen this course of action and therefore deserve condemnation. They don’t do this out of malice. They make this judgement based on their own experience not knowing that ours is radically different. The consequence of this accusation for us is shame, and this hurts terribly so we start to change our behaviour to avoid this pain.

The emotional discomfort of shame evolved to encourage us to change our behaviour to conform to that of the group, but when it comes to our drinking we cannot. We can’t stop drinking but the shame it brings is painful, so we find ways to get around the problem. If no single person ever sees the full extent of our drinking then our drinking can appear to fall within acceptable norms, and we adjust our behaviour to create this impression. We drink somewhere and then move onto somewhere else for more, we drink in different places on different days, we buy alcohol in different places on different days, we lie about where we go, when, and for how long, we dispose of our empties discretely, and we hide alcohol and drink it un-seen. We hide alcohol and drink secretly because when we drink like this then nobody sees it and therefore we aren’t shamed for it. This hiding behaviour is not caused by alcohol, it is driven by shame. Experiencing shame is a drinking trigger in itself and bizarrely one part of our brain then compels us to drink while another part punishes us for doing so. We need to remove this shame and one of the most powerful things we can do is to learn that alcoholism is not something we have chosen or brought upon ourselves. Some of that has already been explained but there is more. Not only is alcoholism not chosen, it is also not rare. In fact it is far more common than most people expect. A lot more will be said about the importance of finding and engaging in a recovery community later but in the context of shame it is also mentioned here. We feel shame because we do not conform to the standard that society expects when it comes to drinking. But we can change the groups that we consider ourselves to be members of. People in recovery communities have precisely the same issues and aspirations as we do, so in those communities we are not the odd ones out we are the norm. This means that we do not experience shame within members of a recovery community. If we want to unburden ourselves of shame then we need to find and routinely engage in some sort of recovery community. Do it, because despite your apprehension you will not be judged. A recovery community is the one place you cannot be judged for your drinking, and you cannot be judged in this group because your behaviour is the norm, not the exception.

The previous pages have listed way to address some specific emotions but there are also some things that will help regardless of the feeling. All emotions are the products of either what our senses are discovering or the thoughts occupying our minds. The parts of our brain that generate emotion can’t distinguish between what is happening and what is imagined: it generates the appropriate emotion for the circumstances regardless of whether it is real or not. The more we allow our thoughts to wander and speculate then the more often we create emotions that are unrelated to our immediate circumstances. But these emotions are not soft or muted, they come into a racing mind and are raw and vivid. Their impact can be shocking and the cravings they launch can be powerful but what we must not do is simply sit there and wait for them to go away. “It will pass” is advice that is regularly given to recovering alcoholics but sometimes this can be the worst possible advice, and this is one of those occasions. Do not simply sit with the emotion and wait for it to go away because this is going to make it worse. You need to do something to make it go away. If we sit with the emotion then this brings in more and more related thoughts and these intensify it, make it continue longer, and keep re-triggering us. We make it worse and it will last longer because allowing negative emotions to persist causes continuous cravings exactly as though we were sitting in a bar full of alcohol and people drinking. What we need to do is identify the emotion and then do something to negate it. When we do this then we stop re-firing the trigger that is causing the cravings to continue.

Vigorous exercise is a good circuit-breaker for an adverse mood. This goes beyond just going for a walk, it means getting your heart-rate up for a while and the benefit we get from this is endorphins. Endorphins are one of the brain’s own feel-good chemicals and these are released after significant exertion, so we can deliberately use this to our advantage. If you are feeling down then one option is take some sharp exercise. This will outlast the craving and at the end of it your mood will be lifted so you won’t be immediately re-triggered.

Another universal way to deal with emotions that are pulling us down is to talk to someone. When we engage in conversation then our mind has to work hard to analyse the other person’s words and to prepare a response. What conversation does is it forces our mind to change the subject and when we start thinking about something different then the original emotion is stopped. The best people to talk to when we find ourselves in this position are other people in recovery because they understand the importance of this need to talk and will help the conversation along.

Regardless of the emotion one of the simplest things we can do to dislodge it is to name it. Identify it and say its name out loud. If we are feeling the need to drink and we are feeling miserable, angry, frustrated, embarrassed, guilty or ashamed, then this is the trigger. When we identify it and explain it to ourselves then we steer our attention to the source of the problem instead of wallowing in it, and when we know the specific problem we can apply the specific remedy. Even thinking about the solution will help and our mind will do this automatically once it is prompted where to look.

We can reduce how often we get triggered by emotions by keeping our thoughts in the present and focussing on what is happening around us, right now, right where we are. Idle time is our enemy because when our brain has spare processing capacity then it brings forward unresolved issues and problems from our past for further consideration, and these spin up the unwanted emotions. This is guaranteed to happen when we have time alone with our thoughts. But we can do a lot better than simply responding to these emotion-related cravings as they come. We can anticipate certain times that these emotions will come, and we can proactively work to prevent or minimise them.

We know that time alone will be challenging so we can make deliberate plans to fill as much of that time as possible with doing something. The other times we most urgently need to fill are the times that we used to routinely drink, and we know when these are. The best sorts of activity for these times are those that involve other people, those that leave us with a sense of achievement or worthiness, and those that require our full concentration. We also need to give our day a highlight. While we drank routinely and heavily then we gave our brain an artificial emotional lift every day so we need to replace this or we will get the feeling that we are missing out by not drinking and then become dissatisfied with our sobriety. Treats are rewards that our brain recognises, they give us serotonin as reward, and this makes us feel better about ourselves. So deliberately plan to put something you enjoy in your life every day. It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that there is something that routinely gives you a lift.

There are things we can deliberately do to reduce triggering ourselves with negative emotions and there are also things we can deliberately avoid. In particular there are some things we should avoid dwelling on because they are guaranteed to be problematic; dwelling on the past will makes us miserable, dwelling on the future will make us anxious, dwelling on the bad things we have done will bring on remorse, dwelling on people we have hurt will bring on guilt, and dwelling on bad things that people have done to us will bring on resentment. In the short-term we need to minimise the time we spend thinking about these. Later on we will look at how to stop all of these things from troubling us because that undercurrent of distress destroys resolve and will cause relapse, but for the time being we need to stop them from pulling us down. There were five things on that list; the past, the future, bad things we’ve done, people we’ve hurt, and things people have done that hurt us. We need to limit the damage each of these does until we get around to removing the pain from them and the temporary measure is to do this: – Make a list, under each of those headings, of the things that are distressing to think about. The lists won’t be huge but some of the items in them will have a big impact on how we feel if we allow ourselves to dwell on them. What we have to do is notice when we are thinking about one of the items on the list and deliberately change our line of thought. We need to change the subject and the sooner the better, otherwise fear, anxiety, depression etc. are going to settle in. When we catch ourselves thinking about one of the listed items then we must change the subject. We must force ourselves to think about something else with “What should I be doing right now? What should I be thinking about right now?” This is a difficult discipline to master and we certainly don’t get it right every time, but we get better at it with practise and it helps us by removing a background rumble of unnecessary distress and the cravings they trigger.

As time passes more and more of our drinking triggers have their vigour stripped away and we no longer have to constantly fight off the demands that we drink. It takes a while but as long as we don’t drink in response to cravings this is guaranteed to happen. And for as long as we don’t drink then our mind will calm down and our mood and sense of well-being will improve; this too is guaranteed. What we most need to be able to do is to stay the course and allow this to happen, but there are still more obstacles in our path.

Things that destroy resolve: Self-sabotaging lies

One of the great challenges in stopping drinking is that while we can make a conscious decision to stop drinking there are parts of our mind that remain unchanged. They still want us to drink and they conspire against our efforts to stay sober. Self-sabotage in recovery isn’t something imaginary, it is perfectly real and there are two main culprits. The reward system operates entirely automatically. There is no conscious thought involved in the workings of the reward system; it is not even directly connected to the parts of our brain that deal with decision-making and judgement. So while our higher mental functions may have reached the conclusion that we should stop drinking the reward system doesn’t know this. The reward system still motivates us to drink and every time we are in circumstances that we have drunk before then it launches a craving. Whether it is a primal and relentless scream that demands we drink now or a gentle romantic notion of how pleasant a drink would be is dependent the strength of the trigger. But cravings, regardless of their intensity, do not come on their own; cravings are always accompanied by a supporting conversation in our head. The reward system is located in the part of our brain that we can’t see into (the subconscious mind), and when our conscious mind (the parts of our brain that we are aware of) experiences a craving then it moves to explain it. Our conscious mind always gives a supportive explanation of the craving because the craving has come from the reward system, and instructions from the reward system are to be acted on because they are to do with our survival. So whenever we get a craving we always get an accompanying rationalisation of why we should do what it urges. Regular drinkers get a completely different experience. They get messages in support of the motivations too, but they not only get prompts from drinking triggers, they also get them from alcohol-avoiding triggers. If it is an inappropriate time to drink then they are motivated away from alcohol and might get a thought like “I’ve got to drive later”. They are actively persuaded away from alcohol, but we never are. We are always encouraged to drink and to drink now. It is no wonder that they can’t understand us.

We only have drinking triggers and the accompanying thoughts we get always make drinking now seem like a good idea, they never object to it. The great challenge for us is that these supporting ideas do not stop once we’ve decided to stop drinking. The reward system still urges us to drink and the ideas constantly pop into our mind to tell us why we should.

The second culprit in this self-sabotage is our memory. One of the character traits of alcoholics is that we recognise the benefits of alcohol far more strongly than its demerits: that’s how we got sucked into this vortex in the first place. But this trait also corrupts our memory because we remember the good things about drinking far more strongly than we remember the bad things. This is why we don’t learn from our mistakes when it comes to drinking, because the downsides are always understated. When it comes to alcohol our memory is incredibly biased. If we are asked to imagine ourselves drinking in a drinking scene then we always get a positive memory first and never a bad one. Our primary recall of drinking is always of good times and laughter and it is never of all the awful things we said, caused, or that happened to us. It seems that “drinking is fun!” is engraved in our minds in the largest possible font, but the statement isn’t true. If drinking was really as good as our memory tells us then how come we were so desperate to stop? Our memory isn’t faithful when it comes to alcohol, and this exacerbates the self-sabotage. When an idea comes into our mind in support of a craving then it is compared to what we know in our memory and a conversation starts up with all manner of supporting information cascading in. If we are in the early days of stopping then our mind is still running at an accelerated speed. So what starts as an urge supported by an idea ends up being a craving accompanied by a cacophony of chatter telling us why drinking now is such a good idea. Dismiss the chatter. It is all lies.

Our mind actively works against our efforts to stop drinking. When we experience a craving then our mind serves up ideas that support drinking and the sole purpose of these ideas is to make us drink again. But these sabotaging ideas don’t just come and then pass; their effect is cumulative. Self-sabotaging ideas work in exactly the same way as propaganda. Even though the information is false, if we hear it enough times then we start to believe that it is true. This means that if we let these ideas run freely then they will become increasingly more convincing until resolve is overcome and we drink, so it is essential that we find effective ways to counter them.

Cravings all have one thing in common and that is that they are falsely created because our reward system has made a terrible mistake when it comes to alcohol. Alcohol is not beneficial to us, it hurts us, and the cravings we get do not aid our survival, they are harmful to it. The cravings are created in error, and therefore all of the supporting ideas that arise in support of them are also false. What we need to do is identify the falseness and expose it. What we have in our favour with self-sabotaging lies is that there are not too many ways to make our drinking appear rational, so the range of plausible lies is quite limited and we can prepare rebuttals for each of them in advance.

What we need to do is to know the lies, understand the falseness in them, and then when they come we denounce them as nonsense. If we do this repeatedly then our brain eventually stops bothering to present them. Here are the most common lies; most of them will already be familiar.

  • “Just one won’t hurt”
  • “No-one will know”
  • “You’ve done well, you deserve a drink”
  • “Forever!”
  • “Perhaps I wasn’t that bad”
  • “I can probably control it now”
  • “A drink will make me feel better”

We need to be aware that these ideas are coming and crush them when they do. Challenge them when they come and dismiss them vigorously. Get angry with the thoughts if you like because the anger will make your counter-argument more firmly remembered.

“Just one won’t hurt” This justification is a simple lie because just one will hurt. If we have one drink then we have placed ourselves in the presence of alcohol and this will cause drinking triggers to fire constantly. Not only do the cravings come as soon as our glass is empty they come with incredible intensity as the power of the craving depends on how close we are to alcohol. So once we start drinking we are powerfully compelled to have another and our original intent to have “just one” evaporates. Having that one drink removes all objections to having another. “Just one won’t hurt” is a trap our mind sets because it won’t be “just one” and that is the lie. But “just one” is also a truly preposterous suggestion; when did that ever happen? I never drank “just one” so why on earth would it be any different now? I spent years proving to myself that I have no control over my drinking once I start, so one drink will lead to another. There is no such thing as “just one” and there never was. I can’t do that. If I could then I wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. “Just one” is enough to break my intention to have none, and once that is gone them I may as well have more. That is the trap, and the lie is “one”… because it won’t be.

“No-one will know” This justification is a complete misdirect. The “no-one will know” justification is not about alcohol, it is about shame, or rather the avoidance of it. Our real problem is that alcohol is destroying our lives, whereas shame is about being seen to be drinking in ways that others don’t approve of. The idea is that if we drink and don’t get seen then we can avoid being shamed. This justification invites us to drink secretly which means we won’t attract shame. But that is not the problem! Our problem is drinking, not being seen to be drinking. “No-one will know” means that we can avoid some shame but it does not make drinking OK because drinking is still disastrous for us whether it is seen or not.

“You’ve done well, you deserve a drink” This idea relies on our biased memory. It suggests that drinking is a good thing and is therefore some sort of reward for good behaviour. This is both an excuse and a lie. Having a drink is not a good way to reward ourselves for not having had a drink, that is absurd, and inventing a reason to celebrate is simply fabricating an excuse. A drink is not good for us; it is bad for us. It is not a reward, it is a punishment.

“Forever!” This idea strikes directly at the foundation idea that stopping drinking is possible. Our experience of stopping drinking to date is that it’s impossible; we can do it for a short while, but not in the long term, so “forever” seems to be an utterly unobtainable goal. It is absolutely inconceivable that we will never drink again; not even once, forever. This idea leads us to expect that failure is inevitable, in which case why delay? If we are going to drink at some point in the future, then why are we torturing ourselves now? We may as well go and have a drink and put an end to the struggle.

This is an appealing idea, but it is entirely false. There are two ways to counter this idea and the first is to be found in people that have been in the same position and recovered, and there are a lot of these people. Read books, listen to podcasts, listen to other peoples’ direct evidence in recovery groups; all these sources will confirm that stopping drinking is perfectly possible. But there is another more powerful way to reject this lie and that is that “forever” is not what we are trying to achieve. We aren’t trying to give up forever… we can’t possibly know the future with that level of certainty, what we are doing is we are not drinking today. Tomorrow is a different problem, and the day after, and Christmas, and Birthdays, and New Year and so on. We can deal with these as we get to them but they are not the challenge yet. The challenge is not forever, the challenge is right now! All we have to do is not drink for the rest of the day and this is something that we know we can do. We know we can do this because we’ve done it before, therefore it is not impossible.

A catch-cry of all recovery methods is “One day at a time”. So keep your head out of the future and deal with the issue in front of you right now; the future isn’t here yet. Keep the horizon close. We can’t guarantee “forever” and that is the doubt that this lie relies on, but we do know that “today” is achievable. Dismiss forever. Forever is not the challenge. The challenge is to not drink today.

“I can probably control it now.” No you can’t. You never could and you never will. At the deepest level our problem isn’t that we lost control of how much we drank, it is that we never had the means to control it in the first place. Stopping drinking for a spell doesn’t remove all the drinking triggers and replace them with alcohol-avoiding triggers. All the triggers that demand that we drink are still there and our mind still lacks the means to make the alcohol-avoiding triggers. We haven’t regained the ability to control our drinking and that’s not what we’ve been trying to do. We can’t control our drinking and that is why we have stopped. This has not changed.

“Perhaps I wasn’t that bad” Yes you were; who are you trying to kid? This lie relies on our biased memory. When we look at drinking we get images of good times and laughter. What we don’t get is all the awful stuff; the terrible things we did, the bad things that happened because of our drinking, the fact that we kept repeating and repeating the same mistakes and so on. We don’t get how all the things we did filled us with guilt, shame and remorse, and we don’t get how hopeless and trapped we felt. All of this is in our memory but it isn’t presented to us strongly. If you were able to act on what was said at the very start of this book in the “Right Now” section then you will have a description you wrote yourself of how bad it was. Take it out and read again. Yes, it was that bad. If you don’t have that written description then it isn’t hard to smash the idea that “I wasn’t that bad”. Simply list the top 10 worst things that happened because of your drinking and don’t skip over how you felt because that was the one of the strongest motivators to stop. Our memory is reluctant to give up these details, but they are there. As soon as we bring back to mind the brutal truth about our drinking then we prove to ourselves that we really were that bad, and that is why we have to stop.

“A drink will make me feel better.” This last justification is also one of the most insidious and this gets attached to all of our emotional drinking triggers. This one is the most challenging to deal with because it is true: a drink will make us feel better. It is still built on a lie, but exposing the lie doesn’t help us as much as we might expect. The lie in this statement is hidden in the timing. Yes, a drink will make us feel better now, but we will feel far worse later. One drink will lead to another and another and then all manner of bad things will happen. When we sober up we will be filled with remorse for what happened and we will curse ourselves for being so weak. However, we have that mental trait that we recognise the value of things now far more strongly than the value of things later and this prevents us properly recognising the consequences of taking that drink. This is the same characteristic that causes us to not properly form the alcohol-avoiding triggers that other people have.

Nobody wakes up with a hangover thinking that getting drunk the night before was a good idea, but even though we knew that a hangover would follow it did not stop us from drinking. We don’t give sufficient weight to the penalty that comes from an action if that penalty occurs later, and the consequences of drinking mostly do. This is the mental characteristic that causes most problems in the strengthening of addiction and it is also a barrier to our escape from it. What we have to do is to force our mind to fully recognise the penalty of drinking, because it isn’t going to do that naturally. The trick here is to “play it forward”. When the idea comes up “a drink will make you feel better” then play the scene forward to find out what happens next. One drink leads to two drinks leads to a bottle and then everything goes to hell on a handcart from there. Playing it forward uses our own experience to show us that yes, a drink might be good now, but it is going to end in disaster. It is a way of forcing us to properly recognise the down-sides that we don’t fully appreciate naturally.

We don’t suddenly change into a person that no longer drinks and whether we like it or not our automatic brain still wants us to. We may have reached a rational conclusion that this is the course that we must take but the automatic processes in our brains still insist that we find and consume alcohol. Those automatic processes can’t be forgotten and they can’t be turned off. Most definitely they can’t be ignored because they come without our bidding and they are powered by changes in brain chemistry that can’t be negotiated with: they are impervious to reason. Not only does our mind instruct us to drink, even though we are determined we must not, it also tries to trick us into drinking again.

Self-sabotage is completely real and is to be anticipated because it is definitely coming. When we know the range of the sabotage then we can recognise it for what it is instead of being fooled by it. But as we close one mental door after another to alcohol then it has to find new ways to try to make us drink, and it invents new ways to test us. Overcoming self-sabotage is a moving target but when we are aware that it is a real threat to our sobriety then we can look for the new tricks and learn to dismiss them as they come. But many of the defences against self-sabotage will work on multiple instances of it and here are the most important things that will help us.

  • If you feel a negative emotion overtaking you then identify it by name and take action to change it.
  • The sabotaging ideas are going to come. Learn the responses and denounce them as lies. Reject them firmly.
  • Catch yourself if you find you are dwelling on the past or the future and bring yourself back to the present. What should you be doing right now?
  • FOMO is mostly untrue, don’t get sucked into it. If there was no alcohol would you still think you are missing out? If the answer is no then you aren’t missing anything worthwhile, you are only missing out on more suffering. If the answer is yes, then go anyway, but take prudent precautions.

Things that boost or replenish resolve.

Just as there are many things we can do to prevent our resolve becoming depleted there are also many ways we can replenish it and lift it up. Of all things we can do there is one that stands head and shoulders above all others and that is becoming engaged in some sort of recovery community. Research shows that the single most significant factor shared by people that achieve long-term sobriety is ongoing engagement in a recovery group. What matters statistically is not the particular group type, but that contact with others in recovery is ongoing. We get numerous benefits from this but without them we are almost certain to fail. This may seem an extreme statement but it is extremely rare for anyone to become sober entirely on their own.

There are many different types of recovery group, both in-person and digital, and while not everyone can take advantage of in-person meetings they are more powerful in terms of the gains we get. When we hear someone else’s experience first-hand then it is far more compelling as it includes not only the words they say but also the full-range of non-verbal cues. We get the nuances of their posture changes and inflection and we feel their emotion directly which makes the insights we gain far more convincing. The strong recommendation here is that even if you don’t think that group meetings are your thing, or if your circumstances make it difficult to get to them regularly, then go at least once to find out. Everyone should go to at least one meeting because there are some crucial things to observe there that can’t be fully found remotely.

This book began by laying out the three fundamental beliefs we need to establish and uphold in order to stop drinking. These are that it is necessary, that it is possible, and that it is worthwhile. If you picked up this book then you already know to some extent that it is necessary to stop drinking. We can observe this from our own experience of things getting worse and from our dwindling control. But we do not have similar insights into the other two; that it is possible, or that it is worthwhile. We can get these in a recovery meeting and if you only ever go to one meeting then you should do so for this reason. When we listen to people in recovery meetings then we hear the experiences of others at all stages of recovery and what becomes clear very quickly is that people that have stopped drinking for any significant period are calmer and happier. We see direct evidence in these people that stopping drinking is worthwhile and that it is possible. We get something from the newer members too. From them we hear that a lot of their experience is exactly the same as ours. We hear about anxiety, fear and hopelessness and we hear about their racing mind, depression and restlessness. We suddenly discover that we are not alone in this struggle and that these things are not unique to us; we see that all alcoholics struggle with the same problems. We see that alcoholism is quite common, but that so too is recovery. We also see that people have overcome it and this gives us something extraordinary… it gives us hope.

There should be no reason whatsoever we would not go to somewhere that could help us, but the prospect of walking into a recovery group is appalling. It should not be, but it is. But everybody in those meetings has been, or is, in precisely the same predicament as you and none of them has any moral high-ground from which to judge. You will not be judged. Instead you will find compassion, and you won’t be shamed, you will be encouraged. If there is a group nearby, even if it is some distance away, then you should steel yourself and go because you need to see what a recovered alcoholic looks like. So don’t let pride be the barrier that prevents you learning something incredibly helpful. There will be a lot said in the meeting and only some of it will be relevant to you. What people say will be true from their experience but that does not mean it is universally valid. Different people are persuaded by different things so if you find yourself disagreeing with something that is said then let it slide past you because this message is probably useful to someone else but not you, or it may indeed be useful to you, but not yet. Don’t let your mind get side-tracked into an argument with something that is not relevant to your quest and remember above all else that these people have achieved something you have not been able to: they have stopped drinking. I had to deliberately redirect my thoughts before walking into a recovery meeting to remind myself that when it came to overcoming alcoholism I was the novice and these people were the experts. They had stopped drinking and become content with their lives. This is the essential evidence that you need to see, that stopping drinking is possible and that it is worth it.

There are very many ways in which recovery meetings help us and some of them, in no particular order, are listed here:

  • Most of the talk in recovery meetings is about what is going on inside our own heads and how folk deal with that. We learn that the mental chatter, the stress, loneliness, fear etc. are not experiences unique to our circumstances; everybody else has (or had) them too. We are not going mad. These things are all a part of the condition.
  • We can get direct advice on how to deal with particular challenges: what will help and what will not. We do not have to waste time and effort on things that won’t work.
  • If you don’t think that recovery meetings are psychotherapy then you have misunderstood them. That is precisely what they are and they are adjusting how we think. Try what is suggested and keep doing it if it works. 
  • Many recovery groups and rehabs have the convention that before someone speaks they introduce themselves and say “I am an alcoholic”. This has a very specific purpose. The aim is not to shame someone, it is the opposite, it is to remove shame. What is therapeutic in this is the reaction when somebody says this in a meeting. The earth does not open up and swallow them and the audience does not recoil in horror, in fact, nothing happens at all. This is not what our brain is expecting the first time we say it: we are expecting to be shamed. But no judgement follows and our mind takes note of this. It learns that alcoholism is not shameful and this gives a huge lift to how we feel about ourselves.
  • We get affirmation that our course is the right one. Regularly seeing others that have recovered keeps reassuring us that we are heading in the right direction and this repulses the doubts that pop into our head.
  • An unexpected consequence of going to recovery meetings is that our self-esteem rises. In general society our alcoholism is viewed as weakness and we are shamed for it. This is because our behaviour does not conform to that of the wider group. But in a recovery community our position is the norm and therefore we do not feel like outcasts. This dramatically lifts how we perceive ourselves.
  • Within meetings it is common to be asked to talk about ourselves and our own experience. We get a benefit from this that we don’t notice and it has nothing to do with what we say; it is how the audience behaves. If we speak in a meeting then we will not be interrupted. This is a sign of respect that is normally only given to people who are highly regarded and this does not go unnoticed by our subconscious mind. The fact that we are not interrupted until we are finished demonstrates to our mind that we are somebody significant and this dramatically raises how we feel about ourselves.
  • When we go to meetings regularly then the expectation is that we are not drinking. This places us under additional peer pressure to stay alcohol-free and sometimes this added pressure will be the thing that stops us giving in to an urge to drink. This is an added resource that can prevent us from drinking but it can also have a severe downside: if we drink again then we not only feel that we have failed, but that have failed in front of our peers. So the added impetus to stay alcohol-free will bite us if we do drink again. It helps, but it comes with risk.
  • Last, but most definitely not the least, is that meetings are sanctuary points and the value of this cannot be overstated. Stopping drinking isn’t a brief challenge, it is ongoing, and most especially in the early days the effort can be exhausting. It has already been explained why keeping the horizon close is so important and meetings are a way of enforcing this and more. Meetings have a special quality about them and that is that while we are at them we are safe. Not only are we safe from alcohol but we also get our resolve topped up again. If we are struggling then we can use this knowledge to help ourselves: all we have to do is keep going until we get to the next meeting and then we will be OK. It is a way to force ourselves to keep the horizon close and it is one that we have some control over as we can choose how regularly we go to meetings. The key thing to recognise is that we can put these rest points into our journey as often as we need them. Our only challenge in this respect is to make sure that we take advantage of them and actually go, because when we least feel like attending is the time that we most need to.

Some people in recovery groups become zealots for that particular recovery method but don’t be put off by this because that is their truth. Statistically no recovery method is significantly better than any other. Some people get very enthusiastic about what worked for them and are dismissive of what didn’t. But this doesn’t mean that the other recovery methods didn’t work, it means that it didn’t work for them when they tried it. We all have this problem. It doesn’t matter what we try; no recovery effort will succeed until we need it to. Until we are fully ready to stop then no recovery method will be successful. While we still have doubts about the necessity, possibility, or worth of stopping drinking then our attempt is certain to falter sooner or later. Recovery meetings of any type will help enormously but only once we are sure of the necessity of our cause.

For those that cannot or choose not to go to meetings there are still ways to get most of the benefits. There are many remote ways to connect to a recovery community and that number of options is increasing. These online groups allow us to benefit from the experience of others and we can use this to keep ourselves focussed and motivated. The groups that allow conversations with others in recovery and those that offer visual connection are the more useful because we still get some empathy through these even though it is not as powerful as experiencing them in-person. The thing that cannot be gained remotely is the sanctuary effect of meetings but this can be offset a little by engaging in an online recovery community and staying engaged.

The research is clear that the single most significant thing we can do to avoid relapse is to stay engaged in a recovery community. It keeps us reminded of what we are trying to achieve and it sustains resolve. But there are other things we can do.

  • Talk to another alcoholic. When we are struggling then talking to another alcoholic helps enormously because they understand the difficulty. It is an easy way to get stood back up again.
  • Deliberately put joy in your life. This was mentioned specifically in relation to FOMO but it is also good for restoring resolve. Have sweet things and snacks handy, have alcohol-free drinks handy, and treat yourself to things you enjoy. Plan to put a highlight in your life every day. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something to look forward to.
  • Get outdoors. Being in nature refreshes us, especially elevated places, places with a distant horizon, and views across water. Any is of these is good, all is better.
  • Make yourself accountable by telling someone you are doing this. This raises the penalty on us if we drink but it puts one more obstacle between us and alcohol.
  • Do something to help someone else. This seems an odd thing to put in a list of things that help resolve but it works. We evolved to live in communities and one of the things our brain does is it rewards us when we do something that benefits the group even though there is no direct benefit to ourselves. Our brain gives us an inner feel-good sensation when we help others and feeling good dispels negative emotions.
  • Positive thinking. Here is a simple exercise we can do that will make us feel good within ourselves. It works best when we are in a moving scene, like being out for a walk, or in traffic, or on a bus or train. Look around and think something good about everything your eyes come to rest on. Keep doing this for 15 minutes. At the end of it you will feel so good you will be positively fizzing.

There are many ways in which we can manage our resolve, both to reduce it becoming depleted and to top it back up again, but the challenge is not short. When we first set out we are powered by the extra determination we get from desperation but this does not last forever; it recedes as our life ceases to be so distressing. But the challenge does not stop at the same time, it keeps going. It drops in intensity but it continues for months, even years, and in truth we are never completely free of it. We might remove all the symptoms so that we no longer notice their impact on a daily basis, but if we stop doing the things that keep us well then they will return.

Keep doing what’s working

We don’t suddenly “get it” and then forever after remain committed to not drinking. If we successfully stop drinking for a month or longer then all the defensive measures of alcohol-tolerance that our brain put in place will be reversed out. The racing mind, fear, stress, and anxiety all fade away and the urgency of our cause fades with them. Once we are feeling well again then the initial urgency that propelled our effort disappears. We still get cravings, strong and frequent, but they aren’t debilitating like they once were. They still take deliberate effort to overcome and we are aware of their constant presence but otherwise things are OK. This is when the self-sabotaging lies really kick in.

We have to keep the three pillars firm and they are constantly being challenged. If we don’t work to keep our commitment firm then the self-sabotage will eventually get the better of us and we will drink. But there is a perversity about this. The longer we go and the more successful we are in managing our cravings then the less necessary this effort appears to become. This makes the sabotaging lies become more plausible and we have to maintain our resolve to combat this.

We don’t get to a point that we have beaten alcohol; we are susceptible to addiction such we remain vulnerable for our whole life. We can remove all of its symptoms but we are never cured. What we do is we bring our addiction into remission but if we completely stop treating the condition then it will return. What makes this so difficult is that we lack a direct way to know how secure or insecure we are at any particular moment and we have to develop a new skill to determine this. The important thing is to be aware of is that our vulnerability is permanent and that we become more at risk of drinking again whenever our emotions begin to slide. This is when the self-sabotage is more effective, it is when “a drink will make you feel better” sounds convincing, and it is when we are far enough from our last drink that the penalties of drinking are long driven from our memory. We need a way to remember why it was so important that we stopped in the first place, and we need to help ourselves continue to do what’s needed to stay free from alcohol. We have to keep doing what’s working even when there no longer seems any need to do so. So what can we do to help ourselves with this?

If we make recovery activities regular, rather than something we do when the situation demands, then we can build ourselves a routine that is enduring. By establishing a routine early on, when the need is obvious, then this becomes something we can continue easily and it gives us a known position to move back to when things become difficult again. Precisely what a daily routine should look like is entirely individual and it is individual for a very good reason. There is no “one way” that will work for everyone because we are all differently motivated. Some find checklists and schedules helpful, some write journals, some meditate and some find strength in their faith. All of these will help someone but not all will work for everyone. What we need to do is to establish a daily routine that suits our own motivators but is also not so demanding that we can’t keep it going for a long time. There are two points in the day that we can do this easiest: first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but those with domestic routines or that work from home may find different times work better. Regardless of what we do or how we do it the crucial component of the routine is to ensure that we think about our recovery every single day.

I am going to describe my routine here. This is not a suggestion of how you should do it; it is only here as an example. You need to work out what will work for you and what you will be able to sustain over a long timescale, but here’s a tip: keep it really simple.

First thing in the morning: My morning routine is to use my shower time to set myself up for the day. It always starts the same way with the mental statement “I am an alcoholic”. This isn’t a damaging thought to me at all because I am completely at ease with it. What I find helpful about it is that it reminds me that I have to do something about this problem and it sets off a train of thoughts. I have a condition called alcoholism. It can’t be cured but it can be put into remission and kept there. What do I need to do about this today? What are the challenges I can expect today? I don’t try and control the direction of the thoughts that come and every day they will run differently depending on how I am feeling and what the day is likely to hold. The key thing is that I start my day already thinking about recovery.

During the day: I check myself regularly. The checkpoints are any time that I feel rising anxiety or any time that my mood is off for a sustained period. I need to do something about these. I will physically come to a halt, identify the issue, and take what remedial action I can before stepping on again. It may be to letting go of something I’m trying to control but can’t, it may be an apology I need to make as soon as possible, it could be any of a hundred things, but if I can fix it before it gets worse then I do so. If I notice my mood is off over an extended period then I need to do something more and I make a note to do something and not let it fester.

Evening: As I lay in bed I congratulate myself on doing well. I have got through another day without a drink and I thank myself for doing that. This may seem an odd thing to do but do you recall how our subconscious prepares emotions? Everything is real, everything is now, and everything is me to our subconscious. When I do this then the part of my brain that creates emotions thinks that someone is congratulating me and thanking me and this leaves the last thoughts about my day positive ones.

Recovery community engagement. At first I stayed connected to recovery through meetings. When I first set out then I knew that I could not trust myself and I needed to keep my sanctuary points close so initially I went to recovery meetings every day. Over time the frequency I needed meetings reduced but it never goes away completely and even after some years of continuous sobriety I still need regular contact with others in recovery to maintain my resolve. To do this I make sure I engage with at least one other alcoholic every day.

This is the extent of my routine. It is not so demanding that I can’t maintain it and it does what I most need: it reminds me every day that I still have a problem that requires me to do something. It may not be much that I have to do, but equally it is never nothing. This routine works for me but people are unique and differently motivated. It is important to organise your own routine around what motivates you and also what you will be able to maintain over long period. If you meditate then use that, you will gain great advantage from being able to observe how the threads of addiction flow in your mind. If you write then journal about recovery because journaling allows you to directly record progress and turning back the pages will remind you how important it is to keep going. If you are a person of faith then use that, and if you have a routine of devotions then include recovery in it: ask for help, guidance, and give thanks. If you have an exercise routine then use that as a time to think about recovery. However you organise your routine is unimportant, what matters is that you find a way to think about recovery every day because that is what allows us to keep our course true in the long term. And if things start going off the rails then your routine is a point of safety that you can return to, because you know that while you followed it then things went well.

If recovery meetings are not a part of your routine then you are missing out on several things that will help you, but you can provide at least one of these for yourself. One of the many benefits of meetings is that we see people that are new in recovery. These are people who are desperate and they keep us reminded of just how bad things really were; how raw and distressing life was. It really was bad, but distance from despair will hide that from us. If you are not having this memory refreshed at meetings then you need to find another way to do this and one way is to regularly re-read what you wrote when you were setting out. If you didn’t write down what life was like while you were still drinking then try to do this at the earliest opportunity while it is still accessible. You need this record to keep you reminded of why what you are doing is so necessary. Plan to re-read it regularly, like on the first of every month or similar.

The time we least feel like working on our recovery is the time that we most need to. This is an unfair twist in the path but it is what happens. If we do really well then we will be on top of managing cravings and resolve and we will feel fine. But feeling well makes the effort we are putting in seem redundant. We don’t notice a problem when it is absent, but if we don’t do the things that keep it absent then it will return. It is unfair but success breeds the conditions for failure, and keeping doing what’s working is one of the many disciplines we have to to master. It would help us if we had a meter that showed us our wellness at any given moment, like a speedometer, but we don’t have one so we have to develop this awareness for ourselves. All of recovery is built on improvement. We progress, we slip back a little, we get to learn what does and doesn’t help, and slowly our recovery becomes more resilient. At first it is a fragile thing that can shatter at any moment, but as we learn how to keep ourselves well then it gradually becomes more robust. This isn’t a linear process, it proceeds in lurches. We get on OK for a while, then we get knocked back by something, we wrestle that into place, then we move on again. The aim is progress not perfection. We don’t have to get everything completely right first time and we shouldn’t expect that we will; the puzzle has far too many parts to master them all straight away. It happens, but it takes practise and it takes time. Keep going.

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