1000 days without alcohol

ONCE A CUCUMBER?

Last year my birthday coincided with another anniversary — 1000 days without alcohol and drugs. 1000 days since I passed out at 7 am on Easter Monday, 2018. My 4-day bender culminated in a pitiful and desperate crescendo where I glugged the only booze remaining in the hope it would knock me out. It was an old, half-empty, bottle of cooking wine.

I peeled my face off the couch around midday 1000 days ago. This scene was not an exception. This behaviour had come to rule my life. Everything else was just killing time until I could be reunited with alcohol and drugs. When I was recovering from these benders, I mostly spent my time swearing it off and dragging my anxious and sweaty self through life, barely surviving. How I felt physically was no different from the multitude of Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays that had come before it. But mentally and spiritually, I knew I was broken. Something had to change.

What it was like

I was always “all about the party”. I have fond memories of being 14 years old, swaggering around Notting Hill Carnival, drinking warm Red Stripe and cheap white wine. From the first time I drank to the last time I drank, I loved the effect booze had on me. The same could be said for cocaine, MDMA, and most other stimulants.

By the time I arrived at university at 18, I knew how to party. It didn’t take me long to assemble a group of kindred spirits. We mutually reaffirmed our own beliefs that this level of drinking and drugging was just the norm, it was just what students did. I always swore that everyone else was the bad influence, but on reflection, I got that the wrong way around.

I picked up a phrase in 12-step recovery that resonates with me and my drinking and drugging in these years; “once a cucumber becomes a pickle, it will never be a cucumber again”. In other words, once I crossed that threshold into using alcohol and drugs addictively, moderation was forever in the realm of the impossible. I could never drink “normally” again. This has absolutely been the case for me.

When I started drinking, I could never guarantee that I could stop. When I stopped for any period, a day, a week, or even a month, I could never stay stopped. One drink was too many and a thousand never enough. I drank when things went well, I drank when things went bad. Had a tough day? Have a drink. Secured a new job? Have a drink. Managed to make your bed this morning? Have a drink!

What happened

I don’t define my addiction by how many drinks I had, how many hours I was on a bender for, or what drugs I took. I define my addiction by the fact it took more from me than just money, and when I wanted to stop, I found myself powerless over it.

At 24, I felt like I had already created a lot of wreckage in my own life. Above all else, I found the values I believed in did not match my behaviours. Reliability, trustworthiness, and temperance were not in my wheelhouse. I tried to moderate my drinking. I failed. I tried to stop drinking. I failed. Enough of these failures over time can lead to abject misery.

In 2017 I moved to Australia in the hope that if the sun shone bright enough on my inner dark cloud, the problem might just evaporate away. The Northern Beaches of Sydney seemed paradise enough to fulfil this, and I quickly settled in.

I set myself up with a steady job in recruitment, along with every other British backpacker with a bit of hustle and a desire for the Aussie lifestyle, many of whom became close friends and drinking buddies. I was also lucky enough to be introduced to my now wife, Louise. I lived a few hundred metres from the beach. When I wasn’t too drunk, or too hungover, I spent my time surfing.

Things quickly reverted to how they had always been. Uncontrollable benders, angry bosses, and a concerned girlfriend. In August 2017, Louise spent four weeks travelling around South America, a solo trip she had booked before we met. On her return, after 30 hours of flying, I had promised I would meet her at the airport. I think you know how this one ends. 

I came to, face down on the sofa again, to Louise banging furiously on the door. I had passed out, missed the pick-up, and a barrage of voicemails asking me where I was. She was understandably angry. I was in a world of pain and confused how a whole 24 hours had passed since I last had any memory.

That bender was so bad, I felt like I might never recover. On Monday morning I completed the gargantuan task of getting myself to the office. However, by mid-afternoon, I felt so terrible that I had to take myself to a walk-in clinic in the CBD. They took my vitals and called an ambulance. I was told I was on the verge of a heart attack. They kept me for almost 5 days, running all sorts of tests. The doc said I just needed to “reduce” or “moderate” my drinking and gave me some blood pressure meds. Problem solved! 

If only it was that simple. It wasn’t long before the willpower ran out, the lies to myself and others began to build up, and my drinking and drugging took off again. By November 2017, it was becoming increasingly difficult to hold down my job. I had run out of sick days and had started using my annual leave to recover from my benders. I was totally unreliable.

I knew things had to change. I had exhausted any goodwill at work, and I knew things with Louise would never last if I didn’t do something about my drinking.

My dad, who had been sober himself for a few years, lightly suggested that I might get something out of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I said I’d find one and go along, but asked him if he thought it would be an issue if I smoked a joint beforehand, given that alcohol was the problem?

I still had a lot to learn. However, when I walked into that meeting I heard, for the first time, other people share about their powerlessness over their drinking and how they felt. My internal monologue was being spoken aloud by individuals I had never met before. People from all walks of life, who had the same inability to stop or stay stopped when it came to booze but were now inexplicably sober.

Some people go to AA and never pick up another drink again. This wasn’t my experience. For the following 6 months, I had varying stints of sobriety, from 5 days to 5 weeks.

Having one foot in recovery and one foot in addiction is a horrible place to be. You can no longer look at alcohol in the same way, but you are yet to build an arsenal of tools for coping with life without it. Just like all the other years in my life that had come before this, I was surrounded by alcoholics, my kindred spirits. Only this time, these alcoholics were sober, one day at a time, some of them for more years than I had been alive. I was grateful I had found them.

What it is like now

A lot can happen in 1000 days. Louise and I got engaged, and then married. We now have our first baby on the way. We have moved apartments and moved jobs, more than once. I am two years into a Law degree. We have weathered a global pandemic, alcohol free.

These external circumstances are all useful markers of progress. Indicators of a life well-lived. We have truly been wringing the joys and opportunities out of what is in front of us.

It is important for me to highlight at this point that it hasn’t all been picture perfect and it certainly has not been smooth sailing every step of the way. Without the support of the people in AA and Louise, I would never have been able to weather the storm. I would regularly call her on my commute home on a Friday evening, cursing the fact everyone else could drink with impunity. As sales professionals, we like to celebrate the wins and commiserate the losses; “champagne and razorblades” as it is crudely referred to. This took a long time for me to come to peace with. I am indebted to Louise for patiently talking me down from the ledge, many times.

Louise and I filled our weekends with new experiences. I got to embrace the joys of being fresh enough to go out for breakfast at 9 am on a Saturday, catch a sunrise surf, or go for dinner after an AA meeting with a bunch of equally crazy recovering alcoholics.

The biggest transformation for me has not been my work, relationships or even my physical health. It has been the discovery of the peace that comes with a life built on spiritual principles. If you had told me four years ago before I left the U.K. that I would have discovered a spiritual program for living, I would have told you to f&%k off.

Just to be clear, spirituality should not be confused with religion. For me, a spiritual life is one where I continually develop an understanding and appreciation of what I can and cannot control.

AA has worked for me and many others like me, but I am not at all wedded to thinking it is the only way. What I have come to realise is that it is the support of people, the connection with others, and the right-sizing of our place in the world that is crucial. It has been vital to find circuit breakers, to create new patterns of behaviour and thinking. I am not suggesting everyone needs to move 10,000 miles away, but for me, it allowed me to be rid of the places and environments which would suck me back in, and glimpse the freedom of a new, bigger life, without alcohol and drugs.

My hope for the future is that my son gets to grow up in a household where he never sees his father drunk. Louise and I continue to be able to speak openly and honestly about how we are feeling. I continue to lean on and be leaned on by my friends and community.

I want to keep showing up in my life, not only for myself but for everyone else. For me, the opposite of addiction has truly been connection, to my inner self and everyone else.

If you or someone you love is struggling, reach out. We walk this road together. We can only go forward with the support of one another. I will always need the other addicts as much as they need me, because we keep the lifeboat afloat together.

📸 – Josh Wither from Unsplash

41 Comments

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  • Congratulations and thank you for articulating how I’m feeling at almost 1000 days myself, one day at a time.. it works if you work it 🙂

    By Steph T
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    July 10, 2021
  • I’ve been to my first AA meeting this week. The things that resonated most with me were that long time members had found this inner peace you speak of. Also I realised that I need to stop playing the victim to everything that goes on in my life. It just becomes and excuse to drink like as you say: “I drank when things went well, I drank when things went bad. Had a tough day? Have a drink. Secured a new job? Have a drink. Managed to make your bed this morning? Have a drink!” It’s easy to find an excuse. But will be so much more rewarding not to give in. Thanks for sharing your story.

    By Penny
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    July 10, 2021
  • Respect man keep battling on

    By Johnny
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    July 10, 2021
  • Amazing article. This totally reflects how I feel about my relationship with alcohol. Thank you, this gives me hope.

    By Am
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    July 10, 2021
  • I thought at first glance that Josh Wither’s story would be too long to read, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. I need this; I am an 81-year-old retired teacher and still struggling with trying to make my abstinences permanent ones. I am alone, a widower, hate AA, hate spirituality, and feel I have no where to turn.

    By Gordon
    |
    July 10, 2021
    • Hello Gordon, I am 81 also and thinking it’s not too late for us.
      I have been a functioning alcoholic for nearly 50 years. While the Covid pandemic is not helping I have now done six weeks without a drop. I know from experience that cutting down doesn’t work for me. All or nothing. The doctor says that I can add ten years to my lifespan which is a good motivator

      Good luck

      By George Little
      |
      August 1, 2021
  • 64 years old and never found the “click”. Too late, I fear, for me
    Been doing it for47 years. Can’t get my head around this world so drown the angst. Not proud, gutted. Wasted life!!! Still able to write simple sentences without fault. 😘😘

    By Christine Spenn
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Thank you for sharing your story, it is honest and inspiring. I can so much of me in your story unfortunately at this stage only the drinking and hangovers. Though there is light and I intend to keep that light and let burn bright 😊

    By Frankie
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    July 10, 2021
  • Exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Thank you for your openness and honesty- it helps others still suffering…

    By Alex
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    July 10, 2021
  • Charlie, congrats brother!
    At first I thought you were writing my Bio.
    I also found AA and all the people in my group as the only key to my lifelong journey of abstinence, recovery and my renewed interest in life after years of failed attempts to quit on my own.
    Thanks for sharing, Peace to you and your family.
    Steve G Charleston sc

    By Steve G
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Congratulations on your 1000+ days. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that all must have been for you and you are so lucky to have found the one that could see past the haze surrounding you and into your soul.
    May you continue to have a full life and totally experience the joys of being the dad you were meant to be!
    All the very best to you and your family ☺️

    By Susie
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Hi Charlie. That’s a courageous tale of reality and heartache. Congrats on your 1,000 days.

    By Will
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    July 10, 2021
  • Thank you for sharing your story. Very helpful to me 6 months in. I’m so happy you are doing well.

    By Julie Samartin
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    July 10, 2021
  • Wow!!! Thank you so much for sharing your incredibly inspiring story.

    By Tara
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    July 10, 2021
  • Well done Josh (and Louise), never an easy road but so worth you doing. I’m still struggling, I don’t do benders but drink every day, 8 minimum, more on weekends.
    We know the right thing to do, and our subconscious gets in the way – it’ll be ok start Monday blah blah.
    Good on mate!!

    By Stephen Davies
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    July 10, 2021
  • Fantastic to read your story, that familiar decline, the one thousand “never again, no one can know about this”; “will I be alive this time next year?”. My only problem with AA is the spirituality and the “helplessness” and “recovering “ never “recovered”. HSM truly saved my life. I found the day breaker app, I found Annie Grace and William Porter, I found the 30 day alcohol experiment. I found freedom. 18 months now and if at a rare catch up I have 1 drink – and I don’t particularly enjoy it. I can’t see what I saw in alcohol. I like me now. I can sit with me. Out of a pickle, and a cool cucumber now!

    By Peter Bartley
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    July 10, 2021
  • Well done mate,i will try and be a better person tomorrow…

    By Cameron Ewan McGilvary
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Well done brother, great story.

    By Louie
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    July 10, 2021
  • Congrats on the 1000 days Charlie. An inspiring and honest article. A great piece of writing.
    Your journey resonates with my own long battle before I quit. AA helped me tremendously as well. It was only through meeting other people struggling with booze that I finally quit for good. It’s a shame AA has such a stigma that it discourages people from attending the meetings. I was really nervous about going to my first AA gathering but the welcome I got and the sense of fellowship and support was amazing. Everyone is in the same boat. There is no judgement. It works. Great stuff Charlie.

    By Vince
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    July 10, 2021
  • Thanks for posting

    By shawn
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Well done Charlie. Being present for yourself and others is a wonderful experience for us addicts

    By Joe
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    July 10, 2021
  • A great read thanks Charlie. It takes time as I am learning

    By Tracy
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Thank you !
    I am just at the beginning of my journey

    By Suzie
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Josh congratulations and thank you so much for your inspiring story of recovery.

    By Norah
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    July 10, 2021
  • Congratulations on 1000 days sober. Thank you for sharing your story. It certainly resonated with me. I too am experiencing the ‘peace’ after 220 days sober and its f$%&g fantastic.

    By Vicki
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    July 10, 2021
  • Hey Charlie,
    Thank you for describing your rocky path to sobriety so passionately, so vividly, so honestly. I’m wincing & smiling wryly in recognition.
    AA is the only way I was able to stop drinking; I can truly say that it’s a miracle that I did so, twenty months ago. And yes, I absolutely agree it’s not all plain sailing, but my feet and (more importantly to me)my mind are steady navigating the waves! I can honestly say I’m enjoying life and my family and friends are enjoying having me back in my authentic form!
    All the best to you and anyone who’s struggling to accept that they need help.
    Grace (London)

    By Grace Ann deBrun
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • I was going to AA at one time like for 6 months and everything was good for me but after I needed a sponsor an asked someone and said to me it was too busy, I felt so bad that I never went back and started drinking again😫

    By Elena
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • As I read down your article Charlie the lump in my throat gets heavier.
    It’s like reading & looking at my story on paper the confusion of the disease & the beauty of the beast that sucks our soul dry.

    HOW MAGICAL IS IT TO BE ON THE OTHER SIDE🌻

    Congratulations Charlie your a BLOODY legend, Thank you for sharing your story it has made mine a little clearer.
    One day at a time we start to live a spiritual & peaceful life.
    Much love Bianca Howard
    438 days ❤️

    By bianca howard
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Beautifully told. Thank you and very best wishes for your life ahead.
    I’ll take strength from you

    By Neil
    |
    July 10, 2021
  • Congratulations Charlie that was really relatable and very inspiring. Thank you. So great to hear that you will be there for your wife and child. I like what you said about connecting to yourself and others is that you’re sober. It’s so true and so worth it. Well done on your awe inspiring achievement.

    By Tina
    |
    July 11, 2021
  • A very encouraging story. Iv’e received HSM e mails for years and have wanted to be more moderate in my drinking. I know it affects my health and well being and have determined to quit many times. I know that I need to connect with others that that have the same struggle but have not taken that step. I have a wonderful wife and family that loves and respects each other. I think some suspect I drink to much but I have endeavored to keep it a secret. I’m certain my wife knows. I’m close to retiring, I’ve worked for two companies in the last 40 years. Last night (Friday) I drank 3 strong beers knowing I wouldn’t feel good this morning and feel defeated once again in my pursuit of moderation. I do this every Friday night. I think I’m more ready to change my life as far as drinking. It’s good to read your story about your victory.
    Thank you
    David

    By David
    |
    July 11, 2021
  • Thanks Josh for this very down to earth account of your journey with alcohol and drugs. I have been in and out of AA for 7 years and it is still a battle. I am always so thrilled to hear from others who are getting their lives back one day at a time. I have met some of the most honest, generous people I have ever known in AA. But as you say AA is not the only way,it really is about the people and community who support us.
    My older sister is now in the last few months of her life due to 20 years of alcohol abuse. The broken lives of her two children and the myriad of broken and damaged relationships along the way are a testament to the destruction alcohol & drug addiction brings to our lives. My marriage is over but I haven’t given up and pray that one day I will know the freedom you speak of.

    By Colleen
    |
    July 11, 2021
  • Yes congratulations Charlie.
    I have been drinking for 22 years. Maybe not as heavily as some, but too much for my body size and blood pressure.
    I am a small framed person, so doesn’t take much alochol to be too much.
    I have mentioned ‘cutting back my alcohol consumption’ to friends, only for them to say ‘why, you don’t drink much’?
    But I don’t have the ‘social drinking’ excuse. I can’t remember when the last time was that I drank socially.
    My drinking is done ‘alone’, in my home, and in my silly head its for my anxiety.
    Which, yes I know, alcohol makes anxiety worse. Less sleeping at night, waking at 2am. Beating myself up for ‘going there again’.
    I remember how sharp I was without alcohol in my system, and would like to return there.
    I have a 31 year old son, only child, who wiped me from his life 4 years ago. I now feel ‘purposeless’. Trying to find a good reason to get and stay sober

    By Jenny
    |
    July 11, 2021
  • Not sure why but that whole article has made me feel quite emotional. It’s so honest . I think all our stories are so different yet the same. You came from a place of such sadness yet here you are so happy and content in your own skin. We are lucky to have places like this to tell our story, not be judged and inspire others. You have inspired me – thank you.

    By Rebecca
    |
    July 11, 2021
  • Thank you dear Charlie,…you’ve really hit the sweet spot with sharing your heart warming , insightful and courageous story. And as a newly 5 month plus sobriety fan I can wholeheartedly concur with your fine descriptions of the peace and reaquaintance with one’s “real” self, achievable once sober. Booze isn’t the reliable friend…living the truth (without grog poison) is the REAL friend and our bodies know it to our core., physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually. I encourage anyone to give sobriety a go, you’ll be amazed at how well you can actually feel once you’ve dispensed with the prettily dressed up carcinogen/poison called alcohol.

    By Jennifer Douglas
    |
    July 11, 2021
  • Dear Charles, Congratulations on this fine achievement. I sincerely hope you continue going forward without alcohol. I am only 12 days into Dry July and this is not the first time I have done this and guess I am taking this journey during a pandemic also. It hasn’t been as difficult as first thought and I have decided to stick to my guns having made the choice to do this. Long term, I don’t know how I will go as I too like the taste of certain alcohol but I am trying and taking it a day at a time. Thank you for sharing your story and know I am truly inspired by your tenacity and bravery and hope to do the same as life without alcohol takes getting used to and learning to truly experience and appreciate how exhilaratingly, beautiful and clear life is without it. I am more present with my family and treasuring the special moments and opportunities that I have missed many times over the years. It is early days for me and I hope I will reach a stage where alcohol is no longer something I look forward to. Best wishes to you and your family.

    By Lucy Willoughby
    |
    July 12, 2021
  • Thank you, I needed to read this .

    By Jeanie Gradwell
    |
    July 13, 2021
  • Thanks Charlie, very encouraging to read your story, and you touch on a critical aspect when you mention that you and your wife talk openly about feelings, this is a real key to success we all need to strive for, to be honest with those who support us, to trust them enough to know we won’t be rejected and that sharing helps things pass. Well done!

    By Kate
    |
    July 13, 2021
  • So moving and so motivating… thank you for this.

    By Laura
    |
    July 14, 2021
  • What a touching story. Well done Buddie.

    By margie
    |
    July 16, 2021
  • Great article, very well written. I’m so glad I found it when I Googled “1000 day sobriety anniversary”. And I did that because today marked my own 1000th day without the self inflicted curse of the booze that I had on me for over 40 years. I am so incredibly thankful that I was able to make and keep that change in my life when I did. I highly doubt that I would still be alive today had I not made it. Good luck to all those out there struggling to make their own lives better – it can be done, and it is well worth the effort.

    By Ed
    |
    September 4, 2021
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