656 steps forward, and one step back.

I’ll be honest. This is not the post I thought I would be writing.

I was exactly 656 days alcohol free and looking forward to celebrating my two-year milestone in August. I was proud as hell, secure in my sobriety and without a single desire to drink.

So, when it came it caught me completely by surprise. I mean, it wasn’t the first time I’d had a craving. But this one was intense, like a tidal wave. I did everything I could to distract myself and shake it off. I went for a walk, went to look at the ocean. I told myself to just keep walking back to the hotel, and that tomorrow I would be so proud of myself.

But there I was, walking back to my hotel with a bottle of wine under my arm, the voice in my head alternating between, “please don’t do this” and “you’ve already made up your mind, so just do it already”.

I sat there looking at that glass of wine in front of me for a long time, hoping I would have a last-minute surge of willpower, or maybe some sort of mystical happening, a sign. I’m not sure what I was waiting for, a bolt of lightning perhaps?  Whatever it was, it didn’t come. 

So here I am, writing this. 

I don’t know if anyone else has wondered what it would be like to drink after so long? I had, and I can tell you what it felt like for me. Disappointing, and a little surreal. Once I finished that bottle, I found myself looking up ‘Bottle-shops open near me’. That voice was back, and it was saying to me that I may as well drink more now, but this time I didn’t listen.

I woke up at 4 am the next morning, waiting for the moment where I was flooded with the relief that had always come when I realised that I hadn’t actually drank, that it was just a bad dream. But this time it didn’t come, because it wasn’t a bad dream. This time it was real. 

I laid there, just feeling so disappointed in myself. I thought about all the alcohol-free days in a row that I could no longer claim as my own. I spent the whole of the following day feeling a bit disconnected, wondering what the f–k had just happened. How could I have let this happen again? And … what the hell do I do now?

This isn’t the first time I have been in this situation. My first sobriety journey lasted seven months, and when I started drinking again, I was SURE that I had found the magical moderation button (I’m sorry, but this still makes me laugh, years later). I can confirm now with certainty that I had NOT found the magical moderation button.

So this time, I already knew that as much as my brain was trying to convince me that I could moderate, I can’t, and I wasn’t about to waste any more time heading down that path. Been there, done that, and don’t recommend buying the T-shirt.

That brings me to the present moment, to my “What now?”

I knew I could choose to beat the living crap out of myself emotionally. I could tell myself that because I had drunk that wine, it was all ruined. That I had lost everything I had worked so hard for (I’m not sure about you, but my inner critic is super melodramatic – like, award winning melodramatic, and a massive bitch. Don’t worry, I don’t like her either). However, with a slightly more reasonable mindset, I also knew that I could offer myself the same gentle understanding, empathy and support that I would give to anyone else in the same situation, and then get back on the damn horse.

Have I reset my sober calendar? Not really. I’ve come to realise that this journey is so much more than just days on a calendar strung together, and that one step back does not negate the years I have spent creating a better life for myself.

It was 4 years ago that I first started on this journey, and it’s been a time of constant growth and an increasing sense of faith and pride in myself for doing something that I had never thought possible. Yes, I’ve had my moments where I’ve looked over my shoulder and taken some steps back, but that is all part of my bigger picture, my biggest success to date. 

So, while this isn’t the story I wanted to write, it is a story I am grateful to have the opportunity to share. I know all too well the feelings of shame, despair, anger and fear that some people may feel in this situation, because I have felt them. I know how easy it can be to get so caught up in the (perceived) failure that you forget just how far you have come. Years ago, that would have been me, years ago, that was me. But not this time.

Am I happy that I drank again? Absolutely not. However, I am so grateful for the lessons I have learnt, and for the hope that inspires me to sit at my laptop writing this on a Saturday night, instead of sitting at a bar, writing myself off.

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  • Thanks Chantal. I really think that counting the days on the calendar can be a real trap. I admire your courage in getting back on track and not letting that all or nothing thinking take over. You are brave to share your story. You’re an inspiration.

    By Julie Humphreys
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    July 22, 2021
  • Relapsed last night. I needed to read this. Thanks.

    By Nj
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    July 24, 2021
  • Thanks Chantal I can relate to ‘stuffing up’ after many months of AF and the mental bet ups of ourselves. It is so refreshing to hear one of us talk about this and not be so Pollyanna about days and months of sobriety. Well done us for having the AF days in the first place and all that good karma does not get undone to the start with a drink for a short period of time. I like to define myself as ‘mostly AF’ because 99% of the time I am and if I do take I drink I get right back on the horse of AF. Not often talked about so thanks again to you.

    By Vicki
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    July 24, 2021
    • Thank you Vicki! Different things work for different people… and whatever works for you is right ❤️ I must admit I had to work hard to not stress myself out over the ‘lost days’. But I’m here, as me, imperfect, on my own alcohol free journey. I’m open and honest because I hope it may help people to be a bit gentler on themselves ✨ All the best for your journey ❤️

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • Thank you, thank you, thank you

    By Joany
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • ❤️❤️❤️

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • Thank you for sharing this, I am very early in my journey. I find your story extremely helpful and inspirational.
    A good prospective and a different way to think.

    By Matthew Carter
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Thank you Matthew, I’m so happy it resonates. It may not be easy, but it’s 💯 worth it. Yep

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • This really resonated with me. I also do not possess a magical ‘moderation’ button – despite many years of pretending that I did. Recently I drank wine after just over 300 days alcohol free. I had an awful experience at work and had the very same conversations going in my head that you spoke about here. I ended up having wine a few days in a row, with the level of disappointment in myself growing with each glass. I finally took the time to deal with what happened at work and gained some perspective – and got back on track with my alcohol free journey. Thank you for sharing.

    By Allyson
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Interetsing to read about your relapse, thank you for sharing.
      I’m on day 7 in a row of a drinking and smoking relapse after 8 months clean. No moderation clearly for me. Thought I could moderate
      but leads to this. I am so much happier and healthier clean. Regaining my control and strength and have set my date to quit the smoking in Monday. The booze should follow as it did before. Hopefully should be easier this time as I have a lot of enjoyable sobriety under my belt. Good luck all.

      By Sam
      |
      July 24, 2021
      • Hi Sam, thank you for being so honest ❤️ I’ve been there too. Many times. Relapse is a bitch, but it isn’t a failure, and doesn’t have to last. All the best on your journey, would love to hear how you go.

        By Chantal
        |
        July 24, 2021
  • Well said and written, thank you for sharing this part of your journey. Inspirational.

    By Jeanie Gradwell
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Hi Jeanie, thank you 😊I love to write and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share my story in the hope that it may help others x

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • Thank you for sharing. Your on a amazing journey of not just sobriety but self awareness and self kindness I think they develop hand in hand. It’s story’s like yours that give me faith I’m also on the journey and having set backs here and there but am going to be kinder to myself I know I will get there. That moderation button is a liar!! Xx

    By Joanne
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • I read this and thought “this is me” as I’m sure many others did too. Thank you for putting it in writing for us to share and reflect on our own (sometimes bumpy) journeys.

    By Sandra Hopkins
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    July 24, 2021
  • Thankyou Chantal, this so resonates with me. We are our own worst critics. It’s hard to turn our self recrimination into self compassion & guilt into gratitude. It’s an ongoing process but we learn more each day.

    By TLC
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • You nailed it when you expressed gratitude for the lessons you learnt from this experience. Well written and thank you for sharing.

    By Will
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Just as life is a journey so is sobriety. It is great to have a goal to reach to motivate you and stay on track, but rather than beat ourselves up when we decide to have a drink I think it’s important to acknowledge just how far you have come and rather than re-set the clock and labelling yourself a failure, use the experience to learn more about yourself and why you chose to drink after having come so far. You can move forward in a positive manner. Feeling ashamed and disappointed in ourselves is what kept us drinking so long, well past the time we realised we had a problem, so it’s important to try and remain objective rather than put yourself down.

    By Kezza
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Thanks for your honesty. I am on a similar journey – 7 months sober, then a relapse of a few months (for no particular reason), and back now to not drinking (24 days) … I was disappointed initially that I had started drinking again, and like you thought I could moderate (Ha!!), but I’m still proud of myself for working through this and continuing to explore why I feel the need to drink and how I can change that.

    By Sarah
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • I could’ve written every single word of this myself! We are human. Not perfect.
    The first time I “tumbled off the horse”, (after nearly 8months) I was absolutely distraught. The shame, guilt, anxiety and tears came upon me like a tsunami!

    I eventually climbed back on “that horse” and I’m 45 days away from 1year sober.. and let me tell you, it’s been tough.
    Lockdown has eased, the sun is shining, my friends are all hitting the pubs and beer gardens, and for want of a better phrase “my tongue has been hanging out” to join them. I haven’t.
    I, like you, cannot moderate, and quickly remind myself of that fact. The consequences would be disastrous, and knowing that, keeps me walking happily down my sober road.

    Keep being a warrior.. ❤️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 xxx

    By Rochelle
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Wow great story and thankyou for sharing! I am sure an inspiration to many 🙂

    By michael
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Thanks Michael, I’m glad you liked it! 😊

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • Thank you so much for sharing. Thinking of your story when I’m having a craving will really help. So wonderful that you’re using your experience to help others.

    By Kristal
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Hi Kristal, oh, I’m so happy to read that! Honestly, that’s why I share. I just want to be able to help ❤️

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • Your story resonates so much for me, in particular your comment that you’d already made up your mind that you were going to drink. The only time I’ve acted in the same way was when I was on holiday and whilst having not drunk for 3 years, felt I needed those wines as part of the holiday experience. What a slippery slope that can be

    By Andra
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • This is such good insight and will help so many people. Those big bitch self critics need to have the wind taken out of their sails and you did it x

    By Jan
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Thanks Jan! My inner bitch critic has been told to simmer down haha ❤️

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • What a great and helpful post. I love the learning you brought to your self-compassionate response – being an “inner ally” rather than an “inner enemy” (to quote Kristin Neff!). It is just so helpful for me to read about really human journeys like yours. Thank you for sharing so honestly.

    By Catherine
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Thank you for sharing your story with brutal honesty. After 2 years sobriety I recently drank and my brain sounds very much like your melodramatic bitch brain, so I appreciate it. I don’t feel as alone and thanks to you, I don’t need to feel shame.

    By Mel
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Wonderful story and so spot on. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves and remember that all the good that’s being done far outweighs the odd negative. I have discovered that I can moderate after 2 years sober, but still have that voice that looks up open bottle shops in my area if I do have a glass of wine! I silence that now, that’s my plus I’ve gained. So I applaud you for your amazing effort. Onwards and upwards xx

    By Zoe
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Hi Chantal you sharing of your experience is really helpful to me for two reasons – firstly I also can’t manage moderation and have occasional-but-increasing—lately thoughts about trying drinking again after more than two years of abstinence. Secondly I also have always had the fiercest critical, depressive voice in my head exaggerating and dramatising every perceived failure or unfortunate event in my life! It’s been hard work to soften and gentle that voice, but like you I keep working at it and at seventy one, I’m seem to be finally getting there.
    May I say don’t give up, you’re also getting there. All the best!

    By Clare Felton
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Hi Clare, thank you so much for your comment. It is my biggest wish that by sharing this, maybe it’ll help someone avoid drinking and feeling the way I did. ❤️

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • Thank you for sharing your story I needed to read this today

    By emily
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Great share. I’ve not relapsed but I know I’m never truly safe. Stories like this one inspire me. I heard a podcast that talked about relapse and how hard we are on ourselves in recovery. You can’t compare it to breaking a diet by having a block of chocolate because 80/20 rule is ok there. And like you’ve said, you could’ve wiped all those days but you chose not to and nor should you. It’s all about learning and finding our own way. Thanks for sharing.

    By Donna Bennett
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Thank you Donna ❤️ I’ve learnt to be more aware. The triggers are always there, but I’m getting better at managing them!

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • Thanks Chantal for posting your thoughts and experiences on the “moderation button “. I have been alcohol free for 5 months this time round after spending lots of time and effort proving that there is no such thing when it comes to people like me trying to control our alcohol intake.It is reading the articles in Day Break that keep me focused on being content happy and sober.

    By Richard
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Thank you for writing about this. I am at 452 consecutive days free from alcohol. Recently, I have considered backing away from my online “quit” support system. Most of them are still in & out of sobriety & it seems to be wearing on me just a little. This is the 1st time I’ve shared about those feelings. For now, I’m just taking a break – maybe it will help get rid of the jealousy that they are still getting numb & I am not. I really want to just go back to being supportive & ditch these feelings especially the “want to drink” ones. Feeling like I’ve failed already.

    By Emmalise
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Thanks for sharing. I needed to hear this. this is really helpful. I’ve been thinking about having a wine but know it’s risky because it prob won’t be one. It’s just not worth it. I’m 5 months sober.

    By Celine
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Hi Celine, I really hope this helps xx I’m glad I got to share this story, if it helps people to not have to feel the way I did ❤️

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • Thanks for this story it’s so good you didn’t get the big stick out and whack yourself. I have been struggling with complete surrender yet I know with all of me that I can’t surender. Currently at 72 days and this is attempt 3.
    Thanks Chantel

    By Tracy
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Hi Tracy, thank you 🙏🏻 It can be so easy to be awful to ourselves, but that never does any good. 72 days is awesome 👏

      By Chantal
      |
      July 24, 2021
  • This is a wonderful piece- thank you for sharing! I am almost 3&1/2 years sober, but very concerned that one day I may relapse. I am so fearful of relapse and “having to start over” that I go so far as to steer clear of articles on the topic! However, this headline says it all “655 steps forward , 1 step back”.
    We don’t have to toss out all our work! It is a process of self love/ improvement- and we need to give ourselves grace. Thank you for this reminder that one step backward will never negate those other 655 days

    By Julie Spaccarelli
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Great share, like most others, moderation is a mystery for me. Starts off okay but gradually over a month or two it’s back to the usual excesses and shame. The inner voice and self induced depression as a result and around and around we go! 90 days in for me, which is my longest stretch and have never been happier:)

    By Ozmot
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Thank you for sharing. This is really helpful story as my AF journey is just starting (3 months without alcohol) and I’m sure the inner voice and urges will come along too. You should be celebrating your achievements!! Well done 🙂

    By Mila
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Thanks Chantal, such a powerful blog and one that resonates for me. I’m 18 months alcohol free, and whilst I won’t say I will never drink again, I have no desire to rewind to drinking and the thoughts and feelings that surround it for me. I also believe you can never go back to day zero. The 656 days were days of growth and self awareness. So was the night you listened to your inner critic. I admire your self compassion.

    By Sandra
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Just wanted to say thank you to everyone for your comments, it makes me so grateful to have had the opportunity to share my story ❤️

    Also, to Allyson, I can’t respond to your comment for some reason…but thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m so happy to hear you’re back on track x

    By Chantal
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Yes ,it has happen to me more than once ,I started going of around September, then I would last to Christmas I am a Joiner and worked the big sites in London Hard work,We would get of the day before Christmas eve, early , i t was a real High 10 days of, and looking forward to the holiday ,And then as the years went bye i went to the AA Bye them i new i had a real, problem , on it of it Must try harder, I could rite a book on it. I must say it was a big help. I am of the the dreaded liquid now six years one month and twenty days, Happy days,,If you want it enough you will kick the habit . Francie,

    By Francie
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • I love that your first description of it was ‘disappointing’. This really jumped out from the page at me as I read it. Annnndddd, See ya craving!

    By Jill
    |
    July 24, 2021
  • Dear Chantal, thank you for sharing your courageous and heartfelt story so eloquently. Yes, it’s difficult but we’re not made to be perfect and the practice of self forgiveness and love far outweigh our slip ups which do serve to teach us painfully, from time to time. Getting back on the horse is the order of the day which you are doing, actually, perfectly !

    By Jennifer Douglas
    |
    July 24, 2021
    • Thank you Jennifer, I am so very grateful to have been given this opportunity to do so. While it has been a little (!!!) scary to share this, I can only hope it helps someone else who has, or is experiencing the same xxx

      By Chantal
      |
      July 25, 2021
  • Chantal, I also did 2 years, then met a new partner and am now 2 years back drinking although in more moderate amounts, no guilt or hangovers. BUT, am I happy? Not really. Its a cycle I had broken, wine o clock and now I’m back in it. I needed to read this to remind myself of how much I achieved, and whether that first sip at 7 pm a couple of evenings a week is as nice as waking up knowing I didn’t . Think it’s time to reread all the blogs and tips that helped me the first time round and find the happier me again. Well Done you and your inner critic would get on well with mine. Hateful bitches!!

    By Lizzie
    |
    July 25, 2021
    • Hi Lizzie, thanks so much for your comment. I had been through something similar after my first sobriety stretch. It crept right back to (not quite) where it had been before, and I couldn’t enjoy it the way I had before. You’re so right, that feeling of waking up knowing that you didn’t is the best! Would love to hear how you go ❤️

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • Thanks for sharing. It gives me a little different perspective on all this. Best of luck on our sober journey !

    By Damon
    |
    July 25, 2021
    • Thanks Damon, absolutely!! ✨

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • Hi Chantal and everyone who has contributed to this, it’s a reminder for me that it’s about progress in the right direction over perfection. The longer I go without alcohol makes me realise that all my attempts at moderation were perhaps just me taking the wrong route (for me) to try to get to a happier destination. I’m now 18months on this journey and it’s always heartening to hear the experiences of others on their own journeys too.

    By Tim
    |
    July 25, 2021
    • Hi Tim, I love what you wrote about getting to a happier destination, that really resonated with me. I’m learning more and more that it really is more about the journey for me, than the imagined destination 👌

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • Great story thanks for sharing really inspirational👍

    By Nathan
    |
    July 25, 2021
    • Thanks Nathan 😊

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • Brilliant article Chantal. Why oh why do we find it so easy to be hard on ourselves after a lapse when we have done so much hard work. I’ve taken the pressure off myself after a second lapse a couple of months back. It taught me so much and made me appreciate how much I actually had achieved. I no longer count every day like I’m adding up my days of suffering – I just have a rough idea of when my journey started. Now that I’m not focusing on that shameful feeling of what a lapse will feel like I’m finding the whole AF thing easier. Your words on moderation were so true – we all think we will be the ones who can do it but we all find out in the end that it’s impossible.

    By Rebecca
    |
    July 25, 2021
    • Thank you Rebecca 😊 I really like your view on not counting every day. I’ve stopped doing that too. Even though I still feel some disappointment at having drank, I am so proud that I don’t look at it like a failure, just a step further down the road I want to be on x

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • I enjoyed your posting very much…it is encouraging…I was sober for 34 years (even have my 34-year coin) but started drinking again about 10 years ago. I have been trying to quit again ever since, with little success. I think the longest stretch of sober time these past years has been 5 or 6 months. I never thought that it would be so difficult after so many sober years to stop again! One thing that I have learned is that I absolutely can not quit trying…I have to forgive myself. Reading postings such as yours are very helpful and make me realize that I am not alone in this battle, and gives me hope. Thank you –

    By Madelyn
    |
    July 26, 2021
    • Thank you so much for your comment Madelyn ❤️ I think what you’re doing is amazing. You have shown up for yourself time and time again, and continue to do so. That is tenacity and courage. This is inspiring to me. Please be gentle on yourself ❤️ You are not alone x

      By Chantal
      |
      July 26, 2021
  • Chantal, thanks so much for your naked honesty. There is so much in it that I can relate to that it helps me not to feel so alone.

    I had 230 days when the fateful fall happened. I was so upset with myself that I cried the whole next day. All that I was proud of lost.

    Unfortunately I haven’t gotten back on the horse again. I have also been playing with moderation, to no avail. I am drinking way less, every day. So much for that experiment.

    I like your notion of not resetting the clock. I can’t say sober, but I can say I have been on this journey for almost a year. It is littered with failure amongst success, that I can say. And learning. Lots of learning.

    Here is to many more sober days.

    By Jennifer Hammersmark
    |
    July 27, 2021
  • Thanks for your honesty Chantal. The one day doesn’t negate the two years. You’ve still got them, and you’re only accountable to yourself. Perhaps you have two years less a day off.

    By Leah
    |
    July 27, 2021
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