When the excitement for sober life faded away

After I stopped drinking almost thirty months ago, I had to admit to myself that I had become dependent on alcohol. I had probably, like many others, drunk too much for too long and too often.

‘Fine!’, I often thought, ‘it is what it is!’. Besides, this new life completely free of alcohol was really cool and much better than I ever thought before! So much more energy, health, good mood and drive for action. It’s wonderful.

Diminishing desire to live sober

Sometimes, however, I felt my wanting to live an alcohol-free life suddenly fading. There were moments when my desire for this new life – the joy of it, the will to do it, and the confidence to succeed, seemed to be flushing away. By no means did I want to go back to my old alcohol-dominated life, but I was sometimes pulled by the desire to simply have two or three drinks. And also by the desire to be ‘one of them’ again, to sit with others as ‘happy’ drinkers again and just ‘let it rip’. At such moments, the mere thought of never drinking alcohol again or perhaps just to quit drinking for a short time, hit me like a punch in the pit of my stomach.

It then felt as if the pedestal I was proudly and happily standing on with my new attitude toward drinking would suddenly crack and slowly begin to fall apart. Where had all the positive and joyful thoughts about an alcohol-free life gone all of a sudden? What would happen if I gave in to such a spontaneous desire – as I had done so many times in the past? I sensed and realised that I was easily susceptible, weak, and vulnerable in this regard. I also sensed the great danger posed by these toxic thoughts. I began to fear these moments.

As a trigger for this toxic thinking, for example, a well-intentioned remark of an old friend like, ‘But you don’t look happy – to be so completely without alcohol’ was enough. Sometimes a commercial on TV or a movie scene with people enjoying alcohol together and becoming friends was enough. Or the mere smell of wine, cork, alcohol, yeast or hops, the sight of wooden barrels and tapping equipment. Sometimes, as if by some evil spell, my will abruptly melted away completely.

But I also felt that it was not a physical greed for a sip of wine or a glass of beer that suddenly dominated me. Rather, it was a tremendous desire to simply be, feel and think the way I had before. This was horrifying   how the old and terribly familiar thoughts forced themselves into my thinking – as if they had never been gone.

At the beginning these thoughts were only like a small trickle, which quietly found their way through. Then a little stream developed and finally an enormous river, which washes everything away. And just like water follows exactly the way it once washed free and made a path, in my thoughts it suddenly flowed there again and in the same direction as it had done for years. I was suddenly thinking the way I used to – and I felt frighteningly good about it – about those old familiar ideas that offer a life with alcohol once more.

“Increasingly, I better understood how much my motivation for a life without alcohol depended on my own thinking about it”

Toxic thoughts

Hadn’t we been friends for years alcohol and I? After all, didn’t drinking have its good sides? So much easy pleasure! What could be so wrong with so many people doing it? Wouldn’t I be ‘finally back to normal‘ if I were to turn back to drinking from time to time …? Besides, I had already managed to quit, hadn’t I? One could indeed drink a pint of beer to all that …!

I felt the danger more and more clearly and I realised that I had to act against it myself. Increasingly, I better understood  how much my motivation for a life without alcohol depended on my own thinking and on my inner attitude towards a sober life: Did I regard giving up alcohol as a regrettably necessary and sad renunciation – or as the right way to give my life more joy, deeper pleasure, better health and more colorful experiences? It was important to do and implement the right actions, but the fundamental basis was to channel my thoughts to the right things.

Soberness ‘Mantras’

I realised I had to try to change my thinking habits about alcohol and drinking, and get used to new, good and wise ‘thinking patterns’ just as I had gotten used to the destructive and nonsensical thinking about alcohol and drinking for years.

Sometimes you hear or read statements from other people about drinking and you immediately feel that they are very wise and it seems to make a lot of sense to you. Maybe there are statements like this, that come to your mind? For me, one of my favourite statements is ‘Alcohol not only numbs the bad, alcohol also numbs the good’. A second was: ‘Sobriety is a real privilege. Be happy and proud!’. A third said something bold: ‘Without alcohol, you’re undefeatable!’

I wrote down many such phrases on a few loose sheets of paper. For the first few months, I read them almost daily, trying to imagine and internalise their meaning. I thought about them, reflected on their meaning, and pictured their significance. I read them aloud or silently, I spoke them or just thought them … again and again … tenfold … hundredfold. Day after day. Then every other day. Then weekly. Finally, only once in a while.

Over weeks and months, I internalised these ‘mantras’ and this new way of thinking like I had previously internalised my habitual thinking and talking about alcohol for years. I read these mantras aloud to myself before going to a party. I skimmed them briefly when I was leaving for a business trip. When I experienced something that shook my motivation, I used the mantras afterwards like a saving anchor, seeking refuge in their words as in a safe harbour. 

The more often I thought these thoughts, the more secure I felt in them, and I began to behave more courageously in this new truth. My inner attitude toward alcohol-free living became firmer and more stable. I carried these mantras with me at all times like an inner shield and watched myself with a smile though surrounded by people who still drink. I learned to refuse a drink and feel safe doing so.

Today I know that I didn’t need to be particularly strong to really live alcohol-free in the long run and hopefully forever. It was far more important to be and to remain focused – first in my thinking and then in my actions. This led me to a mantra that I still speak to myself almost daily – almost two and a half years later with an inner smile: ‘Stay focused – stay sober’.

Tom lives with his wonderful wife in the west of Germany. He truly loved drinking for 30 years and he is grateful and happy today that he has been able to leave alcohol behind when he realised the huge amount of its sad consequences. As a natural scientist, Tom works in the health care sector where he focuses on modern cancer therapy. As a man in his late fifties, Tom loves his mountain bike – particularly riding in forests, mountains, hills and river valleys – and with the people of his homeland. And not to forget yoga, Tom likes that too – even as a beginner. So if you want to meet him sometimes and somewhere … the best idea is to get on your bike!

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  • I needed this very much today, thank you. I’ve had longer and longer streaks of no alcohol – the longest one almost a year – but kept slowly and sneakily relapsing for all the reasons mentioned in the article. I’ll start working on my mantras!

    By Vera
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Vera, thank you for your post. Yes – I think when you feel and perceive yourself that it is actually your own thinking that undermines your motivation, then it can be wise to work on it purposely – to think different and/or new thoughts. For myself, this helped a lot with the “mantras” and – it still helps today. I wish you much success! 🙂 …. Regards, Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 14, 2022
      • Dear Tom, what a wonderful, inspiring story – and what a wonderful tool mantras can be. I will think of finding mine as I continue to try and cut wine out of my life, one day at a time. I am a health enthousiast and it just seems hypocritical of me to continue drinking after so many years when I have embraced veganism and clean eating. May we all stay strong and find out mantras.

        By Belinda
        |
        May 31, 2022
  • Tom, ich hab das heute gebraucht! Hab nach 4 Jahren wieder angefangen zu trinken, und am 29. Januar wieder aufgehört.
    Werde deinen Blog mehrmals ausdrücken und bei mir haben!
    Danke

    By Rose
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Rose,

      thank you for your lines. I wish you all the best.

      It took myself many tries and I allowed myself a huge number of errors until I really succeeded in the long run. But I will be honest: I have a lot of respect for giving in to a momentary desire or impulse. Those are rare for me – but they do exist. In Germany there was a book published which is called “The Beast Sleeps”. Sometimes it feels exactly like that to me. And thanks for you to answer in German – Very nice…

      Regards

      Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 15, 2022
  • So happy for you.

    By Sophie Warmuz
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Sophie,

      …yes – I think so too – I am very grateful for that…, Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 17, 2022
  • Thank you Tom! You articulated my own struggles so perfectly, and helped me so much this morning 🙂

    By lis
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Lis,

      I have to thank YOU… :-), Regards, Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 17, 2022
  • Thank you so much for this story Tom. I stopped drinking in November last and haven’t wanted to start again, but occasionally after a hard day’s physical work or a family event coming up, I wonder if I will be able to not join the crowd and have a drink, and I find it hard to remember just why I stopped. I’ve tried just having one or two drinks but have found that this easily slips into 3 or 4 every night and I know alcohol is bad for me. So I’m going to create some mantras for myself. One of those is, ‘Not drinking helps me to stay cancer free’.

    By Anni
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Anni,

      thank you for your answer. In my former life it was like this: if I was stressed, I wanted a beer. And there do plenty of stress factors exist: too much work, social discomfort in a group, fear of something or someone. And so much more. I used to think I needed alcohol to face all that. As an elixir of life. As a knight’s armor. Or as a lifeline.

      With time I realized that this simply was only nonsense and that I can do many of these things without any help – and on closer inspection even much better than before. Very rarely it happens that a party is really totally bad and boring just BECAUSE I don’t drink alcohol. In this case … I just go home again.

      I find it interesting how family gatherings also not infrequently have a role as an alcohol-triggering “stress factor”. Or is it to have “fun”? Similar with me and … interesting.

      Yes – I also know these kinds of situations as typical triggers for suddenly thinking the way one had been accustomed to for years. To soften this, the “mantras” very often helped me.

      And yes: why not just “drink in a controlled way”…. “drink less” … “drink less often”? Sometimes it suddenly seems so simple …

      In reality it was not so easy for me – and I speak only about myself: most of the time I failed after a few days with my plan for “less drinking” and afterwards it was sometimes worse than before. And even when I managed to implement “controlled drinking” temporarily in my life, I was not really happy with it: I experienced it as insanely exhausting to walk around all my life as my own guardian behind myself. If I wanted to drink little, I always had to force myself to do so – this almost never happened on its own. This took a lot of strength and discipline. And constant attention. It went on for almost 30 years … Most of that time I drank much too much….

      Each person balances that for themselves. For myself, it was a pretty cool way to just say goodbye to all those alcohol-related difficulties with one word – this word was “No”. And as for the cancer risk: that’s a really great mantra of yours, I think and: thank you for that!!

      Regards

      Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 15, 2022
      • I am drunk again. My steady drinking started 5 years ago after my wife died. I had taken care of her for 37 years after she had a brain aneurism and stroke. I thought of my daily chores as a burden, but I’d give anything to have them back. My health is deteriorating, tonight may be my last. Hopefully, I will wake tomorrow and be able to read some more. Thank you.
        Gary

        By Gary Clark
        |
        March 19, 2022
      • Hi Gary, it seems like things have been tough recently, please know that there are support available for you: https://hellosundaymorning.org/get-urgent-help/

        By Hello Sunday Morning
        |
        June 1, 2022
  • Thank you for reminding me. The brain needs constant vigilance. I love your metaphor of water finding old routes. You are a inspiration Tom. X

    By Mark Dive
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Thank you, Mark.

      I think you are right: some vigilance is helpful and important and I think it makes sense to sometimes become aware of what one’s own world of thoughts is doing and how it changes and develops over time.

      For me it was like this and nothing has changed until today: that beautiful memories of wonderful “sober” experiences develop their own life in my thoughts and they also confirm each other here again and again. In this way, it became more stable and solidified that I could feel happy without alcohol (I suspect this works very similarly to how it worked before – when I still used “great” drinking experiences and adventures as an argument to drink again and again…). In this respect, it became increasingly easier for me to live happily and casually without alcohol. But I speak only for myself.

      Regards

      Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 15, 2022
  • I am going on a three week cruise around the horn of South America. My thinking is what if I get there and decide I want to drink. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on alcohol but it’s ok to buy and take on the cruise. Now I am torn about taking alcohol with me. Your story helps me to see the false story I am telling myself. Friends say “It’s your vacation. It’s ok to drink.”
    It’s hard to stay focused. Thank you for your words.

    By Vivian Walworth
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Vivian,

      thank you for your response. In my opinion, the most important thing is to look: what do YOU want? Your friends are basically absolutely right: “It’s your vacation. It’s O.K. to drink.” They are right, because it is legal. They are right, because it is legitimate. Of course it is. Maybe it’s perfectly fine for someone who has no trouble with alcohol at all.

      However, it may not apply to you, and things may be different for you. That is for you to judge. And then you may think about whether you want to make a change and what change you want to make – or not. If you want to cut alcohol out of your life altogether, it can be very unwise to pack alcohol at home before you leave. You will probably drink it.

      But it all depends on what you WANT for yourself and your life. I myself found it one of the hardest things in the beginning not to drink alcohol on vacation (“It was always so much fun!”) and I was afraid of deciding and committing myself like that. Have some courage: Just do it – the vacation on a cruise will probably be more beautiful, more contrasting, more colorful and more memorable than you think now…

      Regards

      Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 15, 2022
  • Many thanks Tom – you have summed up our battle so well. Paul

    By PAUL
    |
    February 12, 2022
  • This is great – I wonder if you could share your top 10 mantras? I would love to read them daily.

    By Cris
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Cris,

      thank you for your reply. Over time I looked around everywhere I could think of and where I could get help and support: in books, articles, on portals and sites on the www. Sometimes I found suitable statements. There are so many people with similar questions or difficulties they are in. Some formulate statements why they decided against drinking – or for reduced drinking. It can be very personal things that make such a statement a good “mantra” for oneself – I think it has to hit one’s sensitivities and express something one actually believes. That’s why it’s hard to formulate mantras that fit everyone.

      So what are the reasons for yourself to drink less?
      What could be your goals if you stopped drinking?
      What would be better if you “gave alcohol the slip”?…

      But how about…?:

      “Alcohol not only numbs the bad, alcohol also numbs the good”.
      “Sobriety is a real privilege. Be happy and proud!”.
      “Without alcohol, you’re undefeatable!”.
      “Not drinking is cool and sophisticated”.
      “It’s so good that you take such loving care of yourself!”.
      “Finally I have almost endless weekends”.

      … and so on….

      But these were only ideas which fitted for me… Good luck to you…

      Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 17, 2022
  • Hi Tom.
    Thanks for your story and the way you have written it.
    I am at almost the same stage, being 30 months on my alcohol free journey.
    I feel SO similar to how you do and that creeping temptation to revert back to having a few drinks lingers large in my thoughts quite regularly. It’s almost primeval in its legacy.
    I have one theory that because we have now both “conquered” our battles and demons with alcohol we feel we can now go back and return to it. We have won the war so we feel we can go back into enemy territory invincible.
    I have a hunch this links to the human psyche of challenges and striving for the next thing and evolution.
    Now that you and I (and whoever else has got past 2 years AF) feel that we have this “all under control” we continue to look for ways to release and let loose.
    We know that alcohol is not the answer. We know how hard we have worked and focussed and re-align ourselves to get to this point. And we know that being AF has created so many benefits in our lives and the lives of those we love. BUT, we feel like we need and want more. This isn’t enough.
    I am also grappling with what you have talked about and whilst I am very aware of the massive risks of returning to being a drinker again, I want to find the best way to “release” and find the escape we all need in life to feel alive and free.
    Your comment on the mantras is great. Every time I see a great quote that I relate to on OYNB or Alcohol Explained of Hello Sunday Morning or anywhere else, I save it to my phone and I look back on these whenever I need to remind myself why I am now living AF.
    Congrats and keep going !!

    By Will Forwood
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Will, Thank you for your lines an your reflexions. Yes – stay focussed :-), Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 21, 2022
  • This is exactly how I feel, 10 months since I quit. I have lost the excitement about being sober and how good I felt (and how good I felt about myself) in the first 3 – 6 months. So much so that I ordered a glass of wine last weekend. It tasted awful. I didn’t want the wine, what I wanted was to feel less bored and boring! But as we know, alcohol doesn’t help with those things. I am going to borrow your idea of the mantras, will write them down now. Thank you, Tom.

    By Susanne
    |
    February 12, 2022
  • I loved that – thank you Tom. I will write out a few mantras to have at hand when the going gets tough ! x

    By Jane Carmichael
    |
    February 12, 2022
  • Thank you Tom I needed to read this today. I am 46 years old and 11 months sober. Toying with the idea of drinking only on special occasions but I realise there’s no point. Thank you again.
    Celine

    By Celine
    |
    February 12, 2022
    • Dear Celine,

      I think that many, many people, after starting an alcohol-free life or an alcohol-free phase, sometimes miss drinking deep inside themselves. I think that’s pretty normal, and in a small way it’s a good thing – after all, drinking has been fun and a relief for years. At least for a short time. Nevertheless, it can be that at some point you realize that it’s much better to let this nonsense go – for different reasons.

      Controlled drinking – that was what I tried to implement for half my life. It was almost always the case that I drank very significantly more than I actually wanted to. For years I thought this was down to me and that I just wasn’t disciplined enough. But after I stopped drinking, I quickly realized how much it was not me, but the alcohol – the substance ethanol itself – that was the cause. Without it, the craving also disappeared quite quickly.

      Controlled drinking is not easy for someone who loves alcohol terribly – this is my guess – probably also because it is not a clear decision. It’s not a “no” – it’s a “not really” but “sometimes it is”. It’s not a “no” to alcohol, it’s basically a “yes”. I think that’s what makes it so difficult. Also, I used to find it difficult to lean a drink today, when yesterday I was joyfully and exuberantly drinking along.

      But I felt the same way – every now and then I toyed with the idea of trying drinking again (after all this time!). I also have until today a huge respect for the fact that it could actually happen one day.

      I wish you all the best, Celine, and stick to what’s good for you….

      Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 21, 2022
  • Dear Tom, thank you for such a beautifully expressed and erudite description of what exactly goes on in the mind with the toxic thoughts and slippage of resolve,… and forgetting how much is gained with the resolve and commitment to sobriety. Yes, there’s so many prompts around and seeing the truth of them as wolves dressed as grandma is a daily awareness definitely worth cultivating. Thank you, your words are very encouraging, especially substituting healthy activity in place of poisonous imbibing. AF for just over 1 year now, feeling great, I’m grateful for your support.

    By Jennifer
    |
    February 12, 2022
  • Yep, it’s that fading affect bias, we stop remembering the bad and stop seeing how alcohol really truly affected our lives, I really needed to read that Tom. Many thanks for sharing.

    By Laura
    |
    February 12, 2022
  • I will be saving your words as my mantra. Thank you

    By Karen
    |
    February 12, 2022
  • Thank you Tom
    I am proud of you and you have inspired me
    I wish I had read this before a recent holiday – I feel I failed but am back on track – after being off booze for over 2 years I went on a holiday the first one in years it was all inclusive – I did well for the first week but it was hard I tried all soft cocktails but had a desire for more – eventually I said ok one rum cocktail & then one glass of bubbles this was good and fine felt proud next day desire for wine I had a little bit in a glass and again felt good I can do this – I thought to myself then 2 days later found myself wanting a whole glass of wine which then when offered a 2nd and 3rd I said yes and 4th & 5th I had a great time BUT the next day I felt like I was dying I was brutally reminded why I do not drink and why that is it proved to myself I cannot drinka little bit or just on holiday or just one glass – the taste is addictive and it is not for me I am SO much happier without it so now I am back on the straight and narrow and happy as I have failed but i feel I had to do that I fell but got up and dusted myself down and got back on track- my friends dont know I feel like why do I need to tell them my husband is very supportive – long ramble but wanted to share to say to anyone else struggling you know what if you do fail its ok we learn we grow and we know how good it is to be off it – I truly believe that had to happen to me once & now never agian I know i cannot trust myself ever again I will use Tom;s mantra about to print them off now and keep them for those holiday moments or xmas times when friends so go on one wont hurt actually one will hurt as for me it will never be one- stay safe everyone and keep up the fab work thankyou

    By C
    |
    February 13, 2022
    • Dear “C”,

      Maybe it was a little mistake to take the drinks on vacation. Probably. But on the other hand it’s not that bad.
      But please also be a little proud that you got yourself back up again so quickly. Mistakes happen. I myself, for example, make them every day. Every day – really :-).
      Just be happy about how good you can do sobriety and just move on. And in every mistake is also the chance to learn. It can only get better and will finally succeed the way you desire….

      Regards

      Tom

      By Tom
      |
      February 21, 2022
  • At nearly 3 years of sober living, your story struck a chord with me. Home is sanctuary, but when you go out to places where they serve alcohol it can be tempting and create inner conflict. I find giving myself a good talking to before going out and sometimes just using mantras really helpful too. Just stay the path, a stumble will lead to a fall, will lead to falling by the wayside and perhaps looking back and there is only a black hole back there. I compare it to a bad relationship these days – yes there were some fun times and carefree moments, but ultimately we broke up for a reason im better without you and my life is mine no regrets.

    By Hope
    |
    February 13, 2022
    • Love your bad relationship analogy. I’ve been using having an affair analogy for moderation. We know it is not right, think it will be fun with no lasting effects, but it ends in pain and agony for all involved. There is the 20 minute euphoria, too lol

      By Suzanne
      |
      February 18, 2022
  • This is a great read.

    I love the idea of a daily mantra to help remember why remaining sober is the right choice for me. Every night I write down how many days I’ve been sober and alcohol free for. I’m going to add a mantra to this by using a few that you’ve suggested here and then work on some of my own too. Thanks for sharing Tom.

    By Allyson
    |
    February 13, 2022
  • An intelligent and well written personal account of the on-going ‘battle’ against alcohol and it’s clever ways. Interesting to read someone who is a good amount of time into sobriety and still having to do mindful work to keep in maintained.

    I am 6 weeks into both sobriety and tobacco free. Feeling much better all-round physically and mentally. Learning to go out and socialise again to bars and pubs sober and it is calming, empowering and liberating-let alone cheaper and hangover free and absent of alcohol induced behaviour changing.

    Last period of sobirety and tobacco fighting free lasted 8 months (personal best) but allowing myself a ‘break’ from the absitnance on a walking holiday led me slowly back into a life intertwined with damaging addictive behaviour.

    I want to keep this going, I prefer life sober and tobacco free.

    I also know I will get bored of being good to myself and will have to choose which path I shall go. The inner desire to alter my mind/state of perception occasionally remains and I have other natural ways in reserve for this.

    Got to get my mountain bike out the shed soon!

    By Sam Germing
    |
    February 13, 2022
  • Thank you for this Tom, I lose my motivation so easily and I needed to be reminded that it is my own thought process that continues to derail me. I am revamping my thinking to reflect my goal of a healthier, happier more energetic lifestyle, alcohol free.
    Liana

    By Lee Ann
    |
    February 17, 2022
  • Tom, your story and the messages that follow are truly an inspiration. I will read them over and over any time I need a helping hand.

    One is never too old to start living the AF life. I am 86 and have been drinking the sauce, off and on, more or less, for 70 years. Gave it up for Lent, just a couple of weeks ago, and I cannot believe how much better I feel. I sleep more soundly and often through the night. THAT has not been experienced in decades. No “Morning Fog”. Lost 5 pounds already; just the beginning. Complexion clearing up. No improvement yet on the golf course or the fitness center but I am confident those will come soon.

    I know very well that there will be many occasions when I will be tested, when I think I have conquered it and don’t need to be vigilant any more, or when I am depressed and just don’t give a crap, and I may relapse, but I now have experienced what you and the others on this website have been championing and I hope I can follow in your footsteps during the few years I have left. There is so much yet to do it would be a shame to spend any of that time comatose!

    As for “Mantras” I did write one and have posted it right here over my computer:

    “The Benefits Start Right After Dinner!”

    By Carl in the USA
    |
    March 19, 2022
  • I manage to stay sober for 24months..2019 to 202. I am 45 now, and i am drinking now…a lot.. In my last 10 years before the pit stop i didn’t had a day without drinking..
    the issue is that stress, moments when i am suffering because i lost friends, always drag me back to old habits. and is not about one bier, is always with black out.. I stay again 2-3 months sober and back. I am in ca carousel that never stops.
    I also bike a lot and made sport, during the pause… It helps but not entirely.. I was doing this alone, and this was not healthy path.. All my friends are drinking, enjoying their lives and is no problem for them.. I don’t understand why alcohol is bad only for me. Why i need to have it on daily basis when i go back. Is no stop, no limit..
    And Tom, you are right, looking at movies in this 2 years of sobriety and seeing people enjoying a glass of wine… Is like a knife is ravaging my body.. I can do it in same manner my self.. I can do it.. But not.. Is always about more…:(

    By Alfonso
    |
    March 29, 2022
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