Over the past few weeks I have been reading all the sober material I can get my hands on. I am fascinated by the psychological aspects of addiction and the articles I have read on the Stages of Change model have resonated with me particularly strongly.
The model identifies 6 stages to the process of making major life changes including stopping drinking.
Stage 1 is pre-contemplation. At this point the person does not believe they have a problem and consequently they are not looking for a solution. I spent years at this stage. When Mr So occasionally suggested I cut down on my drinking (usually when I had made a spectacle of myself at one or other social event), I felt defensive. I really couldn’t see why he thought there might be a problem.
Stage 2 is the point at which someone begins to accept they MAY have a problem with alcohol but is not ready or willing to commit to stopping. This is called contemplation.
At this stage I did numerous online tests to check whether I might have a problem with drinking. If I could manipulate the results to show that any problem was negligible, I would feel reassured. And to celebrate I would treat myself to a bottle of wine.
At this stage I also tried repeatedly to moderate my drinking. Only at weekends, white wine only, not at home…it didn’t work.
For me stage 2 lasted 2 or 3 years.
Stage 3 is preparation. This is where the person knows they need to take action but does not necessarily know what that should be.
At this stage a lot of people will turn to self help books, online information, sober blogs etc. This is a really crucial stage because it is when a clearer understanding of what the process of stopping drinking is going to involve, emerges. I think that the reason why I had so many false starts was because I didn’t plan at all. I would just wake up after a particularly horrendous night and decide my drinking had to stop there and then.
Stage 4 is action – the person stops drinking and puts into practice all the strategies they have come up with at the planning stage. At this point motivation and commitment to change is high and the person is often very receptive to help.
Like a lot of people I got to this stage numerous times before I managed to stop drinking this time around. I would start Day 1 all fired up for success but would rarely make it past Day 3 or 4. 16 days was my absolute best. Over the past year my attempts became more and more frequent and every time I failed I found myself drinking more than before.
I don’t know what happened this time around which made things different but I think a big part of it was admitting that I couldn’t do it on my own. I called my local addiction service and asked for help. It was scary but I had got to a point when I knew I didn’t have a choice. Without the support I have received from them I know I would not be where I am today, 52 days dry.
The 5th stage is maintaining the change. This is the time when we develop new skills to maintain sobriety. I have a lot of work to do. I have not socialised at all since I stopped drinking. I have been eating too many carbs and too much sugar. I am still coming to terms with the prospect of “forever” and even though it sounds nonsensical, I am grieving for my drinking past. But little by little, I am taking small steps. My sugar cravings are subsiding and I am eating more healthily. I am exercising more and the thought of a birthday without drinking does not send shivers down my spine.
The final stage is known as the paradigm shift. If maintenance is successful over a long enough period of time, a totally new way of thinking about alcohol will emerge and old habits feel unnatural and no longer part of a person’s identity.
In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll wrote “it’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then”.
Although it may be some way off, I know that eventually there will be a day when I will no longer look back and my drinking past will be exactly that.