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  • Writer's pictureChristine Coulson

The Times I Failed to Quit Alcohol

Updated: Jun 18

Long-haired person looking towards mountain from path

So I talk a lot about my sobriety, and how much of a positive impact quitting alcohol has had on me. But today, I want to talk about some of the times I didn't quit. The times when trying to moderate, or to quit alcohol just didn't stick.

2012 - the year of '350 sober days'

In 2012, I had a lot of change in my life. I remember NYE of 2011 pretty well; I was 31. The day before, I had moved out of the shared house in Hackney I'd been in since 2006, having left so our landlord could sell our little damp terrace for an extortionate amount of money - but our tenancy wasn't up yet, so I headed back there and saw the new year in alone, drinking champagne. I'd had a bath, I'd watched Jools Holland, I'd reflected on the years in that house and what I'd been through and how I'd grown within its four walls, and I contemplated the year that was ahead of me.

2012 was the year I was going to graduate from university as a Diagnostic Radiographer; I know I'd be leaving London but I had no idea where I'd call home next. The Olympics were coming to town... But first I had a dissertation to write, clinical placement to finish, exams to pass and a job to find. I needed FOCUS.

But of course I couldn't commit to full sobriety for the year; that would be foolish! No. I had a brainwave - 2012 was a leap-year. That's 366 days. What if I only drank on 16 occasions this year and had 350 days of sobriety?! Genius!

Of course, initially this worked well. From January to March I had so much university work to do I didn't really do much else. Sobriety when you're busy is relatively easy. I drank when my sister visited (two days not the one I planned, but hey - it was my sister. I'll just claw a day back in the summer).

It was once the study pressure was off that my resolve went completely. Knowing I was going to be leaving London, I made sure I took advantage of the amazing city; and saying goodbye to my amazing friends and by the time I left for good in July, I wasn't kidding myself anymore. 350 sober days was never thought of again.

2017 - The 5:2 plan

By 2017 I'd been living in Yorkshire for over four years; work had been going well initially, but then my mental health took a massive dive for 6 months and was slowly starting to recover. I'd had a couple of (shit) relationships but was single; I didn't know what my career was going to look like; I was basically lost.

So I did what any 37 year old would do - I went on a retreat! It was a fantastic retreat with an amazing coach. I got so much out of it, and had some great plans and ideas for how I was going to sort my life out and be a new woman! One of those areas was my drinking. I'd mentioned I felt I was drinking too regularly; probably with a glass of wine in my hand as I uttered it - and it was largely glossed over by the group and the coach (all clutching wine too). But I'd mentioned it, so I needed a strategy. As a Radiographer, my working pattern wasn't a structured 9-5 and my days off were often mid-week. Without the ability to "only drink at the weekend" I was decided that I would only drink two days a week anyway - what a revelation!

So the thing about people who only drink at the weekend is that they tend to work on the other days. I know that's not always the case, but it's common. With a job where you do your full time hours over three shifts, that's four days off a week. That's two days where I would be at home, bored, with nothing to do where under the new 5:2 regime I wouldn't be able to drink.

It lasted less than a month. In reality, it probably lasted less than a fortnight.

Dry January February

Dry JANUARY?! 31 days during the coldest, most depressing month of the year? Do I look like a mug?!?! No chance. Not me. I'll do Dry February instead. January's out of the way and, of course, it's 3 days shorter. I'm not a fool.

I was successful in all of my Dry Februarys; probably because I'm stubborn. Plus it's easy to not drink for a month when you know you're going to reward yourself with a nice, cool bottle of wine on the 1st of March.

When I was just giving up for a month, I could white-knuckle it. Count down the days until it was over. This wasn't about thinking about my relationship with alcohol and how good I felt for the break from it - no, this was about proving to myself that I didn't have a problem. I could leave the stuff for a month - I. Was. Fine.

Yeah, right.

This is why I'm in two minds about dry months. I think they're brilliant for people to give their bodies a break; especially after a boozy December. But for people like me, I think they give a false reality. They throw a bit of distortion into the echo-chamber of denial.

So what changed?...

So how come I've managed to quit alcohol this time round? What changed?

Without doubt, my mindset relating to alcohol by putting in a hell of a lot of work. I read the books, I listened to the podcasts. I reflected, and I grew. And I still do!! Even last week one of my clients recommended a new book to me; so I listened to the audiobook and loved it so much I bought a copy for my shelf. It's Quit Like A Woman by Holly Whitaker, if you're interested, and you can buy a copy here:

Alcohol is a legal, addictive substance and it is everywhere. If you've got a bit of a dodgy relationship with it, you won't be able to quit by willpower alone. You need to understand why you drink - and often face the demons that you've been numbing your emotions to ignore. In Whitaker's book she describes building yourself a life that you no longer wish to escape. That's what I've done. That's why this time is different.

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