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I Tried to Quit Drinking for 7 Years!
But now I've made it five and a half years sober.
My First Attempt at Sobriety
How long does it take to get sober? How many failed attempts does an alcoholic need to go through before they finally make sobriety stick?
In my case, the answer is seven years and more attempts than I can remember.
I was a junior in college when I started drinking and smoking cigarettes every day. I had experimented with them both before that, but it was that year when my habits solidified.
By the time I graduated college, I was getting drunk every day and going through a pack of cigarettes each day as well.
To be honest, the drinking habit didn’t bother me. I told myself that I was just a reckless young adult and that it was a normal phase that I would grow out of with time.
However, I was extremely concerned about my daily smoking habit. My grandmother had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and every time that I lit a cigarette, I was filled with guilt.
After trying—and failing—to quit several times on my own, I finally decided to see a psychologist. During our first session, he asked me whether I drank or used drugs. I answered honestly that I drank every day. When he pushed me to answer how much I was drinking, I reluctantly revealed the truth—that I had been going through at least 12 cans (and sometimes much more) each day.
He was shocked and explained to me that alcohol was the real problem in my life, not smoking. He said that cigarettes might kill me in a few decades, but that at the rate I was going, my drinking habit might kill me in a few days.
He recommended that I enter an in-patient rehab program right away, but I stubbornly refused. We compromised on daily AA meetings and weekly therapy sessions.
It worked for a few months. I stopped drinking cold turkey, went to my daily meetings, and saw my life start to turn around. However, as things got better, I started to doubt whether I had a problem after all.
I told myself that sobriety had come too easy and that I must have overreacted to my drinking habit. Maybe I was right in the first place, and I was just a typical young adult drinking a little too much.
It wasn’t hard to talk myself back into drinking. So, I gave up on AA, stopped seeing my therapist, and entered what I sometimes call my “seven-year relapse.”
Seven Years of Quitting
In the seven years following that first attempt at sobriety, I went through all kinds of different phases with my drinking habit.
For some years, I spent almost every day “trying” to quit. I’d swear to myself again and again that I’d stop drinking the next day, only to give up on my sobriety before sundown.
During other years, I was practically resigned to life as a drunk. I thought that I’d never overcome my habit, and so I that I should just give in to my alcoholism.
Another common theme during those seven years was “moderation.” I was always trying to come up with ways to cut back on my drinking. I created all kinds of rules for myself like “only drink on the weekend” or “only drink with friends,” but I never managed to stick with any of them.
The truth is that it’s hard for me to write about those years, not so much because of any emotional difficulty, but because my mind was such a mess that I’m not even sure what I was thinking.
My addiction caused severe cognitive dissonance. My mind was all over the place, and I’d tell myself directly contradictory things. At the same moment that I was swearing to myself that I’d finally get sober and turn my life around, I was also telling myself that I wasn’t really an addict and could keep drinking as long as I wanted.
Now that I’m sober, it’s so easy to see how irrationally I was thinking. It was a lot harder to understand this when I was in the moment.
For the most part, I spent those seven years drinking every day. There were a few exceptions here and there, but they were few and far between. I also spent most of those seven years knowing that I needed to get sober, but not fully committing to it.
When you try to quit again and again for seven years and make no progress, it’s easy to feel defeated. I often became totally hopeless and felt like a total loser. I thought that I’d end up drinking myself to death, just like my psychologist had warned me years ago.
The remarkable thing, though, is that I kept trying. Even when I felt like there was no hope of getting sober, I kept trying to do it out of sheer stubbornness.
What’s even more remarkable is that eventually, I succeeded. A few months before I turned thirty, I tried yet again to stop drinking, and this time it stuck. I’ve now been sober for over five and a half years.
I wish I could tell you that I discovered some secret that suddenly made things click. I wish there was a key to sobriety that made it all easy.
But there was nothing like that. If there was any secret at all, it was simply my stubborn persistence: I just kept trying and trying, and I did my best to learn a little from each failure. And, eventually, miraculously, I was able to stick with sobriety.
The reason I share this story is that I know there are still plenty of people out there who feel just as hopeless as I used to, and I hope that my success can provide a little bit of inspiration and hope.
I’m not going to say “if I can do it you can do it,” because I know nothing about your story. But what I can say with certainty is that even when it feels hopeless, it’s worth it to continue to try. There are countless sober people all around the world who once felt just as trapped by their addictions, but now are free from them.
I truly believe that there were only two ways my alcoholism would end: Either I’d get sober or I’d drink myself to death. I’m glad I kept fighting for sobriety, and I hope you will too.
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