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Why 'California Sober' didn't work for me

Updated: Jun 3

When I was slipping and sliding in and out of recovery, I tried going 'California sober' dozens of times, although I didn't call it that. Instead, I called it 'cutting down', 'taking a break', 'easing up' and 'slowing down'.

My alcohol and drug counsellor called it 'harm reduction'.

There's nothing wrong with any of these approaches, if they work. They didn't for me.

I knew that having a few drinks, and not a few bottles, was clearly better for my health and wellbeing. I knew that my drinking was dangerous and out of control but I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to my beloved alcohol. Surely I could enjoy just a couple of wines with dinner and be able to toast a drink at important celebrations. Why couldn't I be grown-up and enjoy a drink responsibly, just like my friends? Why did it have to take over my life?

Chasing 'normal'

I made a plan with my counsellor to reduce the harm of my drinking and ultimately only have alcohol in moderation. First, I was to commit to stopping drinking altogether for a few weeks, to break the back of my heavy-drinking habit. Then, I would gradually reintroduce a drink or two a few times a week, keeping a diary of what I had drunk, in which circumstances, and how I felt.

The plan went something like this:

Attempt 1: I couldn't stop drinking for a few weeks. I relapsed on week 2, drank for 3 weeks and finally returned to my counsellor to try again.

Attempt 2: This time, I received more support through the abstinence period. I made it through the three weeks without a drink – which seemed to last forever – and afterwards, I had my planned two drinks. I knocked them back like I had been without water in the desert for days. Stopping at two was a nightmare and I craved more. It was all I could think about and I could hardly wait until my next 'drinking appointment'. Three days later I had my two 'allowed' measured drinks and felt my mind and body going mad with craving. I drove to the shop, bought a few bottles of wine (probably one month's worth of controlled drinks), took them home and drank them all in one night.

It was the same old story on repeat. I was reminded that if I had the choice to have one or two and then stop, like most people would if they were out and had to drive after drinking, I would rather have none at all. Once I was at home, I could drink 'properly' and not be bothered by having to stop in order to drive or risk running out of the amount of booze that I craved and needed.

Two supported attempts of controlled drinking (and literally hundreds of times of trying on my own) was enough for me to realise I had no control over alcohol once I had the first drink. The only way for me to reduce the harm from my drinking was to not drink at all.

I wish Demi Lovato all the best with her California Sober technique but for me, admitting that I had no control and surrendering to my addiction was ironically the start lasting sobriety and a healthy, happy life that is free from cravings.

To find out if Ocean Hills is right for you, call Elaine 027 573 7744.

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