Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who have quit smoking. Many of them started young, as teenagers, and realized decades later that they couldn’t continue with the habit. They told me that they tried to quit once or twice before, but they’d get stress at work or something would happen in their life and they lit up. Once they quit for good, though, they had to arm themselves with tools to handle those cravings. Chocolate, gum, guzzling water – anything that helps them get through the next five minutes until the craving is gone.
As I’ve listened to their stories, I feel my head nod along. It’s a different habit, but since I’ve quit drinking I’ve had to learn how to ride a craving. In that moment, an urge can feel like someone is standing on your shoulders and all you think about is the thing you aren’t supposed to do. However, you also know that if you can just hold on, keep your grip firm, the craving will wash away.
Although I’ve been sober for nine months now (woah, I didn’t realize that until now), the urge to drink still comes at me – maybe less often than in the first month or so, but the familiar feeling arises at a constant pace. Just this past weekend, I went to a friend’s art show and free wine (my favorite kind) was being offered. I was very careful not to look at it, but I could smell it as others near me sipped from plastic cups. Drinking with friends at art shows is part of the reason I moved to a vibrant city like Chicago, and it felt silly to keep filling my glass with water from a plastic jug. I wanted wine if for no other reason than it was a good environment for one.
Other times, the urge to drink comes because I’m anxious or scared and I know drinking will make it better in the short term.
Sobriety has been difficult, and there have times I’ve tried to rationalize one drink. “Now one will care,” I think as I eye a bottle. But, no matter how pulverizing that craving is, I can last it. I drink lots and lots of water. I promise to reward myself with ice cream later. I pick at my nails or get up to use the bathroom. I look at E and say, “I want a drink.” I tell myself, that when I wake up without a headache tomorrow, I will go for a run and then have a big breakfast. I start talking to the person next to me. I reach for a handful of a tortilla chips. I drink ice tea. I think about how I will have to blog about it and how embarrassing that would be. I do whatever I can to get through the moment, because it’s only a moment and eventually the craving does go away. No matter how much I wanted a drink a minute earlier, I am happier that I didn’t give in.
Even this far into my sobriety, those cravings can feel crushing but I know that I am stronger. I’ve beaten every single one of them in the last nine months, sometimes easily and others barely, but I’ve won.