Unfortunately, Liz Hemingway’s story about the devastation and destruction that alcohol can cause is a common one in the United Kingdom.
What makes Liz so different is she found the courage to share her journey with the world in a bid to help those, who are suffering a similar fate, to understand that they are not alone.
Her first book I Need to Stop Drinking Liz told that tale from a very personal and intimate point of view, and her second book Stop Drinking Start Living steps away from the personal emotion to instead focus on helping others to quit drinking and – as she so eloquently puts it – stay stopped.
I caught up with Liz to dig a little deeper into her life before, during and after alcohol and this is what she had to say.
What’s your view on the idea that alcoholism is a disease?
This is a difficult one.
I don’t think it’s a disease as such. Instead, I think that it’s a combination of unfortunate life events with possibly some genetic factors added into the blend. How far down the line we go with our addiction is complicated and every person brings his or her own complex life story to the mix.
Some people are stronger than others; some people enjoy the pay offs too much, and some people hurt more than others and the pain of alcohol and all of its repercussions can be just too much too bear. Tony Robbins talks eloquently about the pain and pleasure principle. You can reach a tipping point where you cannot stand the pain any longer.
I look upon alcoholism in a different way to what I would call problem drinking. I have never really thought of myself as an alcoholic. The word alcoholic has such a stigma about it in our society. Everything about the word alcoholic is negative. You cannot even get rid of the label alcoholic because you will always be a recovering alcoholic even if you have been sober for 75 years!
Where is the incentive in that!
I was well aware that I had a problem with alcohol for many years. The after effects were horrendous. It didn’t seem to sink in to me that the only way to stop the problems was by stopping drinking. I didn’t want to accept that fact but was able to eventually make the choice to ditch the drink. People who end up dying from drinking related diseases may have some sort of combination of problems that make it more difficult to stop but I think that for most people it is a choice.
What’s your view on the focus that 12-step groups like AA have in putting all your faith into a higher power?
I believe in a Higher Power and I believe that my Higher Power enabled me and did not leave me ‘powerless against alcohol’ when I made the decision to stop drinking.
Having said that I feel that the AA has been very helpful for many and saved countless lives. It has turned thousands of lives around. The AA is very popular partly because there are very few alternatives. Lifering has non- secular meetings all over the United States and a few in The UK, but mainly Ireland.
I felt that it was my problem and therefore my responsibility. I have always been an independent type of person and prefer to tackle my problems myself using self-help books and other strategies like EFT etc.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to quit drinking but keeps bowing down to peer pressure when socialising with friends?
I would ask them to consider finding real friends who will support them. I realise how difficult this might be for some especially if their partner drinks. You have to think of yourself, be strong and decide that you have had enough. If friends encourage you to drink then I would not class them as friends. Move on and seek out friends in other social circles.
How would you describe the method you used to quit drinking?
Disgust and then resolve come to mind on this question. I had been out for a lovely Spa Day with my daughters and two nieces. I remember that it was a lovely relaxing day in Edinburgh using the luxurious facilities of a rather posh hotel followed by a light lunch. This was a birthday treat from my daughters. Unfortunately, there was also a glass of champagne as part of the deal.
As one of my daughters was driving there was a spare glass of champagne available and of course I volunteered to have it. I also ended up having a large glass of red wine. It was really strong and I can remember feeling affected by the alcohol as we drove home. I remember thinking that I would get a bottle of wine to make this happy day / feeling last.
Well, I ended up getting a bottle of wine from the shop, just around the corner, and finished it of pretty quickly. I then decided that the night was just starting and so I went round to the shop again and bought another bottle. I can remember trying to act sober when I was buying it. I then proceeded to go onto Facebook and tell my daughter’s friend what a pig her father was.
My daughter luckily noticed what I was doing. She was mortified. I was a drunken, emotional wreck and in tears. I was totally disgusted with myself and I think that at that point I knew that enough was enough. I had finally ‘got it’. My friend who had successfully stopped drinking used to say that she wished that she could give me a ‘magic pill’ to let me see the truth about drinking for myself.
I was so disgusted with my behaviour that day that the penny finally dropped. I knew deep within my soul that this was no way to live. This was not me. The real Liz was someone who cared about my family deeply and who did not want to hurt or upset people. I resolved that day that what I was doing to myself was not worth it. I could not carry on in this way.
All alcohol gave me, in truth, was pain. It was a feeling of total disgust but also of tremendous relief. I would never have to think about when to have a drink or how much too have. I would never have to worry about what state I would end up in ever again!
I followed Allen Carr’s instructions the next day and took my last sip of alcohol before saying goodbye and good riddance to it forever. Allen Carr is my absolute hero and his book Easyway to Control Drinking is amazing.
What are your views on the debate between total abstinence and drinking in moderation?
It cannot be done.
If you have a problem with drinking too much and/ or too often then you will find it impossible to moderate your drinking. One drink lights the blue touch paper for problem drinkers and even with every good intention in the world to only have one or two drinks there is usually no going back. As I said in one of my books: ‘One drink is too many and a thousand are never enough’.
Total abstinence is the only way in my opinion and experience.
Describe your withdrawal experience for us?
I did not have any withdrawal symptoms.
If you could only select one piece of advice to give to someone who was looking to quit what would it be?
Drinking gives you nothing but takes away everything.
When trying to quit, who was your catalyst? Who did you do it for?
I did it for me and for my family. I wanted my self-respect back. I was fed up with drink ruining my life. I was fed up of the constant hangovers and wasting my life.
Why do you think that addiction rates are getting worse despite all the knowledge and understanding that we have gained in this field?
It is the only drug that you have to make an excuse for not taking. It is more than sociably acceptable it is socially expected. Alcohol is fashionable. It is what the cool kids do. The list of reasons to drink to excess is endless – unemployment, poverty, cheap alcohol, escape from worries, easily bored, more places to drink, stress at work etc.
People tend to take the easy way out and what could be easier than lifting a glass of your favourite wine or beer to your lips?
People think I will stop when I am older. I think that life is more stressful nowadays than it has ever been. Drinking is like trying to lose weight. We all want a quick fix. We want to feel better now. Drinkers are trying to make themselves feel better, and yet they are looking in the wrong place.
What do you think about the theory that we simply out grow our addiction?
It is possible. My father drank every night of his life up until his mid fifties and then he was made redundant and did not have the money to drink. I think that as we get a bit older we can see things more clearly and make better decisions.
What inspired you to write “I Need to Stop Drinking?”
I want to help as many people to escape from the pain of alcohol as possible. I know only too well the hurt and agony I suffered at the hands of alcohol. If I can make one person’s journey to freedom easier then that would be amazing.
What resources/books/courses/people would you recommend drinkers who want to abstain should seek out?
Easyway to Control Drinking by Allen Carr – An amazing book full of simple truths about alcohol and how you can stop drinking.
I Need to Stop Drinking by Liz Hemingway –This is my first book written when the pain and humiliation of drinking was raw and I was still hurting. It is a story of escape and triumph.
Stop Drinking Start Living – Liz Hemingway – My second book takes a less emotional look at drinking problems and gives help on how to stay stopped.
My Facebook page – I Need to Stop Drinking – I have just started this very recently and would really appreciate some ‘likes’.
Soberistas.com – This website and forum is a wonderful resource for women to use in their battle against the bottle.
Lifering – An American based website offering non-secular meetings in the United States and a few in the UK
Is your glass half full or half empty?
At this moment is definitely half full. In truth my glass is overflowing (with water). My life has never been so good and every day it gets better and better!
What has been the most difficult part of quitting for you?
Reaching the point in my life where I totally understood that alcohol did nothing positive for me. Getting to this point was the hardest part and the rest is comparatively easy.
Have you relapsed and if so what did you learn?
I tried to stop drinking many times before I actually managed. I eventually learned that I could not moderate my drinking. I learned that if I thought that I was missing out on something then I would never stop.
Any advice that can help people who quit not to become preachers and drive their friends away?
When I first stopped drinking I wanted to tell everyone I knew that they should stop wasting their life by drinking a poison. I soon realised that most people are not seriously interested in stopping drinking. People who would like to stop have to be ready and willing to do what it takes. You cannot force someone. They have to want to stop. Just be ready when someone does come to you for advice. In the meantime people will know that you are thriving, they will see the positive changes in you and will want to know your secret.
How have you managed to continue with your social life now you don’t drink?
Yes I still go to pubs from time to time and I am happy to drink a soft drink. It takes a bit of getting used to though having your first alcohol free Christmas, New Year, holiday etc. I love coming in from an evening out and being able to unwind with a good book instead of scouring the house for something else to drink. Life becomes so much easier when you can drive at any time of the day or night. We have saved a fortune in taxis since I stopped drinking.
What other areas of your life did you notice were out of balance after you quit drinking?
What I did not realise was just how much better my health would be. I feel great; I have lost weight and have so much energy.
Do you still crave a drink and if so under what circumstance, if not why not?
I sometimes feel that I am missing out on something but I quickly come to my senses.
It is probably boredom and forgetting about how drinking alcohol made me feel and what I did when I was drunk. It is quite easy to forget how bad you felt when drinking when you have stopped. I know that I can never go back to drinking and I know that I am not giving anything up.
Did you abandon any dreams because of your drinking?
I would probably have completed a further degree related to my line of work. I abandoned it half way through. My reason at the time was that it was taking over my life but if I had spent half of the amount of time working on it as I was spending on drinking and feeling hung over then it would have been a walk in the park.
What activities are you doing today that you wouldn’t have been doing had you continued drinking?
- Walking more
- Keeping fit
- Planning to walk the West Highland Way
- Retiring from my full time job
- Writing book
Liz Hemingway has just started a new Facebook page so please head over there and show her some love.
If you want to seek more help and guidance on these issues, and hang with like minded individuals who struggle with the same problems, then why not head over to the Needy Helper Hub
Featured image courtesy of Kimery Davis cc @ flickr.com