Be honest with me – have you ever typed any of these questions into Google:
Am I drinking too much? How do I stop drinking? How much wine is dangerous? Am I an alcoholic? What is the definition of an alcoholic? Can I cut down instead of quitting? What is normal drinking? How do you quit drinking for good?
Towards the end of my drinking career, I spent hours looking up this kind of stuff on Google.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of contradictory information online and frankly, some of the ‘advice’ I stumbled across actually put me off alcohol-free living!
So today I want to talk about 3 common myths about sobriety that can hold you back from quitting. Don’t fall for these!
You need to call yourself an alcoholic, or else you’re in denial
If you identify with this label and it supports your efforts to change, then that’s great. But if you don’t like this label – and it doesn’t feel good to you – then you really can ditch it. I certainly have.
I consider myself to be someone who chooses not to drink, because that’s what makes me feel my best. It’s a lifestyle I enjoy. I choose not to drink in the same way that I choose not to sniff glue, pop pills, smoke cigarettes or eat cheap burgers.
The problem with the term alcoholic is that it implies it’s abnormal to get addicted to alcohol, when that really isn’t the case. Alcohol is a widely available, well advertised, highly addictive, mind-altering drug that tends to be presented as the solution to all our problems. Who wouldn’t get addicted to that?!
If alcohol is making us feel unhappy – and we’re ready to recognise that and take action – then we should be able to change our behaviour without having to justify ourselves, or be forced into acquiring some new alcoholic identity.
You need to hit rock bottom
The idea that you need to wait until your drinking is ‘bad enough’ before you quit is a dangerous myth. I still see this idea referenced in articles today and it makes me mad.
What exactly is rock bottom anyway? It will vary from person to person, surely? There is no definition of it. And doesn’t the idea of hitting rock bottom imply that sobriety is so hideous, it can only be a last resort – something to be considered when your life is falling apart and all other options have been exhausted?
Trust me, you do not need to wait until you’re pouring vodka on your cornflakes in the morning before you decide it’s time to quit. It’s perfectly fine to stop drinking without a collection of booze related war stories.
Ultimately, drinking is all about how you feel, and if alcohol is not making you feel great, then that’s all the information you need. None of us need to be anywhere near rock bottom before we decide to stop hurting ourselves.
Sobriety will always be a daily battle
When I was thinking about quitting, this is something that really worried me. The idea that stopping drinking meant entering into some kind of continuous test of willpower made me feel depressed.
Here’s what I’ve discovered since then.
Yes, changing a habit does require effort in the early days. It requires commitment. But alcohol-free living is NOT hard work forever. Honestly – if it was, I would’ve gone back to drinking a long time ago!
I talked last week about alcohol basically being engine fuel. If you want to put this toxic poison up on a pedestal, romanticise the heck out of it and continuously mourn the fact that you can’t have it, you can do. That’s one option.
Alternatively, you can educate yourself about booze and learn about the myths and illusions (i.e. what science tells us alcohol can do, vs what we’re led to believe it can do).
This myth-busting approach makes sobriety a lot easier, because you start to see that a lot of the ‘benefits’ to drinking are really just smoke and mirrors, and a bit of wishful thinking. (We cover the myths and illusions in detail on my stop drinking course)
Before I quit drinking, I was sure that life without wine would be boring, flat and a bit too much like hard work.
Having grown up on a diet of Bridget Jones and Sex And The City, I was convinced that cocktails and chardonnay were an essential part of living a fun and fulfilled life.
I feared that without booze, everything would feel a bit ‘less’ somehow, like something was missing.
I was reflecting on this during my recent trip to New York – a city I’ve always associated with living life to the max. So I filmed a quick video for you, with some tips for being happy and sober.
1. Remember that alcohol is just ethanol
Ethanol is a great antiseptic, a fabulous disinfectant and a good engine fuel for our cars. But we really, really don’t need to pump this stuff into our bodies too. That’s just not the key to happiness!
Don’t romanticise booze or pretend it’s something it’s not – alcohol doesn’t have special powers. It’s just a toxic poison. Choosing not to sit down with a glass of engine fuel in the evening is always going to be a good idea – one that will make you very happy in the long run!
2. Become aware of your confirmation bias
We all have a tendency to interpret events in a way that confirms our existing beliefs. So once we’ve decided that wine = party time, we unconsciously seek out information that supports this belief, and we ignore (or forget) evidence that contradicts it.
My stop drinking course is six weeks long, and during the class many students will experience their first night out, sober. When they report back the next day, they often mention how surprised they were to spot lots of other teetotallers, or people who were hardly drinking anything.
Honestly, I’ve heard that feedback soooo many times! And it makes complete sense to me. When you’re drinking, you look for other people who’re drinking a lot too, because it’s reassuring. You make assumptions and often don’t ‘see’ the people who’re quietly sober.
So – just know that if you’re a drinker, you WILL have some beliefs about booze that are false, but right now, they feel true to you. Be aware of that and be open to changing your beliefs.
3. Make a list of all the great stuff you could do if you weren’t drinking
Maybe it’s that Saturday yoga class you keep saying you’ll do but you never get round to. Or maybe you’d love some more quality, hangover-free time to spend with your family. What is alcohol stopping you from doing right now that could be really fun and enjoyable?
Start thinking about the life you might be able to have if booze wasn’t getting in the way and holding you back.
Alcohol-free living opens up SO many great opportunities. Most of all, it gives you chance to create a life that’s so good, you don’t need to numb out from it… and that’s true happiness.
I want to help you get March off to an incredible start.
If you’ve vowed to turn over a new leaf this month, something you’re definitely going to need is the right mindset.
Sure, strategies for stopping drinking are great, but if you’re not in the right state of mind, sobriety is always going to feel hard.
Here are a few of my tips and tricks for developing an awesome, alcohol-free mindset.
Clear your story about sober people
When I was drinking, I’d often say stuff like, “I don’t trust people who don’t drink!” I made lots of lazy assumptions about sober people and how dull they must be – perhaps you’ve done the same?
Now’s the time to let go of those ideas because a) they’re just not true and b) that stuff will hold you back.
Challenge the story you’re telling yourself by finding sober people online (Instagram is great for this). What are their lives like? Are they dull and boring? No way!
Choosing not to drink is a bit like choosing not to smoke – it really doesn’t say anything about you as a person.
Remember: you can’t figure things out from the safety of your comfort zone
You’re never going to know what alcohol-free living is really like unless you do it and keep doing it for at least a month (or ideally two – that’s when a lot of people see a big shift)
Success happens when you take action and you have nothing to lose by trying. Even if you fall flat on your face, you’re still moving forward (even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time).
You’re putting yourself out there – learning, growing and making progress. Seriously, when this finally clicks, you’ll look back and think ‘Oh, so that’s why all that happened.’
Your inner reality creates your outer reality
Recently I was out with a group of friends and one of them was frustrated she couldn’t drink because she was driving. When I offered to give her a lift home, she leapt at the chance, ordered some wine and immediately brightened up.
This is a great example of how powerful your mindset is.
My friend believed that by not drinking, she was missing out on something. The second she realised she could drink, her attitude and perception of the night changed. She felt better before she’d even had a sip!
My point is, if you think a month off booze is going to be thoroughly miserable, then guess what – it probably will be.
However, if you go into it from the perspective of what you’re going to gain, it’s much more exciting. I’ve written before about all the awesome things that happen when you stop drinking – why wouldn’t you look forward to that?
Make a firm decision, not a flimsy one
If you go into a break from booze thinking, ‘I’m going to try not to drink’ or ‘I hope I’ll be good this month’ then the chances are you will end up drinking.
That kind of approach means drinking is still on the table and you’re going to keep wrestling with yourself about what to do. If you let yourself drink then how much do you have? When? Where? The decision fatigue is exhausting.
It’s so much easier to make one firm decision and give it your all – no ifs, buts or maybes. (If you’d like some help to take a proper break from booze, check out my online course for more support.)
Understand that willpower will only get you so far
If alcohol-free living always feels like being on a strict diet, the chances are it won’t last. For long term, happy sobriety you need to get out of the willpower game and change your thinking about drinking.
Start analysing your thoughts and assumptions. What are you telling yourself about alcohol, day in, day out? Write down all the reasons why you think you drink. Then, go through your list point by point and explore whether those reasons are really true.
For example, if you think alcohol makes you happy, now’s the time to stop and analyse that. Is that really happening? What about all those times drinking has made you feel worse? And if you believe alcohol is helping you cope with stress, make sure you check out this blog post 🙂
This week I’m writing to you from sunny California!
A few days ago I was in LA doing lots of touristy things in Hollywood, where they’re getting ready for the Oscars. Walking around such an iconic place got me thinking about sober celebrities.
In this crazy, boozy world of ours, it’s easy to assume that everyone drinks – especially in showbiz, with all that glitz and glamour.
But the truth is that some of the most successful people on the planet have got to where they are because they don’t waste their time, money, health and energy on alcohol!
As I mentioned in the video, not every sober celebrity has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.
There are tons more sober celebs who don’t get a mention in the video, so I wanted to give them a namecheck here:
Kristin Davis (Sex And The City) Bradley Cooper (star of The Hangover films!) Jada Pinkett-Smith (actress) Simon Pegg (actor) Sarah Millican (comedian) Jim Carrey (actor) Fatboy Slim (DJ) Gerard Butler (actor)
Christina Ricci (actress) Ewan McGregor (actor) Stephen King (author) Russell Brand (comedian) Robert Downey Jr (actor) Kendrick Lamar (rapper) Jonny Wilkinson (former rugby union player) Frankie Boyle (comedian)
Freddie Flintoff (former cricketer) Calvin Harris (DJ) Rachel Stevens (singer) Brad Pitt (a new edition to the sober club) Anna Wintour (Vogue editor) Blake Lively (actress) Christina Ricci (actress) Davina McCall (TV presenter)
Eva Mendez (actress) Leona Lewis (singer) Natalie Portman (actress) Zoe Ball (TV presenter) Chris Martin (from Coldplay)
For a long time, I was very keen on the idea of moderation.
I was drinking too much and feeling awful… but I didn’t want to stop completely. Sobriety was way too radical a step for someone like me, right?
I was one of those people who bought nice wine. I didn’t drink every day of the week. I held down a good job. I went running and drank smoothies and practised yoga. I was definitely not some rock bottom, down-and-out drinker.
But… when I did drink, things went a bit crazy. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I definitely seemed to be missing an off switch!
I was convinced I just needed to find some better strategies for cutting down.
So with the help of google, I devised some creative schemes to help me manage and control my alcohol intake.
I’d really hate for all that ‘research’ to go to waste, so please do let me share it with you…
(Consider this the opposite of a list of suggestions!)
Buy low alcohol drinks
Keep alcohol out of the house
Don’t drink alone
Wait until 6pm to start drinking
Buy alcohol you don’t actually like the taste of
Only drink with meals
Only drink wine
Only drink beer
Only drink during happy hour
Only drink at the weekend
Only drink on alternate days
Buy miniature bottles of wine
Use smaller glasses
If buying regular bottles, tip away some of it first
Draw a line at the halfway mark on the bottle
Add water or ice to your drinks
Drink a glass of water after every alcoholic drink
Take less cash out with you
In pubs, buy all your own drinks and avoid rounds
Drink only low calorie drinks – use weight loss as a motivator
Book an early morning gym class as a deterrent
Pace yourself: commit to only having one drink an hour
Or set a timer and have one sip every 5 minutes
Keep an alcohol units diary where you set goals and targets
Take a week off every now and then to try and ‘reset’.
Here’s what I learnt…
When it comes to dealing with a mind-altering, addictive drug that zaps your willpower and changes the way you think, it’s really hard to stick to your plans, no matter what tricks you use.
The methods above would work every now and then, but never on a consistent basis. Plus, sticking to these self-imposed rules was really hard work. I’m nearly five years sober now and just looking back at this list makes me feel exhausted!
It’s the decision-making fatigue that gets you. You’re constantly having to exercise willpower, negotiate with yourself about when you’ll drink, what you’ll have, whether you’ll stick to the rules, break them, push the boundaries, etc etc… it’s a constant drain on your energy.
I wish I’d known back then…
That not drinking at all was actually so much easier. Honestly – it’s such a breeze by comparison! The problem with cutting down (rather than cutting out) is that it reinforces the belief that you cannot properly enjoy life without alcohol.
You carry on feeding that part of you that’s been duped into thinking you can’t be truly content unless you have a little bit of this liquid drug in your life. Putting a toxic, cancer-causing poison up on a pedestal like that is really not a good idea.
When you’re sober, you get to see booze for what it really is i.e. a load of crap that’s holding you back.
Tolerance will bite you on the bum
Here’s the real kicker. Even if you’re determined to play the moderation game – and you’re happy to put lots of willpower, effort and energy into controlling booze – tolerance WILL screw you over in the end.
No matter what your alcohol intake, there will eventually come a point where you need more booze in order to feel the same effects.
Ok, so what do I do now?
Pause and reflect Be honest with yourself: how long have you been trying to cut down for? How have those attempts to control your drinking made you feel? As I discovered, there’s no real secret to moderation: it’s highly unlikely that there’s a magic trick out there you’ve missed.
Ask the right question Too often we focus on whether our drinking is ‘bad enough’ for us to quit, when really, we should be asking, “Is this good enough for me to stay as I am?” In other words, are you willing to keep on putting up with all the downsides to drinking, because they’re not going to go away. I wrote about this here.
Take a break from booze If you’re ready to try something new, take sobriety for a test drive. Give it 100% for a set period of time e.g. six weeks. Then you can see how you feel at the end – you might just be surprised how much you love it! For more help with this, check out my stop drinking course. I also talk more about taking a break here.