“I’m not sure if my drinking is bad enough for me to have to quit.’’
This is something I hear a lot, and it’s a debate I had with myself for a long time. Did I really need to stop, or was I overreacting? It didn’t help that I grew up believing there were just two types of drinkers: Raging Alcoholics and Everyone Else. I definitely wasn’t in the first category, so I was ok… right?
It took me a long time to realise that I was approaching this from the wrong angle. By focusing on whether my drinking was ‘bad enough yet’ I was concentrating on completely the wrong thing. What I should’ve asked is this:
“Is this good enough for me to stay as I am?”
If you’re mulling over the same question right now, here are some points to consider.
Are you happy right now?
How much time do you spend beating yourself up about your drinking, regretting how much you had the night before, or struggling through the day with a hangover? How does that impact on your quality of life?
If, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really bother you, then great – no big deal. But if you are waking up at 4am, wracked with guilt and wondering what you did the night before, now’s the time to get real about that.
What benefits are you getting from drinking and staying stuck in your current situation? Examine this closely. Do the benefits outweigh the negatives?
If you had some kind of illness that occasionally made you feel hungover and depressed, would you just accept it as ‘one of those things’, or would you be banging at your doctor’s door, demanding some kind of cure?
Compare your standards in other areas
Maybe you’re passionate about healthy eating, buying organic and avoiding highly processed foods. Perhaps you’re partial to the odd green smoothie, and you know your chia seeds from your goji berries. Maybe you’re a big runner or a yogi, or you obsess about getting your 10,000 daily steps in.
My question for you is: given your high standards during the day, does it make sense to take a dangerous drug like alcohol in the evening?
Alcohol is said to be a direct cause of 7 types of cancer. The NHS says there is no safe drinking level. Of course, the health risks associated with alcohol may be risks you’re willing to take. If that’s the case, that’s fine – but it’s worth making sure you know all the facts first. Wine is not just innocent, happy grape juice.
If this was a romantic relationship, what kind of relationship would it be?
The chances are, alcohol seemed like Mr Wonderful at first – fun, exciting and a little bit dangerous … but what’s it like now? For me, alcohol felt a bit like a doomed love affair. There were lots of great promises to begin with, lots of fun in the early days, but it dwindled into a stale, repetitive, negative relationship.
So what’s your relationship with alcohol like?
Is it a loving, enjoyable and stable one, or has it drifted into a slightly abusive relationship? Think about how that makes you feel. Are you willing to put up with that, or is it time to part ways?
Don’t let the fear of being labelled interfere with your decision
I don’t go around calling myself an alcoholic, because I’m not. To me, the term alcoholic implies that it is abnormal to become addicted to alcohol. And that’s really weird, because with all other mind-altering, dangerous drugs we seem to expect users to become addicted and we don’t judge them for it.
We don’t condemn smokers for becoming nicotineoholics, do we? We don’t berate them for losing control and getting addicted to an addictive substance. Booze is no different.
If alcohol isn’t working in your life, it’s really no big deal.
It’s not a sign that you’re broken, or weak or different. It’s just a sign that you’re consuming a toxic drug and you don’t like the side effects. That’s it. Don’t let the fear of being labelled hold you back from a lifestyle change that could be the beginning of a very exciting, happy new chapter for you.
Has trying to stop drinking ever made you feel like a bit of a failure?
Maybe you’ve promised you’ll quit more times than you can count.
Maybe you do great during the week, but you slip up on Friday nights.
Maybe you’re so scared of not being able to quit, you can’t bring yourself to get started.
I get it – I’ve been there.
But before you write yourself off as a failure and decide that alcohol-free living is ‘impossible’, there are two important things that you need to check first…
Are you doing the same thing over and over?
This is a mistake a LOT of people make. Every time they decide to quit, they promise to stop drinking… but that’s about it. They don’t do anything else. They don’t think about why they drink. They don’t have a plan for what they’ll do when cravings strike. They don’t set up a support system or find a community of likeminded people.
Instead, they just keep trying to battle through on willpower alone!
Think about it: if you were training for a big race, would you make up a running plan as you went along? It’s unlikely. And if you were struggling, would you keep on doing the same thing, over and over? Or would you mix things up and seek out help, advice and support?
I know that ‘failing’ hurts and it’s tempting to just block it all out and forget about it.
But that approach means you miss out on a valuable opportunity to really observe what’s working and what isn’t. Analyse what triggered you to drink – if that same scenario comes up again, how would you handle it differently? How could you plan for it?
A big part of successful sobriety is building a brilliant sober toolbox.
This is something I talk to my students about all the time. (Sober tools are alternative coping mechanisms that help you deal with the ups and downs of life without booze.) Everyone’s different and sometimes it takes a little while to find the tools that really work for you – that’s why you’ve got to keep going and keep experimenting.
“The ‘I’ve tried everything’ story ensures failure. You must create an empowering story that recognizes that everyone has failed a lot but successful people have found a way to rebound until they succeed.”
Be proactive and plan ahead.
For example, if you haven’t really talked to your partner about your drinking – and they keep expecting you to drink with them – now’s a good time to manage expectations and talk about what you’re doing. (You don’t need to ask for their approval, just their support.)
And if there’s a part of your day that keeps tripping you up, now’s the time to troubleshoot it.
What can you do to make things easier or handle life a bit differently? I’ve coached stay at home mums, chief executives, women juggling busy jobs and family life… it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, there is always a way to do this.
Are you keeping a sense of perspective?
What do Steve Jobs, JK Rowling, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey all have in common? Well, they all had spectacular failings in the past. They had to overcome significant setbacks and force themselves to keep going, even when the odds were stacked against them.
My point is, anyone who is successful and who accomplishes a lot in life is bound to “fail” along the way.
Whenever we try and do something great (and sobriety truly is GREAT) then we’re bound to hit resistance, setbacks and challenges. That’s just how it goes.
“Failure isn’t something to be embarrassed about; it’s just proof that you’re pushing your limits, trying new things, daring to innovate.”
Failure simply means you’re taking action and putting yourself out there.
If we only ever did things that we knew we’d succeed at, then we wouldn’t get very far in life would we? We’d just stay the same. We’d stay in our comfort zone, never growing, never changing, never doing anything vaguely uncomfortable. Trust me, there are lots of people who quietly feel very unhappy about their drinking, but they never do anything about it. Be proud that you aren’t like that!
It takes courage and persistence to change an ingrained habit.
And yes – it can be scary and frustrating at times. But what’s the alternative? Your only other option is to carry on drinking and carry on feeling miserable.
Remember, success isn’t about doing things perfectly and without failure.
True success is about picking yourself back up after you fall and having the determination to try again. So: keep your setbacks in perspective. See them for what they really are: a lesson learned and a step forward on the path to success.
At the height of my drinking career, I couldn’t think of anything less cool than being sober.
You can hardly blame me – back then, sobriety had a serious image problem. It was stereotyped as dull and boring. It sounded like a punishment for bad behaviour or something you’d only do if you really, really had to.
Thankfully, a lot’s changed in the past few years. Slowly but surely, sobriety has become more mainstream. It’s not the big deal it used to be. And (dare I actually say this?) I think alcohol-free living is starting to become a little bit cool.
Choosing not to pour a mind-altering, toxic substance down your neck doesn’t make you weird, it makes you wise (and right on trend). Here’s the evidence…
The number of teetotallers is rising
Official figures show that almost half of people in Britain are shunning a regular drink and 21% of adults don’t drink alcohol at all. Perhaps surprisingly, young people are particularly likely not to drink – nowadays 27% of 16-24 year olds are completely teetotal. If this is happening in boozy old Britain, what’s going on elsewhere?
Celebrities are leading the way
Just a few months ago I wrote this article about the staggering number of celebrities who don’t drink, and already I need to update it. I missed Zoe Ball, Anna Wintour and Jennifer Hudson off the list, plus Brad Pitt has recently revealed he no longer drinks. There’s no escaping it: celebrity land is riddled with sober people. And no, they’re not all in and out of rehab. Many of them simply choose not to drink because it makes life easier. (Or maybe it’s because alcohol-free living makes you more focused and productive, which increases your chance of being successful in a competitive industry.)
Big brands are investing in the alcohol-free market
Heineken recently announced the launch of an alcohol-free version of its flagship lager. Last year Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits, made its first investment in a non-alcoholic drinks company; Diageo now owns a stake in Seedlip, an excellent alcohol-free gin replacement. Why are big, profit-driven companies bothering to do this? Because the global alcoholic drinks market is declining.
Alcohol-free wines and beers are getting really good
Yes, they’ve had a bad rap over the years – often accused of being bland, tasteless or at worst, downright unpalatable. But recently things have changed a lot. There’s been an explosion in the number of great tasting, well-crafted alcohol-free drinks and most of it has been in response to consumer demand. (Check out this amazing alcohol-free drinks festival happening in London in August.)
Clean living is a big thing
Those yogi Instagram celebrities with millions of followers aren’t drinking beer, they’re guzzling green juice. It’s never been cooler to live mindfully, eat proper food, exercise and take care of your mental health. If you’re into vibrant living, it doesn’t make sense to spend your evenings filling up on boozy toxins. I think this clean-living wellness trend is a big part of why we’re drinking less.
Sobriety no longer means AA
If you want some help and support to stop drinking, you don’t have to go to meetings and talk to a bunch of strangers, unless you want to. Nowadays, AA isn’t your only option. There are lots and lots of online resources available, including my own fabulous coaching services 🙂 The more choices we have, the better off we are, and the more normal not drinking becomes.
There are loads of booze-free events!
Personally, I still quite like hanging out in a nice pub or bar, but if you’d prefer to socialise away from booze then you’re spoilt for choice. Bars like Redemption don’t serve any alcohol at all. In Manchester, where I lived for a long time, there are tea rooms that stay open all evening. My local gym has a spin class at 6.30pm on a Friday (and it’s nearly always overbooked). In London you can do yoga on Saturday nights. New York has some crazy sounding booze-free parties. And if you want to meet sober people in your area, have a look on here.
I’m not going to pretend that boozy bars should be worried about losing their ‘happy hours’ customers just yet. But you can’t deny that something is starting to shift. We are beginning to move away from the outdated idea that alcohol is essential in order to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life. Great things take time, and it took several decades for smoking to switch from being a trendy, desirable habit to a socially unacceptable one. It will take a while for the same thing to happen with booze, but I’m confident it will happen, eventually. What do you think?
It’s been hot, hot, hot in my part of the world and it got me thinking what a brilliant time of year it is to take a break from booze.
Obviously alcohol-free living is amazing all year round, but there’s something about the summer months that makes hangovers especially awful and clear-headed sobriety extra wonderful.
I know summer brings its fair share of boozy events – from holidays and weddings, to beach trips and BBQs. But honestly, you can totally do all those things without alcohol (and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a better time NOT drinking.)
If you’ve been toying with the idea of having an alcohol-free summer, here are 10 reasons that might sway you in the right direction….
1. You’ll be a better parent and partner
Cutting out alcohol frees up your time immensely, so you can finally get round to those things you keep promising (but failing) to do. Maybe it’s taking the kids camping again or an impromptu trip to the beach. Sobriety gives you the time to build better relationships with those you care about most.
2. You’ll make some massive personal breakthroughs
Taking a few months off from drinking will give you a lot of clear-headed clarity about you and your life. You’ll start to see where you’re making bad decisions and you’ll have the time to address problems, rather than drinking your way through them. It’s time to start creating a life that you don’t need to numb out or escape from.
3. You’ll have more energy
Alcohol seriously disrupts your sleep. When you combine that sleep deprivation with a hangover, you feel pretty sluggish and awful. Sober, you start each day off on the right foot and you’re far more likely to do things like exercise and eat proper, nourishing foods.
4. You’ll look better
The vanity argument for stopping drinking motivates a lot of people and rightly so. Alcohol dehydrates the skin, increases redness and can make you puffy and bloated. Basically, it’s not a good look, especially in summer when you don’t want to be wearing tons of makeup. (I wrote about the beauty benefits of sobriety in more detail here.)
5. You’ll be able to eat more ice cream
Here’s a quick bit of calorie maths for you: a large glass of wine contains approximately 200 calories. That’s the same as eating a doughnut. A bottle of wine has around 600 calories, the equivalent of 3 doughnuts. By cutting out booze you can trim down without having to go on a strict diet. Bring on the ice cream!
6. Socialising alcohol-free will sky rocket your confidence
Being able to socialise sober is a really good skill to have – there’s something incredibly powerful about realising you can handle events and have a good time without alcohol. Don’t make assumptions about what it’s going to be like. If you’ve not been to a party sober since you were a teenager then you’re probably a little out of practice!
7. You’ll have more spare cash
When you’re drinking, you throw money down the drain every single day. If you’re buying a few bottles here and there, it can quickly add up without you knowing. I did a poll of some of the women I’ve coached and on average, they saved £350 in six weeks – that’s $446 US dollars. Don’t put this spare cash in your piggy bank – spend it on yourself! You deserve it.
8. More headspace
When you’re trying to moderate, you have that constant ‘Will I? Won’t I?’ battle. Taking a summer break from drinking takes that issue off the table. There’s no need to waste hours wrestling with yourself because you’ve already made the decision; now you’re free to focus on other things.
9. Less drama, more zen
An alcohol-free summer means you won’t have any booze-fuelled meltdowns that you’ll have to apologise for later. You’ll also skip the emotional hangover that comes with drinking. That alone is pretty much worth it, because that morning-after anxiety, guilt and regret is incredibly draining.
10. You’ll make the most of your holidays
Lying in your hotel room feeling ill is not a good way to spend your hard-earned time off. Without a hangover, you can get out there and explore. And with that free time, who knows what new things you might discover, or what exciting life experiences could be waiting around the corner.
Alcohol affects our lives in surprising, sneaky ways.
I think you’ll be amazed at how much changes when you take a proper break from booze. Get out there and enjoy summer while it’s still here – no drinks required 🙂
This week I’m answering a reader question from Jenny, who writes:
“I’ve been trying and failing to cut down my drinking for a while now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter what I do, once I start I can rarely stop. I hate myself for being so weak. The last few weeks have been especially awful, and I’ve said and done things I regret. I know that I should probably quit completely, but part of me still loves the idea of having a few drinks and wants to believe I can achieve that. Other people, like my husband, have no problem stopping after one or two. I feel so fed up.”
If you’ve got any ideas or advice to share with Jenny, please post a message in the comments section below. Here are my thoughts:
First of all, congratulations on taking action – the very fact that you’re thinking about this stuff puts you way ahead of the game. I understand how frustrating it is when you feel stuck between what you know you ‘should’ do and what you actually want to do. But if you’re repeatedly drinking more than you intend to and it’s making you miserable, then you owe it to yourself to keep working on this. Here are some suggestions to help you move forward:
Review your attempts to moderate
I think you might find it helpful to make a list of all the ways you’ve tried to moderate so far. It’s easy to drift along, convinced you just haven’t discovered the ‘secret’ to moderation yet. Once you start writing, I think you might be surprised by just how much you’ve already tried, and how long it’s been going on for.
Here are some examples of attempts to moderate: waiting until a set time to start drinking, only drinking at the weekend, only drinking on certain weeknights, sticking to one kind of drink, buying wine in small bottles, drinking from small wine glasses, keeping alcohol out of the home, only drinking in pubs and bars, only drinking with other people, alternating alcohol with water, pouring some of the bottle down the sink first, buying cheap wine that doesn’t taste nice… the list goes on.
You don’t need to have tried all of the above to realise that it’s extremely unlikely that there’s a special trick you’ve missed. If cutting down worked for you on a consistent basis then I think you would’ve cracked it by now. Life is short – too short to spend it doing the same thing, over and over.
Get this in perspective
It’s a myth that people who drink too much are weak or lack willpower. The women who join my stop drinking course are always incredibly driven, motivated and successful – and I’m sure you are too. Let’s face it: you have to be a strong and determined person in order to cope with a hangover AND juggle everything else!
Alcohol is a highly addictive, toxic substance that gives you an artificial high followed by a crushing low – it changes the way you think and eats away at your best intentions. We wouldn’t ever expect to be able to ‘control’ ourselves whilst under the influence of other addictive drugs, so why do we demand this of alcohol? Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Stop comparing yourself to others
There are many, many reasons why people like your husband naturally drink less. Some people don’t like the sensation of being drunk or out of control. Others are influenced by family commitments, financial restrictions and other responsibilities. Some people might simply have a different crutch, or other, healthier coping mechanisms they rely on when they want to change the way they feel. Whatever the reason, alcohol just isn’t something they’re drawn to in a big way. They don’t have to ‘control’ their alcohol intake because that intense appeal just isn’t there.
Flip your assumptions
The old saying, ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’ might be true of sweets and crisps and other unhealthy treats, but it doesn’t apply to addictive substances. People often assume moderation is easier than complete sobriety, but I disagree.
The big problem with moderation is that it reinforces the idea that alcohol-free living is awful, and that without this magical, wonderful, life enhancing drug, you are going to be missing out. Trying to control your intake of something that you’ve put up on a pedestal is always going to be hard. Even if you do succeed, the chances are you will feel deprived.
Moderation keeps you stuck in a story: a story where you need alcohol in order to have a full and happy life. A big part of successful sobriety is opening your mind to the possibility that life can be lived a little differently. Moderation stops you from doing that – it stops you from making that mental leap.
Take a proper break from booze
Jenny, I would love you to take a six week break (or longer if you wish). You don’t have to quit forever (that’s way too intimidating) but you do have to give yourself some time to test-drive sobriety properly, and work on the other key ingredients of a happy and healthy alcohol-free lifestyle.
For example, you need to get really clear on what you’ve been looking for in alcohol and find some alternative coping mechanisms. And you’ve got to give yourself the chance to experience the ups and downs of life sober, handle a few challenges and come out the other side.
Taking a proper break from booze will give you time to explore these issues properly. At the end of your break, you can reevaluate and decide what you want to do next. It’ll be completely up to you whether you continue with alcohol-free living… but if you give it a proper try, I suspect you might just love it.
All the best,