I used to have a fridge magnet that said: “Keep Calm And Drink Wine!”
The message was spelt out in large capital letters and for a long time, it seemed to be my mantra.
If I wanted to relax, I drank wine. If I wanted to switch off, I drank wine. If I had a stressful day, then guess what? I drank wine, and lots of it.
When I started thinking about quitting drinking, the idea of coming home and not opening a bottle seemed unimaginable.
If you can relate, check out my tips below. When it comes to alcohol, stress and sobriety, there’s some stuff you really, really need to know…
Make sure you’re clear on what alcohol does and does NOT do
The first step to learning how to relax without alcohol is to understand what’s actually going on.
Alcohol does not have magic powers
The idea that alcohol can ease or relieve your stress is a myth – it’s all smoke and mirrors (and a bit of wishful thinking). You do not deserve to fall for this lie!
True relaxation is achieved by removing the source of discontent. Alcohol, by definition, just cannot do that. It can’t remove annoyances and stressors.
All booze can do is numb your brain and your senses. That doesn’t relieve you of your stress – it just zombifies you, and numbs you from your one and only life.
If anything, alcohol is a stress delayer
If you drink enough, you will pass out and therefore be unable to feel anything. That much is true. But when you wake up at 3am – thirsty, hungover, guilty and exhausted – that stress will still be there, tapping you on the shoulder. (And in the middle of the night, everything feels ten times worse.)
Look at your stress levels right now
If alcohol really was capable of gobbling up stress and making it disappear, then surely all drinkers would be super-chilled, laid back people? And if alcohol genuinely destroyed stress left, right and centre, surely your need for it would reduce, rather than increase over time?
“Alcohol causes low blood sugar, drains the body of water, overworks the liver, pancreas and kidneys and leaches oxygen from the brain. That doesn’t sound very relaxing to me.”
Acknowledge the truth: alcohol doesn’t relieve stress, it creates it!
When you’re drinking, you’re literally pouring stress into your life, glass by glass.
Stop adding fuel to the fire
How many times have you said something you’ve regretted whilst drinking? Or perhaps you’ve missed a deadline, or forgotten something important as a result of being hungover. That kind of stuff sets you up for another stressful day and then another, and another…
In sobriety, you have less to stress about in the first place
How much time do you spend worrying about your alcohol intake, beating yourself up and battling with yourself about your drinking? That is all stressful in its own right! Cutting out alcohol means you cut out stress.
Sobriety makes you more resilient
Here’s the real kicker: alcohol reduces our ability to deal with stress and anxiety. (This article explains more.) The good news is that sobriety can help reverse this.
Cheryl, a student from my Getting Unstuck course, was taking two different antidepressants and a prescribed sleeping pill when she joined my class last year. She’s now 12 months sober and off all her medication. What a result!
Experiment with new ways of relaxing and unwinding
It’s time to find some new coping mechanisms. This is the fun bit, so get experimenting!
Find out what works for you
I think exercise is great because it releases endorphins that give you a natural high. I also like journaling because getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper helps me make sense of them (and take action).
I’d also recommend listening to music, practising meditation, calling a friend or doing anything that brings you joy, be it having a bath or listening to an audiobook whilst walking in the fresh air.
Don’t forget to take care of the basics: so often what you really need at wine o’clock is food and water. Hunger and dehydration are massive triggers that can be easily taken care of.
You have got time for this!
If you can find time to drink – and recover from it, worry about it and beat yourself up over it – then you can find time to do stuff that genuinely relaxes you.
Look at your current routine for clues
Think about what you already enjoy doing and look at what’s really going on there. For example, one of your favourite ways to ‘unwind’ might be talking to your partner over a bottle of wine.
Most drinkers have been trained to think that alcohol is the special ingredient that’s making that scenario relaxing, but as I explained above, that isn’t really the case.
However, there ARE some things about that scenario that are genuinely relaxing: you’re coming home and removing yourself from a stressful environment. Maybe you change out of your work clothes. You’re also spending quality time with your partner, talking through your day and getting stuff off your chest.
My point is, you can still go home and do all of that over a cup of tea – and it will be just as therapeutic, if not better.
How has your Dry January gone?
Maybe you’re patting yourself on the back for an angelic, alcohol-free month… but you’re not sure what your next steps should be. Or maybe you’re frustrated because you didn’t quite make it… and now you’re struggling to get back on track.
Whether Dry January has been a good or bad experience for you, the most important thing is what you do next.
And that’s exactly what today’s blog post is all about…
Scenario 1: I’ve had an amazing alcohol-free January! I want to continue with sobriety, but I’m not ready to quit forever yet. What should I do next?
If this is you, then many congratulations on your alcohol-free month! This is something to be really proud of. Here’s what I’d suggest:
Write down how you’re feeling
This is a brilliant time to take stock of the past few weeks. How has alcohol-free living affected your health, happiness, finances, free time, sleep and general self-esteem? Get this stuff out of your head and onto paper. Writing it all down will help you to see things more clearly, plus it will be great to look back on! The improvements will keep on coming 🙂
Pick another short term goal
There is something VERY intimidating about the idea of quitting ’forever’. It’s totally fine not to be ready for that – most people aren’t! You can avoid the overwhelm by simply committing to another short term, achievable goal. If you’ve already got a month under your belt, I’d suggest working towards two months or 100 days.
Now’s a good time to think about what you’ll say if people ask why you’re still not drinking. (It’s actually none of their business, but if you tend to get a bit tongue-tied, you might want to think up some responses in advance – I suggested a few here.) This is also a good opportunity to stock up on books and podcasts about sobriety. Having plenty of inspiring resources close at hand will help keep your momentum going.
Use the money you’re saving on alcohol to buy a lovely sober treat. Splurge on yourself – you deserve it!
Scenario 2: I’ve made it through Dry January, but it’s been a tough month. I’ve been longing for February 1st to roll around – but now I’m wondering if I’ll undo all my hard work by going back to drinking so soon?
Congratulations on making it through the month! You will have learnt so much from these past few weeks. It’s completely up to you what you do next, but I’d suggest following these steps first:
It’s important to reflect on your alcohol-free experiences. Follow the process I outlined in the section above and get your thoughts down on paper. What have been the benefits of stopping drinking? What did you like and not like? Get clear on this.
Double check: did you actually do the work?
In order to stop drinking and feel good about it, you do need to work on your mindset and challenge some of your core beliefs. Otherwise, sobriety is always going to be a willpower battle, where you feel as if you’re missing out all the time, and that’s not fun.
When I coach women to stop drinking, we spend a LOT of time getting clear on the myths, illusions and romanticisation that surrounds this boozy world we live in. It’s so important to do this. Give yourself the chance to do this work before you decide that sobriety isn’t for you.
Know what you’re getting back into bed with
If you decide to go back to drinking, that’s ok – but you do need to know what you’re going back to. After a break, your tolerance to alcohol will be low, so you’ll notice the effects quickly. That can make you feel as if you’ve ‘reset’ your relationship with alcohol, or you’re somehow ‘controlling’ it better. You’re not.
If alcohol is something you’ve pined for over the past month, it won’t take long before you’re back to old habits. If that’s something you’re cool with, then go for it.
Remember that stop-starting can be part of the journey
Right now, I’m in the middle of teaching the January session of my stop drinking course, Getting Unstuck. Some of the women in my class took part in Sober October last year. They quit drinking for a whole month… but decided to go back to booze, thinking it’d be different this time. (It wasn’t.)
Experiences like that can be tough to deal with, but when you take a step back – and look at the bigger picture – you can see that it was all part of their sober journey.
Whilst I’m not encouraging you to drink(!) what I am saying is that often, the journey to alcohol-free living includes some twists and turns. You have some figuring out to do. And all your experiences, good and bad, will help inform what you decide to do in the long term.
Scenario 3: I tried to do Dry January but I crashed and burned. I’m struggling to motivate myself to give this another try.
Keep things in perspective
I am sending you a big virtual hug right now, because I know how tough it is when you “fail” during Dry January. I went through this exact same thing in January 2013. I lasted about a week before falling off the wagon and drinking through the rest of the month. (And February. And March.)
The important thing to note here is that in April 2013, I tried again – properly this time – and I ended up stopping for good. I’ll be five years sober on the 6th April this year! My point is, you can be a Dry January ‘drop out’ and still turn things around.
Learn from your mistakes
I wrote a blog post here all about getting back on track after you’ve been drinking. As painful as it is, you do need to spend some time analysing what happened – that’s how you stop it happening again.
Remember – the firmer your decision, the easier this will be
If you go into a break from booze thinking “Ok, I’m going to try and be good” then you will probably end up drinking. You have to go all in – no ifs, no buts, no “I’ll wait and see how I feel”. The decision fatigue from constantly bargaining with yourself is exhausting and nearly always ends in disaster. Instead, make one, firm promise: no matter what, you are NOT going to drink.
If you’re struggling to figure this all out on your own – and you need some motivation – then look for a community to hold you accountable and help you out. My students always rave about the benefits of being surrounded by people who really ‘get’ them. (You can find out more about my coaching programme here.) Knowing that you’re not alone makes a big, big difference.
Today I wanted to share an extra large dose of motivation and inspiration…
…Something to get you fired up for the New Year (or help power you through the next week, if you’re aiming for an alcohol-free Christmas!)
As a sobriety coach, I’m in touch with a lot of people who’re living incredible lives after ditching alcohol. When you let go of something that’s been holding you back, all kinds of wonderful things tend to happen!
So, a few days ago I asked some of my Getting Unstuck students to answer a simple question:
Is there something you’ve experienced recently that would never have happened, if you’d still been drinking?
Here are their answers 🙂
“I applied for, got and started my DREAM job. I wake up each morning well rested, rock the early morning barre class and I’m at the office by 8am ready to take on the day — clearheaded, calm and guilt free! Flashback to a year ago and I was slogging through the day at a job that had truly become a dead end — showing up at 10ish, riddled with stress and anxiety, and wondering how all of the well-adjusted people pulled it off.”
“I celebrated my 70th birthday two days ago by holding a champagne afternoon tea for my female relatives and friends while enjoying AF drinks myself. I treasure the note in my daughter’s card: ‘We are VERY proud of your enormous accomplishment this year! Vive le mocktail!!'”
“My son trusted me to look after his children for two nights.”
“I went on holiday with my parents and son to the Isle of Wight. It rained the entire holiday, every day. Instead of numbing the misery in the evening with my mum (who also didn’t drink) we played lots of games and each morning I did a 30 minute run in the rain!! I have NOT run my entire life!! Also… I bought an electric drum kit!! I used to play when I was younger and feel that I’ve taken a little something back for myself. So although I still work full time and take my son to all his sporting commitments, I now jump on my drum kit too. Before, I would have got in from work, necked several glasses and by 8pm I’d be ready to head to bed.”
“I bought a new horse and am out there ‘doing it’ rather than moping around in a stable talking about doing it, dreaming about doing it or avoiding doing it!!!!”
“If I were still drinking, I wouldn’t be enjoying the relationships I do now. Being able to approach being a girlfriend, sister and daughter with a clear head has been a source of great pride and joy.”
“I’ve loved seeing the look of pride in my daughter’s eyes every time she sees me return from an event or social occasion totally alcohol free.”
“If I was still drinking, I wouldn’t be planning my backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail!”
“Since quitting alcohol, I got engaged to the love of my life, got a puppy and graduated my masters program with a 4.0!”
“My husband and I are separating, but we’re now friends, rather than the enemies we were about to become. Although we will not be married in the future, I now have a lifelong friend which was the core of us, so I’m eternally grateful that was saved.”
“I’ve gained self respect. That’s the best thing, no more head games.”
“I’ve sat back down at my piano and improved myself tremendously… my two young boys have seen me practice and move up a grade quicker than expected (I’m SOO proud of that). I bought myself a flute for my 50th birthday this Christmas, (partly so that when I’m 60 I can say I’ve been playing it for 10 years!) I’m teaching myself to play… it’s an utter joy. I’ve also put my foot down about Christmas and the in-laws… it’s my 50th on Christmas Eve and we’re going away skiing. I’m NOT spending my birthday preparing vegetables for anyone!! 😉 Gosh – this list is endless… I was so scared of long, dull & lonely evenings and now I don’t seem to have anywhere near enough time to do all the things I want to do… I’m so busy doing them!
“If I’d still been drinking, I would not have trusted myself to have my one year old granddaughter stay overnight. This is something I’ve really enjoyed doing.”
“Without sobriety, I could not have maintained an A in my nursing program for 4 consecutive quarters! I’ve gone from a life of scrabbling to keep it together, to a life that feels richer, slower and more fulfilled.”
“I used to think some people were kind of out of my league socially… if they were too together and polished. Not anymore. Sobriety – plus all the support I’ve received here – has made me so much more confident.”
“I have a better relationship with my husband, more patience with the kids and I feel like a better mother. Plus, I’m in a better financial position because I got a new job – and I’ve saved so much money by not buying wine, haha!”
“I always thought I suffered with bad nerves, because I used to wake up feeling nervy like I had done something terrible. Those feelings have gone now and it feels absolutely wonderful.”
“I published my first book in October! I had been trying to finish this for eight years. Being alcohol free unleashed my creative energy!”
“Today I made the first move to get together with my half sister. We haven’t spoken since September 2009! Whilst things will never be the same I’m hopeful for my dad’s sake we will be able to get to a civil relationship.”
“A three day tramp in the mountains, an overnight tramp with my daughter and partner… and my sister trusted me with my nephew overnight.”
“I’m a proud April 16 graduate of your course. I can’t point to one good thing – life is just better, period.”
“157 days AF today, and the most wonderful thing that has happened to me since I stopped drinking is that I’ve got my life back. For that I will be eternally grateful.”
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
I absolutely love this time of year. However, there is one thing about the festive season that I don’t like. I can’t stand the endless, pro-booze marketing messages that seem to be everywhere right now.
The idea that you need to drink alcohol in order to be festive, ‘get into the Christmas spirit’ or celebrate properly is absolute nonsense.
It makes me so mad when I see people being tricked into this idea. Pouring a toxic, liquid drug down your neck is not the key to having fun or finding joy.
I think it’s worth remembering that not so long ago, cigarettes were often portrayed like this:
Nowadays, these ads seem silly and rather outrageous, don’t they? Glamorising and romanticising a dangerous, cancer-causing drug like tobacco just feels weird.
So… why are we still glamorising and romanticising alcohol? It’s also a a dangerous, cancer-causing drug.
I decided to take some photos of the crazy Christmas cards I’ve seen – and add in a few changes…
Drinking alcohol won’t help you survive Christmas – it will make it harder!
Adding booze into the mix makes everything more stressful, not less. Alcohol does NOT have magic, stress-busting qualities. Contrary to popular opinion, drinking actually increases stress. (I explained why here.)
The jokey nature of these cards makes it easy to ignore what we’re really doing when we drink – we’re consuming a mind-altering, toxic drug in order to numb out from our lives.
Rather than having to drink in order to survive life, wouldn’t it be better to create a life that feels so good, you don’t want to numb out from it?
If there’s one thing guaranteed to make Christmas a less-than-special, messy blur, it’s drinking your way through it.
For a lot of people, alcohol comes with terrible side effects: it increases their anxiety levels and makes them feel depressed.
It’s hard to feel ‘bright’ when you’re seriously hungover and your body is struggling to process a powerful drug.
It absolutely is a fun, happy time of year – but that has nothing to do with alcohol.
We’ve all been to parties where it doesn’t matter how much we drink, we still don’t have fun.
We’ve all had times when drinking has left us feeling sad and emotional. Or we’ve become irrationally angry and picked a fight for no reason.
Alcohol is not magic joy juice – we must stop giving it all the credit for the fun times in life.
It’s hard for me to alter this card. It’s just rubbish!
I can’t think of any good stories that start with “that one time I meant to drink one glass of wine but ended up knocking back an entire bottle… before passing out on the sofa and then waking up in the early hours, feeling terrible.”
For a lot of us, that is the reality of our drinking – and it isn’t very funny.
This card reminds me of something the columnist Giles Coren wrote recently. He said:
‘Don’t tell me booze makes parties go with a swing. If you can’t enjoy a party sober, you should stay home and do origami. And don’t give me “it loosens my tongue” because if you can’t talk without a beer in your hand you should stay silent, for you have nothing to say. And as for “Dutch courage”, Jesus. If you’re not brave enough to do something sober, it is because it is not a good thing to do.’
And finally… here’s one alcohol-themed Christmas card I think I approve of!
Alcohol is bad for your health, obviously. It’s also bad for your inner elf.
I’m talking about the bit of you that has to run around making the Christmas magic happen. Whether it’s buying presents, getting the food ready or organising a party… it’s all a hundred times easier (and more enjoyable) without a hangover.
This year will be my 5th booze-free Christmas and I’m really looking forward to it.
It’s a total myth that you need alcohol in your life in order to have fun, be social or enjoy Christmas. That’s just marketing hype.
Alcohol-free living is amazing at any time of year, but I particularly like being sober in December. Not having a hangover makes surviving the crazy festive season a lot easier!
My first ever alcohol-free Christmas felt like such a big deal at the time – I remember being really worried about it. But nowadays, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re feeling a bit anxious or unsure about the next few weeks, make sure you check out these 12 reasons for staying sober this December. I hope they inspire you to keep going! 🙂
1. You’ll feel like a superhero
People might tell you that this is a silly time to be quitting drinking. But moments like this can also be brilliant opportunities for taking action. You will feel incredibly proud of yourself for not drinking during one of the booziest times of the year.
2. You’ll have tons more free time
During this busy month, we could all do with more hours in the day. When you’re not losing time drinking (or thinking about drinking, or beating yourself up about drinking) you reclaim a LOT of lost hours and headspace.
3. Cutting out can be easier than cutting down
Moderating forces you to make endless decisions: what will you drink, where, when, how much? All those decisions gobble up your willpower. And of course, consuming a mind-altering drug makes it pretty hard to stick to your good intentions.
4. You can drive home from parties
This is still one of my favourite things about not drinking. No more staggering about in the cold, trying to hail down a taxi (I nearly got run over doing that once 🙈). You just jump in your car, put the heating on and drive yourself home. Easy peasy.
5. You’ll look better
It’s hard to disguise a puffy face or hangover bloat. If you want to feel great in your party dress, then skipping alcohol (and all the calories that come with it) will make a massive difference.
6. You’ll feel better
The silly season is an awful lot easier to navigate when you aren’t feeling sick or struggling with a massive headache. Alcohol is a powerful chemical that stresses nearly every organ in the body – during the winter flu season, this is the last thing you need.
7. It’ll be a massive confidence boost
It’s easy to get stuck in a story such as, ‘I’m a shy person, I can’t socialise without alcohol.’ The chances are you’re far more capable than you think you are. Wouldn’t it be awesome to surprise yourself?
8. You don’t have to worry about accidentally causing world war three…
Christmas isn’t always about sparkly lights and jolly japes. It can be pretty stressful at the best of times, without the fear that you’re going to have one too many and start telling your relatives what you really think of them! Your diplomacy skills are at their best when you’re sober.
9. Your relationships might grow stronger
Alcohol does a great job of keeping you stuck in a rut. Without really realising it, you tend to repeat the same behaviours, the same conversations, the same family arguments. Who knows what might happen with alcohol out of the way, not causing any drama?
10. You might realise that other people don’t drink as much as you thought…
We all have a bit of a confirmation bias – i.e. a tendency to interpret events in a way that confirms our preconceptions. Sometimes we want to believe that other people drink a lot, because it makes us feel better. When you stop, you might be pleasantly surprised by how little some friends actually drink.
11. You’ll get a head start on your New Year’s resolutions
Stopping drinking increases your chances of losing weight… and showing up at the gym 🙂
12. You’ll make good memories
This is the most important one of all, because this is what Christmas is really all about: spending quality time with friends and family. When you’re fully present, and living in the moment, you increase your chances of remembering this time together… for the right reasons.
The festive party season is an incredibly boozy time of year.
If you’re newly sober – or trying to be – I suspect you might be feeling a bit anxious about it. So, I wanted to jump in and encourage you to keep going, because alcohol-free living is a GREAT idea at any time of year 🙂
Don’t let pushy friends, family or sneaky adverts mess with your head. Take it from someone who’s been to a lot of Christmas parties, sober – you don’t need alcohol in order to celebrate or have a good time.
By choosing not to drink, the only thing you’ll be missing out on is a hangover. (I don’t know about you, but that suits me just fine…)
Please don’t stress about the upcoming party season. Here are 5 tips for staying alcohol-free:
Remember that alcohol does not have magic powers
It’s not what’s in your glass that dictates the success of an evening; it’s the mood you’re in before you go, the people you’re with, the atmosphere, the music and 101 other things.
Drinking at a bad party just means you’re drunk at a bad party.
Ultimately, parties are about humans interacting with other humans. Sometimes it will be a fun experience and sometimes it won’t. That’s normal.
If you go out and have a great time, then that’s brilliant. But if you have a bad time, that’s ok too. It’s only one night, and it’s all important information about what you do and don’t like. That knowledge is what’s going to help you create a life you don’t need to numb out from.
Remind yourself that you’re good at socialising sober, because you do it ALL the time!
We meet friends for coffee, we banter with our workmates, we go out for lunch, we strike up conversation with people in our gym class. All day long, we interact with other humans without alcohol.
Why should evenings be any different? The same rules of the world apply. When we were kids, we never needed to drink in order to have fun or ‘survive’ a party – so what’s different now?
Plan, plan, plan
The first part of your plan should be deciding whether or not you’re going to drink. I know that sounds like an obvious thing to say, but if you decide to wing it, or see how you feel when you get there, you will likely end up drinking. So make a decision now: yes or no.
Plan your drinks. If you’re going to a bar, check if there’s a non-alcoholic drinks menu on their website (there often is). It’s really helpful to know your options in advance. Order a drink as soon as you arrive – holding it gives you something to do with your hands and helps you feel less self-conscious!
You might like to plan what you’ll say if someone asks why you’re not drinking. (It’s really none of their business, but I did mention a few possible responses here.)
Also – how are you going to get home? Plan your escape route in advance so you can leave whenever you like.
Treat yourself well
If you’d normally spend a while getting ready to go out, or you’d buy a new dress or get your nails done, then make sure you still do all those things. You want to look good – it will make you feel more confident.
You could also arrange something nice for the day after a challenging event. Whether it’s brunch with a friend, or just something random that you fancy doing, it’s all part of looking after yourself. Plus, you’ll feel really good doing fun stuff with a clear head!
So often, what we believe to be true, becomes true. If you go to an event thinking, “this isn’t going to be as good as last year because I’m not drinking” then guess what? It probably won’t be.
Instead, force yourself to focus on the positives, such as how proud you’ll feel the next day. Not only will you be hangover-free, your confidence will be sky-high because you smashed it – you overcame your fears.
There is nothing quite like coming home after a fab night out and knowing you genuinely had fun, that you were fully present and living in the moment.
(Plus, taking your make-up off properly and cleaning your teeth is weirdly satisfying. It’s way better than collapsing into bed, half dressed.)
I’ve had some of the funniest – and happiest – nights out since I stopped drinking. You’ve got so much to look forward to! 🙂