I’m writing this from a little French café on the banks of the River Aisne.
I’m on holiday, the sun is shining… and I’m drinking my second café au lait.
Life feels GOOD.
It’s at times like this that I think, wow – alcohol free living is pretty flipping amazing. That thought is often followed by: why did no one tell me it was going to be like this?!
Back when I was drinking way too much (and feeling hungover all the time) sobriety sounded like a last resort. Something to be avoided at all costs. It seemed dull, bleak and oh so boring.
I know I’m not the only one who felt like that. Convincing yourself that sobriety is going to be dull is a very common sabotaging behaviour.
Here are some tips to help you get clear on this myth:
Being drunk isn’t the same as having fun
Remember, a boring party is always going to be a boring party. If you drink at a boring party, it just means you’re drunk at a boring party.
Yes, sometimes you will have rubbish nights out when you’re sober. But you also have rubbish nights out when you’re drinking! (We’ve all been to parties where it didn’t matter how much we drank, it wasn’t fun.)
Sobriety means you notice what’s happening around you and that’s a good thing.
Even bad experiences provide valuable information about your life. You shouldn’t need to numb yourself with alcohol in order to tolerate people you like or places you love. It’s much better to know and understand what the real you enjoys.
Focus on the story you’re telling yourself
Your mind is extremely powerful and often, what you believe to be true, will become true.
If you believe alcohol is key to happiness, then you will be miserable without it.
Just look at the way other people behave when they’re unexpectedly forced to be the designated driver; they believe the night is going to be boring before it even gets started. They believe they’re going to feel left out and so guess what? They do.
Think back to a recent good night out. What role did alcohol play in the success of the event, compared to: the people you were with, the conversations you had, the atmosphere, the mood you were in, your outfit, the location, the music, the food, what you’d done earlier in the day, and your general sense of well-being?
There are many, MANY things that determine how joyful a situation is. Yet for some reason, we live in a culture that tends to give alcohol the credit for everything positive! Make sure you don’t do the same.
Look to the comedians
You don’t need to drink in order to be funny or have a laugh. Just look at Jim Carrey, Russell Brand, Peter Kay, Lee Evans, Billy Connolly, Frankie Boyle… there are so many comedians out there who don’t drink or hardly drink.
I went to the Edinburgh Fringe (a comedy festival) a few weeks back and saw performers getting on stage as early as 11.30am. They weren’t drunk and neither were the crowd.
(I should add, I was sooo glad not to be hungover in Edinburgh – we packed 11 great shows into 3 days. I would never have seen that many if I was feeling less than 100%.)
Don’t let thoughts about being ‘a boring sober person’ creep in!
Yes, there will always be boozers who think you’re weird for not drinking and who take it upon themselves to give you a hard time about it.
(I don’t know why they think that’s ok – we no longer bully people into smoking, so why drinking?)
If someone is questioning your choice not to drink, you have to ask why they’re doing that. Why are they so bothered about you letting go of a habit that’s been getting you down and keeping you stuck in the same old routine?
Remember that life without alcohol is just… LIFE!
A while back I received an email from a reader suggesting I write a blog post about how to make friends sober. I mulled this over for a while, feeling unusually stuck for what to write.
Eventually I realised what the problem was: I didn’t have anything to say, because making friends when you’re sober is no different to making friends when you’re drinking.
Alcohol isn’t some magic thing that bonds people together or seals friendships. Bonding with people is about listening, sharing, caring and connecting. Those things have nothing to do with booze.
My point is that alcohol is NOT an essential part of life. And sobriety is not some parallel universe where all the rules are different and you have to do everything a completely different way.
Sobriety is just your regular life… minus the doses of liquid poison 🙂
So, if you stop drinking and things start feeling a bit boring, the question to ask is why. WHY are you bored? How can you change that? (Alcohol won’t fix anything – it just masks and hides.)
What can you do to build a life that’s so good, you don’t need to drink your way through it?
Not long after I’d stopped drinking, a sober friend of mine suggested that I start taking self-care ‘a bit more seriously’.
I winced. The idea of ‘practising self-care’ seemed pretty self-indulgent and cringey.
(Back then, I thought self-care was just about getting manicures and facials – and I couldn’t see what that had to do with not drinking.)
The truth, of course, is that self-care really IS important – especially in early sobriety.
Self-care is about looking after yourself, at a deep level, in a number of areas.
Here are some of the fundamental self-care mistakes I see women drinkers making in early sobriety:
Forgetting to build in relaxation time
For many people, drinking is the start of ‘me time’ and a signal to relax and switch off. Some women quit alcohol and accidentally cut out that ‘me time’ as well – they stop giving themselves permission to relax and chill out like they used to. The problem is, no one can survive like that for long – it makes sobriety really hard work! We all need rest and relaxation. If you found the time to drink, you can definitely find time to do something nice for yourself, like reading a book, having a bath or watching trash TV.
Skipping meals and sleep
It’s no coincidence that we feel the strongest pull to drink at the end of the day, when we’re tired and hungry. Treat yourself to an early night (you’ll be so grateful the next day) and try not to exist solely on sugar and caffeine! Try to eat proper meals and nourishing food. If you’re hungry by late afternoon, have a healthy snack – it will really help with cravings.
Neglecting your sober toolbox
One of the things I talk to my students about a lot is finding new sober tools. A tool is basically anything you use as a coping mechanism, to change or relieve the way you feel. Tools can be unhealthy (like alcohol) or they can be healthy (like running, talking to a friend). Spend some time thinking about why you drank, what you used alcohol for, and what tools might be a good replacement.
Taking on too much
Our culture seems to glamorise stress and the idea of working to the max – it’s almost become a badge of honour. But if you’re consuming a mind-altering, dangerous drug just to cope with a very average day at work, that’s a sign that something in your day isn’t quite right. We aren’t meant to feel exhausted, unhappy and stressed out all the time – it’s unhealthy and unsustainable.
Missing out on fun!
I’ve noticed that quite a few women drinkers don’t have any hobbies or non-work interests. Over time, drinking has become their main social activity and the only ‘fun’ thing they do on a regular basis. If this sounds like you, start thinking about how you can change that. Successful sobriety isn’t about suffering, or feeling miserable without booze – it’s about building a life that’s so good, you don’t need to drink through it. Building a great life means finding the fun again – and rediscovering the hobbies and activities that light you up and make you feel good.
Final point: drinking alcohol is NOT self-care
Don’t listen to adverts or social media – anything that makes you feel ill, out of control and full of remorse is not looking after you. If you take just one thing from this blog, it should be this: next time you want a drink, ask yourself what you REALLY need. Are you just tired? Overwhelmed? Bored, lonely, hungry or thirsty? Get to the bottom of how you’re really feeling, and then take steps to address those issues head on, rather than masking them with alcohol. That’s where true self-care really starts.
“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 🙂