The chances are that if you’re a big drinker, then your friends are too.
We tend to surround ourselves with people who are just like us. But what do you do when you want to change… and the people around you don’t? If you feel nobody understands why you’re trying to stop, then this post is for you.
Here’s how to stay sober – and motivated – when all your friends drink:
Be prepared to say no.
If you think that going out for your regular Friday night drinks might be your undoing, then don’t go. People won’t be offended for long – and it won’t always be like this. In the early days, when you’re trying to build some sober momentum, sometimes you have to turn things down. This doesn’t mean you need to sit at home feeling lonely. You can be proactive and organise something you want to do, like going out for lunch or a trip to the cinema. If you do decide to go to the pub, think about what you’ll say if someone offers you a drink. Remember: you’re in control. This is your decision.
When you’re tempted to drink, ask yourself why.
Alcohol has become so integrated into our daily lives that it’s hard to think of an occasion where booze can’t be justified. We drink when we’re happy and when we’re sad. We drink because it’s Friday or payday or someone’s birthday or just because the weather’s nice. Whatever the reason, most of us are in the habit of using alcohol as a shortcut to feeling another way. So rather than just trying to stop yourself drinking, try and figure out why you want to drink. What is it you’re really feeling? Are you angry, sad, lonely, stressed? Is there another way you can manage your emotions? Do you really want to drink or are you turning to it out of habit?
List your reasons.
Sometimes, when you’re caught off guard or you’re being pressured to drink, it can be hard to remember why on earth you’re doing this. So make a list. Keep it in your purse, on your phone – somewhere you can access it easily. Only you know why you’re trying to stop drinking. Don’t let yourself be derailed by a friend who only knows half the story.
Get some perspective.
We live in a very boozy world. So many people are convinced that alcohol is sexy, glamorous and sophisticated; everything you need if you want to express yourself and live life to the full. That’s total nonsense, of course. Being sober does not mean you have to spend the rest of your days living like a nun, drinking cocoa and going to bed early (unless you want to, that is). If you look carefully, you’ll see there are loads of people out there leading full and happy lives without alcohol. Just look at Eva Mendes, Kristin Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Davina McCall, Bradley Cooper or Gerard Butler. They’re all sober. And are they boring? No!
I’d love to know…
How, specifically, have you handled people who were uncomfortable with your sobriety? What worked and what didn’t? Please share your ideas and stories below.
Imagine you could counsel your younger self: what words of advice would you offer? I’m reading a book at the moment in which numerous celebrities write letters to their teenage selves. From the hilarious to the heartfelt, there are some little nuggets of wisdom: don’t do drugs, listen to your mother, buy shares in Google – and my personal favourite – stop hating your thighs!
It got me thinking about hindsight and our fantastic ability to understand a situation after it’s happened. Hindsight can make things look so completely, utterly different. I’ve often thought that if I could go back in time to when I was struggling to stop drinking, there would be about a hundred things I’d want to tell myself.
For example, it would’ve been handy to know that alcohol-free living was not going to be hell on earth (despite first impressions). I was convinced that drinking was the only way to have fun and relax. If I’d known that eventually I’d feel a million times happier without alcohol, then perhaps I wouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to get booze to fit into my life. They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome; looking back, this sums up my behaviour exactly.
It goes without saying that we can learn a lot from other people’s experiences. So, I asked a few graduates from my Getting Unstuck course to reflect on what they’d love to have known, back when they were still drinking. What would they have told themselves, if only they’d listen? The results are funny, touching – and straight from the heart.
“If I could go back and give myself some advice, I would tell myself that once you aren’t drinking anymore and you observe how people behave at parties, you will feel so grateful that you are not behaving that way. Asking the same questions over and over, crying about something that’s not even a big deal, making the ‘sexy face’ (even though it’s really the drunk, train wreck face) and having really fake conversations. I wish I could have shown myself how I was acting and coming across. I always thought a core value of mine was being authentic. It’s only now, as a non-drinker, that I feel like I’m really living in line with that. It’s so great. It’s the best way I have ever connected with myself and felt real and genuine.” Jamie
“I’d love to have known that in sobriety, I could have everything – yes, everything – that I was looking for by drinking. Really! Even though it sounds crazy. Everything is within you already – confidence, fun, the ability to heal. In that way, I’d like to tell myself that I can take alcohol down off the pedestal and that it is ok to just be me.” Ruth
“Alcohol gives you nothing, it takes away the joy of life. And you’re making it too hard for yourself because there is no such thing as moderation. Cut it out completely, set yourself free and enjoy your wonderful, hangover-free sober life and all the possibilities it brings! Miranda
I would tell my younger self that I didn’t need alcohol to be a fun and interesting person. I’m much better just the way I am, and much more likely to find my tribe of people by being true to myself than by changing my personality to be more outgoing through booze. It’s a cliché, but it’s true! Juliet
Have you recently stopped drinking? What are the things you’ve learnt, with the benefit of hindsight? I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂
It’s National Stop Smoking Day on Wednesday. The theme for this year is ‘proud to be a quitter’. I love this idea. In life we’re always told to never give up and to keep going – but when it comes to something like smoking, being a quitter is definitely a good thing.
I find most public health campaigns about smoking are very bold. They cut to the chase. Just look at this leaflet I found in my doctor’s surgery, called ‘stop smoking, start living’. Look how happy the man is! Inside, there are action plans and step-by-step guides, all with the goal of getting people to stop completely. The leaflet acknowledges that quitting smoking can be tough, but the message is clear: all the hard work is worth it.
So why don’t we take the same approach with alcohol?
Take a look at this yellow leaflet. (The waiting room at my local surgery must have at least ten different leaflets about smoking, but there’s only one about alcohol and this is it.) At first glance, it looks a bit like a children’s storybook – check out the cartoon characters and the non-confrontational, lower case text. Here’s what it says on the first page:
‘Cutting down doesn’t have to mean giving up. The good news is there’s no need to stop drinking alcohol altogether. All you really need to do is stick within the guidelines below.’
For me, there’s a very big problem here. This statement reinforces the idea that stopping drinking is a negative thing, or that it means missing out. It implies that sobriety is miserable and frankly, rather unnecessary. It’s a strange message to have in a public health leaflet, but I see this advice everywhere. When it comes to booze we’re always telling people to simply cut down. Why is this? With other poisonous substances we don’t tiptoe around the issue. We don’t say to people, “the good news is there’s no need to stop taking heroin completely. Just cut down!” Or “there’s no need to stop smoking altogether!” So why say this about booze? Alcohol is an addictive substance.
According to the leaflet, if you drink above the recommended guidelines, bad stuff will happen. You’re at risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and larynx, breast cancer, stroke, heart disease, reduced fertility … the list goes on. But if you play nicely, stick to the rules and stay within the guidelines then you’ll be ok because there’s only a ‘low risk of harm’.
There are lots of tips about how to ‘get sneaky and cut back’. There’s nothing earth shattering though: the suggestions include drinking out of a smaller glass, starting your first drink later in the day or taking less cash with you. My favourite (not at all patronising) suggestion is, ‘When you get the urge to pour yourself a glass, put the kettle on and enjoy a cuppa instead’ (!)
At no point do the cuddly cartoon characters suggest that moderating your drinking is just one option.
There is no mention of stopping drinking completely. There’s no advice about what to do if cutting back doesn’t work. Nowhere does it point out that if you’re trying to control your drinking, then on some level, alcohol is already controlling you.
Don’t get me wrong, I think moderation is a good starting point. It’s definitely worth trying and it works for some people. But I think we should be more accepting of the fact that it doesn’t work for everyone. And when you think about it, why should it? If your preference is to drink more, why would you feel content with less? And what makes us think we can exercise willpower after consuming a mind-altering drug? We’re not superhuman.
Trying to moderate your intake means you’re constantly having to make decisions and bargain with yourself. Will you drink tonight? How much? When? Where? There is this idea that ‘a little of what you fancy does you good, but with booze, science is against us. When we drink, we build up a tolerance to the effects of alcohol. So over time, that moderate glass of wine doesn’t create the same buzz that it used to, so you’re left wanting more.
If things are going to change, we really need to get past this idea that alcohol-free living is some kind of painful, uncool, boring existence.
Every time a public health leaflet says ‘there’s no need to stop drinking altogether!’ it reinforces the idea that alcohol brings us some kind of joy that we cannot get elsewhere. If sobriety really was that dire, then I – and many others – would have gone back to drinking.
Now I know that telling people they need to stop drinking may not go down well. I get that. Perhaps it would seem too bossy. Maybe it would backfire. But just think about what we’ve done with cigarettes. Fags are well and truly out of fashion; they’ve had a serious make-under. Smoking is no longer the social norm – in the UK just 18% of adults smoke. It’s incredible, especially when you consider that not so long ago, smoking was the epitome of cool and glamour; cigarettes were endorsed by Hollywood icons and people could light up anywhere. So surely, if we can change public attitudes to one toxic, poisonous substance, then we can do the same with another?
I get lots of questions about sugar.
Alcohol has tons of sugar in it and when you take the booze away, our bodies can really miss the sweet stuff. People who’ve spent years skipping dessert can suddenly find they want to inhale pints of ice cream or steal sweets from children. Everyone wants to know if sugar cravings are ‘normal’. Is it ok to indulge a sweet tooth? How long for? And at what point do you risk turning into some kind of crazy, sugar-and-carb monster?
Now I’m no nutritionist, dietician or doctor. And I do not have a perfect diet. But over the past few years, through my own trial and error, I have learnt a couple of things about sugar and sobriety.
So, if you suspect you’re single-handedly keeping Haribo in business, here are a few points you might like to consider:
Eating healthily will reduce your cravings for sugar and alcohol
I’m not talking about dieting – I mean nourishing meals at regular intervals. You should be aiming to keep your blood sugar levels stable. When they spike or crash it makes us feel lousy and we’re more likely to reach outside of ourselves for something to ease the discomfort (hello wine, hello pizza). It’s no coincidence that wine o’clock is around 5pm – the time of day when you’re the most hungry, tired and thirsty. So, eat enough to fuel yourself properly. Don’t skip breakfast thinking you can save the calories for a muffin later. It’s not worth it.
A little of what you fancy does you good
If you get to the end of the day and you’re feeling knackered – and wine seems really tempting – then a sugar fix is not necessarily a bad thing. If it stops you drinking, then it’s fine in my book. It takes what it takes. Besides, eating sweets on your commute home or having dessert after dinner is quite different to starting your day with a chocolate croissant and caramel latte. A sugar explosion in the morning is not a good idea.
Think long term, not short term
You are not going to turn into a perfect person overnight, so if you do end up eating a lot of sugar, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to replace one addiction with another. If you’re still mainlining ice cream in five or six months’ time then fine – you might need to do some work around that. But worry about it then, when you’re stronger and healthier, rather than now.
Look at the bigger picture
Sugar and alcohol give many of us a hard time, but they are just two pieces of the puzzle that is your life. There are other things that you can do to make yourself feel better right now. Top of the list is get more sleep. This has to be one of the cheapest and easiest routes to feeling good. Take a multivitamin. Drink more water. If you’re in the mood for it, get some exercise. Most of all, be patient. Now more than ever, you need to be kind to yourself and manage your expectations. We love our quick fixes; alcohol and sugar certainly act fast. But sobriety is about the long game. You’re doing a really amazing thing right now, so hang on in there!
What are your tips for staying in control of your sugar intake? I’d love to hear them.
I only realised a few weeks ago that I was about to hit 1000 days sober. I have a little app on my phone that counts the days but I rarely check it now. So I got a bit of a surprise when I opened it, looked at my calendar, did some adding up on my fingers and realised the 1000 day mark was going to fall on New Year’s Day. What are the chances?! I’m convinced it’s a sign that this year is going to be a really, really good one.
I’ve been thinking about how much has changed for me since I stopped drinking. There’s so much – and all of it is good. If I knew back then what I do now, I’d have definitely stopped sooner. But I know how hard it is at the beginning, when your drinking is niggling at you and your gut feeling is that something isn’t right. And yet you still can’t quite get your head around the idea of not drinking again.
Perhaps you’ve promised yourself that you will make changes and it all starts today. Maybe you’re reading this through the fog of a New Year’s Eve hangover, trying to summon up the energy to follow through on your resolution. If that’s you, then I hope you go for it.
Here are a few things I’ve learnt during the last 1000 days.
Not drinking is the right decision. I thought I’d start with this one because at first I wasn’t sure it definitely was. As you know, sobriety is generally painted as a boring, prudish, punishment – something that only needs to be considered when all else has failed. Surely learning how to live a full and happy life without relying on a poisonous substance is a good thing? Yes, it’s hard at first but it gets easier. Of course it does. If it sobriety required full-time, herculean strength I for one would still be boozing. As it happens, these days drinking seems as alien to me as smoking or taking drugs. I have lost the sensation of ‘needing’ a drink.
The clearheaded, focused feeling of sobriety is addictive in itself. When I drank, I spent so much time simply treading water, going round in circles. I drifted from this idea to that, unsure of what I really wanted. Living free from fog and confusion day after day makes it so much easier to carve out a life you actually like.
All the things that bother you in early sobriety will go away. I spent a lot of time at the beginning wondering if people would notice, wondering what to tell friends … I even started panicking about what would happen if I ever got married. Never mind the fact that I wasn’t in a relationship – I was preoccupied with what I would do about the toast on my wedding day! In early sobriety, thinking long term is really scary so my advice is don’t do it. Just trust that everything will work itself out.
It’s easier when you get some help. Trying to get sober on your own is like attempting the Sunday crossword by yourself. You’ll struggle over clues that someone else will get straight away. So make it your mission to get out of your own head, soak up new information and seek out help. You are investing in yourself and your future. Keep experimenting. It’s not enough to say, ‘ok well this time I’m going to try harder’. If you keep doing the same thing, you’ll get the same results.
Being quietly rebellious is really fun. Drinking is what people do to fit in. It keeps you under the radar, one of the sheep, one of the gang. Early sobriety feels like wearing a neon sign on your head and I for one, didn’t like it to start with. Yet after a while your perspective changes and being different feels kind of cool. We live in a world where supermarkets sell booze right next to the bread and milk. Every advert for wine tells you it’ll make your life better. By choosing to live sober I am rebelling against those messages and that feels good.
We don’t need to drink in order to feel accepted and liked by others. Alcohol may appear to oil the wheels and turn you into a social butterfly but it’s never very authentic. It glosses over too much. We shouldn’t have to drink in order to stomach spending time with friends. I’d rather have the real deal any day.
All the things that you think drinking provides you with are already inside you. That’s the real secret. But you don’t discover that until you take the booze away. You’ll also be rewarded with better skin, more energy, more money, quality sleep and a general sense of awesomeness. So hang on in there – it’s more than worth it.
Happy New Year everyone!
I was on the train home on Friday, when a group of teenage boys sat down near me. They were trying to work out which one of them was most likely to get served, if they bought some beers from the local supermarket. I stole a couple of glances at the different members of the group. They clearly weren’t 18. I’d guess they were 15, maybe 16 at most. I reckoned they were far too baby-faced to get away with it. They’d have been better off trying to get someone else to buy the booze for them. Not that I said that, of course.
It was funny listening to them talk about the prospect of drinking. They were playing it down and trying to be cool about it but I could see how excited they were. I remember feeling exactly the same way. As a teenager I was 100% geek most of the time. Drinking gave me a chance to be fun, glamorous and oh so cool. It meant breaking the rules, being daring and taking a risk. It was an act of rebellion.
Or was it?
As I eavesdropped on their conversation, it occurred to me that drinking is not really that rebellious at all. In fact, when you think about it, drinking is quite the opposite. It’s all about conforming to the norm. It’s about following the crowd and trying to fit in.
If those boys ever did manage to get hold of something to drink, I guarantee you half of them won’t have really enjoyed it. It might be the strange taste, or the weird light-headed feeling that puts them off. But they’ll keep quiet about that. They’ll persevere with it because it’s cool and glamorous.
One generation teaches another that this is how you should act. You have to push on through that initial resistance and acquire a taste for booze, because drinking is what proper grown ups do. It’s the best way of dealing with unpleasant emotions. It’s how adults function. We’re told that drinking earns you the appreciation of your peers and helps you fit in. And don’t you dare think about not drinking because only boring, uptight people would consider that an option.
It’s all such nonsense. Being a rebel is not about doing the same as everyone else or drinking till you’re rendered unconscious. It’s about being an individual and refusing to follow a crowd that forces you to think the same way they do.
It strikes me that sobriety is one of the most rebellious things you can do.
It takes courage to defy the social expectations outlined above. It’s scary to move out of your comfort zone like that, to go against the grain and risk not fitting in. It takes bravery to carve your own path and be yourself without any kind of numbing shield.
When I first stopped drinking, I went to great lengths to hide the fact that I was teetotal. I was forever ‘on a detox’ or ‘training for a race’. I’d choose non alcoholic drinks that looked like they could pass for booze. Whenever someone did notice that I wasn’t drinking, I’d find myself blurting out things like, “Don’t worry! I’m still really, really FUN!” I may as well have been saying, “Don’t worry! I’ll still fit in!”
Nowadays I’m not so bothered. I can see it’s the social conditioning around alcohol that’s the real problem. It traps people. It makes them fear that they will be missing out, unless they follow the crowd. Increasingly, I think that stopping drinking is less about alcohol itself and more about recognising where you’ve been trained to think and behave in a certain way.
Sobriety is about learning how to unplug from all your preconceived notions and social conditioning. It’s about being brave enough to just take the leap and do your own thing. It’s about daring to be different – daring to be yourself.
Isn’t it strange that we’ve got to a point where we can see cigarettes for what they really are – they’re not considered sexy or cool anymore – and yet we’re still so hung up on booze? I wish I could have conveyed all this to the boys on the train, but I am laughing at the mere thought of doing so. I’m sure it would have come across as very patronising…