I quit for a month. That proves I’m in control, right?

I quit for a month. That proves I’m in control, right?

Laura writes:

“I struggled with my drinking last year and rarely went more than a few days without caving in. But after Christmas, my husband and I decided we’d have a dry January … and to my surprise, I’ve stuck at it.

I’m really proud of myself and I’m feeling a lot better, but I’m struggling with what to do next. My husband will probably celebrate the end of January with a drink and part of me really wants to join him.

There’s also this little voice in my head that says, ‘You quit for a month. That proves you’re in control again.’ Does it? I’m not sure what to do next, but right now I can’t imagine quitting forever.”

If you’ve got any ideas or advice to share with Laura, please post a message in the comments section below. Here are my thoughts:

 

Dear Laura,

First of all, huge congratulations on stopping for a month. That’s fantastic news and you’re right to feel proud; after a long period of stopping and starting, it feels good to get a bit of momentum, doesn’t it?

Before I answer your question, let me start by giving you my take on dry January.

If you’re in the UK like I am, you’ll know that it’s become a bit of a thing in recent years; lots of people sign up for a Dryathlon (with Cancer Research UK) or a Dry January (run by Alcohol Concern). On the whole, I think these campaigns are a good idea.

Anything that encourages and normalises alcohol-free living is to be welcomed – even if it’s only for a month. And as you’ve found out, it’s nice to do this kind of thing with the support of other people.

Dry January is great for moderate, social drinkers who overdid it at Christmas, or slipped into the habit of having a bit too much to drink.

It’s a good opportunity to take a break and reset. Studies have shown that some people who have a sober January continue to drink less throughout the rest of the year.

However …

 

If you’re someone who has regularly drunk a lot in the past – and it made you miserable – then one month off booze is unlikely to be enough.

I know that when you’re struggling to string together a couple of days, one month feels like forever. One of the downsides to those dry January campaigns is that they reinforce the idea that sober living is really hard; something to be endured for one miserable month of the year.

People who survive it are declared ‘dryathletes’ and ‘sober heroes’… which is kind of weird, because if alcohol-free living really was that hard, no one would do it.

 

It’s easy to white-knuckle your way through a month off booze without doing any of the work you need to do to change your relationship with alcohol.

Have you got clear on why you drank? Have you found some alternative coping mechanisms? Built some new, sober routines? Researched alcohol and addiction, and how the brain works?

That kind of stuff is really important. I’d also recommend journaling a lot – writing things down on paper gets it out of your head and helps you to reflect on what you’re really feeling.

 

So… what is a good period of time to aim for?

When it comes to changing a habit, some studies have suggested 66 days is the magic number. Personally, I think 90 days is better. And 100 days has a really nice ring to it. That will put a decent chunk of time between you and your last drink. Then you can decide what to do next with a clear head.

 

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I don’t believe in moderation.

Why should we be able to control our intake of a mind-altering, willpower-sapping drug? We wouldn’t expect other drug users or smokers to be able to do the same. I’ve written before about why some people can appear to control their alcohol intake and others can’t.

 

Even if you’ve got your heart set on drinking again, I’d still recommend a 90 day break.

A good book for you to read would be Almost Alcoholic, by Robert Doyle and Joseph Nowinski. They argue that controlled drinking is possible for some people – but only after a 90 day period of complete abstinence.

 

I’ll end this with a quick word about… bananas.

I was struck by what you said about being ‘in control’ of alcohol. It reminded me of something Jason Vale says in his book, Kick The Drink. He says:

“If I kept saying to you that I was in ‘control’ of my banana intake, that I only have them a few times a week and that I can even go two complete days without bananas … wouldn’t you immediately know I had a problem with bananas?”

 

Sometimes you need a silly comparison like that in order to see something for what it really is.

The next time that voice in your head tries to justify your drinking, you can bring it back to reality by thinking about bananas.

Laura, what you do next is your decision. But I think that if you keep going with sobriety a bit longer, you’ll be really pleased you did.

 

Good things are coming – just you wait and see.

Kate

x

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36 Comments

  1. Only you know whether you are addicted. For me, sobriety is the only way but concede I have a friend who had a serious alcohol dependency that was diagnosed as addictive who after several years sober now drinks socially. I can’t do that- tried in the past. That first drink is a sober decision ; the rest aren’t.
    I’d ask yourself one question- would you really enjoy (just) one carefully measured glass of wine/unit of spirits? If not maybe say no

    Reply
    • You really put it into perspective there. When you said the first drink was a sober decision.
      Really well said !

      Reply
    • I also like that line – “the first drink is a sober decision, the rest aren’t”. So true!

      Reply
    • Great blog, thanks Kate. I had done Dry January on many occasions in the past then roared into P*ssed February. I agree that 100 days AF gives you enough space to decide what to do next. For me, it was a decision to live AF. ‘For ever’ is too long, especially at the start, and looking back, I see ‘the start’ as the first year, because there are so many ‘Sober Firsts’ to get through in that year. So, if asked, was this for ever, I would reply ‘for now’ and that’s how I framed it to myself too.
      In 2015 I did ‘Dry October’ with the secret plan to live AF for 100 days. This fell on January 8th 2016 and I felt so good in every way I decided to carry on and have now been sober for almost 500 days hurrah! The best decision I ever made, no regrets. Living AF is the gift that keeps on giving.

      Reply
    • Thank you so much for this insight. I am in the exact same boat at Laura. Took a month off of drinking with one slip. Every day I wonder if I should/can quit forever. I like the 90 day idea. I am going to do that from the day of my last “slip”. I know this is better for me, it’s just so daunting to think of never enjoying a glass of wine again. 90 days. Here I go!

      Reply
    • they call that style of thinking …..insanity

      Reply
  2. If you truly believe you can control yourself and just have one or two then that’s great but I know myself and having done dry jan I am now setting a new goal to continue through Feb as I feel fantastic and truly believe that there is no point in just having one as for me it’s never one ! I think we truly know deep down what we can and can’t manage and should try to stick to this as much as we can, it’s tough and I’m sure I will slip up somewhere but I’m taking each day as it comes and every day I go without makes me feel even better

    Reply
  3. I gave up for 3 months at the end of last year. I was so proud of myself and felt back in control and like I didn’t need it anymore. I looked forward to socialising without it and it really didn’t bother me. My dad would wind me up constantly and tell me what a lovely glass of red he had and I could have a sip. I felt triumphant that I said no so easily. Then one afternoon at work something in my bed said a bottle of wine would be good that evening. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and before I knew it I was at the shop and then finished the bottle. I’m now struggling to quit again. It’s a really tough journey. I admire anyone who gives it a go to quit. If I can have any advice from anyone who is going through the same as me I would be grateful. Thanks all xx

    Reply
    • You stopped for 3 months – that means you will be able to do it again. Definitely. All that sober time counts.
      I think it would be worth thinking about what it is you believe you get from alcohol. What did you think you were missing out on? I’m really clear in my mind that alcohol provides me with no pleasure or benefit whatsoever. So, I’d advise spending as much time as possible educating yourself about how alcohol works and what it really does – and does not – do. And once you know what you’re looking for in alcohol, you can start seeking out some alternative coping mechanisms … things that will do the same job, but without the nasty side effects.
      By the way, this is exactly the kind of stuff I cover on my six week course. Plus you get the support of a whole gang of women too! http://thesoberschool.com/course/

      Reply
      • Thanks Kate. I admire what you do and how many people you help. I have looked at your course a couple of times. I guess just like when I quit smoking, I had to do it when I was ready. I know I’m getting closer to that point just not sure if I’m 100% ready. It’s not easy

        Reply
  4. I too have quit for a total of 42 days, then something kept nagging at me that a glass of wine would be great right now! That nagging starting in the morning and wouldn’t let up until I actually drank the wine that evening. It tasted good for sure, but here I am 6 months later drinking again every night! Why is it we sabotage ourselves over and over when NOT drinking makes us feel so good? If only we could listen to our body and not our heads! Super frustrating that saying the simple word, “NO” is such a challenge.

    Reply
    • Eva maybe we should try and support each other. Maybe do the course with Kate?

      Reply
      • I have thought about the course as well. My only issue is failing again. I think we should support each other in the mean time and do this together to make sure we are ready. I love social drinking and have a lot of stress in my life to justify the drinking (in MY mind)however the drinking alone part worries me and I hate myself for it.
        What do you think?

        Reply
      • Faye and Eva, I feel like I am in the same boat as the two of you. I feel great when I’m not drinking but I’m scared about committing to total abstinence. I am trying to get some friends to go on this journey with me (90 days) but I would love to create a support group here as well. When is Kate’s next course? I would start something right now if you would like.

        Reply
  5. I think you feel you have control bc you’re not drinking. It feels really good. I’ve told myself before I would drink again but limit myself which would work for awhile but at some point I’d drink too much & be back to feeling bad about myself again. If you truly aren’t sure about drinking, I’d give it more time, like Kate recommended. Good luck!

    Reply
  6. I am an alcoholic and was tapering down my drinking and realised that just was not going to work. It was a painful experience. The drink diary, the constantly thinking about it all the time!!!!! If I did OK and just had half a bottle I would just make up for it the next day so I knew I just had to stop!! So I decided that dry January was a great idea. I have detoxed before and alot of my problem is obviously my head as tapering down stopped the terrible withdrawels so the physical dangers were actually limited. I had been continuing my death wish on the basis that I could not just stop or I would have a seizure?????? SO WHAT in reality. I was on self distruct and am now technically homeless and jobless!!! Yep really not ruining my life!!!! So I am going on to do dry February too and so on!!!! It just helps the not thinking its forever, even though forever is the aim but we have our subconcious to fight and the illusion that we will not be able to have fun without booze???? Almost as mad as smoking relieves stress? How does that work then LOL? Allen Carrs books put into perspective the reality of it all and since Reading the easy way to stop smoking I have also NOTWANTED TO SMOKE since?? I have smoked for 30 years. I only read the book to help with the drinking and replacesd the word cigerette with wine (as I had the book anyway and the system is the same for anything) Very bizarre to have done both. I go to support groups and they keep saying how amazing it is but the smoking is not causing me a problem because my head believes I don’t want one!!! I need to feel that about the wine 1000% but I am sure I will weaken at some point but for now I am OK. Just don’t want to get complacent because at 55 I know having been round and round the merry go round and spiralling so far down I have to start again from ground zero!!! But the paramount thing is to not drink. I am at my sisters as technically homeless and I don’t think I would have taken the leap if I was not in someone elses space feeling like a teenager!! Good luck anyone trying to stop. Check out all sorts of books because when the head clicks in with the program and the real reason for stopping emerges you don’t use will power because its what you know you WANT!!! I never thought I would make this month but in just 30 days with lots of reading and understanding what hell I have put my body through and not forgetting my mind, I feel more optomistic about the future, my only danger is its early days and I need at least a year under my belt!!! So one day at a time

    Reply
  7. In my experience (so take it for what it is worth), I was 39 days sober, 3 drinks, then 7 days sober and the a week back to heavy drinking. Nope nope nope. I clearly can NOT ever have just one drink. In my humble opinion, feeling the need to challenge oneself to a dry month likely means that drinking was really becoming a problem in need of something more than a challenge.

    Reply
    • That’s interesting to hear your experience. At least you know now, that one drink is not an option. Onwards and upwards Susan!

      Reply
  8. Wow….The timing of this email is amazing. I am due to celebrate my 16months af on Thursday….This also coincides with going to The Savoy with a friend for a dinner date….which also comes with a glass of champagne. I have been having a debate in my mind about whether to have the champagne or not…as I’m well over any habit of drinking …or am I? I have stopped smoking…For longer, and I never feel the need to have “just 1” cigarette..whatever the occasion. I stopped smoking on and off over many years and I realise the addiction of nicotine and how easily lured into smoking again I was. I’m not going to have the glass of champagne on thurs…It will be the start of me drinking again and my life is way better without that battle….However slight it may be.
    You have to do what you are happy with…alcohol didn’t enhance my life,however much I thought it did….or tried to believe it did. I recently read a blog about alcohol and there not being a 3rd door…

    Reply
  9. So interesting to read all of your thoughts right at this moment. I am 36 days sober and have just booked a trip with friends to Jamaica at the end of March. Sounds wonderful, right? Should be so excited, but really I am so much more concerned about taking a tropical vacation with other drinkers. My plan for now is to experiment with all kinds of sober drinks that will keep me occupied while I am there. I’ve also revealed to my friends that I am a non/drinker, so that will help with accountability, I’m going to lose 5 pounds before I go, SO I CAN EAT ANYTHING I WANT 😉 I plan to keep educating myself to help change my thinking completely. I know I cannot moderate….tried so many times, even for extended periods of time and then ended up worse than ever. I have to be done with this nightmare!

    Reply
  10. Faye- two small suggestions
    remember that alcohol promises but rarely delivers (in my case, never)
    and if you find that the only time you give yourself permission to take time out, be productively selfish, truly relax -learn to do sll these things without it. It tooks me years of sobriety before this second light bulb moment-that my drinking always coincided with times of extreme stress, tiredness, coping for others, covering up feelings, being stoic, hokding it all together…until I cracked and couldn’t, physically, do it any more as i was drunk. It’s a revelation to find (rather late in life) that you can have a PJ day/take off work/ eat takeaway/ put yourself first without using alcohol as the means. You enjoy the day off much more too ! And you need never justify it to anyone. Good luck ! x

    Reply
    • Felicity thank you xxx your comments made me cry. It’s nice to know people care. I’ll get there I’m sure. This page is brilliant xx

      Reply
  11. Don’t forget ladies the thought of having something often gives us more pleasure than the actual act of having it, it can be disappointing especially if you have built it up. Also I always remind myself that it is easier to refuse the first drink that it is the second or more so the third, so I take the easiest option and don’t have the first

    Reply
  12. For me I had to stop drinking for good…I could never moderate and one was never going to be enough. It is a personal decision and one which I have not looked back on..Im sober almost 2 years now. I would seriously consider staying off it but again it’s up to you x

    Reply
  13. Such a loaded question. Been sober for three months and I decided to do an experiment and have few pops on Saturday. I woke up the next morning asking WTH did I just do. Needless to say, I went straight back to sobriety. Most likely a little guilt but most of all I hated the way I felt. I questioned my doctor about this and he said there is a study out, that when people continue to quit the more the likelihood the person is to shove away permanently. I’ll have to see where he got the study.

    Reply
  14. For me there is no such thing as moderation when it comes to alcohol, I am an all or nothing kind of gal. Wednesday, I will be six months sober and I have never felt better, and am grateful every day for my sobriety. Thank you for the timely blog Kate.

    Reply
  15. I am half way through Jason Vale’s Kick The Drink so I am starting to realise that my life will be so much better without alcohol. I am also lucky that my husband also feels the same way! I started to read his book on Sunday while sipping on a low alcohol beer and then had a bottle of red that evening. The book says not to give up alcohol before completely reading it so I literally took his word for it as we followed last night with a bottle of white each! We have every intention of doing Febfast (I live in Australia so not sure if you have this in the UK) which starts tomorrow so the big question is, do we have one last wine tonight? I’ll let you know how we go.

    Reply
  16. I’ve had several day 1s. I’d get to a point in my sobriety where I too heard that little voice telling me, “You can moderate now that you’ve had a bit of a break,” or “Just one won’t hurt.” It’s not true. You’re doing more than not drinking when you quit. You’re reevaluating your relationship with alcohol, like Kate said. And you may figure out that alcohol simply has no place in your life anymore. That’s what I discovered. It was hard at first, but honestly, now it’s a relief. It’s not “I don’t get to drink,” anymore; now it’s, “I don’t have to drink. Ever again.” You have to work for it every day for a long while, but it is absolutely worth it. What’s at stake? Only your physical health, your happiness, your mental health. What can be more important than keeping yourself well?

    Reply
  17. Hi all,
    I am just 8 days without alcohol, and I feel GREAT! I survived my first weekend family braais without alcohol. It is the first weekend in years that I did not wake up on a Saturday or Sunday, and wondered…… did I say something wrong to anyone that I cannot remember? Did I not embarrass my kids? How did I get into bed? Do I have enough booze to get me through the day? Do I have enough money to go buy some more? And that alone is enough motivation for me to never drink again. I am not a one drink girl. One leads to two and two leads to who knows how many. This weekend was the first weekend in years that I went for a run on Friday and Saturday, and mountain biking on Sunday. Even 2 weeks back I could not do it with my husband, because I was too tired or just hung over. So far, it is fairly easy to say no. But I know there will be difficult days ahead. I carry the list of 21 signs that you might have a drinking problem list with me every day, just as a reminder. Because 15 out of 21 means : HELL YES, YOU DO HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM!!!!!! Good luck to all of you. Just know you are not alone. It’s an uphill battle each day. You must just get a focus point and enough motivation (like mine above) to stop.

    Reply
  18. Dear all, I stopped drinking in November and stumbled across Kate’s website just in time to decide to make it a permanent decision. I considered joining her course in January but was just not ready. I know I will sign up next time around. Your stories and encouragement lift my heart. Thank you.

    Reply
  19. Hi Kate

    I see the next course starts in April. I’m on holiday for the first week are you doing anything before then? Also is there ongoing support?

    Reply
    • Hi Faye,
      The next course will start on the 3rd April. That’s the first day of class – everyone starts on that same day. You get permanent access to the lessons and I also have a private Facebook group for graduates of the course. If you join the waitlist, I’ll email you lots more info nearer the time.
      Thanks
      Kate

      Reply
  20. I have tried every approach there is to be in control of my relationship with alcohol: only drink on weekends, only have one drink a night, only drink beer, only drink hard liquor, lists on the wine rack and in my phone with the negative effects of alcohol. As long as I left myself an out by not saying absolutely no alcohol……I can rationalize my way into drinking every night. Only by acknowledging that I will find a reason to drink every night, proving the alcohol is in control, was I able to admit to myself I will never have a healthy relationship with alcohol. As many already stated, only I can honestly know if i can use alcohol in a manner that doesn’t impede my life or my health. The trick is to answer that question with raw honesty and make a decision about what’s important to me. My goal is to stay sober, if I miss a step, I will start my clock over and keep going, but never again can I rationalize my drinking. The goal is 100% abstinence, even if I flub up.

    Reply
  21. I went over a year without drinking when I was pregnant and breastfeeding, didn’t ever feel tempted to drink in that time, but the whole time I was longing for the day when I could return to it, like waiting for a lover who was overseas for a long time, I could bear the separation but only because I know we would be reunited. When I had my first drink, i drank about a bottle of red wine, and felt dreadful the next day, but happy to be reunited with my love. I know moderation isn’t the answer for me, it’s absolute sobriety or self destruction, no halfway measures here!

    Reply
  22. Hello! I am actually doing a 30 day no drinking challenge right now. I would drink a bottle of wine one night a weeks, sometimes two bottles a week, on a weekend (sometimes not), etc. Anyway, though this might be considered “light”, I would be obsessed with the night where I could have a bottle of wine and to be honest I only wanted to get drunk. It ended up being the only thing I really looked forward to in life. Of course I would think, oh, I’ll just have a nice civilized glass, but it always would end up with the bottle gone. I’ve been drinking like this for a long time and I have had disordered drinking issues in the past. I gave up drinking for about 5 years but slowly slipped into it again. Although my drinking is more “controlled” so to speak, I want to stop obsessing over alcohol.

    My first dry week was great, no withdrawals, but now at the start of week two I feel terrible: headache, nausea, fogginess, fatigue. These things started a few days ago, so I’ve been waiting to see if I was coming down with something, etc. I guess my question is this: is it possible to have a delayed start to withdrawal? Did my body become habituated to the weekly bottle that it’s now like, ok, it’s been awhile, where’s the wine? I’ve been googling this question for hours, but other than DTs (which sounds way more severe than what I’m dealing with. Mine’s more like mild flu symptoms) I can’t find anything about this. Maybe I’m feeling something else (no, not pregnant, lol).

    Reply
    • I’m sorry: I should provide feedback to the post instead of just “me me me!” As I said, I am doing one such challenge and for me it is a motivator for a healthy lifestyle. I agree, and I fully state in my fundraising efforts, that such a challenge sounds a bit silly considering it shouldn’t be a big deal, ideally, for people to give up drinking if we were all doing it in a healthy way! It says a lot about how obsessed/addicted our society is in general to alcohol. The fact that I have the opportunity to buy myself a “free night” in the challenge, or that people can “buy me drinks” in the form of a specific donation, again, in an ideal world, should not be necessary. Am I making sense? Other people are running marathons to fund raise, volunteering in war torn parts of the world, all to better help humanity… and I’m just giving up drinking for a month? Not to downplay addiction or how difficult a journey it is to give up drinking, etc., but the way it’s used as a fundraising effort is very ironic.

      That said, I do think giving up for a month in a charity opportunity can contribute to a person making healthier lifestyle choices. For many, recovery is a journey where relapse is a part of the process. Perhaps a month of drinking can at least be some mileage in that journey toward healthier choices, even if it does not lead some one to give up alcohol right away. Perhaps they can realize they did quit once, and survived, maybe even thrived, and that if they relapse, they have proven to themselves that they can quit again? Maybe it’s good practice?

      Reply

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