For a long time, I was very keen on the idea of moderation.
I was drinking too much and feeling awful… but I didn’t want to stop completely. Sobriety was way too radical a step for someone like me, right?
I was one of those people who bought nice wine. I didn’t drink every day of the week. I held down a good job. I went running and drank smoothies and practised yoga. I was definitely not some rock bottom, down-and-out drinker.
But… when I did drink, things went a bit crazy. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I definitely seemed to be missing an off switch!
I was convinced I just needed to find some better strategies for cutting down.
So with the help of google, I devised some creative schemes to help me manage and control my alcohol intake.
I’d really hate for all that ‘research’ to go to waste, so please do let me share it with you…
(Consider this the opposite of a list of suggestions!)
- Buy low alcohol drinks
- Keep alcohol out of the house
- Don’t drink alone
- Wait until 6pm to start drinking
- Buy alcohol you don’t actually like the taste of
- Only drink with meals
- Only drink wine
- Only drink beer
- Only drink during happy hour
- Only drink at the weekend
- Only drink on alternate days
- Buy miniature bottles of wine
- Use smaller glasses
- If buying regular bottles, tip away some of it first
- Draw a line at the halfway mark on the bottle
- Add water or ice to your drinks
- Drink a glass of water after every alcoholic drink
- Take less cash out with you
- In pubs, buy all your own drinks and avoid rounds
- Drink only low calorie drinks – use weight loss as a motivator
- Book an early morning gym class as a deterrent
- Pace yourself: commit to only having one drink an hour
- Or set a timer and have one sip every 5 minutes
- Keep an alcohol units diary where you set goals and targets
- Take a week off every now and then to try and ‘reset’.
Here’s what I learnt…
When it comes to dealing with a mind-altering, addictive drug that zaps your willpower and changes the way you think, it’s really hard to stick to your plans, no matter what tricks you use.
The methods above would work every now and then, but never on a consistent basis. Plus, sticking to these self-imposed rules was really hard work. I’m nearly five years sober now and just looking back at this list makes me feel exhausted!
It’s the decision-making fatigue that gets you. You’re constantly having to exercise willpower, negotiate with yourself about when you’ll drink, what you’ll have, whether you’ll stick to the rules, break them, push the boundaries, etc etc… it’s a constant drain on your energy.
I wish I’d known back then…
That not drinking at all was actually so much easier. Honestly – it’s such a breeze by comparison! The problem with cutting down (rather than cutting out) is that it reinforces the belief that you cannot properly enjoy life without alcohol.
You carry on feeding that part of you that’s been duped into thinking you can’t be truly content unless you have a little bit of this liquid drug in your life. Putting a toxic, cancer-causing poison up on a pedestal like that is really not a good idea.
When you’re sober, you get to see booze for what it really is i.e. a load of crap that’s holding you back.
Tolerance will bite you on the bum
Here’s the real kicker. Even if you’re determined to play the moderation game – and you’re happy to put lots of willpower, effort and energy into controlling booze – tolerance WILL screw you over in the end.
No matter what your alcohol intake, there will eventually come a point where you need more booze in order to feel the same effects.
Ok, so what do I do now?
Pause and reflect
Be honest with yourself: how long have you been trying to cut down for? How have those attempts to control your drinking made you feel? As I discovered, there’s no real secret to moderation: it’s highly unlikely that there’s a magic trick out there you’ve missed.
Ask the right question
Too often we focus on whether our drinking is ‘bad enough’ for us to quit, when really, we should be asking, “Is this good enough for me to stay as I am?” In other words, are you willing to keep on putting up with all the downsides to drinking, because they’re not going to go away. I wrote about this here.
Take a break from booze
If you’re ready to try something new, take sobriety for a test drive. Give it 100% for a set period of time e.g. six weeks. Then you can see how you feel at the end – you might just be surprised how much you love it! For more help with this, check out my stop drinking course. I also talk more about taking a break here.
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and it got me thinking about sobriety and relationships.
Whether it’s date night with your partner or a first date with someone new, the idea of doing that stuff sober can feel a bit intimidating to start with. But please – don’t let nerves put you off.
Over the years, I’ve carried out a fair bit of research in this area (a tough job, but someone had to do it) and I’m happy to share my findings with you: sober dates rock.
Whether you’re navigating the online dating world or sharing a romantic meal with a long term partner, you’ll have a MUCH better time alcohol-free. Here’s why:
1. You’ll have a better sense of connection
The idea that alcohol helps people to bond is a big old myth. Booze numbs the brain’s ability to process information from its senses, making it hard to be truly present and connected to someone else.
Next time you’re out, keep an eye on the couples who’re drinking a lot. Eavesdrop on the drunken conversations. They tend to involve a lot of talk, but very little connection or engagement. Alcohol makes drinkers more likely to withdraw into their own world.
Look out for the fights too. If alcohol was the magic, romantic joy juice it’s marketed as, why would so many couples get into drunken arguments?
2. You’ll have more fun – and more options – sober
If you’re only interested in doing things that involve drinking, it really limits what you can do. You’re pretty much stuck with the age old drinks-in-the-pub routine or a boozy restaurant meal. When you’re not focused on drinking, you can do so much more.
For example: a dancing class, comedy show, walking, tea tasting, a ghost tour, cinema trip, bowling, ice skating, art gallery visit, coffee, crazy golf, a picnic or enjoying a shared hobby.
Whether you’re going out with someone new or someone you’ve been with for years, dates are really just about spending quality time with that person. If you can have fun without alcohol, you know you’re on the right track.
3. You’ll be more interesting (and so will your date)
There is nothing more tedious than someone who’s drunk and repetitive but thinks they’re hot and hilarious. We’ve probably all been that person at some point and it is AWKWARD!
Interesting people tend to be the ones asking questions, listening to the person they’re with and paying attention to what’s being said. They’re engaged, present and connected.
Think of it this way – if you’re with someone you genuinely like, you shouldn’t need to consume a mind-altering drug in order to tolerate their company.
4. You’ll have fewer facepalm moments the morning after
You know that sickly feeling when you wake up and remember what you said or did the night before? That rarely happens when you’re sober.
The chances of you picking a stupid fight – or doing something you hate yourself for the next day – all drop significantly when you’re in full control of yourself.
5. It’ll sky-rocket your confidence
There’s nothing like coming home and knowing that you genuinely had a good time, that you were yourself and you weren’t trying to chemically alter the situation in any way. Experiences like that make you feel really good about yourself.
If you’re dating someone new, there might be awkward moments, but so what? Dating is awkward, whether you’re sober or not.
6. Sober sex is way better
Shakespeare was right when he said that alcohol “increases the desire, but takes away the performance”. If you’re over the limit for driving, you’re probably over the limit for great sex.
Alcohol numbs your feelings, screws up your sexual function and doesn’t exactly help your coordination either!
And seriously – if you’re dating, doing it sober means you’re far less likely to have an encounter you’ll later regret.
7. You can weed out the weirdos faster
When you’re alcohol-free, you can tell if there’s a real spark there. It’s much harder to make judgements about people when you’re both being altered by a powerful drug.
Tips for sober dating:
~ It’s up to you when you mention that you’re not drinking. Some people believe you should ‘warn’ your date but I don’t bother. Since when did we need to warn people that we don’t take certain drugs? The fact that I don’t drink isn’t very important or interesting information.
~ If you’re anxious to avoid the ‘oh you’re not drinking?’ conversation then a daytime coffee date or non-drinking activity is ideal.
~ If your sobriety does come up, BE COOL. Don’t ask me how I know this, but saying stuff like “Don’t worry, I’m still really fun!” is not a good idea. Actions speak louder than words, so just show up and be your amazing, interesting self.
~ If someone has a problem with your sobriety, wave them goodbye and thank your lucky stars there are more open-minded fish in the sea. Obviously, you should never apologise for not drinking, in the same way that you wouldn’t apologise for choosing not to smoke, sniff glue or stick needles in your eyes.
~ Keep things short. Sober or not, I think all first dates should be short. It takes the pressure off.
~ Remember that it’s normal to feel nervous. If things are going well then you’ll start to relax and have fun. That will happen no matter what’s in your glass.
~ Don’t be paranoid. Just because someone says ‘lets go for drinks’ it doesn’t mean they want to get crazy drunk. Even I still suggest ‘meeting for drinks’ because I like bars, I like people and I really like alcohol-free cocktails.
Let this Eleanor Roosevelt quote become your mantra: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
If you’ve read through this and thought ‘I can’t do that!’ then pay attention. It might just be a sign you need to do this… and what’ve you got to lose?
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.”