6 Tips For A Successful Sober September

6 Tips For A Successful Sober September

Sober September is here already!

The seasons are changing and that back-to-school feeling is in the air…

If you’ve been drinking more than you planned to over the past few months, now is as good a time as any to turn over a new leaf and get back on track. 

Going alcohol-free is one of the most empowering and exciting things you can do for yourself. However, successful sobriety isn’t just about ditching booze and hoping for the best – there’s a bit more to it than that…

Today I want to share a few key strategies to help you have a great month.

 

6 Tips For A Successful Sober September

 

1. Mother yourself

Cravings are the body’s way of trying to tell us that something isn’t right; that we’re out of balance and need to take action to feel better. As drinkers, we’ve trained ourselves to interpret that craving sensation as a cue for alcohol. But when we were younger, we didn’t do that. 

Think of it this way: if your child started being grumpy, restless and irritated with everything, you wouldn’t reach for the wine bottle to soothe them, right? Instead, you’d troubleshoot the problem and try to make things better. You’d mother them. 

Are they tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Bored? Do they need a cuddle? Connection? Love, help, support? As adults, our needs are basically still the same, only we’ve been conditioned to think that all we need is wine – that it’s some kind of magic fix. But drinking never, ever gives us what we really need. 

 

2. Gather evidence

A common mistake people make during a month off booze is to romanticise and glamorise the thing they can’t have. They spend the whole time focusing on what they’re missing out on and counting down the days until they can drink again. 

A better approach is this: keep a list of all the so-called ‘benefits’ you think you get from drinking. Next to the list of benefits, draw two columns: evidence for, and evidence against. 

For example, if you’re convinced that you need wine in order to make date night more special, what about all those times when you’ve argued after drinking too much, or become distant, sleepy and distracted? That is important evidence to note down.

Leave plenty of space between each benefit so you can add things as you go along. Even if you’re convinced alcohol definitely does provide a particular benefit – and there isn’t any evidence to the contrary – the chances are that belief will change with time.

 

3. Fill your head with good stuff 

Keep the right mindset by using any gaps during the day to listen to a book or a podcast about sobriety. Listening rather than reading makes it easy to squeeze a chapter in here and there, while you’re driving to work, tidying up or walking home etc etc. 

If you need some ideas, click here for a few of my book suggestions. A good podcast to try is The Bubble Hour. I was on it a while back (listen here) and I think the next episode (released tomorrow) is going to feature one of my students, Monica 🙂

 

4. Keep a list of things you’re proud of

Before you go to bed, take a few seconds to note down at least one reason why you’re proud of yourself that day. Perhaps you’re feeling good because you didn’t drink, or maybe there’s something else you need to give yourself acknowledgement for. 

When you’re struggling with your drinking, your self esteem can plummet. And when you’re feeling really down on yourself, it can seem even harder to do the stuff that’s outside your comfort zone – like stopping drinking. 

You can find one thing you’re proud of each day. At the end of your sober September, look back on your list. Is there more on it than you expected? How much of it would’ve happened if you’d been drinking? This is all good stuff to reflect on. 

 

5. Change one small thing 

You’ve already made one bold move by quitting drinking, so why not do another and change something else in your life that isn’t working? If you’re relying on a drug like alcohol to get through an average Monday night, it’s a sign that something else isn’t quite right. 

Now of course, there are plenty of things that are far too big to fix or change in a month. But you probably can make one tiny step towards making your life easier.

Maybe it’s setting better boundaries at work, not checking your emails after a certain time, getting more help at home or just going to bed a bit earlier. Find your one small thing and commit to making it happen. 

 

6. Stay focused 

I know how tempting it is to try and do it all. As well as sober September, you want to start a new diet and master a new fitness regime. However, taking on too much at once tends to be a recipe for disaster – you end up feeling overwhelmed and ready to give up on everything. 

In the long run, alcohol free living will be a great foundation for achieving your other health goals. But first, you need to get comfortable in your sober shoes. You only have a finite amount of willpower, and right now it all needs to go into mastering this one thing. 

 

If you’d like some help to stop drinking and create an alcohol-free life you love, click here for details of my online course.

 

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Why You Can Stop Asking, “Am I An Alcoholic?”

Why You Can Stop Asking, “Am I An Alcoholic?”

If you’re worried about your drinking, the chances are that at some point or another, you’ve wondered: “Am I an alcoholic?”

I remember googling this so many times and I never got a very clear or helpful answer. 

I was pretty sure I wasn’t an alcoholic, but my drinking was causing problems. 

So I felt stuck, because it seemed as if I didn’t (yet) have enough of a problem to qualify for the ‘must stop drinking club.’ 

Fast forward to today and an awful lot has changed. Not only am I six years sober, but I’ve realised that “Am I An Alcoholic?” isn’t the right question to ask. Here’s why:

 

What is an alcoholic? 

Is it someone who regularly drinks above the recommended guidelines? Probably not, because most drinkers do that. Is it someone who regularly drinks more than they intend to? A lot of people do that too.

What about those who are physically dependent on alcohol? Who have to drink every day and start the morning with a few shots? Again, it’s not so straightforward. This study found that only 10% of excessive drinkers are officially ‘alcohol dependent’. 

Meanwhile, Professor David Nutt (the UK government’s former chief drugs adviser) says “We know a third of the people coming into the liver unit with alcohol-related liver damage do not meet the criteria for alcoholism.”

 

Drinking isn’t black and white

If you’ve filled out a questionnaire about your drinking, the chances are it might have been this one (if you’re in the UK) or this one (if you’re in the US). Notice how neither questionnaires use the term alcoholic. Instead, both refer to alcohol use disorders – something that is more of a continuum. The questionnaires are about finding out where you are on the spectrum.

When we type “Am I an alcoholic?” into google, what we’re really looking for is a yes / no answer. But as the questionnaires show, it’s just not that straightforward. We can’t wrap this all up into one neat thing. Alcohol is messy and there are lots of grey areas. 

 

“Am I an alcoholic?” makes it all about you, not alcohol

Can you imagine a smoker hunching over their laptop and fearfully typing “Am I a nicotineoholic?” into google? Can you imagine their angst as they wondered what was wrong with them – why couldn’t they control their intake of this addictive drug? No? It sounds crazy, right?

We accept that nicotine is addictive, so when people become addicted to it, we don’t blame them – we blame the drug. It’s just a no brainer. And yet with alcohol, we do the exact opposite. We shame people for having too much and not being ‘in control’.

In doing so, we’ve created a culture where it’s really hard to question your alcohol intake without being labelled. I think that’s a real shame, because we should be able to examine our relationship with alcohol in just the same way we do with sugar and gluten. 

 

It encourages rock bottom thinking 

Behind the “Am I an alcoholic?” question lies another one: “Are things bad enough for me to need to do something about this?” And behind that question lies the belief that life without alcohol must be awful; so terrible that you’ll only put up with it as a last resort.

The truth is, we don’t need to be anywhere near rock bottom in order to decide we’re going to raise our standards and do something different. What if we let go of this idea that alcohol was somehow essential to a happy life, and saw it for what it really was instead: just a drug. Something you can choose to use, or choose to leave behind. 

 

What to do instead

Unless the ‘alcoholic’ label empowers you to change (which I know it does for some people) then feel free to ditch it. You are perfectly entitled to explore different lifestyle choices without needing to label yourself first.

Observe your drinking. Keep a record of how alcohol is making you feel. It’s easy to minimise and rationalise the reality of your drinking when you’re keeping everything in your head and forgetting things. Writing it down makes this stuff real. 

Rather than asking if your drinking has become ‘bad enough’ for you to need to quit, focus on whether it’s good enough instead. All things considered, are the side effects worth it? Are you happy to keep putting up with things? I wrote more about this concept here

Find help. If you’re struggling, don’t go it alone. My online stop drinking course is for women who are curious about living life alcohol-free, but need a bit of help to make sobriety stick. 

 

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Trying To Moderate? 10 Things You’ll Need To Be Ok With First

Trying To Moderate? 10 Things You’ll Need To Be Ok With First

“Surely one drink won’t hurt?”

The thought pops into your head from nowhere.

Now you’re thinking about trying to moderate and wondering whether it’s a good idea. Just one drink sounds so harmless. So normal… so reasonable.

You’ll just have one and leave it there. Or maybe two small glasses. But definitely no more than that, right?  

If this internal battle sounds familiar, you probably already know, deep down, that moderation rarely ends well for you. But that doesn’t stop you from thinking about it. Or trying it, again and again.

If you’re toying with the idea of having ‘just one glass’ tonight, read on…

 

Trying To Moderate? 10 Things You’ll Need To Be Ok With First:

 

1. Spending ages coming up with a plan you’ll later ignore

If you’re trying to moderate, you’ll need to start by enthusiastically creating some rules for yourself. Google advice on how to cut down and remind yourself of all the tips you’ve read a hundred times before. Convince yourself that this time, you really will alternate every alcoholic drink with water.  

 

2. Regularly breaking your promises 

Moderation is so hard, you will inevitably break some of the commitments you make to yourself. You’ll need to be comfortable with this happening on a regular basis. Alternatively, you can move the goalposts and ease the pain of going back on your word by finding creative ways around your own rules. E.g. Is it really drinking alone if the dog’s at home? 

 

3. Knowing that moderation is a full time job

What are you going to drink? When? Where? How much? Are you sure? Do you have enough supplies? Where are you going to get more? Has anyone noticed? These questions aren’t going to answer themselves. Moderation gobbles up time, energy and brainspace, so make sure you’re prepared for this. 

 

4. Finding a range of stores to shop from 

Is the person on the till giving you a funny look because they can remember what you bought yesterday, or is it just your imagination? Who knows. Make life easier for yourself by selecting 3 or 4 shops you can pop into on rotation, and pretend you’re there spontaneously. 

 

5. Learning a lot about wine 

Nothing signals ‘sophisticated, moderate drinker’ like someone who knows their way around a wine menu. Personally, I used to be happy drinking any old thing (especially after a few glasses) but it’s never good to be caught buying the cheap stuff. 

 

6. Starting your day early. Very early.

Alcohol interferes with your sleep cycle, even in small amounts. It’s frustrating to wake up in the early hours, hungover and exhausted, yet somehow unable to sleep. Keep a pile of good books by your bed to help pass the time. Plus some water and painkillers, of course.

 

7. Getting to know other heavy drinkers 

When you’re trying to moderate, you’ll find yourself drawn to other people who also drink a lot. You feel good around them and your drinking seems normal compared to theirs. The downside? A drinking buddy is not the same as a true friend, and you may end up losing touch with people who genuinely care about you.

 

8. Low self esteem

Here’s a secret: ‘normal’ drinkers get addicted to alcohol. (I wrote more about that here). Struggling to control a mind-bending drug is not a big deal, nor is it a personal failing. But when you’re in the middle of the moderation dance, you won’t be able to recognise this. Your self esteem will take a pounding and you’ll wonder, ‘what’s wrong with me’? (Answer: nothing)

 

9. Setting regular tests for yourself

This is an important part of keeping the moderation magic going. Every now and then you will need to take a week off. Or if you can stand it, a whole month. Then you know – and everyone else knows – that alcohol is definitely NOT a problem for you and there is absolutely nothing at all to worry about. 

 

10. Be comfortable lying to yourself 

Occasionally you’ll catch yourself wondering if you should quit completely. Might it be easier? Would it make you happier? When those pesky thoughts creep in, remind yourself that you’re enjoying the best of both worlds right now. You’re fine. People like you don’t quit drinking, right?! Right. You’re just having a bad day. You’re happy with things as they are. Honestly. This. Is. FINE. 

 

If you’d like some help to stop drinking and create an alcohol-free life you love, click here for details of my online course.

 

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4 Reasons Why You’re Not Taking Action Yet

4 Reasons Why You’re Not Taking Action Yet

When it comes to taking action, you feel stuck.

You spend a lot of time thinking about your drinking; worrying and wondering whether you should quit.

You buy books about alcohol free living and follow sober bloggers on Instagram.

You wake up hungover and vow you’ll quit – only to question the decision a few hours later.

It’s exhausting, not being able to decide what to do. Alcohol is making you unhappy… so why aren’t you taking action?

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

Here are 4 (totally normal) reasons why you might struggle to take action – and what to do about it…

 

It seems like a really big decision

Quitting drinking feels like such a big deal, you want to be 100% certain you’re doing the right thing. But you can’t imagine giving up forever, so you’re stuck in a loop of never feeling quite ready.

How to take action anyway: 

You can overcome the fear of forever by taking a temporary break instead. You don’t need to be 100% certain about the future – it’s impossible to know how you’ll feel in a month’s time, never mind a year or several decades away!

Taking a break for a month or two allows you to test drive sobriety and get into a new routine (studies show it takes 66 days to form a new habit). Once your break is over, you can always go back to drinking if you want to – or set another short term goal.

 

You’re weighing up another option

If you really can’t bring yourself to get started, the chances are that part of you is still considering the alternatives. The idea of finding some way to moderate your alcohol intake can be hard to let go of.

How to take action anyway: 

I’ve written before about why moderation rarely works (you can read that here) but to be honest, you need to come to that conclusion yourself. If you still want to focus on cutting back, then continue with that for now, but do put a time frame on it.

Decide how much longer you’re going to keep attempting to moderate. Record the different tricks you’ve tried and the rules you’ve created to keep your drinking in check. Does any of it work in the long term? And does it make you happy?

 

You’re just not sure if it’s worth it 

Sometimes your drinking feels really bad, but on other days, it feels pretty manageable. There are things you like about drinking and you’re worried you’ll miss out on so much.

How to take action anyway:

Keep a diary. Set a reminder on your phone so you remember to write a sentence or two about how you’re feeling, morning and night. Do this every day, regardless of whether you’ve been drinking or not.

Our minds are incredibly unreliable and we often ‘forget’ stuff like this. By writing this down, you’re gathering important data about how alcohol genuinely affects you.

See what patterns you spot. If, for example, you believe alcohol is helping you cope with stress – but you notice that every drinking episode is followed by several days of problems and extra stress – then that’s important information to take note of.

 

You’ve ‘failed’ before

Perhaps you’ve tried to quit several times already and it hasn’t worked out. It was painful and you felt so bad afterwards, you don’t want to put yourself through it again.

How to take action anyway: 

When you tell yourself that you’re a hopeless case, all you’re really doing is making yourself feel better about not taking action. But that’s a very disempowering place to be. The truth is that ‘failure’ is part of the learning process. It’s not a sign that you’re weak or never going to crack this.

Nearly every student who joins my stop drinking course, Getting Unstuck, will have multiple ‘failed’ attempts in their past. I expect that, because it’s normal. The most important thing is not to let the fear of failing again hold you back – I wrote more about that here.

 

Final tip: make a decision either way!

Toing and froing over the decision can make you feel as if you’re being productive, when you aren’t. Agonising over it takes up a lot of brain space and the uncertainty can be draining.

If you want to keep drinking for now, that’s ok – but make a conscious choice to do that. Put a time frame on it and set a reminder on your phone, so you remember to review how you’re feeling.

As I mentioned above, I strongly recommend keeping a diary, so you can see how the drug is affecting you and your quality of life over time. Don’t rely on your memory to help you gather this evidence – you need to see it in black and white.

 

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How To Celebrate Without Alcohol (And Feel Good About It)

How To Celebrate Without Alcohol (And Feel Good About It)

When I first quit drinking, one of my biggest concerns was how I’d celebrate without alcohol. 

I wondered: how would I mark special occasions? Victories? Big accomplishments? My birthday? Anniversaries? Or the end of a tough week? 

We’re so conditioned to use alcohol to celebrate stuff like this, it can feel hard to imagine doing it any other way.

It was a relief to discover that there are plenty of ways to celebrate sober – and if you do it right, you’ll be left feeling much happier…

 

How to celebrate without alcohol:

 

Get clear on what you ‘deserve’

Let go of that old, unhelpful mantra of “I deserve a drink!” You don’t ‘deserve’ a toxic poison at any time – no one does. You don’t deserve to wake up feeling guilty and hungover, with blurry, unclear memories of what should’ve been a special and celebratory moment. Why do something that harms you and makes you unhappy afterwards? You deserve better than that. 

 

Focus on celebrating you

A lot of those “I can’t celebrate sober!” thoughts are driven by a fear of what other people will think, or a belief that you have to celebrate things a certain way. We get caught up in the external stuff of what other people expect. But when you think about it, most celebrations (big or small) are really about celebrating you

In fact, the moments we celebrate the most often may not involve other people. For example: a personal achievement, hitting a sober milestone, finishing a difficult task. So keep your focus on how you want to celebrate and honour yourself. What would genuinely feel good? 

Here are some ideas:

Things you love to do and wish you did more of (e.g. reading, massages, time to yourself)
Things that make you feel good (e.g. sex, long baths, your favourite gym class)
Spending time with people you love being around (e.g. great friends, family, pets)
Things that make you feel special (e.g. fresh flowers, getting your hair done)
Stuff that feels really indulgent (e.g. going to the cinema on a weekday afternoon)
Things you’ve been wanting to do for ages (e.g. theatre trip, concerts, museum tour)

 

Plan how you’ll deal with other people

If you are celebrating with others, it helps to plan ahead and decide what you’ll say if people ask why you’re not drinking. (I have some suggestions here). Think carefully about what you truly want – are you throwing a big party because that’s enjoyable for you, or because it’s what other people expect you to do? If it’s your special moment then you get to decide how to celebrate.

I turned 30 a few months after I quit drinking and I’d planned on throwing a big party to mark the occasion. However, as the date got closer, I realised I just didn’t want to do it – I felt stressed out and wasn’t excited by the idea. Sobriety gave me the confidence to ditch the big party plans and arrange a series of smaller meet-ups with close friends instead, which felt much more ‘me’.

The most important thing to remember is that the contents of your glass don’t matter. It’s the people you’re with, and the quality time you spend together, that really counts. We’ve been conditioned to think that you need to consume a liquid drug in order to mark an occasion properly – or celebrate the ‘right’ way – but that simply isn’t the case. 

 

Remember, you have tons of experience in this area!

When you were a child, you never needed alcohol to celebrate a special moment – parties were all about games, cake and ice cream. When we did well at school, we were rewarded with stickers and praise from the teacher (and that was so exciting, right?) The things we ‘need’ in order to celebrate and feel acknowledged change all the time.

 

Don’t be put off by any initial awkwardness

The first few times you celebrate without alcohol might feel challenging, but this doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or destined for failure. Not at all. Those feelings are just a sign that you’re breaking a well-established pattern and learning how to do something different. Change is often uncomfortable at first, so don’t make any judgements until you’ve practised celebrating sober a couple of times. 

 

If you’d like some help to stop drinking and create an alcohol-free life you love, click here for details of my online course.

 

Download your free Wine O'Clock Survival Guide!

(It’ll help keep you on track tonight)

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