At the height of my drinking career, I’d often wonder:
Why don’t I have an off switch? Why can’t I control my drinking? Why can other people have 1 or 2 drinks and then stop?
Back then, my inability to control my drinking felt like such a personal failing – a weakness.
Nowadays, things are different. Not only am I five years sober, but my views on all this have changed too.
If you’ve been beating yourself up about your inability to moderate, this blog is for you.
Why can’t I stop at just one drink?
A better question to ask is, why should you be able to stop at one? After all, alcohol is a powerful, mind-altering, addictive drug. It zaps your willpower and changes the way you feel. It makes you lose control.
When it comes to other drugs, we seem to understand this. We don’t shame smokers for becoming addicted to nicotine – we just accept the fact that it happens. We should be doing the same with booze.
You are not weak or broken because you can’t ‘control’ alcohol. Becoming addicted to booze is a completely normal (and predictable) side effect of consuming an addictive substance.
But some people DO seem able to control their intake!
Moderate drinkers do not have superhero powers or huge reserves of willpower. Instead, their drinking is likely to be controlled by other factors.
For example, some people don’t like feeling drunk or out of control. They actively avoid that sensation rather than chase it. For others, drinking just isn’t their poison – it’s not a coping mechanism for them. When they’re feeling down, they don’t turn to booze. Perhaps they have healthy coping mechanisms in place, or maybe they overeat or gamble or do something else instead.
Other drinkers will be seriously restricted by finances, responsibilities or the influence of those around them.
So is moderation something I should work towards?
Yes and no. If you’re honestly just beginning to evaluate your relationship with alcohol, cutting down is a logical place to start. But the chances are that if you’re reading a blog like this, you’ve already had a good go at moderating. (I bet you’ve tried a few things on this list.)
There’s no secret to moderation. There’s no magic trick that you haven’t discovered yet. If moderation was something that worked for you – on a consistent basis – and made you feel good, you would know that by now.
Here’s the big problem with moderation.
Cutting down, rather than cutting out, stops you from exploring sobriety properly. It reinforces the idea that you cannot truly enjoy life without booze.
Moderation makes a drug like alcohol seem extra special. And because you’re trying to be ‘good’, you’re never satisfied. There’s never quite enough and all your focus is on alcohol (the thing you’re trying not to have so much of).
Plus, moderating requires a lot of effort. It ain’t for wimps. You’re constantly having to make decisions. What will you drink? When? Where? How much? It’s much harder than just making one wholehearted, committed decision not to drink.
If moderation is off the table – but I don’t want to quit forever – what should I do instead?
It’s normal not to be ready to quit ‘forever’ as that is a pretty overwhelming idea. But what about an experiment instead? You only get to find out what sobriety is really all about when you do it and keep doing it… so why not take a break from booze?
Commit to going alcohol-free for a month or two. Give sobriety 100% (no ifs, no buts) whilst feeling safe in the knowledge that at a set point in time, you will stop, review and decide what happens next.
Maybe you’ll go back to drinking. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself and fall in love with this awesome alcohol-free lifestyle. (I talked more about taking a break from booze in this video.)
The days of me waking up and feeling sorry for myself are long gone, thankfully. I never feel as if I’m missing out by not drinking – I just feel relieved that I don’t have to drink anymore.
I don’t know anyone who’s struggled with alcohol and then morphed into a happy, carefree, moderate drinker.
However, I know a LOT of sober women who are living fulfilling lives after letting go of booze. They got their happiness back. And their freedom. Isn’t that what we all want?
When I was trying to figure out how to quit drinking, I think I made just about every mistake in the book!
It took me ages to figure out what I was doing wrong and find a way to make sobriety stick.
If you’ve been struggling with your sober goals, or you’re finding things tough at the moment, this blog is for you.
I’m sharing a few of my rookie mistakes… and how you can avoid them!
Mistake #1 – Not being clear on why you’re doing this
Picture the scene: you wake up feeling tired and hungover. As you get ready for work, you promise yourself that tonight WILL be different.
Yet as the day drags on, and your hangover makes everything feel stressful and unmanageable, your thoughts turn to drinking again. By the time you get home, you’ve convinced yourself that ‘just one’ won’t hurt…
I must have gone through that cycle a thousand times. It was easy to make those promises and just as easy to dismiss them later.
If this sounds like you, it’s time to get really clear on your WHY. Stop being vague and start getting specific. Why exactly do you want to change?
Spend some quality time on this – it might well take you several days to make a proper list and write everything out. (I explain this process in more detail here.)
Mistake #2 – Putting sobriety at the bottom of your to do list
It was years before I realised that a) sobriety wasn’t going to magically happen without me dedicating some time to it, and b) it would be totally worth the time invested!
In the early days, alcohol-free living does require some effort and commitment. It just does. You need to allocate time to do the work that will help you make this shift stick.
I know that feels hard to do when you’re always short on time, but the great thing about alcohol-free living is that it creates lots of lovely space in your life. All that drinking, recovering from drinking and beating yourself up about your drinking eats up a LOT of time.
I have a student on my Getting Unstuck course who’s started setting up a new business and it’s only been three weeks since she quit drinking. That’s how much time sobriety creates!
I think many women are inclined to put sobriety at the bottom of their to-do list because they’re used to putting themselves last.
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. Self care isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity. Poisoning yourself with alcohol is not self care, but sobriety definitely is.
Mistake #3 – Paying too much attention to other people’s opinions
I know, I know. It makes sense to talk this stuff through with those closest to you. You respect their opinion and they know you best, right? However, when it comes to your drinking, the truth is that only you know how alcohol really makes you feel.
It’s difficult for friends and family to offer you what you actually need, which is an informed and neutral opinion. They might be worried about hurting your feelings. Or, if they drink a lot, they could be feeling defensive or concerned about their own habits.
By all means ask your loved ones for their support, but don’t rely on their advice or approval. Your sobriety is about you and your relationship with alcohol, no one else’s.
Mistake #4 – Giving alcohol credit for all the fun stuff in life!
This is the big one. I spent far too long treating alcohol like some kind of magic joy juice. I thought it was the secret ingredient that made life special. It isn’t.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that alcohol is a drug. If it was all we needed to have a great time, then we should get predictable results from it. But we don’t, do we? Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, sometimes we get into horrible arguments.
I think this Facebook meme is supposed to make you think ‘oh yes, alcohol is just so crazy and fun’ but it actually illustrates my point perfectly: alcohol does not always create good times.
Parties, drinks with friends, romantic meals, holidays, lunches in the sun… they’re all fun in their own right. And if you can’t enjoy those activities sober, why are you doing them?
The columnist Giles Coren is pretty blunt about this. He says, “Don’t tell me booze makes parties go with a swing. If you can’t enjoy a party sober, you should stay home and do origami. And don’t give me ‘it loosens my tongue’ because if you can’t talk without a beer in your hand you should stay silent, for you have nothing to say.”
Harsh but true, right?! (If you want to learn more about the fun myth, check out this blog here.)
I normally blog on a Monday, but today is an extra special day – I am celebrating 5 years of alcohol-free living!
It has gone sooooo fast.
I’ll always be grateful to that curious, little part of me that wondered if taking a break from booze might just be a good idea.
Initially, I set out to quit for 100 days. I promised myself that if it was boring, or miserable, or a bit too much like hard work, then I’d go back to drinking after my break – safe in the knowledge that I had at least given sobriety a proper test drive.
Back then, I had no idea that I’d fall in love with this alcohol-free lifestyle and decide to keep going… and going… and going!
Nowadays, you couldn’t pay me enough to drink alcohol. I just don’t want or need that poison in my life! 🙅☠
I’ve learnt so much over the past five years, but there’s one thing in particular that really stands out.
I was thinking about this as I was out walking this morning, so I decided to record a quick video all about my biggest takeaway from 5 years of sober living.
(It’s a bit rough and ready, but you’ll get the gist!)
P.S. If you’ve been thinking about quitting drinking or taking a break – and you’d like my help to make that happen – it’s not too late to join my stop drinking course, Getting Unstuck.
It’s a six week class that will guide you, day by day, through everything you need to do in order to create an alcohol-free life you love.
How many times have you asked yourself, “Do I really need to stop drinking?”
Answering that question can be tough.
Towards the end of my drinking career, I found it helpful to hear about other people’s experiences and the moments that made them decide that enough was enough.
Life isn’t black and white, and sometimes the call to be sober can feel pretty subtle. Other people’s stories had more of an impact on me than filling out some online quiz, or going through a checklist of warning signs.
I thought this might be something you’d appreciate too – so a few days ago, I asked some of my Getting Unstuck students to answer a simple question: “How did you know it was time to quit drinking?”
Their responses are really interesting (and probably not what you’re expecting!)
“On Mother’s Day 2017 I invited my mum and daughter for Sunday lunch and was really looking forward to spending time with them. As usual I had lots of wine.
Before I dished up the meal, my daughter asked me if I was OK and I knew she could see I was drunk. I felt really bad. I don’t remember the rest but my mum and daughter were really sad for me and I felt disappointed in myself.
I knew then that I had to do something. I’m so glad I did – giving up alcohol was the best thing I’ve ever done, and my mum and daughter both say how proud they are of me.” Christine
“I had a 2 week booze break before Christmas, but then I started again. I was horrified one night to find I’d drunk a whole bottle of wine in about an hour and a half, on a work night. I thought to myself… if a whole bottle is now not enough on a Tuesday night, where is this going? I knew I had to stop it.” Kathy
“For me it was no one thing, just a gradual acceptance that it couldn’t go on. I was moving into my 60s and worried about my health. I had tried to moderate – it didn’t work. One day I was scrolling through Facebook and The Sober School popped up! I thought ‘this is an omen and this is my time!’ 265 days later, it is the best thing I have ever done.” Lynne
“I’d been trying for 5 years to cut back and moderate, but things just seemed to be getting worse. The day after my best friends 50th birthday party was my decision to stop – it took me 3 days to feel ‘normal’. It just wasn’t worth it anymore and I deserved better.” Sharon
“I came home drunk from a work do again, having failed to meet my husband at the station as planned. A colleague had to put me in a taxi and to this day I don’t know who paid. The next day my husband said he’d had enough of my shit and if it happened again we would be looking at a divorce. That’s the day I signed up for your course.” Tessa
“I was supposed to wake up early to make my daughter’s favorite birthday breakfast. Instead I overslept due to drinking the night before. When she left for school, I went back to sleep and dreamed that my younger self was crying and begging me to take care of her.” Stephanie
“For my birthday I got all alcohol related cards and presents – things like a make your own cocktail set, drinks glasses, bottle stopper, signs saying ‘in the garden drinking prosecco’. It struck me that to all my family and friends, alcohol was my thing. I felt shameful.
I’m 173 days AF now and the gifts I got for Mother’s Day made me realise how much my life has changed for the positive. My children see me in a much different way now.” Rebecca
“I had known for years that I needed to stop drinking. The tipping point for me was when my grandson was born with serious medical issues and I realized that I couldn’t help care for him unless I quit drinking. I deeply regret that I didn’t stop drinking when my own children were young and equally needed an alert, attentive mother.” Kristen
“One day I looked – really looked – in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It seemed the only thing I looked forward to was the end of the day, so I could hit the bottle… again.
I had to get out of the vicious cycle I’d been in for so many years. Googling ‘how much is too much’ etc, is how I believe you ended up in my inbox Kate. Lol.
The best decision I ever made was to trust your statement that ‘If an AF life was really all that terrible, I’d have gone back to drinking long ago’. I’m paraphrasing….but you get the gist. Turns out it IS amazing.” Madeline
“I knew that my drinking was escalating – I was alone and depressed after the death of my husband. Wine seemed like an answer but it was isolating me. Then there was the family dinner when my siblings all glanced at me when I opened yet another bottle of wine as the meal was winding down… Celebrating day 352 today.” Cheryl
“I had some silly misunderstanding with my husband. After he went to bed, I decided I needed to go out partying in random clubs. I am like, 39, trying to be, what, 25? Random old dudes hitting on me and younger ones screaming NO!! to me trying to salsa with them…” Jody
“Valentines Day coincided with the first day of Lent. I decided that it was time for me to start loving ME! My Heavenly Father gave me one body while I am on this earth – it is time for me to take care of it.” Lisa
“My daughter attempted to take her life. As I sat in the hospital with her the next day, listening to the psychiatrist talk to her, I knew without a doubt that my drinking had, in some part at the very least, contributed to my daughters despair. I also knew I needed to be sober if I was going to be able to support her back to full, strong, mental health. She needed a positive role model, not a pissed one.” Susie
“Losing my Mum to cancer made me wake up to the fact that I was wasting and probably shortening my life.” Tracey
“I tried and failed to moderate for the whole of 2017. When I looked at my New Years Resolutions for 2018 – with the moderation ‘rules’ included again – I knew that however much I wanted them to, they wouldn’t work… Sober was the only way forward.” Hilary
“The main thing for me was that I could not moderate my drinking, and thinking about drinking was consuming every moment of my life. I was reading books, feeling like so much was wrong with me, but mainly I got tired of worrying about it. I heard Kate on The Bubble Hour and signed up for the course. It has been so helpful and I am grateful to have found the way for me to stop!” Sharon
“I made some bad decisions whilst drunk but those were rare occasions so I pushed them to the back of my mind. It was realising that I struggled not to drink every single day that made me feel utterly pathetic and worried for my health. Now I feel like the old me is gradually coming back.” Nicola
“My 9 year old son asked to drink from a wine glass. When I asked why, he said he ‘needed to get used to it, coz wine is what adults drink’. I signed up for your course the next day.” Cher
“Too many things to mention! But the massive wake up call was going out with the girls from work, getting absolutely plastered, coming home and falling over twice. I woke up the next morning at my brothers house, because my partner had rang him to come and get me as he couldn’t cope anymore…. it was so embarrassing.
I had a choice… give up the booze or lose my relationship. Day 256 today and I love living AF.” Janice
“I was literally sick and tired of looking at my face in the mirror and making the same deal that I wasn’t going to drink today… to then fail again at 5pm!!! I celebrate one year next week of not having to make that bullshit deal.” Liz
“I realised that alcohol was taking much more from me than it was giving – it was beginning to affect my health, my energy levels, my job performance, and most of all, my relationships with those closest to me.
One day at the middle school where I work, I saw a colorful bulletin board advertising this year’s senior slogan, ‘Today I choose to be the best version of myself’. I was ashamed to realize that I wasn’t choosing that, and hadn’t been choosing that for quite a long time.
I made the decision right there in the hallway that I wanted to make a different choice going forward. I wanted to stop wasting time drinking and start living the active, exciting life I knew I was capable of living, and that I believe I was born to live.” Mary
Be honest with me – have you ever typed any of these questions into Google:
Am I drinking too much? How do I stop drinking? How much wine is dangerous? Am I an alcoholic? What is the definition of an alcoholic? Can I cut down instead of quitting? What is normal drinking? How do you quit drinking for good?
Towards the end of my drinking career, I spent hours looking up this kind of stuff on Google.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of contradictory information online and frankly, some of the ‘advice’ I stumbled across actually put me off alcohol-free living!
So today I want to talk about 3 common myths about sobriety that can hold you back from quitting. Don’t fall for these!
You need to call yourself an alcoholic, or else you’re in denial
If you identify with this label and it supports your efforts to change, then that’s great. But if you don’t like this label – and it doesn’t feel good to you – then you really can ditch it. I certainly have.
I consider myself to be someone who chooses not to drink, because that’s what makes me feel my best. It’s a lifestyle I enjoy. I choose not to drink in the same way that I choose not to sniff glue, pop pills, smoke cigarettes or eat cheap burgers.
The problem with the term alcoholic is that it implies it’s abnormal to get addicted to alcohol, when that really isn’t the case. Alcohol is a widely available, well advertised, highly addictive, mind-altering drug that tends to be presented as the solution to all our problems. Who wouldn’t get addicted to that?!
If alcohol is making us feel unhappy – and we’re ready to recognise that and take action – then we should be able to change our behaviour without having to justify ourselves, or be forced into acquiring some new alcoholic identity.
You need to hit rock bottom
The idea that you need to wait until your drinking is ‘bad enough’ before you quit is a dangerous myth. I still see this idea referenced in articles today and it makes me mad.
What exactly is rock bottom anyway? It will vary from person to person, surely? There is no definition of it. And doesn’t the idea of hitting rock bottom imply that sobriety is so hideous, it can only be a last resort – something to be considered when your life is falling apart and all other options have been exhausted?
Trust me, you do not need to wait until you’re pouring vodka on your cornflakes in the morning before you decide it’s time to quit. It’s perfectly fine to stop drinking without a collection of booze related war stories.
Ultimately, drinking is all about how you feel, and if alcohol is not making you feel great, then that’s all the information you need. None of us need to be anywhere near rock bottom before we decide to stop hurting ourselves.
Sobriety will always be a daily battle
When I was thinking about quitting, this is something that really worried me. The idea that stopping drinking meant entering into some kind of continuous test of willpower made me feel depressed.
Here’s what I’ve discovered since then.
Yes, changing a habit does require effort in the early days. It requires commitment. But alcohol-free living is NOT hard work forever. Honestly – if it was, I would’ve gone back to drinking a long time ago!
I talked last week about alcohol basically being engine fuel. If you want to put this toxic poison up on a pedestal, romanticise the heck out of it and continuously mourn the fact that you can’t have it, you can do. That’s one option.
Alternatively, you can educate yourself about booze and learn about the myths and illusions (i.e. what science tells us alcohol can do, vs what we’re led to believe it can do).
This myth-busting approach makes sobriety a lot easier, because you start to see that a lot of the ‘benefits’ to drinking are really just smoke and mirrors, and a bit of wishful thinking. (We cover the myths and illusions in detail on my stop drinking course)
Before I quit drinking, I was sure that life without wine would be boring, flat and a bit too much like hard work.
Having grown up on a diet of Bridget Jones and Sex And The City, I was convinced that cocktails and chardonnay were an essential part of living a fun and fulfilled life.
I feared that without booze, everything would feel a bit ‘less’ somehow, like something was missing.
I was reflecting on this during my recent trip to New York – a city I’ve always associated with living life to the max. So I filmed a quick video for you, with some tips for being happy and sober.
1. Remember that alcohol is just ethanol
Ethanol is a great antiseptic, a fabulous disinfectant and a good engine fuel for our cars. But we really, really don’t need to pump this stuff into our bodies too. That’s just not the key to happiness!
Don’t romanticise booze or pretend it’s something it’s not – alcohol doesn’t have special powers. It’s just a toxic poison. Choosing not to sit down with a glass of engine fuel in the evening is always going to be a good idea – one that will make you very happy in the long run!
2. Become aware of your confirmation bias
We all have a tendency to interpret events in a way that confirms our existing beliefs. So once we’ve decided that wine = party time, we unconsciously seek out information that supports this belief, and we ignore (or forget) evidence that contradicts it.
My stop drinking course is six weeks long, and during the class many students will experience their first night out, sober. When they report back the next day, they often mention how surprised they were to spot lots of other teetotallers, or people who were hardly drinking anything.
Honestly, I’ve heard that feedback soooo many times! And it makes complete sense to me. When you’re drinking, you look for other people who’re drinking a lot too, because it’s reassuring. You make assumptions and often don’t ‘see’ the people who’re quietly sober.
So – just know that if you’re a drinker, you WILL have some beliefs about booze that are false, but right now, they feel true to you. Be aware of that and be open to changing your beliefs.
3. Make a list of all the great stuff you could do if you weren’t drinking
Maybe it’s that Saturday yoga class you keep saying you’ll do but you never get round to. Or maybe you’d love some more quality, hangover-free time to spend with your family. What is alcohol stopping you from doing right now that could be really fun and enjoyable?
Start thinking about the life you might be able to have if booze wasn’t getting in the way and holding you back.
Alcohol-free living opens up SO many great opportunities. Most of all, it gives you chance to create a life that’s so good, you don’t need to numb out from it… and that’s true happiness.