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.
I’m thrilled to be back after taking a few weeks off to launch another live session of my Getting Unstuck course. (Missed it? You can catch the next class in January)
The Sober School has grown a lot over the past year, as has the entire alcohol-free, online sober movement. The idea of taking some time off from drinking is becoming more and more normal, which is great news for all of us! Anything that makes our alcohol-obsessed world a little less boozy has got to be a good thing.
If you’re working on a sober October right now, today’s blog post will really help you to stay motivated.
I wanted to set the record straight on a few common beliefs about booze that I hear ALL the time. The last thing you need are myths and misguided philosophies getting in the way of your alcohol-free lifestyle!
. Here are 6 common myths about alcohol:
“A bit of booze is good for you.”
The Committee on Carcinogenicity (an independent body that advises the government whether substances are likely to cause cancer) says drinking ANY level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers. You can read their report here.
As for that old idea that red wine is good for the heart? It’s an outdated myth. England’s Chief Medical officer calls it an ‘old wives tale’ for good reason. This 2014 study found that drinking alcohol provides no heart benefit at all, and recent government guidance stated “there is no justification for drinking for health reasons.”
“Alcohol helps me deal with stress.”
A glass of wine won’t stop the kids fighting or make your boss nicer or fix your relationship. Alcohol does not have the power to solve the things that make you stressed. What alcohol can do is increase anxiety whilst hangovers lower your resilience to stress. So it’s a double whammy – you lose out twice.
It’s socially acceptable to say that you drink because you’re stressed, but what most people are really doing is drinking to numb out. And if you’ve ever been hysterically happy or extremely sad whilst drunk, you’ve got to wonder – does alcohol really do that good a job of numbing your emotions? (Surely, if it was an effective numbing agent, you wouldn’t be able to feel any emotion?)
“Booze before bed makes you sleep better.”
Drinking might help you crash out by making you drowsy, but it also stops you from having the deep, restorative sleep you need in order to feel truly rested. That’s why you often wake up at 4am, exhausted but somehow unable to sleep.
Some people struggle with their sleep when they first stop drinking and it sucks, I know. But please be patient – the solution isn’t to go back to drinking! Alcohol really screws up your sleep cycle and your body is just taking a bit longer to adjust. Hang on in there – in the long term, an alcohol-free lifestyle is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep.
“Alcohol makes you happier.”
Maybe you think you’re the life and soul of the party after your third gin and tonic. Perhaps you’re convinced that the drunk you is a happier, more upbeat version of your regular self. The idea that we transform into different people when we’re under the influence is a popular one. Turns out, though, ‘drunk you’ might not be as much of a thing as you think.
A new study from the University of Missouri has found that other people can’t see that much of a difference in our personalities when we’re drunk, compared to when we’re sober. This is a good reminder that so much of alcohol’s power lies in what we believe it does. And so often, what we believe to be true becomes true.
“My drinking doesn’t affect anyone else.”
New research shows that children are far more aware of their parents alcohol consumption than we might like to think. The Institute of Alcohol Studies says even moderate parental drinking can upset children and cause them anxiety.
This report backs up a lot of the anecdotal feedback I’ve had from the mums on my stop drinking course. Even very young children, who don’t really ‘get’ what wine is, seem quick to pick up on the change in your energy levels (and your willingness to read a bedtime story).
“If you’re careful, you can outsmart a hangover.”
As we head towards the end of the year – and into party season – be prepared to see a lot of articles about hangover cures. You know the ones I mean – they promise that you’ll be able to party till dawn AND look flawless in the office. All you need to do is guzzle green juice, use expensive foundation and meditate in a special way…
It’s total nonsense of course. These articles are selling a lifestyle that doesn’t really exist; you cannot consume glass after glass of toxic poison and not feel it the next day! NHS advice says, “The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink.”
Have you been thinking about taking a break from booze?
Perhaps you planned on quitting this month – yet you can’t seem to get motivated enough to actually do it?
I know what that feels like.
One of the things that helped me to quit was reminding myself of everything I was missing out on by continuing to drink.
Yes, you read that right. People always think that sobriety is about missing out and feeling deprived, when in fact, it’s the other way round.
By staying stuck in the same miserable cycle of hangovers and guilt, you’re missing out on a very happy, healthy, feel-good lifestyle.
So… if you’re sober curious, get ready to make the leap! Here’s what you’ll get in return:
1. You’ll look better naked
A bottle of wine contains around 600 calories… that’s the equivalent of three doughnuts! Add in a bit of junk food (helpful for battling a hangover) and it really adds up. Your waistline will thank you for cutting out all those empty calories.
2. You’ll be happier
Alcohol gives you a very brief, artificial high, followed by a long and painful low. You know how awful it is when you feel hungover, depressed and anxious; you spend all day beating yourself up. When you stop drinking, it feels as if a huge weight has been lifted.
3. It’s easier than trying to cut down
Yes, really – trying to control a mind-altering substance is super hard. (I wrote more about moderation here.)
4. Bye-bye puffy face
The vanity argument for stopping drinking motivates a lot of people and it should do. I get my students to take a picture at the beginning of their 6 week course and another at the end. The results are always impressive.
5. Your confidence will skyrocket
When you go without alcohol for an extended period of time – whether it’s six weeks, or two months, or whatever – you’ll likely end up in some social situations where you’d normally drink. This is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing! Being able to socialise without alcohol is an excellent skill to have.
6. You’ll become a badass
Taking a break from alcohol will force you to shake things up and act a little differently from the masses. This can be scary at first. But once you’ve done one brave thing, who knows what you’ll do next? If you found the courage to stop drinking, you might find the courage to ask for what you want in other areas of life too.
7. Your weekends will get longer
When I was boozing, weekends passed by in a blur of drinking and feeling hungover. Before I knew it, Monday morning had rolled round and I was moaning about not having enough time off. When you’re alcohol-free, you have 24 quality hours in a day.
8. You’ll actually DO stuff
You know that yoga class you keep saying you’ll go to? That family trip you promised to organise? Or that book idea you’ve told everyone about, at least a hundred times? When you take action and cut out alcohol (a willpower-sapping, confidence-destroying, time-sucking drug) you set off a whole chain of events. You become a doer.
9. You’ll sleep better
Alcohol really screws up your sleep cycle. It might help you pass out at night, but it also stops you from getting the deep, restorative sleep you need in order to feel truly rested. (Don’t worry if your sleep takes a little while to settle down in early sobriety – it will work itself out, especially if you take a proper break from booze.)
10. You’ll have lots more energy
If you’re fed up of feeling drained and exhausted all the time, taking some time off from drinking will make you feel so much better. It will give you a huge energy boost.
11. TV shows won’t be so confusing
I find the storylines sooo much easier to follow when I can actually remember what happened in the last episode…
12. Your bank manager will love you
Alcohol ain’t cheap – when you’re drinking, you’re throwing money down the drain all the time. When I polled some of the women I’ve coached, they saved on average £365 in six weeks – that’s about $480 dollars. (Tip: before you stop drinking, start measuring. How much are you really spending on booze each week? Look at those receipts – you might be surprised.)
13. You can get ready for bed properly
How many times have you fallen asleep on the sofa, fully dressed – or gone to bed with makeup still on and your teeth unbrushed? Being sober enough to put your PJs on might not sound like a big deal, but it sure feels good in the morning.
14. You’ll have a better sex life
Alcohol numbs your feelings – and in the bedroom, this is not good…
15. You’ll feel fantastically proud of yourself 🙂
It’s horrible when you know you should be doing something about your drinking, but you aren’t. The feeling you get when you take action – and follow through on your goals – is amazing.
But not so long ago, they used to be about coping. Coping with a hangover. Coping with the guilt of another wasted weekend. Coping with work, when I didn’t feel at all rested or ok. Coping with the pressure of promising myself that this week would be different, that this week I would be good.
If you can relate, you’re not alone. Today I’m answering a question from Lisa, who writes:
“Most weeks I manage not to drink from Monday to Thursday, and I feel pretty good about that. But I can’t get through the weekend without drinking. I start on Friday night and then it’s all downhill from there. By Sunday I’m always so annoyed at myself for wasting the weekend.”
So how do you weekend-proof your sobriety? Here are my tips.
Keep your eye on the prize
Take a moment to visualise, in detail, what you’d like next weekend to be like. How would you love to feel and what would you love to be doing?
My alcohol-free weekends are approximately 100 times more interesting than my old, boozy ones. I love waking up on a Saturday morning and going for a run, rather than moping around the house, feeling anxious about how much I drank the night before. I like knowing that I will have time to do the things that need to get done (rather than leaving it up to fate to see what I’ll be able to manage with a hangover).
I enjoy the feeling of real-life relaxation. It is sooo much better than falling for the illusion of the alcohol-induced version (that fake high that lifts you up and then brings you crashing down at 3am). Best of all, I love that I am no longer wishing my life away, by obsessing over drinking or not drinking all the time.
Life gives us so many opportunities, but it’s hard to spot them when you’ve got your wine goggles on. If you work hard from Monday to Friday, then you deserve two proper days off at the weekend. You deserve to feel good and to enjoy your time off. Don’t let alcohol rob you of that. Decide now: what will this coming weekend look like for you?
Plan an alternative Friday night
How are you feeling by 5pm on a Friday? Most of us are pretty knackered and worn out! You will find sobriety hard if you just try and white knuckle through the evening, ignoring how you’re feeling. A much better plan of action is to decide – in advance – what you’re going to do to take care of yourself.
Cravings are nearly always a clue that you need something. More often than not, they’re a sign that you’re tired, hungry, thirsty or stressed out. So make a plan for that. You know alcohol doesn’t genuinely relax you – just think about how stressed you are after a few days of drinking. There are plenty of other lovely, relaxing things you can do instead.
Maybe you go to a Friday night yoga class. Maybe you go swimming or sit in the jacuzzi. Maybe you watch a movie and order a takeaway. Maybe you have a bath, watch some TV, curl up with a book or go to bed early. Maybe you invite a friend round for dinner (you could always prep the food in advance, so it’s all done). Maybe you tick a few chores off your to do list, keep yourself busy and get on top of things. Think about what might work for you next Friday night, and start planning it now.
Get clear on what a good ‘treat’ is
You often hear people say things like, “I’ll have this glass of wine – it’s a Friday night treat.” Or, “Go on – treat yourself! It’s the weekend after all.” You get the gist. Somewhere along the way we picked up this idea that wine isn’t good for us (correct) but instead of deciding not to invite it into our lives, we decided to make it a ‘treat’ instead. We’ve glorified and romanticised alcohol to a point where we’ve almost forgotten that we’re talking about a cancer causing drug. We forget that ethanol is the same thing we fuel our cars with, or strip paint with.
This weekend, make a list of things that could genuinely feel like a treat for you. Maybe it’s curling up with a book, catching up with friends, a spa treatment or going out for brunch. Think about how you can treat yourself with high quality experiences, not drugs.
For the women I coach inside my Getting Unstuck course, the biggest triumph is not “I’ve managed to resist wine all weekend!” but rather, “There’s wine at home and I didn’t even WANT a glass.” They feel like that because they got clear on what is a treat and what’s not.
Remember, there’s nothing magical about Mondays!
If you do slip up, start over immediately. Don’t write the weekend off as a failure or give yourself a free pass to drink through the rest of it.
I understand the idea that a new week = a new start. Monday is nearly always the day when we begin new diets and fitness regimes etc! But I also know that there’s nothing magical about Mondays. In fact, for many of us, Monday is one of the busiest, toughest days of the week! It’s just as easy to start over on a Saturday or a Sunday (or a Wednesday or whenever).
If your drinking is making you miserable, then the best time to stop is always right now. Right this second.
And now a question for you…
One of the best things about alcohol-free weekends is all the time you get back. Suddenly, you can find yourself doing stuff you would never have done before (hello, Sunday morning yoga class…). What do you do with all your spare time during your sober weekends? What do you love most about them? Let me know, because your experiences are bound to inspire others.
If you’ve been thinking about stopping drinking, then the chances are you’ve heard about ‘hitting rock bottom’.
Perhaps you’ve read about other people’s experiences; that time they woke up in hospital, with no memory of how they got there. Or the moment they got arrested for drink driving, or lost a job, or ruined a relationship.
Some people believe you need to have a ‘rock bottom moment’ before you stop drinking … that you have to reach breaking point before you decide to put down the glass.
That is nonsense.
I think rock bottom is a bit of a myth. It’s an unhelpful idea that’s so widely received as true wisdom, we’ve accepted it as fact.
None of us need to be anywhere near ‘rock bottom’ in order to decide that we’ll stop hurting ourselves.
. There’s no quantifiable ‘rock bottom’
Think about it. What exactly is rock bottom? Is it losing your job? Being caught drink driving? Who knows. The impact of being banned from the road varies from person to person. The same goes for being fired; some people will hit financial crisis a lot quicker than others.
You could argue that rock bottom is all about how we feel. Maybe it’s got more to do with our levels of shame, embarrassment and guilt. But again, this varies hugely from person to person. We all have different personalities and what might be awful for you may not bother me.
It’s almost impossible to define what rock bottom is, other than to say it’s a pretty bad place – the kind of place we shouldn’t be aiming for.
Rock bottom stops people changing their behaviour
In every other area of life, we’re very quick to take action if there’s a problem. If we gain a few pounds, we try and lose them. If we’ve got toothache, we visit the dentist – even if we hate going. We understand that nipping the problem in the bud is easier than letting things get out of control.
With alcohol, it’s different. Culturally, we have this idea that you need to be falling down and losing everything before you can address your relationship with booze. We view alcohol abuse in very black and white terms – it’s all or nothing. You’re either a ‘normal’ drinker or a raging alcoholic.
We seem reluctant to acknowledge that a) there are people who fall between those two extremes, and b) you can stop drinking in the grey zone! You do not have to wait until things get really, really bad.
Rock bottom reinforces the idea that sobriety is a last resort
Here’s what kept me stuck for ages: the idea that sobriety was going to be utterly miserable. It felt like some kind of punishment for not being able to drink ‘normally’. And who could blame me for thinking that way? From a young age we’re told that alcohol is cool and sobriety is boring.
(As it happens, deciding to stop drinking was one of the best decisions I ever made. It has been truly life changing and I’ve written about that a lot, including here and here.)
So how do you know if you should stop drinking?
It’s pretty simple, really – you don’t need to wait until your life is in chaos or you’re falling to pieces. That is not the only way to measure an alcohol problem.
If you’re frequently drinking more than you intend to, and it’s making you miserable, that’s something to pay attention to. Or if you feel worried about your drinking – and you suspect it’s holding you back from living your best life – then that’s more than enough.
Ever since I stopped drinking, I’ve been fascinated by the number of celebrities who are quietly sober.
I’m not talking about people who are famous for stints in and out of rehab, or stars who’ve fought well-publicised battles with booze.
Personally, I’ve always been much more interested in celebrities who realised alcohol wasn’t doing them any favours – and so quietly decided to stop. Just like that.
In this crazy, boozy world – where alcohol is so mainstream, so normalised and still so cool – it can seem as if everyone drinks.
But the reality is that some of life’s most successful people have got to where they are because they don’t waste their time, money and health on alcohol.
If there’s only one message you take from this week’s blog, make sure it’s this: going alcohol-free doesn’t make you weird. It makes you wise! And you’re in very, very good company…
“What made me stop? I realised it was not going to end well. I got into the acting programme, it was very challenging, I was hungover and I wasn’t doing so well in my classes. I thought, ‘Do you know what? It’s going to be one or the other. I can’t really have both.’” .
“I was so concerned with how I was coming across, how I would survive the day. I always felt like an outsider. I realized I wasn’t going to live up to my potential, and that scared the hell out of me.” .
“I found myself drinking two bottles of wine on the couch and I said, ‘Jada, I think we’ve got a problem here.’ I really had to get in contact with the pain, whatever that is, and then I had to get some other tools in how to deal with the pain. From that day on, I went cold turkey.” .
“I got to a point in my late thirties where I was a bit overweight, I didn’t have a lot of self-esteem, I was unfit, and I thought, ‘This isn’t a way forward for me.’ I realised what made me happy, and taking drinking out of the equation helped with that.” .
“I was living in constant fear of who I’d meet, what I might have said to them, what I might have done with them, so I’d stay in my apartment for days and drink alone. I was a recluse at 20. It was pathetic — it wasn’t me. I’m a fun, polite person and it turned me into a rude bore.” .
“My life is so busy that if I do have a day off I don’t want to spend it vomiting.” .
“I am very serious about no drugs, no alcohol. Life is too beautiful.” .
“I don’t drink or smoke or have caffeine. That really wrecks your skin as you get older.” .
“I bought myself an extra ten years as a DJ by quitting drinking. I would have either been burnt-out or dead by now.” .
“One or two drinks was never enough for me. I was a foot-on-the-floor-all-the-way drinker, so it had to go. I don’t miss it. Now it’s as if I never had a drink in my life. At one point, I could never have conceived going out and not drinking but, as time goes on, you lose the urge and the insecurity that often makes people drink in the first place.” .
“For about ten years, I’ve been pretty much not drinking. I went through a normal kind of late teens, early 20s drinking, but it was a choice I made, because I didn’t think it was very good for my life.” .
“I wasn’t someone who could smoke or drink in moderation, and I recognised that those things would kill me. I started visualising the doctor telling me that I had cancer from smoking or that I was extremely ill because of how much I’d been drinking. What kind of regret would I have if I had to tell my children or my wife that I was dying because of something I could have done something about? I didn’t want to be that kind of man.” .
Now I’d love to hear from you…
Let me know the sober stars you admire and why. Who have I missed off the list?