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?
How often have you asked yourself, ‘Do I really need to stop drinking?’
Answering that question truthfully can be hard, especially when you desperately want the answer to be ‘no’.
When it comes to defining problem drinking, most of us think in stereotypes. We picture the down-and-out, the loser who’s drunk their life away. And then we think of ourselves, with our successful careers and nice homes and expensive wine. How could we have a problem?
For me, the fact that I didn’t drink every day was a big stumbling block. I was convinced that you could only have a ‘proper’ problem with booze if you were a nightly drinker. Or you drank in the morning. As I didn’t do either of those things I was ok … right?
If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that problem drinking comes in all shapes and sizes. But in the boozy world we live in, working out what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not can be tricky.
Sometimes we just need a bit of a reality check. If you’re questioning your own drinking, or wondering if you need to stop, then check out this list of 8 things that ‘normal’ drinkers DON’T do:
1. Normal drinkers don’t spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol.
There’s the time you spend wrestling with yourself about whether you’ll drink or not; the time spent thinking about what you’ll drink, where and when. Afterwards there’s the guilt, the self-analysis and the promises to yourself. If booze is taking up a lot of brain space, that is a warning sign.
2. Normal drinkers can stop after a few drinks.
Once I’d started drinking, I never wanted to stop. It was like a switch had been flipped. I was always amazed by those take-it-or-leave-it drinkers who’d stop after a couple of drinks or – gasp – leave their glass half full.
3. Normal drinkers don’t create rules around their drinking.
Only drinking after a set time, only drinking at the weekend; not keeping alcohol at home, only buying it in small bottles, buying stuff you don’t really like; forcing yourself to have water in between drinks … these are all ways of trying to control your intake (and they never work for long!)
4. Normal drinkers don’t feel annoyed if their drinking plans are interrupted.
Ok, so maybe they feel mildly irritated, but it’s not a big deal. If you find yourself feeling resentful when you’re asked to drive or do something that requires you to stay sober, then pay attention to that.
5. Normal drinkers don’t worry about putting out the recycling bin.
You know what I mean on this one…
6. Normal drinkers don’t tend to visit websites like this.
The same goes for filling out online quizzes or typing the same questions into Google night after night. You only do that if you’re worried about your drinking. And you must be worried for a reason.
7. Normal drinkers prefer to drink socially.
Most people begin their drinking careers in a social context and for many people it stays that way – something they like to do in the company of others. When you start drinking alone, to experience the intoxicating effects of alcohol by yourself, you have to ask why that is.
8. Normal drinkers don’t suffer as a result of their drinking.
This is the big one. Take-it-or-leave-it drinkers might experience the odd hangover and moment of regret, but alcohol does not cause them problems on a day to day basis. If your relationships, health or work are suffering as a result of your drinking then that should make you stop and think.
I’d love to hear from you…
If you’ve quit already, what was it that made you stop and pay attention? What signs have I missed from this list? I’d love to hear your experiences.
Have a great week!
So you think you might be drinking too much. You think it might be time to stop. But just as you’re seriously considering quitting, you start doubting yourself. You begin to wonder if you’re overreacting. You start to find ways to justify your drinking and suddenly, everything seems kind of explainable. Normal. Nothing to worry about.
Nearly every non-drinker I know has been through this cycle, where moments of clarity are followed by some serious, head-in-the-sand denial. And at some point or another, most of us have told ourselves at least one of these five little lies:
“I don’t drink every day, so I can’t have a problem”
Society has a fixed idea of what constitutes problem drinking, but in my experience, it’s just not that black and white. The women I know who drink too much are all very intelligent, with good jobs and nice homes and busy lives. They do not fit the stereotype of the loser drunk, the down-and-out who has lost everything. We need to stop using clumsy statements like “I don’t drink every day / I don’t drink in the morning…” There is no ‘one size fits all’ definition of problem drinking. Ultimately, it’s about how you feel. If you’re regularly drinking more than you intend to, and it’s making you miserable, then that’s all you need to know.
“Everyone is drinking this much”
The problem with this is that too often, we see what we want to see. We never really know how much other people drink. We don’t know what happens behind closed doors. Some people drink a lot in public but have nothing at home. Or it might be the other way around. Besides, I’ve found that the way people talk about alcohol doesn’t always reflect the way they drink. Often the people who talk the most about drinking consume relatively little; when they tell you they could murder a drink they mean exactly that – one drink and not the whole bottle. Another problem with comparing yourself to other people is that alcohol effects everyone differently. What is ok for one person may not be ok for you.
“My drinking doesn’t affect anyone else”
It can feel as if your drinking is your own private matter. After all, you’re still doing all the things you’re meant to do: you look after the kids, hold down a stressful job and pay the bills on time. You’re keeping the show on the road and from the outside, everything looks fine. But sometimes it’s the little things that count. Things like having a conversation with your other half that you can’t remember. Being too hungover to race around with the kids. Feeling irritable and distracted and not fully present. When you’re drinking too much, alcohol starts to affect every corner of your life, whether you like it or not.
“I can stop anytime I want, I just don’t feel like it right now”
Maybe you can, but maybe you can’t. Telling yourself you can quit makes you feel in control, and being in control is very reassuring. Perhaps you’ve stopped for short periods of time to prove to yourself that you can do it. The crucial question is how you felt during that time. Stopping for a week or a month, counting the days, feeling deprived and missing it all the time does not prove that you don’t have a problem.
“It will be different this time”
This one is the killer. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Yet somehow, with alcohol, we convince ourselves that this is exactly what will happen. We want to be that person who stops after one or two and feels content about it. Confusingly, many public health messages promote the idea of moderation. And so we try again and again to consume a brain bending, mind altering substance whilst staying ‘in control’. In my experience, this rarely works. If you just love the feeling that only an entire bottle of wine can bring, then instinctively you will always feel dissatisfied with a glass of wine. It’s much easier (and loads better) to just cut out booze completely.
So there you have it – five lies that nearly all of us tell ourselves at some point. Let me know in the comments if you’ve had a similar experience, or if any of the above spark off an ‘ah ha’ moment for you.
Before I quit alcohol, I had many firmly held beliefs about what constituted ‘problem drinking’. There was a line out there – somewhere – and there was no way I’d ever cross it, because that kind of thing didn’t happen to people like me. Yes I drank a lot, but I bought posh wine in the supermarket. I had a good job. I went to the gym. It wasn’t as if I was pouring vodka on my cornflakes.
I was pretty sure I was on the right side of the line. And if I did start approaching it, then I’d know about it, right?
It turned out that ‘the line’ was more of a grey zone. Easy to spot with hindsight, but not so obvious when you’re in the thick of it.
The thing about drinking too much is that it’s so easy to rationalise it. You can always find people who are worse off than you, or drinking more than you. You can keep filling out those online tests until you get the answer you were hoping for. You can convince yourself that everything is fine, until one day it really isn’t.
Here are 21 signs that you might have a drinking problem.
- You love the idea of ‘one or two drinks’, but once you start, it’s hard to stop.
- You set limits, but you regularly drink more than you intend to.
- You spend a lot of time thinking about drinking.
- You spend a lot of time rationalising your drinking.
- You feel ashamed of your drinking.
- You google things like ‘do I have a drinking problem?’
- When you start drinking, you worry about your supplies running out.
- You always have one eye on how much everyone else is drinking.
- You drink to manage your emotions. You reach for booze when you’re stressed, or sad or want to relax.
- You enjoy drinking alone.
- People close to you seem concerned.
- The idea of socialising, networking or partying sober bores you silly.
- You feel annoyed when your drinking is interrupted – e.g. having to drive.
- You hide how much you’re drinking.
- You regularly blackout. There are long periods of time that you cannot recall.
- You find yourself doing damage control the morning after.
- Your sleep is disturbed. You’re permanently exhausted, yet you wake up at 4am.
- Your physical appearance is changing. Hello, puffy face. Bye bye waistline.
- You’ve given up other hobbies and activities you used to enjoy.
- You suspect that drink is preventing you from doing the things you know you have the potential to do.
- You find yourself on websites like this.
Ultimately, if your drinking feels like a problem, then it probably is. And most problems don’t go away on their own.
With hindsight, I wish I’d spent less time filling out online quizzes and weighing up the evidence. A better use of my time would have been to acknowledge the problem and then move on to looking at the costs. What was I sacrificing in order to keep alcohol on the scene? When everything was taken into account, was drinking really worth it? Eventually I decided the answer was no.
What about you? What will you decide?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. If you’ve already stopped drinking – how did you know it was time to stop? What prompted you to take action? Please share your thoughts, tips and hard won insights in the comments!
The chances are that if you’re a big drinker, then your friends are too.
We tend to surround ourselves with people who are just like us. But what do you do when you want to change… and the people around you don’t? If you feel nobody understands why you’re trying to stop, then this post is for you.
Here’s how to stay sober – and motivated – when all your friends drink:
Be prepared to say no.
If you think that going out for your regular Friday night drinks might be your undoing, then don’t go. People won’t be offended for long – and it won’t always be like this. In the early days, when you’re trying to build some sober momentum, sometimes you have to turn things down. This doesn’t mean you need to sit at home feeling lonely. You can be proactive and organise something you want to do, like going out for lunch or a trip to the cinema. If you do decide to go to the pub, think about what you’ll say if someone offers you a drink. Remember: you’re in control. This is your decision.
When you’re tempted to drink, ask yourself why.
Alcohol has become so integrated into our daily lives that it’s hard to think of an occasion where booze can’t be justified. We drink when we’re happy and when we’re sad. We drink because it’s Friday or payday or someone’s birthday or just because the weather’s nice. Whatever the reason, most of us are in the habit of using alcohol as a shortcut to feeling another way. So rather than just trying to stop yourself drinking, try and figure out why you want to drink. What is it you’re really feeling? Are you angry, sad, lonely, stressed? Is there another way you can manage your emotions? Do you really want to drink or are you turning to it out of habit?
List your reasons.
Sometimes, when you’re caught off guard or you’re being pressured to drink, it can be hard to remember why on earth you’re doing this. So make a list. Keep it in your purse, on your phone – somewhere you can access it easily. Only you know why you’re trying to stop drinking. Don’t let yourself be derailed by a friend who only knows half the story.
Get some perspective.
We live in a very boozy world. So many people are convinced that alcohol is sexy, glamorous and sophisticated; everything you need if you want to express yourself and live life to the full. That’s total nonsense, of course. Being sober does not mean you have to spend the rest of your days living like a nun, drinking cocoa and going to bed early (unless you want to, that is). If you look carefully, you’ll see there are loads of people out there leading full and happy lives without alcohol. Just look at Eva Mendes, Kristin Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Davina McCall, Bradley Cooper or Gerard Butler. They’re all sober. And are they boring? No!
I’d love to know…
How, specifically, have you handled people who were uncomfortable with your sobriety? What worked and what didn’t? Please share your ideas and stories below.