What do you do when the idea of stopping drinking fills you with fear – but the thought of staying as you are feels just as scary?
I know what it’s like to be in that frustrating, limbo state, wondering how to move forwards.
On the one hand, you hate the hangovers – you’re tired of waking up at 4am and promising yourself that tonight, ‘it’ll be different’. But on the other hand… you can’t imagine not drinking. You just can’t picture a life without alcohol in it.
And then there’s the fear…
Fear of going for it and making a change. Fear of failure, fear of looking like a fool, fear of the unknown. And yet, there’s also the fear of not making the move. The fear of looking back on your life with regret. The fear of letting life pass you by, and knowing you were too afraid to do anything about it.
This messy middle – where you feel stuck between two equally scary options – is confusing, exhausting, and totally normal. The good news is that it’s also a sign you’ve reached a bit of a tipping point. In the words of Brené Brown: “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.”
This week’s blog is all about the 4 things you can do to make navigating the messy middle a little easier…
“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it…”
~ Steven Pressfield
The rational, logical part of us knows that deciding not to consume ethanol is a wise decision; when you think about all the frightening health consequences of drinking, sobriety is considerably less scary than continuing to drink. And yet, the thought of going alcohol-free generates a sense of fear in the pit of your stomach.
The most important thing to know is that fear of sobriety isn’t a sign that you should stay as you are! Fear is a natural instinct, designed to protect us and help us survive. But there’s a big difference between the kind of fear that keeps you safe when you’re crossing the road, and the kind of fear that just keeps you stuck in your comfort zone.
Rather than letting yourself be paralysed by fear, use it as a sign that something precious is at stake; it means you’re working on something that really matters and you’re doing the right thing.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
~ Marian Wright Edelman
Your world is made up of the experiences you’ve had, the things you see every day, and the people you’re surrounded by. And it’s incredibly difficult to see beyond the edges of that world.
If you’ve been drinking for years and years – and you’re surrounded by people who love alcohol and romanticise it – then you’re bound to think that sobriety is dull, miserable or a last resort. But the truth is, you’ve only experienced half the story! If you think alcohol-free living is boring, the chances are you’re coming at it from the wrong place. You owe it to yourself to explore sobriety properly and learn about what alcohol can and cannot do.
You can start by reading sober memoirs and blogs – see what kind of lives these people have. What kind of mindset shifts have they made? Follow sober celebrities; are they having a terrible time, missing out on life? I don’t think so! Fill up your social media feed with people who aren’t obsessed with booze and who love alcohol-free living. (You can find me on Instagram here). Be open to the idea that life could be a hell of a lot better without alcohol in it.
“When your why is big enough you will find your how.”
~ Les Brown
Get clear on your why.
If you really want to make this change happen, you’ve got to get emotionally connected to why this is important to you. Keep those reasons front and centre every day.
Don’t just think about this stuff – write it down. I’m a big believer in getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. When it’s all in your head it tends to be a jumbled-up mess and it’s easy to forget.
Go into as much detail as possible. Don’t just put “I hate feeling hungover”. You’ve got to tease out the important, personal details. Maybe you hate being unable to remember what you said to your partner; perhaps your children have commented on your drinking and it stung.
Keep this list somewhere you can access easily. You’ll want to keep referring back to this.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
Start before you’re ready.
If you wait until you feel ‘ready’ to stop drinking, you’re going to be waiting for a very long time. Sometimes you have to force change to happen by taking action.
I’ve coached hundreds of women through early sobriety, and I’ve noticed that very few of them have experienced some kind of lightening-bolt moment. Rarely is someone 100% ‘ready’. More often than not, it’s about paying attention to a nagging feeling and listening to that little part of you that suspects life without alcohol might be better than life right now.
If you’re regularly drinking too much, and it’s making you feel miserable, then that’s all you really need to know. That’s the only sign you need. All you need to do is set a short-term goal and be prepared to take action. It’s all about baby steps – there’s no need to think about the big picture just yet.
Are you stuck in the messy middle right now?
Or perhaps you’ve just come out the other side. Either way, I’d love to hear how you’re pushing through it and what action you’ve been taking to shift out of feeling stuck.
What are you afraid of when you think about alcohol-free living? How could you use that fear to guide your next steps? Let me know in the comments below!
Have a great week,
This was a very helpful blog, I have quit drinking for 4 months once, my longest stretch and felt great. But, went back to it, I drink socially but I have a big social life! It does seem like never drinking again, such as a trip to Europe, or a glass of wine with a girlfriend, just does not seem as fun. Though, I am turning 62 soon and I want to have great health, and alcohol does not fit that model.
I think you’ve got a big clue there about what you need to work on – does alcohol really provide the fun? Nope, it doesn’t. It’s all down to you, and the people you’re with and the mood you’re in and how you’re feeling. I’m going to France this summer and I can’t wait – and I’d hate to spoil a holiday like that by taking a mind-altering poison. Yuck! Keep focused on what ethanol really is and I’m sure you’ll be fine Harriet 🙂
Kate I am so glad I found you. Amazing and inspiring. I was in the habit of opening the wine once the kids were in bed and having a couple of glasses. More at the weekends. I hate how it was making me feel and how long it would take to get over. We recently had a holiday away with friends who we regularly see and drink with. I managed to get through the week with only two glasses of champagne on our wedding anniversary and so enjoyed not having hangovers and really experiencing a great time. I felt fine with not drinking. I have already broken the nightly opening of the wine habit and had one glass over the last weekend. Am not totally sober yet but am almost there. It’s just making that last leap. The test is this coming weekend with my husband. Child free for two nights to celebrate our anniversary. Am not sure I will get through without a couple of drinks but if I do have any alcohol I have put myself on a two drink limit. Thanks again for your amazing blogs and it really has helped me so far. X
I reckon you could have a much better anniversary without alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t provide the romance or fun – that’s all part of the illusion. Don’t fall for that myth! I wrote about that here: https://thesoberschool.com/stop-romanticising-alcohol/
I cannot think of a better way of celebrating your anniversary than with a clear head, and living fully in the moment. Why would you need a mind altering poison on what is already a happy occasion? Have fun Rachie.
I have joined online groups which have offered support. This has helped push me through and having a counter tracking how long I’ve been alcohol free has helped. And imagining waking up hangover free really helps.
Sounds great, keep going Beth! 🙂
As strange as this may sound to people…being scared to stop drinking…I couldn’t agree more! Alcohol was completely ruining my life. My family was fed up, and my husband even kicked me out of the house. I didn’t want to stop because I was scared. Drinking wasn’t even fun anymore, yet I didn’t want to give it up. After years and years of it, it’s what I knew, and where I felt comfortable, even though it did nothing but cause problems. I remember my husband telling me to start by throwing out my stash I had hidden around the house. That terrified me. The thought of not being able to get to it, was just so scary. I’m not sure what finally motivated me enough to finally take getting sober seriously. I had been kicked out of the house (this had happened multiple times and I also went to rehab and proceeded to drink soon after I got home). The last time, I think I finally just got to the point where I had had enough. I wasn’t doing it for someone else this time. I was miserable with myself and didn’t want to live the lies and the shame anymore. I stayed in an SLE (second time) and finally got it right. What I’ve learned is that yes, there is a very messy, uncomfortable period of time when you’re learning how to live life without that damn crutch of alcohol. It’s tough in the beginning, but it gets easier. Use any tools available that help…blogs, podcasts, meetings…the more support the better. Make sobriety your number 1 focus. I promise, the farther away from day 1 you get, the easier it gets and your thinking will change for the better. The shame and low self-esteem will gradually go away and be replaced with a sense of being proud, yet humble. Life will get better. Maybe not perfect, but I promise it will get better. You’ll start to see things more clearly, not be controlled so much by emotions, and learn patience. I have 2 years and 7 months now, and am SO grateful to be here.
I’m glad things turned around for you Nicole – congratulations on your 2 years 7 months! 🙂
This was so timely for me! I have been journaling for a month or so now, and have a page and a half just of ways my life is better without alcohol, but found myself disregarding this list this past weekend. This tells me the process is a challenging one, but worth it. Thank you for being a great source of support through the process!
Also glad I found this,I’ve found myself in a viscous circle for a long time now that I need to break out of. Not out much as I’m a single parent so I say to myself I only want a glass while cooking or weekend but it ends up too much and a hangover is a waste of a day as I can’t wait for it to be over.
Thank you so much Kate fur your devotion to helping all of us kick the wine witch. I still don’t understand how one glass can turn into a bottle Intelligent, loving, kind & compassion people let this beast take a hold of u. Today is my day1 after yet again drinking too much waking up feeling like crap. Blessings for your blog Kate xxx showing us there is a life after this toxic thing we think is so important in our lives xxxxxxxx
Oops! a couple of typo errors ‘for & us’ not that any of that matters in the scheme of giving up this beast. I have started so many times it’s scary. We can’t change the past but the future we can I keep telling myself…..thank you for listening
Thanks Taya – good luck 🙂
I just stumbled upon your website today. And after reading your story it brought me to tears because it’s almost identical to mine. I have visions of the summer time waking up early and being wide awake and feeling crisp. (if that makes any sense) And the evenings perhaps sitting out by a fire relaxing and not diving into a bottle while I’m at it. I know we all have to grow up but I feel as if I went backwards, I feel like I was once a responsible high school student and when I got older and began to drink I became childish and threw my better judgement out the window.
I am terrified of what the transition process is going to be like and I know thousands of people have overcome their addiction to alcohol but I know it has to be done and it makes me feel A bit better knowing that I have finally found someone who has had a similar experience to mine. Thank you very much!
I totally relate to your experience of late blooming with alcohol. I,too, was a responsible college student who never partied, drank, smoked, or did any drugs. Later in life, I began to drink socially and enjoyed the euphoric feeling I got from it. Sadly, as a mom and wife, it isn’t safe or wise for me to indulge in wine by the fire, pool,tv, etc..
Obviously, people are brutally judgemental of my behavior at this time of life, whereas I would have been less judged if I were still a student. I am on week four of sobriety and really am not struggling with my choice at this point.
I hope you have a smooth and peaceful transition.
I’ve been in the messy grey area probably for the last 2yrs, trying to find the tipping point and face the fear of quitting…
Never a drinker during the week but a massive binge drinker, and when that feeling takes hold there’s no backing out gracefully.
So, over the last 6 months I’ve been trying to be aware of how alcohol affects me as I’m drinking it. Do I like the sensation? When is the tipping point of…want another etc
I’ve been off alcohol now for three weeks!! Was a bit nervous about the first ‘no alcohol’ encounter but it went well and I felt great the next day.
Last night went out for dinner with a new group of girls that were great fun….they all drank, I didn’t…
I feel proud of myself and also a bit emotional, in a good way.. I’ve realised that I’m actually a funny, pleasant and happy person to be around instead of the chaotic demon that drinking brings.
What I’m not sure about though is on seeing friends etc after say 3 months of not drinking, and they say ‘so when are you going to have a drink then?’ What is the best thing to say?(told most people that it’s a 3 month experiment)
Thank you Kate for ur insight and ur blog….it’s the only thing that has really helped me face my drinking problem, and for the first time in 30yrs I think I might have nailed it!!
Baby steps I hope this can help others who read it
Congratulations on your 3 weeks Dawn! Keep an eye out for next week’s blog – I’m going to do something on how to explain yourself to other people 🙂
Brilliant…looking forward to it
I stopped for 6 weeks and felt great, unfortunately I started drinking again, it’s caused too many problems for me and I really want to/ have to stop as it will ultimately cost me too much, my health, my relationship and my self respect…. new start for me, this is Day 2. I have to do this…. I know alcohol is poisonous not just to my body but also all aspects of my life. Thank you Kate I find your blogs so helpful and inspiring, I’m hoping to sign up for your next sober school in July and ultimately kick this evil beast into touch!
Keep going Jan! The most important thing is that you’ve picked yourself back up, started over and are working on this again – that’s great. That’s how you make progress. Hope to see you in the July class!
I am on day 2 of sober life. It’s not that hard for me to quit. As I have done so for periods of time throughout my life. It’s the uncomfortable felling of not having something in my hand. Uneasy energy. Anybody have any tips for this? Does it go away with time?
Kate, God bless you for sharing your insight, wise words from a young woman! Thank you for still sending me your blog, embarrassingly, I am still stuck in the messy middle. Today is a new day, no wine in the house. I pray that it is my day one. Warmly, Karen
PS: I almost signed up for your Sober School, but was confused about paying from the US.
Oh Karen – such a shame you missed out! The April class is going really well. More than half my clients are from the US, so it doesn’t matter where you are. Hope to see you on the next class in July.
I haven’t had a drink for almost a month now and I am loving life without hangovers, sleeping better and feeling more confident and energised in my demanding job. However, my big fear is loneliness because for as long as I can remember, my friendships and family get togethers have been defined by the romanticisation of alcohol you describe. In recent weeks it has been relatively easy to avoid the ‘big test’ as I have been so busy with work that there has been little time to socialise anyway. But with various birthdays and celebrations coming up, I know it’s going to be hard. And also I don’t want to hide away from my friends forever – I want to see them, but fear the questions about why I’m not drinking! That’s what I find most scary – distancing myself from people I love and have strong bonds with because they start to see me as less fun or smug. Although the truth is – I am a bit smug! And I am having so much fun not having hangovers! But that does sound smug, doesn’t it?
Sadie I felt the same. We went away with friends two days after I decided enough was enough and we always drink when we are together. I did explain I probably wouldn’t drink as we are all very close and I thought they would understand. The first two nights they got the vino and prosecco out but I stuck with fizzy water with some fruit in it and felt really good. I have had a couple of glasses of wine over the last four weeks but have felt rubbish during the night and groggy the next day. I am in a slightly grey area but am speaking to my husband and best friend a lot about it. Kate’s advice is great too and we are all here for each other. Even my best friend is thinking about stopping as she’s been in the same habits as me of opening the wine when the kids are in bed. I think just be honest. I have said drinking makes me feel terrible so am having a break. I think you will be surprised how positively your friends and family will react. Good luck Sadie x
Thanks Rachel that is really helpful. If you managed to enjoy an away trip with pals who were drinking while you stuck to fruity water then that’s a real turning point as far as I’m concerned – here’s hoping I manage it with my various celebrations coming up! Yeh I’m thinking I’ll keep it lighthearted and just explain I’ve had ‘one hangover too many’ or something like that, so friends don’t question too much or think I’m making a judgement on them. I also love the idea of saving money I would normally spend on wine etc for a treat like a spa treatment or new shoes – that’s definitely a nice incentive!
I’m so glad I found this site, I really am tired of feeling like death most mornings after finishing almost 2 bottles of wine every second night, I don’t want to feel like this anymore and don’t want my daughters becoming the same way! Hopefully I can find some inspiration and will power from everyone on the site
Day 1 for me and I’m terrified! And I’m grateful I found your site. Funny how I look everything else up on line, but never thought to look for support about stopping drinking. My drinking has been getting worse over the past almost 3 years since my husband died, but even before that I knew there was an issue. I’ve been using wine to help fill empty evenings and now there are many evenings I don’t really remember. I know I need to stop. I’m afraid I can’t. I’ve tried many times on my own without telling anyone what I was trying to do. That certainly hasn’t worked. I hope this will.
I’ve been in and out of recovery I’m in that place of being stuck people are getting sick of me saying I’m off alcohol because I say it and I’m back on it a week later I’m getting sick of myself saying it now too I related to this a lot as I’m feeling stuck 24/7 with a very long time now but this was very helpful and interesting thank you
I did a 100 day “Break from Booze” in 2016, but by late fall I had eased into it again. Got unstuck, and have just started my second 100 days (I’m 12 days into it), and the progression of cravings and moods is feeling very familiar. Best thing I ever did on the first 100 – found some blogs. I literally would not have made it without the support. THis time, I’ve found Sober School and really appreciate the way it’s laid out, plus the compassion, wit and intelligence of Kate. NOt to mention the courage of the other posters. Sometimes when I feel a snit coming on, I excuse my self and head for this lifeline. WIne O’clock is a killer, but I have not succumbed. I murder a cookie around 4 as Kate suggested – it does help to ease the urge to have a “what the heck” cocktail at 5. I laughed in recognition at the post “let’s be honest. I don’t really want a drink,I want several.” Too true. I’ve taken up several new interests, and wine o’clock is often a great time to do them. Maybe I can get past 100 this time.
What scares me I guess is the social side of things. In my circle a lot of stuff is centred around drinking. I mean not everybody is a problem drinker, but it’s always – let’s go out of a few drinks, or this or that night out, a festival, etc. I know all these things can be done without alcohol, I guess compared to what they are doing it seems like a drastic change to not drink at all and that is something that scares me. Not to mention the continual temptation. A lot of people say you need to change your friends when you stop drinking, I really don’t want to do that – these are the people that I love, and I find it difficult to think of creating a whole new social circle as well as confronting stopping drinking. So yeah I guess this is probably my biggest fear about not drinking. Feeling left out, or FOMO. Sometimes when I have had sober days and weekends I have struggled with staying in because I get restless. But I guess I don’t have to lock myself a way when not drinking, in fact it probably doesn’t help in the long run because you are not addressing those social situations which will inevitably crop up anyway.
I am definitely in the limbo/transition/stuck phase. But I am trying to have faith that it will all work out okay.
Helen you can do this. I have done it and was scared like you. I have managed a glamping trip with friends who we normally drink with and four days in Spain with the girls. I was honest and said I am not drinking because I don’t enjoy it. It actually felt really good to see them all sleeping it off on the beach and I felt fresh and could enjoy my precious child free weekend. I even came back with money and bought a nice watch at the airport. Bonus. Real friends won’t judge you. Own your decision and focus on the positives of not drinking. I say to myself everyday I do not need alcohol. Almost chant it in my head like a mantra. I now truely believe I don’t need it and I feel really good. You can do this, you can do this. Good luck xxx
The most scary thing for me is doctors and counselors and other people that are supposed to help that I could have a seizure, or pass out, or just plain DIE if I quit. So yeah…. been in limbo for some time now trying to “wean off”: I just want to be done with this demon and move on with my life. I just want to be happy and healthy, that is all I wish for.