Before I quit drinking, I had some very strong beliefs about sobriety. And I was convinced I was right about them. Such as:
“If I don’t drink, it won’t be fun.”
“I really need alcohol in order to relax.”
“No way can I dance without drinking first.”
“It is impossible to date sober.”
But here’s the thing. Every single one of my beliefs about sobriety turned out to be wrong.
(And not just a little bit wrong. Really, really wrong.)
Looking back, I think I could’ve quit drinking a lot sooner than I did, had I been a bit more open to the idea that what I believed to be true, may not be.
When it comes to alcohol-free living, here’s why we get things so wrong:
We all have a confirmation bias
Our brains automatically scan for evidence that supports the thoughts we already believe to be true. So if you’re convinced that you need to drink in order to have fun with your friends, your brain will always be looking for (and remembering) evidence to prove that’s true.
This means you might not even register the times when no one drank much, but you still had great fun. You won’t notice how little other people are drinking. And you’ll probably ‘forget’ those nights where you drank a lot and didn’t have fun at all.
Why do we do this?
Our brains like to be efficient, and it takes energy to question and challenge your beliefs. We couldn’t possibly walk around questioning everything about our lives, all the time. Your brain likes to keep believing the thoughts you already believe, even when it’s unhelpful.
There’s a weird satisfaction in being ‘right’, even when it’s about something that’s negative, e.g. “I never stick at anything.” It takes more effort to challenge that belief than it does to just go along with it.
Changing your beliefs
The chances are you have some beliefs about sobriety and booze that feel completely and utterly true to you. I know this, because I’ve been there too. Unpicking those beliefs requires time, patience and a willingness to be wrong.
Start by looking for evidence that your thoughts may not be 100% accurate. For example, if you believe that alcohol helps you have fun, what happens if you switch your focus and look for evidence that alcohol is stopping you from having a good time? I bet you already have some proof of this.
Creating new evidence
As well as examining your past experiences, you’ll need to be willing to create new evidence in order to challenge some of your thoughts. If you’ve drunk alcohol at every party for the past decade, it might feel hard to believe you can have fun without booze.
That’s ok. It doesn’t mean your suspicions are correct – it just means you’ve spent years practising the opposite belief and finding evidence to support that. You don’t yet have the proof you need to choose a different belief.
Give yourself time
This is important: when you’re looking for new evidence, you’ve got to be patient. The first time I went to a party sober, it felt so awkward I didn’t enjoy it. However, the next time things were a little easier. By the third time, I surprised myself by actually enjoying it.
It’s so tempting to try something once and then say “See! I told you it would be like this!” But creating new evidence always takes time. This is yet another reason for taking a proper break from booze – at least 6 to 8 weeks. If you’d like my help to do that, click here for details of my online course.
Thank for your email. I do believe that drinking is due to my hectic life I have. I always clock watching waiting till I can open the wine. I feel that it’s a very bad habit I have gained from over the years.
If going out its always to have a few drinks I wouldn’t be the one sober or driving.
Hi Sarah, the belief I’m hearing here is that alcohol helps you unwind or relax after a hectic day? (Drinking is never just a habit – there’s always a reason behind it. There’s always something we get from it.) What if you started looking for evidence that alcohol is making your life MORE hectic, not less? It will be affecting the way you show up and handle the next day. I wrote a blog that explains more about the stress myth here: https://thesoberschool.com/manage-stress-without-alcohol/
I’m really struggling today only day 4 but I’m craving so badly.
I am failing at sobriety. I know I love sobriety, and truly want it. When I wake up so terribly sad is when I convince myself to drink
Hi Zenithe, I’d love to help you break out of this cycle. Have you looked at my online course? https://thesoberschool.com/course/
Warm wishes, Kate
I am stuck in a terrible routine or cycle I want to stop. I am so anxious when it’s close to getting off work to get home and drink I believe that I’m gonna have to change my thinking and my routine. Iv tried AA in the past yet wasn’t a big fan. I hope your course can help me .
Hi Niki, I work with a lot of women who’ve tried AA and don’t find it to be a good fit. I can absolutely help you break out of this cycle. I look forward to working with you 🙂
This has all helped so much already. My son went to prison 2 years ago and has 4 years left. I am often drinking just to drown my sorrows. Then I blame and begin hating myself. I generally behave as a fool out when out with friends. This week I managed to stay sober 5 out if 6 days but did go on a bender on the one day. I would like to not be a prisoner of my own life while son is incarcerated. Thanks for your help. Pamela
Brilliant. Neuroscience wins!! Thank you.
Always! It’s the best way to tackle this 🙂
Really loved listening to this and agree with everything you have spoken. Denial is an easy thing acceptance is the hard part.
Thanks Kirsty. Wishing you all the best with your alcohol free journey. Keep going and keep moving forward 🙂
It took me 3 tries but the 3rd time was the charm. Sobriety is the best thing I ever did thanks to your course! And people are too worried about their own drinking to notice that I’m AF!!
You stuck with it and kept going – that’s what is so important. Congratulations on your sobriety Barb – always good to hear from you! 🙂
This is all so refreshing to read! I really want to be AF but struggle so much as my Husband drinks all weekend heavily and my in laws drink every day so see people that don’t drink very strange. All your comments and emails are helping stay AF.
I know it can be tricky when those around you aren’t on the same page. But sometimes you have to choose what is right for you, no matter what other people think. It can really help to be part of a community, so you are part of a tribe that has your back and wants to see you do well. My online course is a group coaching programme for this very reason. Here are some more details: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
I must admit I’m feeling so much better in the mornings not having a drink the night before…the times I’ve still been feeling “over the limit” when I’ve got to work the next day… I don’t even like to think about it!!
Hangover free mornings never get old 🙂
I am struggling with this so hard…..I’m trying to deal with an angry husband, crazy kids and I feel so stuck. I don’t know how else to deal, and yet I am destroying myself. Also, loneliness because my husband is emotionally distant, and I have no tribe to lean on. April 6th can’t come soon enough :'(
How timely is this e-mail. I just had those thoughts this afternoon. I questioned whether I could go out and have real genuine fun without alcohol. It brought me back to one of the lesson’s which I try to be aware of everyday. The conscious and unconscious mind….
It sounds like this came along at just the right time for you Kathleen. You might also like to read this blog post of mine on the topic or having fun sober: https://thesoberschool.com/no-fun-without-alcohol-myth/
Thank you Kate. Your words rang true. I know you are right, and I will not drink now, but will go to bed and wake up feeling good about myself. Thanks.
Well done Julie. I hope you woke up feeling great today! 🙂
Thank you Kate for your email!
Very helpful topic. With a drinking I feel some kind of happiness, meantime clearly understand it’s only illusion. Sorbet 14 days
Congratulations on your 14 days Olga!
I did it. And I’m up and feel great. So alive. Thanks x
Brilliant. Well done! 🙂
Kate your articles are always very insightful and well presented. It is hard to change what you believe your beliefs to be and you’ve given us a way to reconsider this. I have been AF for 32 days now and your articles are a big support to me.
I’m pleased to hear they help you Kari. Many congratulations on your 32 days, well done! 🙂
I am on day 4 of my holiday and no alcohol I am so pleased with myself .
Well done! Congratulations Pat 🙂
I’ve been drinking since I was 16 y/o.
Now in my 50s. I have wanted to stop for the last. 2 year’s. My work, health and friendships have all been affected.ive been thinking about stopping because alcohol gives me anxiety now. I hate my cravings and long to have a hobby that can distract me.i go gym four times a week but after gym I go home to nothing.i don’t have children and friends and family are busy. My Job is very stressful so I’m usually burnt out by the end of the week.
Hi Monique, thanks for sharing your experience. If you’d like some help and support to quit drinking, I wanted to make sure you know about my online course? I think you’ll find it a huge help! Here are some details: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
I just wanted to say how much I value your sober school posts, the stuff you give away for free is brilliant, so encouraging, and fits in so, so accurately with how my drinking has been. I will have to sign up for the real thing! Thank you so much, your posts have inspired me like no other site.
Thank you Zoe! I hope to have you join an upcoming course soon! 🙂