It took me some time to make the decision to quit drinking alcohol.
And, once I made it, I went back and forth—stopping and starting, working through doubt and conviction.
I analyzed the pros and cons, did a sh*tload of justifying (and then self-shaming), before deciding that most of the things my heart desires really are on the other side of alcohol.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking. This isn’t an issue of right and wrong. I know many people who have a manageable relationship with alcohol. They truly enjoy it and I can respect that.
But this is for the people who are tired of it and don’t quite know how to stop. Because it’s more than just “stopping drinking” and going on our merry way. Alcohol isn’t like gluten or bottled water where we’re like, “Oh, I don’t eat gluten anymore; it makes me gassy,” or, “I use stainless steel these days because plastic is toxic.” No. Alcohol is more complicated.
It takes more effort to quit because it’s like trying to quit doing 50 things instead of one. It’s confusing, and sorting it all out just makes you want a drink, so then you have one and, well: square one.
I quit drinking a year and a half ago, not because I was out of control or even had a “problem.” I was like so many of us who just have a few glasses of wine a night. But it felt like a habit; one that was wearing me down, making me tired, foggy, and bloated. Somewhere along the way I’d also developed a belief that “fun” had to involve alcohol, which always gave me the perfect excuse to indulge.
I wanted to challenge that, so here’s what I found worked for me.
1. Build Bridges.
We develop rituals around the way we drink. Come a certain time of night or plans with certain friends, and the urge to pop a cork or crack a bottle will strike hard. It will be almost impossible to say no, unless you substitute something new for what you used to do. If everyone orders margaritas at happy hour and all we have is an iced water, were going to feel deprived and depressed.
So, order something that sounds like a real cocktail. “Can I get a half soda water/half OJ on the rocks with a splash of cran please? Oh, and a lime?” This gives you something tasty to sip on, and keeps friends from making a big deal about the fact that you aren’t drinking alcohol.
If you’re home, stock fancy Italian sodas and virgin Bloody Mary mixes (or whatever you like). When booze begins to call, pour your drink in a wine or beer glass and sip away. This fools your brain into feeling like it’s getting what it wants. Chances are, after that first glass, you’ll be over the initial cravings (for that night anyway) and your resolve will be stronger. Trust that with each passing day of sobriety, the temptation really will lessen.
2. Strike a Social Happy Medium.
As unpopular as this may be, you’ll have to freshen up your social scene for awhile. At least until you’re over the hump. Friends who drink are friends who will make you want to drink. When people drink around you, resentment will likely join the party as people begin to get loud and lose their sense of presence. This will be especially true if you’re feeling deprived and like everyone always gets to do fun stuff while you have to be the tired boring person.
For the time being, make new arrangements. Call friends who don’t drink, or make plans to do naturally alcohol-free things (like hiking or coffee dates). Maybe your grandmother would like to hear from you? Seriously though, change the way you socialize—don’t try to tough it out.
3. Get Trigger Happy.
Figure out why you’re drinking in the first place. You drink to numb or avoid. You drink because it helps loosen up your social game, or it helps you tolerate discomfort. You drink because you’re bored, or out of sheer habit, or because of peer pressure. Whatever the reason, the more you understand it, the better able you’ll be to catch the triggers before they take you down. If you’re run ragged at work and you need wine to relax, it’s high time you examine why work is so intolerable, and make shifts to remove some of the stress there.
4. Hit The Streets.
Start exercising. Yes, it’s trite advice but let me say this: When you drink, it either helps you to repress the energy that builds up in your body or it helps you expel it. So, quitting drinking will leave a void and a new outlet will be necessary. Exercise is good for you. It helps discharge stress, clears the mind and raises your heart rate which helps you focus and become more present with yourself. Most importantly, it releases endorphins (like alcohol initially does).
5. Talk it Out.
Find someone to talk to. Drinking is a way to feel connected to something. Whether it’s with your friends or a partner over drinks or the booze itself becomes a surrogate friend, drinking helps us feel less alone. So when you quit, you’ll want to replace that need for connection with something else connective.
Get a counselor, someone who will listen to you for an hour at a pop. Someone who will ask you questions about you, your life, your relationship to alcohol, and the absence thereof. Someone who won’t spend half the conversation talking about themselves. Don’t get me wrong, friendships are great but they require an equal exchange of conversation. For a small fee, a counselor will help you understand yourself better, teach you how to get present to who you are as a sober person, and keep you clear about your goals and desires.
When I left alcohol behind for good, it took practice. I didn’t jump in and go cold turkey right off the bat—I did it for a week at a time. I had to practice these skills, and perfect them.
I still occasionally struggle with feelings of deprivation and envy around my friends and family who drink (especially if I’m in a bad mood to begin with), but the good news? I’m not tempted to indulge anymore. That’s a huge deal, because I feel so much better physically and emotionally now that I’m alcohol free.
There’s definitely an art to this quitting drinking thing. Take the time to experiment with some of these ideas and tweak them to fit who you are. Living alcohol free is possible, we just need to develop the skills it takes to get good at it.
Author: Natha Perkins
Image: Dave Lastovskiy/ Unsplash
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren