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This is how annoying I can be in the morning:
I jump up as soon as I wake, and flick open the curtains with a flourish. I turn the radio on. Loud. I might even start singing. I beam at the sunrise and smile fondly at the sheep grazing at the bottom of my garden. I skip into the bedroom, taking my energy and a cup of tea with me, and wriggle and fidget and chatter while my boyfriend tries to drag me back down into a comfortable doze.
I want to share my appreciation of the morning and the sun and the sky and the sheep and the music with him. This doesn’t have the desired effect, so I bounce back up and apply myself to writing my morning list of things I am grateful for before prepping a healthy breakfast and planning my day.
I feel refreshed, rested, and purposeful. I look forward to my day and am excited about ticking everything off my to-do list. Life is a gift and I’m loving it.
A far cry from a typical morning a few years ago when I was deep in the clutches of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. In those days, I fought with my mornings. It was a battle to wake up. It was a battle to just get through a morning routine. It was a battle against a rising tide of anxiety. It was a battle to pretend to be feeling confident and on top of my game when, inwardly, I was beating myself up and feeling ashamed.
Many people who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol will recognize some of this. When we’re fighting our way through each day and just battling to survive, we don’t have the energy or headspace to take care of ourselves.
Often, people who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol also have an unhealthy relationship with themselves. Alcohol can help us to escape our own minds and it can seem like it’s making us feel better—ironically, the alcohol is also what prevents us from learning to care for and love ourselves.
Here are some of the ways our relationship with ourselves and the world around us can improve when we stop drinking:
We develop a better connection with ourselves.
When I stopped drinking, I developed a mindfulness habit; meditation became part of my daily routine. This was a huge challenge as I was used to keeping busy and active (yet another form of escape). Sitting still and connecting with myself was a new experience for me, but essential to help me get happy with who I was.
And this is a two-way street. By learning to connect with ourselves, to accept and love ourselves, we remove the need to reach outside us for something like alcohol to make us feel better. And, conversely, when we remove that alcohol or drug barrier, we get to connect with ourselves in a deeper and more meaningful way. This is one healthy circle to find yourself in!
We develop a better connection with others.
Instead of using alcohol to help me pretend to be someone else, I’m simply authentically me wherever I go because I’ve learned how to be happy with who I am. This authenticity leads to more meaningful and enjoyable connections with other people.
These authentic and therapeutic relationships with others are only possible when we have a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves. We need to be 100 percent authentically us in order to share ourselves with others, and alcohol gets in the way of that.
We enjoy events and activities more.
When we have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, we’re often counting the days or hours until our next drink. Social occasions, holidays, and activities all become a reason to drink.
When we stop drinking, not only do we improve the relationship we have with ourselves and other people, but we also connect more authentically to the situations and contexts we find ourselves in. We stop wishing things away and start enjoying them all the more. We engage fully in the moment and the experience we’re in instead of focusing on how it will be better when we can start drinking.
We develop a better connection with the world and nature around us.
The more connected we become to ourselves and the world around us, the more appreciative we become of it.
It’s liberating to take so much pleasure in natural, simple things: feeling a swell of emotion in response to a beautiful sunset; noticing a bite of cold wind on your cheeks; waking up to birds singing outside your window; sweating through the heat of the sun on your back—even splashing through muddy puddles can infuse you with energy and joy when you’re connected with the world, the planet, or the universe in some way, and are looking for things to be grateful for.
We begin to care for ourselves in a loving and responsive way.
All of this means we get to be more self-aware. When we have more self-awareness, we make better choices. We have more control over our decisions, and we get to care for ourselves better.
For instance, I stick to commitments I know will be healthy for me: eating well instead of reaching for sugar; working out even if I don’t want to; or choosing to rest and be kind to my body if I need to. Hangovers and comfort eating don’t feature anymore. I’m in control of me and my decisions—100 percent.
When you’re not struggling to get through a hungover fog and using up all your mental energy to cope with stress, depression, or anxiety, you get to pay attention to your needs. You get to stay strong and focused when you know the long-term gains are worth more to you than short-term gratification. You also get to listen to your body and mind and to know when to give yourself a break. You get to experiment so you can get your balance right.
Here are seven strategies for how to stop drinking the easy way:
1. Get mindful.
If you don’t already do it, develop a mindfulness or meditation habit. Just 10 minutes a day of sitting with yourself and connecting with yourself in the spirit of acceptance and love helps you to realize you don’t need alcohol—you’re good enough as you are.
As well as helping you to deal with stress better and to feel calm and relaxed, it also helps to retrain your brain in a healthy and positive way. It gives you more control over your decisions and actions around alcohol in everyday life.
2. Plan and prepare.
Every single morning think about the situations that might crop up during your day where you would have ordinarily turned to drink. Make a note of them. Decide how you’re going to deal with them differently and make a note of that.
You can even plan what you’re going to say to anyone around you who might be expecting you to drink and might put pressure on you. Rehearse your excuses in advance, saying them out loud so you’re super-confident about using them.
Being prepared and knowing what you’re going to do instead of drinking gives you the kind of control and confidence that leads to sure success.
3. Rehearse sober success.
If you have a particularly challenging event coming up or you’re starting to feel a bit wobbly, you can mentally rehearse navigating the situation sober.
Successful athletes, business people, educators, and coaches use this technique all the time to ensure they perform at the top of their game and to the best of their ability.
By simply imagining yourself staying sober at a party, wedding, barbecue, or family get-together—imagining what you’ll see, hear, feel, taste, and smell, imagining all the challenges you might encounter and how you’ll deal with them efficiently and confidently—you trick your mind into thinking it’s real, that it’s possible.
Your mind doesn’t know the difference between a remembered or an imagined experience so by imagining your future sober success, you pave the way for it to happen.
4. Hide if you have to.
Give yourself permission to hide away from events that are just too challenging.
When you first stop drinking, you need to go easy on yourself. You’re learning a new skill, and, like any new skill, it takes time and practice to master.
Your well-being is the most important thing as you’re developing your new sober skills, so be confident that it’s okay for you to decline invitations, make excuses, and hide away when you need to.
Keep a list of things you can do to nurture and indulge yourself. It might be an early night with a book. It might be a sofa, a duvet, and a film. Or it might be a candlelit bath and your favorite CD. However you choose to hide away and look after you, know that you are the priority here and any outside expectations on you can take second place.
You’ll know when the time is right to face up to the challenge and manage it sober.
5. Get some support behind you.
It’s important to celebrate your successes, share your challenges, and get support and inspiration from other people when you stop drinking. All of this helps sustain your motivation.
If you can’t get the kind of nonjudgemental support you need from family, friends, and loved ones, get online and find a support group, community, or forum where you can feel comfortable. Having a safe space to check in regularly and stay accountable and inspired can make all the difference.
6. Focus on the gains.
It can be easy to focus on everything you imagine you’ll be losing out on when you stop drinking. If you see giving up alcohol as a loss or deprivation, it makes it much harder to stick with it.
When you focus on everything you’ll be gaining when you get sober, you’re more likely to stay motivated. Seeing a sober lifestyle as a healthy choice that brings you stacks of benefits is a more compelling way to approach things.
List all the benefits living sober will bring you. Imagine them, write them, draw them, and breathe life into them. The closer you keep your “why” to you, the easier your transition into a healthy, sober lifestyle will be.
7. Peel off the plaster.
When we’ve had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol it’s a bit like the alcohol has been plastering over some kind of wound. We can keep plastering over it, but really, we need to let it bleed, to scab, and to heal before we can be truly whole again. The wound might even need some treatment before it can heal properly. As long as we’re using a plaster, we don’t get to examine the wound and see what it needs.
Eventually, any blood and infection can seep out from under the plaster and affect other areas. The plaster can become unstuck and we end up using bigger and stickier plasters to have any effect.
If you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and it’s been helping you to escape from uncomfortable emotions and the bits of you that you don’t like, it’s more than likely also preventing you building the kind of relationship with yourself that’s healthy, caring, and loving.
We have to become our real authentic selves—warts and discomfort and all—in order to love and accept ourselves.
I chose to stop drinking in order to heal myself and so that I could rediscover the real me. So that I could start nurturing and looking after me. And, so that I could be free to live my life the way I want to.
Unfortunately for my boyfriend, that means being annoyingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first thing in the morning. It means that I work out and eat well. It means that I sleep well. It means that I put energy and purpose into my aspirations. It means that nothing gets in my way. It means that I take pleasure in an infinite number of natural and simple things. It means that I experience lows as well as highs.
It means that I’m a better person to be around.
What kind of future could you be creating for yourself when you kick the barriers down and let the self-love in?