Whilst losing weight and getting fit top the list, there’s no doubt that giving up or cutting down on alcohol is usually amongst the most popular new year’s resolutions. It’s not surprising given the increased consumption of booze during December, although many people – myself included – may have had concerns about their drinking habits long before the festive season.
On 28th December 2014, I decided to stop drinking alcohol altogether. Not for a month, or a year, but for good. I didn’t even wait for the new year to start afresh; my pledge started then and there, lying in bed with yet another hangover alongside a whole raft of other emotions: guilt, regret, foreboding, disappointment, fear, boredom.
Yes, boredom. After innumerable failed attempts to regulate my drinking, cut it down, manage it, even giving up for varying lengths of time, I had grown weary of going round in the same circles. The pattern was always the same: I’d vow to change my relationship with alcohol, would succeed for a day, week, month, but would inevitably slip back into the same old drink-until-I-blackout habits. I’m ashamed to admit but I have no recollection of how countless nights out ended during my late teens, twenties and early thirties.
And now here we are at the beginning of a month that many will label Dry January. Throughout the coming weeks, I’ll be posting on my blog about not drinking, from practical tips to deeper issues. I want to use my experiences to help people get through this period successfully.
For some, it won’t be an issue – giving up booze for thirty-one days will just be a way of getting back to better health. They won’t think too much about it. Others, however, will know deep down that Dry January is a far harder challenge than it ought to be. Four weeks of abstention should not be as hard as it is but it is difficult because too many of us have a complicated relationship with the bottle (or the pint glass). I hope that what I share here will help you to press a pause button and explore what is going on inside of you when you choose to pick up a drink.
I want to begin by talking about this weekend as it tends to be the first hurdle that new soberistas face. If you can get through this forty-eight hour period then you’ll have a good foundation for next Friday, and the one after, and the one after that. Here are my twelve top tips:
If you’re going out
If you’re going out, basically make it as awkward as possible for yourself to drink. Don’t worry too much about the desire you probably will have to ditch the whole no drinking effort; don’t beat yourself up for not embracing the challenge with open arms. Just focus on practicalities and ways to trick yourself out of drinking.
- Offer to drive other people or simply drive yourself. Obviously this isn’t an option for everyone but if you have access to a car then drive. It rules out alcohol as a choice and gets other people off your back as to why you’re not drinking.
- Schedule an appointment for early the next morning. Hairdresser, dentist, doctor, whatever: make an arrangement for the morning after you’re gone out. Social plans can work but you have to be sure that whatever you’re committed to cannot be easily cancelled or re-arranged.
- Try to be thirsty when you arrive. This is difficult to plan but I’ve found that rocking up to an event genuinely thirsty is a great teetotal hack: somehow it’s easier to say ‘Jeez I’m parched, can I get a glass of water?’ than ‘I don’t drink, can I get a glass of water?’.
- Linked to #3 is plan your first drink. Know what you’re going to ask for when you arrive at the bar or are asked by the host. Whether water, soda or a hot drink, practice your line as if you’re taking part in a micro play. Honestly the first drink is always the hardest; once you’ve nailed that then it’s easier to stick to your guns.
- Do something healthy for yourself before you go out. Often quitting booze for a while is part of a wider effort to improve one’s health, but even if it isn’t then try to load up on feeling virtuous before the night begins, be it doing some exercise or having a healthy meal. Like when you’re doing well at sticking to a diet, this will make you a bit more resistant to breaking your good habits.
If you’re staying in
If you’re staying in, you need to focus on having an alternative plan to the usual open-a-drink-and-sit-on-the-sofa. Again, don’t fret about the desire you probably will have to ditch the whole no drinking effort; instead focus on practical ways to stop yourself drinking.
- Buy an alternative treat. Cake, sweets, chocolate, cheese: make sure that you have something to hand that can fill the ‘It’s the end of the week and I deserve a treat’ feeling. You may be swapping one vice for another but don’t worry about that at this stage.
- Plan your evening: a film, catching up on a TV show, playing a game. Pick an activity that you’ll look forward to avoid the temptations that come with boredom. Occupy your mind and, if possible, also your hands.
- Go to bed early. This can be for positive or negative reasons. You may look at it as a treat, doing some good for yourself by getting a decent night’s kip, or you may just resort to this as a way of staying sober – you can’t drink when you’re asleep. The latter may seem depressing but it works.
- Ask those around you to be supportive. Whether friends, housemates, family or a partner, ask those you’re spending the evening with to help you out by not drinking either. If necessary, reassure them that you won’t always make this request, but at the start of habit change this can really make a difference.
- Get a decent alcohol alternative in. Personally I’m not a fan of alcohol free substitutes, but there are lots of zero percent wines and beers available now. Explore soft drink options too; I’m definitely on Team Root Beer. What takes your fancy? It’s much easier to go without booze when you enjoy what you’re drinking instead.
Top two tips
- Think about what you most regret about drinking. What’s the worse incident you can recall? Write it on a Post-it note (in code if needs be) and stick it somewhere that you’ll see it.
- What do you dream you’ll do if you don’t drink? Maybe you’ve always wanted to go to the 8.30 yoga class at your gym. Maybe you’ve wished that you could stand on the sidelines cheering your kids’ football team on rather than wincing whenever anybody shouts encouragement. Do it this weekend. Start creating your alternative life.
This suggestion may not suit everyone but if you’re really committed to a long term change then get rid of all the booze in your house. Every. Single. Dreg. Give it to friends or, more cathartically, pour it down the sink. If you’re horrified at the amount of money you think you’ll be losing, calculate the value of what you have: is you’re health and sanity only worth that much? Living in an alcohol free home makes not drinking more straightforward. It also sets an intention, declaring that intoxication is not the norm.
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