I went through a few years of trying to stop drinking before I actually succeeded.
I remember countless times telling myself I wasn't going to drink the coming weekend. I would yearn for a Monday morning hangover-free. I wanted to enjoy my weekends with a fresh head, good sleep and plenty of energy. Yet, somehow, come Friday evening (or, often, even Thursday evening - my weekends found a way of stretching themselves out to accommodate my drinking desire) I would find myself reaching for the wine as a reward, as a relief from stress, or as a way to relax.
No matter how much I consciously wanted that fresh-headed, energetic, firing-on-all-cyclinders feeling, some deep down automatic and unconscious part of me wanted to keep reaching for the bottle because that's the only pattern it knew.
So, despite all my good intentions, it would get to late Friday evening and there I'd be: unconscious on the sofa, snoring in front of the TV with two empty bottles of wine on the side in the kitchen and a few inches less gin in the bottle. Quite often, I'd come to when my boyfriend was struggling to rouse me and get me upstairs in the face of some unwarranted and nasty abuse. Nice.
When you first decide you want to stop drinking, it’s perfectly normal for there to be a bit of a conflict between the part of you that wants to ditch the alcohol and the part of you that wants to carry on drinking.
This is because we’ve kind of programmed our brains to reach for alcohol automatically. The unconscious part of our minds will be on automatic pilot and just wants to stick to the habits, routines and patterns it knows and that unconscious part of us is pretty strong. Incredibly, around 90% of what we do, think and feel is driven by the unconscious mind. That means we're only consciously in control around 10% of the time.
To make it easier to stop drinking successfully, you need to teach your mind to do things differently so it doesn’t sabotage your efforts - you need to get the unconscious part of you on board. And, you need to practise doing things differently until your new sober behaviours become just as automatic as your old drinking ones.
One of the things you can do to get yourself started with a positive, energetic and motivated mindset and to get your unconscious mind on board too is to list every job that drinking has been doing for you.
Yes, this might sound bizarre when you want to convince yourself of the benefits of going alcohol-free and when alcohol has been doing you harm and making you miserable but bear with me... List every benefit alcohol has brought you - in other words, the positive intentions behind your drinking.
Some examples might be:
- It gave me confidence
- It helped me de-stress
- It helped me numb out from uncomfortable emotions
- It helped me in social situations
- It made me feel good
but do list your own and keep adding to the list as you uncover more and more.
Even though drinking might be bringing you misery and you want to stop, on another level there will be jobs that alcohol has been doing for you and these will be the reasons why that unconscious part of you wants to carry on. It wants to stick to what it knows. Once you’ve worked out what those jobs are you can also work out alternative ways to get them done. This helps to satisfy the unconscious part of your mind and keeps it onboard, thereby making your life easier.
For instance, if one job that alcohol has been doing for you is give you confidence, then you need to identify other ways to build your confidence.
In my case, I knew that one of the driving forces behind my drinking was I wanted to feel more confident in social situations. So, when I stopped drinking, I knew I had to push myself out of my comfort zone and do things that would power up my self-confidence. I started doing one thing every day that scared me. I made myself go into uncomfortable situations. Just little things that were achievable but challenging. I needed to make them easy enough that I could be sure of success but uncomfortable enough that they would stretch me.
For example, I took up dance classes because I’d always wanted to and it terrified me to go to a dance class on my own and join in with a group of strangers. I also got some coaching and worked on building my confidence and my belief in myself. I also learnt to get comfortable with being shy in social situations. I learnt that it was okay to NOT be the life and soul of the party and it was okay to be quiet and observant rather than loud and attention-seeking. If the thought of something made me nervous, that was signal that it was something I needed to do.
It doesn’t matter what the jobs are that alcohol has been doing for you, there will be other ways of getting that job done. They might not give you the instant gratification that alcohol did but they’re better for you in the long-run. And, just knowing that you’re taking steps to get that job done makes it easier to stop drinking. The unconscious part of your mind that’s been driving your drinking behaviours will be satisfied that its positive intentions are being met and is less likely to sabotage your efforts.
Here’s a suggestion for an ACTION PLAN for you to get started:
- Make a list: what jobs has alcohol been doing for you?
- Figure out other ways you can get those jobs done, write them down and make an action plan to start doing them.
- Make a list of all the ways living life sober will benefit your life (pump up your motivation for doing it)
- If you haven't already stopped drinking, choose a date for stopping
- Plan and prepare for that date:
a. how can you set yourself up for success?
b. what support do you need to have in place?
c. can you do something symbolic on your first alcohol-free day that will be meaningful to you?
d. plan what you’re going to tell people
e. plan what you’re going to do with any booze that might be around
f. plan what your drinking triggers might be on that first day and plan what you’re going to do instead of drinking when they occur
g. predict any challenges you might face on the day you stop and in the following week and decide in advance how you’re going to deal with them
And, start a habit of daily visits to the free blogs on my website – they’ll help you to get into a positive and motivated mindset for stopping drinking.
If you post just one thing each day in the Go Get Sober Group, it will help you enormously. You can post your plans, your struggles, your wins, your stories, how you feel, what you overcame - anything at all. But posting a comment, however detailed or brief, really helps you to stay committed.
Connecting with others, reaching out and communicating, being part of a supportive community, is one of the most important factors in topping up your motivation. Especially if you're someone who is shy and nervous of posting, you get even more benefit from doing it. When you post and nothing but support comes of it, you start to feel more confident. And, when you start to feel more confident, you're more likely to acknowledge your successes and strength. This, in turn, bumps up your motivation and helps keep you on track.
One of the biggest indicators of your likely success in stopping drinking is your commitment to doing things differently. There’s a big difference between thinking about it, worrying about it, wishing things were different and actually taking action and doing. And, it’s the doing that changes things. If you want to live your life free and sober instead of imprisoned by alcohol, you need to take action to do things differently. Even if it's only for a short-term challenge (like Sober October).
You can commit to yourself right now that you’re going to take daily action and start by following the steps on this blog.
Keep visiting the website or the group, keep reading, keep connecting and keep yourself supported and we can go get sober together!
If you want a helping hand to stop drinking and stay successfully sober...
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Stop drinking. Stay stopped. Be free.