When I embarked on my latest sober adventure in May, I actively decided against AA and saying one day at a time. Rather than jumping head first into online sobriety communities, I have spent less time on social media. Immersing myself instead in the things going on inside my own four walls. Many people have asked what it’s been like and confided that they’re close to giving up too. So I thought I’d write this piece on how to be sober, to articulate my experience better than I can in a few Instagram posts. Hope you find it useful.
How to be sober in a nutshell? You have to be truly ready for it
Being absolutely ready for anything we want to conquer will make it much easier. We are so much less likely to cave at the first obstacle when we’ve had sufficient experience of every aspect of what it feels like. When I wrote above “my latest sober adventure” I didn’t do so whimsically. I have had numerous stints of abstinence and one full on attempt at sobriety over the last thirteen years. For on this very weekend in 2006, after a two day bender in Reykjavik, I realised that my life was a total mess and needed to change.
I used to refer to this as mental breakdown and rock bottom, but thanks to Brené Brown I’ve rebranded it a spiritual awakening. Literally woke up that Sunday morning, told myself things needed to change and spent the following six months taking a bulldozer to every aspect of my life. At just twenty seven, I knew I wasn’t ready to totally give up alcohol, but I was ready to learn how to drink moderately.
Following three months of not drinking at all, I had lots of civilised meals out and dinner parties. Plenty of two, three glasses of wine and I’m done. As well as the odd big night out. It was a good balance, and when I discovered I was pregnant in October 2008, there was no question of whether I would drink. Even caffeine became unappealing, when contemplating the little seed growing inside me.
Eight years, three kids, an autism diagnosis, decision to home educate and a crap ton of stress later, I found myself hooking up with my old friend again. Not every day – I’ve never been an every day drinker. Neither have I ever been a morning drinker, or a pass out on the sofa and let the kids run riot drinker. But two glasses were more like four. Second bottles would be opened. Civilised outings were no longer so civil. I got my social life back, after almost a decade of purely being mum/wife.
There is no dispute that I have had a colourful life. I look back upon some of it amazed that I got through it in one piece, especially immediately after leaving home at fifteen. Even so, I am convinced that I’ll view 2014-2017 as my toughest years. Juggling everyone’s needs (including my own) with very little outside help, was at times soul crushing. Comfort drinking was the one certainty I could always rely on. Thankfully, moving house early 2018 was a turning point for my little family.
We were all determined to break free of the bad habits we’d got ourselves into. My failed sobriety attempt at the end of 2017 led to becoming obsessed with cracking the old drinking in moderation. During the entire year that followed I managed to drink moderately with the exception of three fuck ups. Not bad going for a person who used to fuck up on a weekly basis. Then one nondescript May morning this year, with no huge catalyst, something I’ve suspected for years might happen…well…happened. I thought to myself:
I’m finally over it.
How to be sober? Be prepared for your outlook on people / situations to change
In the last six months everything has changed and nothing has changed, all at once. Of course, the biggest shifts have come from within. Rather than reach for the gin/wine when I’m stressed, I dig deep to understand where the stress is coming from. Rather than numb those feelings with booze, I allow myself to actually FEEL THEM. Sounds so simple, but believe me, it’s a revelation. As tough as my childhood and young adulthood was, I fully made peace with it years ago. However, I have come to see that I had been numbing the pain of my day to day stress, which simply created a new cycle of stress and pain.
When you have exceptionally challenging children, from whom you receive almost zero respite, it can be all too easy to take the path of least resistance. Short term it might mean a few moments peace, but in the long run it always makes things worse. Those grindingly tough days, which morph into months and years can feel joyless, and some days yes, pointless too. Reaching for the booze to cheer ourselves up can feel like the only solution when we’re in the midst of a rough patch. But there is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that this cycle becomes toxic and damaging to everyone.
The price we pay for that sweet taste is immense and can wreak havoc with our mental health. Also, more often than not, it includes our attention being diverted away from our kids, who need it most. Be it at the time of drinking, or the next day when we’re hungover. It flies in the face of parenting sites which tell you to drink ALL THE BOOZE ALL THE TIME. However, when you think about it logically, booze and children really aren’t a great combination.
You might also encounter people who feel that you not drinking equates to you judging them for drinking. If your entire inner circle consists of big drinkers, you will absolutely have to distance yourself from them. Even if you’re feeling strong enough in the beginning and your willpower is ridiculously strong, you’ll more than likely end up caving eventually.
How to be sober is a big question. After your own readiness, the next most important thing are cheerleaders who have your back. This is why so many find AA meetings helpful. It’s not for me, for a multitude of reasons, but I’m blessed with a wonderfully supportive husband and very good friends. If you are not, then it’s important you tap into a support network elsewhere.
Sobriety tips, six months in
FOMO will get you nowhere. Seriously – it needs to be ditched if you’re going to have a chance of staying on the wagon. Deactivating my Facebook account and limiting time on other social media channels has really helped. Not scrolling through other people’s highlight reels is the perfect antidote to FOMO.
Take this opportunity to reassess your inner circle. Even if it stings like a MoFo. You might realise that some of the “amazing” friends were actually just pub partners or people you used to gossip with. The great thing is, this process will almost definitely throw some truly incredible folks your way. People you didn’t think were very good friends might end up coming through for you and completely new friendships could materialise.
Stay true to yourself, always. Speaking truth to BS and going against societal norms is never easy, but it’s always worth it. Say no to social situations if you know there will be lots of booze and you aren’t strong enough to be around it. Real friends will understand, end of.
Don’t underestimate the beauty of a clear conscience. When you’re sober, you are always in complete control over what comes out of your mouth and the situations you get yourself into.
No hangovers. No excuses. No regrets. What’s not to like?
Trust your instincts and you can’t go wrong. Life is full of mystery once we are totally open to learning our lessons.
Many people swap drinking for excessive exercise or crazy amounts of work, but I’ve done neither. Sleep has become my new drug of choice, and it feels so good. Booze wrecks your Zzzz’s and I can safely say I’ve never slept deeper than I do right now.
What to drink instead
Apparently, giving up drinking can often lead to a sugar addiction. Regular readers will already know that I quit sugar many years ago, so I’m very aware to not let that happen. But, here’s the thing. Most non alcoholic options, whether they are fancy soft drinks, plain mixers or expensive 0% booze spirits and beer, contain a shed load of sugar (and sometimes harmful sweeteners). Definitely something to be aware of. As is swapping drinking for daily cake eating – which will eventually lead to its own set of problems.
Might seem a bit boring, but a nice herbal tea can feel like a treat at 5-6pm if it coincides with sitting down for ten minutes. Good quality tonic with a squeeze of fresh lime is delicious and tastes like a weak G&T. There are plenty of craft sodas out there which are sweetened naturally. But my favourite bottle to take, when going to see friends these days, is home made kombucha. Gut health and sobriety all rolled into one. You really can’t argue with that.
I would like to leave you with this video, which totally blew my mind the first time I watched it. Best of luck to you all!