Before I finally quit drinking in 2015, I attempted several sober challenges. In the main I was quite successful. I threw myself in with gusto, crossed off days, and believed every time that at the end of the month, I would have my drinking under control.
I’ll only drink at weekends!
I’ll never drink alone!
I’ll only buy the really good wine, and savour it slowly!
I’ll switch from wine to beer!
I followed my ‘rules’ for a short while after each challenge was over, but soon slid back into my old habits.
It didn’t matter at the time. I had just completed a WHOLE MONTH SOBER! Alcoholics couldn’t do that right? And, so what if I was drinking too much? I’ll just have another “detox” in Dry July! Or Sober October!
I used each sober challenge as a “comfort blanket” and reassured myself that I “wasn’t that bad”.
The truth? I was “that bad”. I had gone beyond “partying” to drinking alone, using booze to sooth my troubles away (at least until the next morning), I became moody, difficult, erratic and I was having regular blackouts.
Eventually I quit. There was no other choice. I had bargained and rationalized with myself and broken every promise to control my drinking.
Now, nearly four years later, life is better than I ever imagined.
I regret little about my sober journey, except one thing: I wish I had started earlier. I wish I had used one of those sober challenges to kick start my wonderful booze free life. I regret that I squandered those opportunities.
If you are embarking on Dryuary with hope in your heart, it will transform your life–regardless of whether your goal is complete sobriety, or moderation; here are five steps I wish I had implemented when I started a sober challenge:
#1. Face the Truth.
The “evidence” about my drinking problem was plain to see during those 30ish days when I abstained.
Almost immediately, I felt better. Obviously, I was hangover free, but I also had more disposable income, and life became more manageable in small ways throughout the month. Those were the good changes.
The other ‘truths’ that I should have noticed, was that I couldn’t stop thinking about drinking, it was hard to get through an evening, I craved wine, and there seemed to be a “hole” in my life.
If my drinking wasn’t a problem, as I continued to insist, why was it so hard to give up, just for a few weeks? And why was there so many noticeable changes in my life?
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off,” said Gloria Steinem.
It was an unpleasant shock for me to face the truth, but it helped keep me focused on my goal.
#2. Have A Plan.
What was my plan? Hope for the best. On the 1st of January every year, my plan was to grit my teeth and not drink.
A plan and a handful of strategies would have helped.
If you haven’t got a plan for Dryuary (and beyond), here are some that worked for me:
Don’t have booze in the house
Fill your fridge with non-alcoholic beverages
Figure out your obstacles for the month and how you will handle them. For example, do you usually attend boozy book club nights? How will you handle these events?
Plan distractions for Wine O’clock. A creative project maybe? Early night with a book? Listen to podcasts? Have a list of “doing” things to get you through the toughest part of the day.
#3. Enjoy The Process
“I wish I could just not want to drink anymore,“
Here’s the conundrum. I didn’t enjoy sobriety until I actually experienced sobriety.
And I didn’t enjoy sobriety until I stopped whining about how hard it was. So I had to reframe a few of my misconceptions about quitting drinking:
Cravings won’t kill you. Missing a few social occasions won’t ruin your life. Your dreams and aspirations don’t dwell in the bottom of a wine bottle, I told myself every day.
How about savoring the joy of an early morning, sipping on your coffee without a queasy stomach or hangover headache?
How about enjoying (and remembering!) conversations with your loved ones?
How about ending the day with a few pages of a great novel, safe in the knowledge that your “to do” list is actually done?
When I focused on the positive instead of the negative, sober life eventually became a joy rather than a burden.
#4. It Is Not Instant.
We love instant stuff don’t we?
Fast food, 24 hour news, instant information, speedy communication.
We love promises of quick weight-loss programs, effortless fitness regimes, get rich quick money-making schemes.
I learned that sobriety (and just about everything else worth having) takes time.
#5. Ignore The Language And Stereotypes.
Ask ten people to define alcoholism, and you’ll get ten different answers. People have weird ideas about people who struggle with their drinking, and those who quit.
“You’re not really an alcoholic if you don’t go to AA,“
“Nobody quits drinking entirely, unless they have a problem,“
“If you have just one drink, you’re not really sober,“
“It’s not possible to moderate if you are addicted to alcohol,“
“You’ll be in recovery for the rest of your life,“
This is your path. Your choices and goals will differ from everyone else. It doesn’t matter if you think you are an alcoholic or just someone who drinks too much.
Labels are for soup cans. When I stopped worrying about them, I felt ‘freer’ to forge my own sober path.
If your goal is to use Dryuary as a kick-start to a healthier or non-existent relationship with booze, then hopefully these five steps will help you begin your journey with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.