People make many more resolutions than they keep. Quitting drinking is hard, and in some cases harder than a goal like ‘lose weight’ or ‘run a marathon’. It’s harder because quitting alcohol is a choice you need to keep making. If I make a goal to lose weight and weight myself on February 1st, 5 pounds lighter than I was on January 1st, then I can say ‘DONE’ and go back to eating chips and ice cream for breakfast. If I run 42 km, regardless of how fast, I can say I ran a marathon and post a selfie on social media for all to see.
We can easily dump our bottles of booze on January 1st and strap ourselves to chairs so we can’t go to the bar, but a resolution can be hard to keep if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no event in the near future where you and your friends all ‘quit drinking’ for a set period of time, and then celebrate the non-drinking with a celebratory drink.
True, many people do #SoberOctober or Dry January. But what have you really accomplished if you were able to quit drinking for one month? I’ve suggested TRYING this to prove it can be done, but in reality the way to free yourself from alcohol addiction is to change yourself before trying to change your habits. You may actually find this ‘new you’ is more like the person that actually keeps their resolutions year-round instead of hurting themselves trying to cram a lifetime worth of self-improvement in to a month or two.
Try these things to change your life, while you’re quitting alcohol for good:
The New You heads to the gym after work instead of happy hour
The New You has a new route home that doesn’t pass your favourite liquor store
The New You gets food delivered instead of eating at the pub
The New You is mentoring disadvantaged youth instead of watching sports
The New You wakes up at 5 am to walk the dog
These aren’t “weird tricks” miracle cures or even directly related to alcohol. They can be done by anyone with some idle time and an alarm clock. Remember, it’s not about forcing yourself to quit drinking, it’s about creating a life where you don’t need alcohol in the first place.
Here we are mere days away from the end of the month. In my original attempts at making sobriety work, I partied pretty hard the day my challenge ended. Pretty much the hardest I had partied even before I quit for the month. It was a good time and I still look upon it rather fondly.
You may be itching to get out there and party. Halloween is coming up, which is an annual excuse to partake in some hedonism, so I can’t really blame you. Six years since my last drink and it’s one of the alcohol themed holidays I miss the most.
These days it’s hard for me to get excited for the “end of the month binge” since I’ve gone so long without drinking. I always want to suggest that people keep it going, quit for good. Stay the path and join me. That doesn’t work, and begging or guilting you in to doing something you’re not ready for is not the way to convince you.
Truth is, I did Sober October twice before I decided that my third sober October would continue as long as I could take it. Even my second Sober October was extended after my Halloween binge gave me a serious cold and I had to quit drinking again so I could get healthy for a trip I had planned. I lasted until February where I ended up drinking more in one week of vacation than I ever had before.
From the end of that trip, until the following October I drank heavier, behaved worse, and generally screwed up more than I had done before. Turns out taking one month off drinking per year didn’t make up for all my persistent problems with alcohol.
The problem at the time was, I didn’t do enough reflection after each Sober October. I was simply abstaining from alcohol to prove a shallow point about my own self-control, and learned nothing from the experience. I was holding on for dear life, “white knuckling” sobriety and then bingeing with reckless abandon at the end of my sentence.
I highly suggest using the last few days of October to reflect on the past month, past year and even the entire history of your alcohol use. I definitely can’t blame you if you decide to drink on Nov 1 or whatever, but I do foresee you returning next year.
As famous fictional scientist Dr. Ian Malcolm once said;
“Life, Uh, Finds a Way”
Of course, he was speaking about genetically engineered dinosaurs but the sentiment stands true to this day.
As a human being your DNA has been passed down generation, upon generation based on the simple fact that someone survived long enough to pass along their genes. Like a sunflower that starts as a tiny seed, the human body starts small, breaks free and enters this world against all odds. This miracle is an example of life finding a way.
Is your life finding a way? We’re deep in to the month, just over a week to go and I wouldn’t be surprised if you are feeling the effects of life. While you were drinking heavily, you may have thought that was life, but now that you’ve tasted sobriety, have your tastes changed?
Is your body naturally waking up earlier?
Does food taste better?
Do you have more energy?
Do you feel like a new person?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you just might be experiencing life for the first time in a long time. This is the feeling of your body repairing it’s self. This is the feeling of life finding it’s way back in to your body and saying:
Addiction is no joke! Today is the day in 2018 when Canada legalized marijuana for recreational consumption. If you choose to spark-up today, that’s your choice and it’s understandable. In moderation cannabis use can have a less intoxicating effect on users. Fatal over-consumption is rare compared to alcohol or other drugs, but a dependency is still a dependency. Especially in the eyes of many recovery advocates, using marijuana to replace alcohol is NOT a good idea.
I’m assuming you’ve decided to experiment with Sober October because you have issues with drinking alcohol, but substances, behaviours and people can all be addictive and toxic elements in your life. While someone is abstaining from alcohol, I don’t suggest full-blown abstinence from all vices and habits. Coffee, cigarettes, masturbation and eating are all habits I’ve seen and heard people attempt all at once.
In my opinion this is too much, too soon. Just over halfway through the month, less than 20 days in to sobriety, I don’t suggest tackling all your demons at once. This from of abstinence is a slow and steady approach, where we slowly acclimatize ourselves to a lifestyle free of certain addictive substances. In this case we take a month off of alcohol in order to prove it’s physically possible, and then we make incremental steps to create a life where the dependency on alcohol lessens with time.
Of course, if you are in the throws of a full-blown drug addiction, Sober October is not the path to take. If you are struggling with addiction, seeking professional help always beats the random advice of a blogger. Below are some resources for addictions in a few countries:
It’s easy to get lost on this journey towards sobriety. Even if you’ve decided to only quit drinking for the month, Sober October can leave a person lost and lonely. Quitting one of our culture’s most social activities can leave you isolated physically and mentally. If you’re not drinking, what are you supposed to do with your hands? If you’re not drunk, what are you supposed to do with all these thoughts in your head?
We’ve talked in previous blog posts about prayer and meditation as a coping mechanism. Since prayer and meditation are different for everyone, it also might be helpful to do some more casual self reflection. Journalling, or keeping some type of diary are both excellent ways to get the contents of your head out in to the world so you can reflect on them. It can be as simple as going to a coffee shop by yourself and thinking about your life.
You can ask yourself questions like “Why do I drink so much?” “Why did I think I needed to quit?” “What are the triggers in my life that make me binge?”
In Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the steps is a “Fearless Moral Inventory” which asks the member to write down everything awful they’ve done under the influence. This doesn’t need to be an exercise in shame, but if you choose to embark on this project I believe you won’t want to drink to excess once you write out and reread all the downsides to drinking.
At day 15 you are just shy of 50% complete your challenge. You may be getting a second wind, or you may feel like the winds are pushing against you. The pressure inside, both physical and mental might be building up now that your body is realizing this experiment in abstinence is longer lived than anticipated.
This is exactly why you shouldn’t give up.
The pressure is what makes coal in to a diamond. Adapting to pressure is what differentiates good from great. When you hear about how it’s “Not the journey, it’s the destination” this is what they are talking about.
If you’ve been putting off self-care, now would be a great time to start. Yoga, meditation and gratitude can sound like fairly-tale magic until you get to a point where nothing else seems like a viable option. Here is where the pressure gets turned up, and coping tools are the release valve.
So what have you learned so far? It’s hard to quit drinking? It’s easy to quit drinking? You miss the beverage? Or maybe you miss the social experience? Whatever it is that is bugging or not bugging you lately, you can push that aside thinking about how you’ve almost hit 2 weeks without alcohol. It’s impressive enough to say no to a drink once, but it’s a whole other thing once you’ve said it 5 or 6 times.
You may start to think “If I can make it 12 days, do I really have to prove I can go all month?” or “If I can go twelve days this easily, I never really had a problem in the first place”. This type of self talk isn’t wrong or taboo, it can be dangerous, but on your journey you will have many conversations with yourself and others about this very thing.
If you’re coming up against questions like this, perhaps it’s time to go over a few of the reasons you wanted to quit in the first place. Revisit the pros and cons list, and add new ones that you’ve discovered in the past twelve days. You’re also not quite at half-way, so if you can’t even make it half-way… maybe you DO have a problem…
While some self-help authors and speakers preach a system of tapping in to your inner superhero, I take a more laid-back approach. I don’t think that any of us are particularly super, and I don’t think you can quit drinking by doing power-poses, positive thinking, or self-confidence alone. Alcoholism is a serious issue and treating it like the protagonist in a Marvel movie isn’t fair to those who struggle with it every day.
If you’re anything like me, at this point you may be barely keeping you head above the water. Neither going forwards or back, sinking or pulling yourself out, just staying the course. This is not the bad thing some make it out to be. Consider a functional alcoholic that is the head of a Fortune 500 company… on paper they may be moving 100 km/h and progressing their career in a way that makes them look like a real winner. Below the surface, there is a different story, one that doesn’t usually have the happiest of endings.
For us regular people, we can hold our heads high. Even if our chins are barely out of the water, and we wish we could start swimming toward our goals. We can take comfort in knowing that the longer we keep our heads dry, the stronger we become. The stronger we become the easier it will be to start the stroke that takes us from treading water, to swimming.
Here in Canada, today happens to be Thanksgiving. A day off of work to eat a giant meal with family is usually the type of thing where beer and wine flow freely, but for those of us who abstain it can be a mine-field of drama. Don’t feel bad about avoiding drunk relatives by taking frequent autumnal walks, or by being the sober person that can drive a few extra minutes to grab a few groceries at the one open store that’s across town.
Even if you don’t celebrate a holiday in early October, it’s still a good time to give thanks. Gratitude, prayer, meditation and mindfulness are techniques to help deal with the mental challenges that are sometimes associated with sobriety. Writing down, or saying out-loud all of the things that actually make your life worth living is a great way to remind yourself why you wanted to quit drinking in the first place.
So why not give some thanks? Unlike buying a round of drinks for your buddies, giving away thanks is completely free!
You’re officially a week down! No matter when you’re reading this, you’ve survived at least most of a weekend, for us in 2018 it’s Sunday so this post is going to be a bit of a rest. This is because rest is extremely important for your recovery. More than just a challenge of your willpower, quitting drinking for any amount of time is hard on your emotions, and mental capacity.
If you’ve been journalling, going to meetings, exercising and distracting yourself for the past week, you deserve some time to breathe. Quitting alcohol is a challenge, but it doesn’t need to feel like running a marathon. The only thing that you need to do to be sober is to NOT DRINK alcohol, so as long as you are doing that much, you’re winning.
So consider cheating on your diet a little, sleeping in, or skipping a gym session. Pray, meditate and take it easy. You’re doing great and you can being week 2 with more energy than if you had kept sprinting through today like a racehorse.
Not feeling strong enough to break your routine? That’s ok too! Do what YOU need to do, don’t listen to me if it doesn’t feel right.