With the first year anniversary since I quit drinking alcohol creeping up, I'd like to share what my top strategies were for staying sober for a year. While my goal was to reach one year without alcohol, now that I've (almost) reached it, I plan to continue on this path. The benefits to staying sober far outweigh the benefits of drinking.
If you're considering cutting down your drinking, these strategies may help. However, my own experience in trying to moderate my drinking taught me that the best way to cut back is to stop completely. These tips below are based on that belief, and are not in any order of significance. I think they all work together and each tip's effectiveness will depend on the individual.
- Don't think about a timeline. Even if you choose a period of sobriety (I chose a year), the focus should be on your desire to quit drinking, not simply taking a break. I never intended to start drinking again, but choosing a minimum time frame felt more do-able than saying never again. And, you don't want to plan your "end" so that you can start drinking again.
- Write out why you want to quit. I did this within the first two weeks of my sobriety. I wrote all the reasons why I wanted to quit - there were a lot! Don't hold back. And, don't judge yourself. You can also do a quick list of benefits to drinking vs. benefits to not drinking. Once you do this, keep it in a safe place to review whenever you feel tempted to drink. I wrote it in my journal and would frequently write about my struggles during the first few tough months.
- Avoid temptation. The first few weeks, even months, are the hardest because you still have many entrenched habits that encourage drinking, from going out after work to meeting friends for dinner. I'm not saying cut out all socializing, but give yourself permission to say no to events for the first few months. The temptation to drink does go away, but it takes time. Give yourself a break. Find some good Netflix series to binge on.
- Keep the ritual. I loved drinking wine after work, in front of the TV, in the evening, making dinner. Ok, you get it. I kept part of the ritual by mixing sparkling water with organic grape juice in a wine glass. It really did help soothe the temptation to drink because I was sipping something that tasted similar to red wine, in my favourite glass. It didn't take long before I quit missing the buzz, too.
- Try out cool new beverages. There are so many awesome drinks out there with amazing health benefits. I chose to try out different teas because I love the sipping ritual. I also drink a lot of Perrier (still way cheaper than wine, fyi.) Have fun with it, and use your favourite glass when trying them out.
- Set a new personal goal. You'll soon realize you have a lot more time on your hands to be productive. Without that glass of wine after work, my mind was clear and my body still active for hours after dinner. I went to yoga more often, got back running, read more. What do you wish you had more time to do? Read more books? Train for a marathon? You have the time now. Do it!
- Make mornings awesome. No more hangovers. Ahhh, what a wonderful thought. Waking up early is way easier when you quit drinking. Start a new morning ritual to reward yourself. If you want to improve your fitness, why not schedule your workouts first thing? Want to take up a creative hobby that's always interested you? Early mornings are great for creativity. Have you ever walked early enough to see the sunrise? I have. Many times now. Celebrate your mornings. You're going to love them.
- Don't worry about getting through the next week, month or year. Focus on getting through today only. In the first few weeks, I would wake up and remind myself that today, I'm not drinking. I did not think about the days or weeks ahead of me. It was too overwhelming. You can even just focus on the hour in front of you, if you're going to a social event where there will more temptation than ever. It's refreshing to know that you only ever have to get through the next hour. Nothing more.
- Remove the word try from your vocabulary. This is a bit of an unusual tip, but it worked really well for me. I used to say I'm going to try to stop drinking alcohol. That one little word always gave me an "out". I changed my statement to: I'm not drinking alcohol. It just gave me more strength and put more power behind my words. Further, it convinced my mind that there was no room for argument or temptation.
- Find support. I felt pretty lonely sometimes during this journey. Almost all of my friends were drinkers. While they supported me, they didn't get me. And, when they got together in evenings, alcohol was always a part of the occasion. This is one of the great benefits of AA - there is a group of people sharing your struggles and cheering you on. I never attended AA meetings, however, I did have the unwavering support of my boyfriend. We had just started dating around the time I quit. He became my biggest support and cheerleader. Could I have made it this long without him? I don't know. It would have been harder. Find someone who is there for you, who has a sympathetic ear, and who doesn't drink. BTW, we are still together and he's awesome. There is also a lot of support through Instagram - look up the sober Instagrammers and follow those who inspire you.
- Know that the impulse to drink will pass quickly. I realized I had many triggers that compelled me to drink. It won't take long before you, too, realize there are certain circumstances, behaviours, thoughts that initiate the impulse to have a drink. Wait awhile. Find something else to do for 10 minutes. The desire will pass. You'll soon become very familiar with all these triggers and, better yet, you'll learn to overcome them. You'll be on your way to becoming a much stronger version of yourself. It's very empowering.
- Be kind to yourself. It is not easy to quit drinking alcohol. I drank for 30 years. If you screw up and have a drink, don't bang yourself up. Dust yourself off, and get back on that path. You can do this, if you really want it. Trust that you will overcome your desire to drink. But it takes time. I don't know if I'll ever stop being tempted on some level, but I very rarely have the desire to pour myself a drink. I love having a clear mind, a healthy body and being my authentic self all of the time. You will too.