This time of year is often a time when many of us are questioning our relationship with alcohol. Considering taking a break. But for many of us, changing our relationship with alcohol can feel really overwhelming, so I wanted to share my biggest tips for starting your sobriety journey.
I had my last sip of alcohol on December 31, 2020. 3 years ago. I was at my parent’s house, in Cleveland Ohio, drinking a glass of white wine while sitting on their couch. I don’t remember much about that moment other than the wine was a little too warm, didn’t taste good, and something in me knew I needed to be dumped out.
I stood up, walked over to the kitchen sink, poured it out, kissed everyone an early good night, and went to bed. That was the last drink I’d ever have.
An uneventful moment. No rock bottom. No big sobering moment. No big thought-out plan around giving up alcohol for good.
In fact, at the time, I had no intention of that being my “last drink”. Which I think happens more often than not. It’s like the last time you pick your child up before their too big to be held in your arms. You don’t realize it’s the last time until the moment is long gone.
When we returned home to Chicago the next day I decided to start “dry January”. I had taken “breaks” from alcohol before. A month or two off here or there, but I’d always go back.
I did that for years (almost a decade). Moderation. Managing. Drinking heavily in December. None in January. Breaks before or after a vacation, but a lot on it. And honestly, it was exhausting. A mental mind game.
Deep down I think I had known for years that I didn’t want to drink anymore, but it was so intertwined in my life, and everyone I knew drank, so quitting felt extreme.
Like I was the problem, not alcohol.
I just couldn’t handle it the way others could. That somehow hangovers hit me harder. That other people could “bounce back” easier.
I thought I just needed to learn how to handle it better.
And I think that’s when it hit me. There was nothing else in my life that I made excuses for. That I ate/drank that made me feel awful, but I kept doing it, becuase everyone else did.
So when January was done…I decided to give it another week. Then another. Then another month, and another. And here we are almost 3 years later.
Here are my some of my biggest tips for starting your sobriety journey.
You are going to have so many moments when you doubt yourself. Change is really hard. Our minds love the familiar, even if it’s not good for us. What’s the saying….the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. Even though many of us know that life without alcohol would feel better on so many levels, the thought of beginning that journey is really scary. The fear of failure, how it will change you, your relationships, if you have the will power.
It forces us to come face to face with so many things we’ve chosen to ignore, and that alone can feel really scary.
So learning to trust your intuition, to allow that inner voice to be louder than your fear is critical.
Change is hard. Especially for other people when you change. Your friends and family, for better or worse are used to you being a certain way. Acting a certain way. Being a certain way. So when you change, it’s going to ruffle some feathers. It just will.
But know that other people’s uncomfortableness with you changing has nothing to do with you. And everything to do with them.
So share your decision proudly. Without any need for approval, or undersatnding. Know that the only one you owe an explenation to is the person looking back at you in the mirror.
If you find yourself in a conversation where you’re having to “explain” yourself, keep is short and sweet and give yourself permission to exit the conversation. Remember right now your mental health during these early days is more important than anything else.
One event at a time. One holiday at a time. One vacation at a time. One girl’s night out a time.
When we start thinkng too far in advance it can feel overwhelming. So just take it one day at a time. Nothing has to be “black and white”. Give yourself permission and grace to ease into this new lifestyle without the pressure of “what happens when….”.
The thing is, the anticipation of these moments is always way bigger than the actual moment itself. And the more “little wins” (dinners out, girls nights, etc) you have behind you, the more confident you become and the easier it gets. So go gently. It’s healthy and expected to feel anxious about new social situations, but you are stronger than your fear. You’ve got this.
A drink you’ll order at your first dinner out (I love the simplicity of sparkling water with a lime). An exit plan if you start to feel uncomfortable at an event. New traditions to mark holidays and birthdays. The simple step of thinking it through, anticipating how you’re going to feel, and having a plan in place so you’re acting intentionally rather than reacting in the moment.
It’s funny how in the beginning sobriety can feel like deprivation. What you’re “loosing”. Having to give up. But in reality, once you get going, you realize it’s so much more about what you’re now able to ADD IN to your life. The extra hours in the day you find. The extra energy you feel. The extra money in your pocket. The extra health benefits you experience.
But in the beginning, the rewards haven’t begun to “snowball” yet, so reward yourself. In big and small. I remember when I first became sober I took all the money I would have used towards bottles of wine and started getting monthly massages. Celebrate the milestones, the victoires, the first holiday or girls night out. This is a big deal. Let it feel that way by giving yourself some extra love and support during this season.
WIth yourself, and with your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to say how you truly feel, even if it ruffles some feathers.
This past fall I had to have a hard conversation with my extended family that holidays in our home were going to be alcholol free. It may not sound like a big deal, but telling my parents that they couldn’t have a glass of wine on Christmas day in our home took me 3 years to say. It was really important to me that our home be alcohol free on the holidays (for a lot of reasons), but it felt like I was putting my needs/wishes in front of everyone else’s. And I was. But it’s also my home, and my children’s home, and it was a conscious choice I made a while ago that meant a lot to me – even if it took me almost 3 years to be able to voice it.
All to say that this is not easy. Your decision will have ripple effects, on all of your relationships. But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.
Many of us are used to keeping peace on the outside, while we allow a war to rage inside. When we aren’t honest about our needs or who we are, we begin to wage a war inside ourselves and it eats us a life. Give yourself the gift of honesty, and have faith that the peace you then feel inside, will spread.
If you’re at all considering taking a break from alcohol, it’s likely deep down you already know what you want. But sometimes taking the first step is the hardest part.
Huge life changes like this can feel overwhelming and scary, but I promise you, life without alcohol is so much better than you could even imagine.
It makes life more vibrant. Moments more sacred and real. Relationships stronger. Your mind more present and aware.
You have one chance at this life. Just one. And it goes by so damn fast. How you use your time here is up to you. It’s never too late to change. To start a new way of living.
And it only takes on thing….YOU.
If you’re looking for more support starting your sobriety journey, here are a few other resources I found helpful.