When I stopped drinking, it was the first fortnight which was the hardest – and the first few days were downright horrible. I remember walking from my house to the bookshop, which was about a mile away, feeling grim – but determined to see if I could get hold of a book on going sober (which turned out to be a really good idea). I was about day 3 in to my alcohol free adventure, and it felt like more of an ordeal than an adventure at that point. I came home, lay on my bed, shed a few tears of self pity and then opened up the book.
When you’ve been drinking pretty much every day – even if it is just half a bottle or a bottle of wine – your mind and body craves it. It takes a while for the alcohol to leave your system, so even if you’ve not been a heavy drinker you feel a physical craving to top up those levels. You might feel exhausted and your sleep may be very disturbed. You might have aches and pains. The temptation to have a drink to alleviate all this is huge! Here are three tips to help you kick start things.
- Find a replacement habit (big clue, it doesn’t have to be a ridiculously healthy habit!). When you stop drinking alcohol, there’s a gap. For me, it was a huge, cavernous hole. Eventually you want to get to the point where you can sit with that gap, explore your life and be able to stay with the discomfort of your feelings but in the very early days, it’s useful to replace your drinking habits with another habit. The mistake some people make is thinking that this habit has to be super healthy. ‘I’m no longer going to drink every night at 6.00 – I’m now going to have a detox drink and go to the gym’. If that works for you, fine – but for many people this is too much of a leap, too soon. My replacement habit during my early sober days was mug collecting (exciting, I know!). I figured that I was saving at least £5 a night on wine so I would go to the supermarket and buy a mug. Sometimes I’d treat myself to something else – a scented candle, some flowers or some nice soap – and these little treats made me happier about stopping the wine. Some suggestions include having nice long baths, finding a good yoga class, going to the cinema one evening or getting out and having a coffee. It’s up to you to fid your things and – as long as it’s better for you than drinking booze – go for it. doesn’t matter if it seems silly or pointless (or if you end up with an awful lot of mugs) – use it as a means to replace one behaviour with another and reward yourself into the bargain.
- Be selfish. Sober living is a huge step – one which is going to allow you to live a life you didn’t even know was possible. You need to put yourself first while you make these changes. Being selfish has a whole load of negative connotations but think of it like this – you are looking after yourself and putting your own needs first. What could be wrong with that? You might feel empty and grumpy when you stop drinking. Make sure you look after yourself. You might hurt and offend other people with your decision to stop and they may be people who are close to you. Don’t let yourself be made to feel bad or be manipulated. This is your life. Other people are free to act in the way they want to. If you choose to stop drinking, that’s up to you. It is no one else’s business except yours. You need to stick to your ground and do what’s right for you. If that means avoiding certain social activities for a short while then that’s what you have to do. If it means offending someone, then feel free to offend. This is too important to ignore your own needs.
- Nurture yourself. Whilst your coming to terms with the physical and mental changes which are taking place, you might feel like giving up sober life – because it’s so much easier to keep drinking alcohol. Sleep deprivation is a very common problem for people who have stopped drinking. Although alcohol severely affects the quality of sleep you get, you’ll have been used to sleeping in a certain way for a long time. When you stop drinking, there’s a complete overhaul in your sleeping patterns. Many people find they’re hardly getting any sleep in the early days. If this is you – make sure you rest when you can. If you’re so tired you can’t cope with work, treat it like a sick day and have a day to catch up. Remove those responsibilities which drag you down. Curl up under the duvet with a good movie if you need to. Share with your family and friends what you’re going through. Read inspiring books. Find a tribe which will support you – there are some great Facebook groups out there such as Dry January and Beyond. Find a life coach or counsellor who specialises in working with alcohol addiction – reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength, bravery and commitment.