When I look back on my unsuccessful attempts at quitting drinking (of which there were many), one thing that really stands out is how bad my mindset was. My head was all over the place. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t control alcohol. I was angry, too. I resented other “normal” drinkers, who seemed to have been born with an off-switch that I’d missed out on.
I kept going back and forth in my mind, wondering if I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t a rock bottom drinker — so did I really need to quit? Alcohol was making me unhappy, and yet it seemed as if I’d be giving up so much.
I’d love to be able to go back in time and give that lost, confused, and emotional version of myself a big hug and a few tips. I’m now more than six years alcohol free, and getting sober has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. Here are the mindset tips I wish I’d known a lot sooner…
1. Stay in the here and now.
When I was dabbling with sobriety, I used to spend a lot of time worrying about the future. What would I do at Christmas? Or my birthday? What about the champagne toast at my wedding? (Yes, I even managed to worry about that, despite being single at the time.)
Our minds love certainty and it’s normal to zoom ahead and start trying to figure out every single scenario. But in early sobriety, you just don’t know how you’re going to feel in a few weeks or months, never mind years. Thinking too far ahead is a recipe for overwhelm and panic.
A better approach is to focus on achieving a short term goal, such as taking a break from drinking for Sober September, or maybe a bit longer — perhaps six weeks or a couple of months feels right to you. Your goal should be a stretch, yet still achievable.
Once you hit your goal, you can review how you feel and decide what to do next. This approach allows you to test-drive sobriety and experience alcohol free living properly, whilst avoiding overwhelm.
2. Make a firm decision, not a flimsy one.
There’s a big difference between trying not to drink and deciding that you ARE going to take a break from booze, no matter what. When you’re “trying” not to drink you effectively give yourself an opt out. It means part of you is still going back and forth over the decision, day in and day out.
Treat your break from drinking in the same way you’d approach cleaning your teeth. You don’t try and clean your teeth, right? You just make it happen. Even if you’ve had a busy day, you still find time to brush your teeth! It’s a non negotiable.
Treat sobriety (even if temporary) in the same way. After all, you can always go back to drinking at the end of your break — but first, you deserve to experience sobriety properly.
3. Know that you will never feel truly ‘ready.’
Perhaps you intended to do Sober September, but a few days in you realised it “wasn’t the right time.” This is something that used to happen to me a lot. I was always waiting for the “perfect” moment, when my calendar was empty and everything felt right. But guess what? It never happened.
The chances are, there’s always going to be a good reason to put this off. Perhaps you have a holiday coming up. Or a birthday. Or some kind of special event. Or… something else. In my experience, you can always find a reason to delay things if you look hard enough.
You don’t become ready to stop drinking by thinking about it — you become ready by taking action, even when life is messy.
4. Challenge the beliefs you have about booze.
One of the biggest mistakes I used to make was romanticising and glamorizing alcohol. During my periods of sobriety I’d feel really sorry for myself, and I treated booze like some precious thing that poor little me couldn’t have. Breaks from drinking were something that I endured and struggled through, so it’s no wonder I’d go right back to my old habits afterwards.
A much better approach is to use your time off from drinking as an opportunity to really educate yourself about alcohol and question your relationship with it. Read books and blogs about sobriety. Listen to podcasts. Seek out as much information as you can.
Journal about why you’ve been drinking, and the benefits you think you get from it — and then start questioning those assumptions. Think about the times alcohol has let you down and not provided what you expected, or led to you feeling worse. Getting your feelings out of your head and onto paper makes it easier to spot patterns and observe your beliefs in a more neutral way.
5. Welcome in the awkwardness.
During a break from drinking, you’re going to experience a lot of ‘sober firsts’ — i.e. the first time you stay sober in a situation where you normally drink. When you’re breaking an association and choosing a different behaviour, it’s bound to feel tough, strange, or awkward at times.
In those moments, it’s tempting to leap to the conclusion that because it feels different it must be wrong, or it’s always going to be this hard, or you’re destined to fail. But that simply isn’t true. All that’s happening is that you’re changing, and you’re feeling it. That’s it.
The next time you’re in a similar situation, things will feel a bit easier. And the time after that will be easier still. So rather than shying away from the awkwardness, welcome it in. Know that it’s just a sign you’re breaking a pattern, moving forward, and growing as a person.
Regardless of whether this is your first Sober September or your seventh, remember that sobriety is not just a destination — it’s a journey, and you’re not alone.