Use These Tips to Greatly Increase Your Chances of Staying Sober When You Start.
“How long should you try? Until… “— Jim Rohm
Let’s be honest. When you first start out on your journey to alcohol consciousness, the fight to not drink is going to be fairly strong.
It’ll be as if you’ll see people having so much fun with alcohol everywhere you look, and you are going to feel that you are somewhat depriving yourself by trying to go down this path.
The great thing about this feeling is that it decreases with time and eventually go away.
However, during that “six-monthish” window in which it feels as if you are the ONLY person in the world who doesn’t drink, you’re going to need a few strategies to ensure that you don’t fall prey to the allure of the bottle or attraction of the wine glass.
To do this, however, there are a few things that you are going to have to be careful about as it relates to getting through this six-month period and see the other side.
DON’T TRUST YOURSELF AT FIRST
When I first started going down my alcohol-conscious journey, I had already been down this road two times before for three-month stints, so I didn’t really worry about this one too much.
I had gone three months without drinking but yet went out to bars and hung out with my friends in the same manner as I had when I was drinking. What this showed me was that I could have just as much fun without alcohol as I could with it, so it wasn’t a big deal.
I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone, however.
Many studies suggest your will power or discipline is finite and must be exercised to increase in strength.
As the Standford psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matter, and What You Can Do About It puts it:
“Contrary to popular belief, willpower is not an innate trait that you’re either born with or without. Rather it’s a complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition and that can be strengthened through certain practices.”
If you try to put yourself in too many situations in which you have not built up the mental strength to resist yet, you are at a much greater chance of having a relapse.
I was lucky in that I had found a few substitutes that allowed me to still get somewhat of a high and buzz when I was out, so the thought of drinking didn’t cross my mind as much.
However, this might not be the same for everyone and did become a bit more challenging as I passed that six month period and tried to continue to do the same things I had done in the past.
As James Clear shared in Atomic Habits, everyone has certain triggers that connect us to certain habits, and if we put ourselves in situations that cause too many of these to attack us at one time, we are greatly decreasing our chances of success.
The Hebbian theory explains the connection between the two.
It is known by the phrase “Cells that fire together wire together,” and basically outlines our neurons are connected to events that we often couple together.
What this means is that if we allow ourselves to be in too many situations in which we are having to fight against the connection between established triggers and the behaviors associated with them, it could become more and more difficult to resist them over time.
Therefore, it is going to be imperative to initially keep yourself away from anything that could create that automatic synaptic connection and make you desire a drink.
ALLOW YOURSELF SOMETHING ELSE FUN AS A REWARD
When you first stop drinking, it’s going to be like you have given up your best friend (hence the name of this publication), so for some time, you are going to feel rather deprived of something that you used to really enjoy.
Instead of trying to go cold turkey and grit your teeth through your period of recalibrating your body to the new normal, finding a potential substitute will help tremendously.
This technique was coined by Dr. Bernard Luskin, a psychologist and writer for Psychology Today, as “The Habit Replacement Loop” (HRL).
According to Dr. Luskin,
“Learning habits are psychological mechanisms that determine desired or undesired actions, resulting in personal outcomes…If you want to develop a new habit or replace an existing habit, you can consciously decide to replace one habit with another by working on creating and establishing habit memory.”
As Dr. Luskin explains, a “person wishing to change an ingrained habit must engage as a participant with a level of motivation sufficient to create a positive replacement memory.”
Therefore, you must do the cognitive work first, to make sure that your mind understands the negative behavior is not serving you and then identify something that would be a positive reward that could be an alternative to choosing it.
David Gray explains this in his book Liminal Thinking, in which he outlines how you must first understand how your beliefs were created and how they are tied to your identity before you can fully have the ability to change them.
He defines it as,
“Liminal thinking is the art of finding, creating, and using thresholds to create change. It is a kind of mindfulness that enables you to create positive change.”
Once I made up in my mind that drinking was no longer good for me, I replaced it with something I enjoyed as a reward to myself for choosing a better alternative.
For me, it was an abundance of a number of different things that I used to substitute my alcohol cravings, so I could still get some type of dopamine rush to my brain until I no longer needed it.
It started with diet drinks and then turned to popcorn. Popcorn slowly turned to fruit and then back to popcorn when I realized the fruit was ruining my teeth and then finally landed on ice cream and apple pie.
And I would suggest not feeling pressure about doing just a “little bit” of anything.
For me, when I gave up alcohol, it was giving up something that had brought me immense pleasure for a long time. Therefore, I had to replace it with something that would bring me a semblance of something close to that same pleasure for some time.
This meant that I just ate until my heart was content.
Allowing yourself the ability to indulge for some sense of pleasure to prevent your mind from considering the chance to drink again is usually a great way to stay focused on your goal and committed to your alcohol-consciousness.
Once you get to the point in which you are past the period of alcohol temptation, you can then work on cutting back on your other substitute consumptions.
However, for now, do what you have to do to stay alcohol-conscious and successful.
BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
When you start down this road, you have to understand that it is a long journey. You can’t beat yourself up for not being in the best of moods at times or wanting to go out with your friends all the time.
When you start out, you have to be very careful to not put yourself in a situation in which you think you are going to be tempted to drink, and if that means you stay at home and watch Netflix for the next three months until you feel strong enough to be around others, then you should do that.
As shared previously, habits are related directly to triggers and if you continue to put yourself in situations in which they are activated, you risk not being able to overcome them.
The journey to alcohol-conscious is different for everyone, so you can’t take the way someone else did it and automatically compare yourself to them.
I share these tips and strategies each week because this is what worked for me, but you can’t beat yourself up or feel that something is wrong with you if these same techniques don’t quite work for you.
It took me some time to figure out what combination of actions would work best for me, and it may take you some time as well. As shared in our article about spontaneous sobriety, we all have our own unique path.
While I hope that some of the strategies in AINYF make it easier for you to achieve the goal of alcohol-consciousness with as much ease as possible, I still encourage you to experiment with other things if the strategies outlined here don’t quite work.
The ultimate goal is to get your mind off of alcohol and focus on something positive that will improve your life in the long run. Whatever way you decide to do that is fine. As long as it not illegal or hurts someone else in the process, my thought is to go for it.
While we have heard that it takes 21 days to break a habit, from various scientific studies, it can take as little as 18 days to as long as 254 days. What this means is there is no one size fits all, and you have to travel YOUR OWN PATH to alcohol-conscious success.
Don’t let one bad day or one momentary slip up stop you from feeling great about any improvement you’ve made. If you used to drink 5 days out of the week and manage to drink only one day out of the week, celebrate that.
If you go a month without drinking and then slip up and have a bad night, don’t beat yourself up. Understand what you did that put you in that situation, how you can prevent that in the future, and then get back on the horse to try again.
As Annie Grace often says, if you are 99% sober, then don’t beat yourself up over that 1%. Instead, celebrate the 99% and keep fighting to get to 100%.
As we say every week, you never lose the battle until you stop trying…