A Very Important Note: Depending on how long and how heavily you have been drinking, you could experience Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome if you decide to get sober by quitting cold turkey. Symptoms can range from mild to serious, but please consult a doctor immediately if you are experiencing: hallucinations, delusions or intrusive thoughts, tremors, confusion, persistent racing heart, fever, heavy sweating, or a significant spike in blood pressure.
I recently got sober after a decade plus struggle with alcohol addiction. I started drinking in my late teens (I’m sorry Mom and Dad) and continued through my twenties, into this year.
Alcohol was my crutch for many years – I turned to it in times of joy, sadness, anger, frustration, celebration. I used it to make socializing easier, to make me feel “happier” and to make sense of the world.
However, this isn’t about my journey (though I may write about it soon!), but about how you can make the choice to live your best sober life when you’re ready.
Recognize Your Situation
They say that you can’t overcome an addiction if you haven’t accepted it, and I have never found anything to be more truthful.
It’s easy to look around, see your friends and colleagues having drinks, and then tell yourself that you’re drinking a normal amount, or that you’re in control, or that you only need to cut back a little.
This might not be true. You may have a substance abuse problem, and sobriety might be a good option for you (even if it’s temporary). Consider if alcohol gets in the way of your life, even in small ways. Consider if you could go a day, a week or a month without it, using only minimal effort. Consider why you drink, and consider how you act when you drink.
But it’s really hard to decide if you have a problem! There’s conflicting information out there about what constitutes alcohol abuse. The guidelines from country to country for what a moderate drinker vs. a heavy drinker consumes week-to-week are not consistent.
Dig deep. Do you genuinely feel good about your relationship with alcohol right now? If the answer is no, that’s okay because you’re not alone, and you have the power and opportunity right now to make a positive change.
You’ve done the distressing work of owning your relationship with alcohol, and decided you want to be sober.
But you may not feel good about your choice. Maybe you just love alcohol, and it feels like a warm cozy blanket on a cold winter day. Maybe you’re worried about how this change will affect your social life. Maybe you don’t know how to get started and you just feel overwhelmed.
Amongst all of these feelings, I want you to try for just 10 minutes to shove it all aside, and get excited! This decision, this moment, could be HUGE for your life in a big positive way!
To help, make a list of all the things you think will be better if you’re sober.
Are you going to save money? Avoid hangovers? Have more time for hobbies? Spend less time feeling embarrassed about how you act when you’re drunk? (that was a big one for me!)
Revel in this moment. You may want to refer back to it when times are tough.
Make a Sober Plan
When I first started to think that I needed to slow down my drinking, I would wake up hungover and tell myself “that’s it, I’m never drinking like this again”. I thought if I just had more willpower, I could stop anytime.
But willpower is not enough – you need to have a plan. A plan to avoid triggers when you’re just starting and need time to build new habits. A plan for when you experience a trigger. A plan for relapsing and restarting. A plan for how you will spend each day sober.
Then, make a backup plan because your first plan might fail, and then another backup plan because your second plan might not be sustainable.
Assume that you may need different strategies or plans for different scenarios. What works for others you know who have been successful may not work for you.
Be patient with yourself during this process, and be flexible! You might see a strategy and your first thought is “No thanks, that won’t work for me”. Try it anyway! I resisted meditation for years, and now it’s part of my everyday routine and I genuinely find it’s helping with my sobriety and my ADHD.
Some Strategies You Can Start With
- Join a sober support group
- Alcoholics Anonymous is the most well-known sober organization
- There are others out there – like SMART Recovery and Women for Sobriety
- Spend time researching each one, because if it doesn’t fit with your values it won’t help
- You may find a combination of in-person and online support is most effective, and there are a lot of Facebook support groups and sober communities on Reddit and other forum sites
- Use a sober app
- Drinker’s Helper and I Am Sober are highly rated and include a toolbox of strategies when you have an urge to drink
- Keep a journal
- You can use this to write daily reasons to stay sober, celebrate successes, or channel your frustration
- Over time it can become a beautiful visualization of your hard work and progress
- Journaling works and there are studies that prove it
- You might drink because you’re stressed, anxious, depressed, or experiencing emotional turmoil
- Meditation is shown to decrease anxiety and stress, and can be a powerful tool for learning to handle difficult emotions
- Headspace, Calm and Aura are just three free apps available to learn guided and unguided meditation
- Therapy isn’t just sitting on a couch and talking about your feelings
- It can be a useful tool in exploring your unconscious emotions, understanding what causes certain behaviors, uncovering your patterns, and working on positive change
- There are very specific types of therapy you can seek out to help with your sobriety
Tell Someone You Trust
It’s okay to keep some things to yourself.
But sobriety is harder than most things you’ll attempt in your life, and doing it alone can feel like you’re carrying the world on your shoulders. This added stress of hiding what feels like a big, new part of your life can cause you to relapse.
Choose a select group of people, or just one person, whom you trust. This may be your partner, a parent, your best friend, a coworker, your therapist, maybe even your hair stylist (I told mine, and she was thrilled for me!)
Allow this circle of trusted people to help you with your sobriety, and lean on them when it feels impossible.
Also consider that you can tell people you’re working on sobriety, and not have to share why. They will ask out of natural curiosity, but you can tell them you’re simply trying something different.
Find the Right Kind of Support
There are many ways for you to feel supported in your sobriety. Support groups with other people who struggle with alcohol; therapy; friends and family; social media; online community friends – these are all options for sharing your story and discussing your struggles, or reading what others are going through.
Not everyone you tell will be supportive. Some may ask “Why bother?”, or make light of what you’re doing, or judge your decision. Some might say “Okay, sure, we’ll see how long this lasts” because they don’t know how strong you are. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t accomplish.
You don’t have to stop speaking to these unsupportive people altogether, but during your first few crucial weeks, limit your interaction with them if you can.
Know that you aren’t alone. There is someone else out there experiencing your struggle, your pain, and your courage. If you are sober today, know I’m really proud of you. If you drank today, know that you’re tenacious and you can be sober tomorrow. Whatever you’re trying to do, never stop trying to be the happiest version of yourself.