A little while back, a friend reached out to me and said she'd reached a point in her life where she thought it was time for her to seek out sobriety. She was wondering if I had any advice for her, and, as I was replying to her an email, I realized I was basically writing a blog post (I surprised even myself with how much I had to say on the topic just off the top of my head!).
If you're trying to get sober or even just considering the idea, here are some things I think are really important to know as you're starting out. And if you're not seeking sobriety, these tips still might be useful for you if you're trying to break a bad habit (or even just trying to live a positive and present life!).
- Surround yourself with people who get it and are encouraging. A lot of people won’t get it, won’t think you have a problem, won’t be very supportive. It’s often because they know that if they say you have a problem, that means that they also might have a problem and they don’t want to deal with that. When I first got sober, I was really lucky to have a partner in my life who gave up drinking in solidarity with me. I honestly don't know if I could have done it while living with someone else who was still drinking. The people you're around make a huge difference in getting and staying sober.
- Don’t put yourself in tempting situations, especially at the beginning. Avoiding parties and social gatherings wasn't too tough for me at the beginning, since I'm pretty introverted by nature, but I did have to learn to pay attention to when I felt most tempted to drink and avoid those occasions. At the beginning, I had to turn down a lot of invitations because I knew I would be way too tempted. Because I started drinking so young, I had to learn how to socialize without alcohol, and that was (still is sometimes) tough, but avoiding temptation is key at the beginning.
- Find something to take up your time and energy. For me, this ended up being Positively Present. I was able to fill my weekends with writing and creating the website, which made it a little easier to not be out drinking. I never would have been able to focus on Positively Present if I'd been hungover, so it became it's own reward, accomplishing something (a blog post) each week that I wouldn't have been able to do while drinking. Distraction and filling up your time with positive, non-drinking activities is essential to avoid not slipping back into old patterns.
- Take it one day at a time. Yes, I know this is the most cliched thing in the world, but it's stuck around because it's true. Whenever I would think about never drinking again, my mind would go into a panic. But if I told myself, I'm not going to drink at this party, it was much easier to cope with than I'm never, ever drinking again. Sometimes I even broke it down further (I'm not going to drink for the next hour / 30 mins / 5 mins, etc.) It sounds silly, but taking that "never ever ever going to drink again" idea away made it so much easier for me.
- Know you’re likely to slip up or have a relapse. Almost everyone I know who has given up drinking has had a relapse. I was eight months sober and then my sister's wedding came around, and the back of the limo with all of that champagne and excitement (and nervousness about my maid-of-honor speech) was just too much for me. It was awful to feel like I lost all of that progress in one night, but the key is not to use a relapse as excuse to give up. I woke up the next day and decided I was going to start over again, and here I am, seven years later!
- Consider going to meetings, like AA, or therapy. It wasn't until I found the right therapist, one with alcohol and addiction expertise, that I realized I had a problem. Because of my environment, I thought my behavior and the repercussions of it were normal, but the right therapist showed me there was a totally different way to live. I also tried AA, but as an atheist, it was a little too god-focused for me, but I know a lot of people who find that community really helpful.
- Make a list of things you’ve done while drinking that were unhealthy. This was one of the first things my therapist had me do, and it was a game-changer for me. When I saw, in writing, all of the ways my life had been negatively impacted by my drinking, it became really difficult for me to justify mixing another drink. Almost every single bad thing that had ever happened to me was a result, directly or indirectly, of alcohol consumption. Once I saw this clearly written out in a list, it became really hard to rationalize my old ways.
- Understand that it’s gonna be really hard at first. Especially at the beginning, it feels really bad. It feels like you're not having fun, that a whole big part of your life is missing, but, I promise, if you stick with it, it gets so much easier. I can't say it's ever easy (there aren't many days when the thought of a drink doesn't cross my mind), but every single time I say no to that impulse, it gets easier. This probably won't be too much comfort in the beginning, but it's always good to have hope that things won't always be as hard.
- Think about your future self. Whenever I'm really struggling, I remind myself that I’ve never once regretted not drinking, but I sure as hell have a regretted drinking many, many times. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling, remember that you'll never wake up regretting that you didn’t drink. Of course, I try my best to stay present, but looking out for your future self — the one who will be waking up and dealing with last night's repercussions — can be really helpful.
Staying sober is really hard work, but I've always found that the work always pays off. If you're looking for more insights on staying sober, check out the Sobriety section here on Positively Present or my 6 Lessons from 6 Years Sober video. And if you have any questions about how I got and stayed sober, feel free to leave them in the comments below!