It’s easy to declare ‘I will never drink alcohol again’. Not so simple is sticking to this intention through thick and thin, when the Wine Witch whispers (oh so convincingly) that ‘one won’t hurt’, when the sun comes out and it’s barbecue time, when it seems that everyone else is drinking merrily, and when the emotional vacuum that opens up in the early days of sobriety threatens never to close.
Making the choice to quit drinking doesn’t come from nowhere; rather it was a decision borne out of (more than likely) numerous bad experiences with booze, feelings of shame and embarrassment, and a sense of being unable to control alcohol.
So there are reasons, and good ones at that, for taking a stand and opting out of the booze trap. Now all you need to do is make sure you don’t forget those reasons next time you feel tempted to have a drink…
It’s important to set realistic goals in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed in the initial phases of sobriety, when everything feels strange and the cravings are at their most intense. Do consider this early period to be a little like going into battle; arm yourself with all the ammo you think you’ll require to get through it, and remember, preparation is crucial;
- First of all think of the big picture. Imagine your life in its entirety and consider how you want to look back on it – do you see alcohol as a permanent feature? Can you imagine that your relationship with alcohol might someday change, or will it always be a problem substance for you? Think about your relationships, your physical health and your self-fulfilment; can you honestly picture these working out as you’d like them to if you continue to drink?
- Break the big picture down into specific goals. If the big picture is that you want to eliminate alcohol from your life, now it’s time to hone in on the exact consequences you’re hoping for as a result of banishing the booze. Do you want to lose weight? Be a more patient parent? Improve your physical health? Write a list of the elements in your life that you would like to see improve as a result of not drinking. Be specific, so detail how much weight you would like to lose, or how you would like to be a better parent (more activities at the weekend, helping with homework, making an effort to pick your battles and let the more trivial stuff pass by, etc.), or what fitness goals you hope to achieve.
- Get SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-related). Taking the above stage to the next level, it’s a good idea to create a detailed action plan in relation to your goals. Don’t merely state that you want to be healthier by quitting drinking – set a specific target (i.e. lose weight), make it measurable (i.e. lose 1 stone), make it attainable (i.e. don’t aim to shed half your body weight in a month), make it relevant (if you lose weight, will this help motivate you to stay off the booze? Will it make you happier? Is now a good time to be focusing on this, or are there more pressing matters that you should be focusing on?), and finally, make it time-related (is there a wedding coming up that you want to lose weight for? A holiday? Or could you just pick a random date instead and work towards that?). However you strategize the timing of your goals, just ensure you do so in a manageable way.
- Take action. There is never a better time to make your dreams a reality than right now. Join a gym, sign up to an evening class, or pick up a prospectus from your local university or college, and do it TODAY; this will help solidify your dreams and help you perceive them as your reality. Stop putting it off until tomorrow and take action today – having tangible evidence of working towards your dreams will really motivate you to keep moving forwards. Occupying your time with something like a college course or sessions at the gym will also help keep you busy thus preventing you thinking so much about alcohol in the early days (don’t allow yourself to be bored!).
- Prioritise your goals and start a journal. Recording your journey in a diary works as a constant reminder of the goals you are aiming for. It helps keep you focused. Use the journal to prioritise your goals, as well as to keep a log of your progress. Perhaps weight loss will be first on the list, then a fitness-related goal. Rather than overwhelm yourself with trying to achieve everything all at once, take things one step at a time. The confidence and restored self-esteem you experience each time you tick a goal off the list will really help spur you on to tackle the next one. By writing everything down you will never forget how good it feels to achieve something positive.
- Reward yourself. How much did you spend on booze each month? Honestly? I know I spent easily in the region of £250 – £300 a month on alcohol and all the related purchases (cigarettes, late night pizzas, taxis). Bear this in mind when you are thinking about how to reward yourself for reaching your goals (not that you need to spend the same amount, but don’t get caught up with feelings of guilt for splashing out a bit – you’ll still be saving!).
There are numerous free rewards that you’ll hopefully start to see within the first couple of weeks of sobriety (better sleep, clearer skin, brighter eyes, no morning shame), but each time you reach one of your measured goals, spend a bit of cash on something special. It’s so important to reinforce the idea that not drinking is a positive lifestyle choice – only you will know how hard you’ve worked to kick the Wine Witch out of your world, so it stands to reason that you decide how to treat yourself. Just make it something extra special!
A final tip is to spend a few minutes each day visualising yourself realising one of your goals – imagining yourself looking slimmer, graduating from university, or working in a new career that you’ve always longed for will help you to perceive your goals as real possibilities instead of pipe dreams. Remember, you are a human being exactly the same as everyone else, and there is no reason why you cannot be successful in achieving your goals too.
Don’t be frightened of arming yourself to the teeth with strategies, believe in yourself and go for it!