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Five fears about going alcohol-free & how to overcome them

In this blog Jen shares five of the most common fears that arise before going alcohol-free, as well as ideas for how to boldly move past them.

There is no need to sugar-coat it. Imagining your life without alcohol in it is TERRIFYING in the beginning.

If you’re anything like I was, by the time you get to the point of giving sobriety a second thought, your life revolves around drinking. Your social life depends on it, it’s what you do for fun, it’s how you unwind, celebrate, and it’s your go-to for coping with stuff.

But it goes even further. Drinking is not just what you do. It’s part of who you are. Your identity is tied to being a drinker. For me, in my twenties, I identified with the ‘work hard, play hard’ party girl persona. In my thirties, my identity evolved to that of a yummy wine-mummy. So, the thought of giving it up isn’t only terrifying because of the massive lifestyle change, it’s also scary because… if we don’t drink, who the hell are we? Spoiler alert: the answer is an ever evolving better-version of ourselves.

In this post we identify some of the most common fears that arise before quitting drinking, as shared by our students, as well as ideas for how to boldly move through them.

Fear #1: What other will people think

Will I be labelled?

Many drinkers believe that no one stops drinking unless they have a real problem with drinking. Why would you quit drinking unless you had to, right?

Wrong! You don’t need to have a drinking problem for drinking to have become a problem for you. Alcohol-free living is trending all over the world, and most people who stop drinking are doing it for lifestyle reasons rather than because they’ve hit rock bottom. It’s becoming more and more common for people to cut out alcohol because they’re sick of spending their weekend days hungover, or they’ve connected the dots between drinking and their anxiety spikes, or they’ve simply gotten to the point where the bad from drinking outweighs the good.

I would love to encourage you not to care what other people think, to own your choice not to drink and to take pride in stepping apart from the crowd. But I know how hard all that can be, especially early in the journey.

So how do you avoid other people jumping to the conclusion that you must “have a problem” because you’re not drinking?

For those encounters with acquaintances, you can tell them you’re just taking a break, you’re doing an alcohol-free challenge, or that you’re on a health kick. For a friend or family member, you can explain your lifestyle reasons for wanting to take a break or quit, while making it clear that you don’t consider yourself as having a serious problem.

While thinking about these conversations can be confronting, the reality is that many people will be supportive. And if you come across someone who isn’t, their negative reaction and judgment of your choice actually says a lot more about their relationship with alcohol than it does about yours.

You see, people who are comfortable with their drinking habits aren’t bothered whether you drink or not. But those who are quietly concerned about their own drinking (either consciously or subconsciously) can feel as if your choice not to drink holds up a mirror to their own drinking behaviour. When they don’t like what they see, they may react negatively towards you (or try to encourage you to drink), to feel better about themselves.

If you know this in advance, then when someone does react badly (which, as I said, is the exception rather than the rule), you can see that their reaction isn’t about you, it’s about them. This way, you’re less likely to be negatively affected by it.

Fear #2: I’ll lose my friends and my social life

If you’ve been a big drinker, you’re used to socialising over drinks. If you quit, will you lose your friends and become a social leper?

I want you to know that your true friends aren’t going anywhere. These relationships are based on much more than alcohol. And while the dynamic in these friendships will adjust, your true friendships will evolve with you along your sober path.

As for the more surface level friendships that are largely based on booze, they may fall away. But when you think about it, is that really such a bad thing? It makes space for more aligned friendships, or to deepen the existing connections you have with your true tribe.

As for your social life, it will certainly change. You might not find hanging out in bars or staying out late as fun as you used to. You’ll probably start doing more day-time socialising, getting out into nature, exercising with friends and connecting with them in ways aren’t centred around alcohol.

Your social life will change from something that leaves you drained and tired, to something nourishing. You’ll still be able to enjoy dinner with friends, but the difference is, you get to go home at a decent hour, have a great sleep and wake up fresh the next day.

You might think that you need alcohol to socialise, but you’ll quickly learn that you don’t. Alcohol gets a lot of undue credit for the fun that’s had when people get together. The reality is that humans are hardwired to connect, and we get a natural dopamine high from socialising with people we enjoy.

Without alcohol, the conversations you have tend to be deeper and more meaningful. Without alcohol, you’re more authentic and vulnerable which leads to richer connections with those around you.

So, yes. Your friendships and social life will evolve when you quit drinking, but you’ll most likely love these changes.

Fear #3: I won’t be able to cope with stuff

This one is so far from the truth, it makes me want to scream. You might think that alcohol helps you cope, but the truth is it slowly but surely reduces your capacity to cope.

When you drink because you’re stressed or upset, you do nothing to resolve the issue that’s upsetting you. All you do is delay having to deal with it, and you add more stress to your body through the stress hormones that are released to counter the alcohol. To rub salt in the wound, alcohol also messes with your sleep (even one drink). So, on top of everything, you’re making yourself tired. And we all know that everything is harder when we’re tired.

When you quit drinking, you’re forced to deal with stressors and upsetting situations head on. You learn to problem solve and tackle the root causes of the issue, resolving it rather than simply forgetting about it for a little while.

You’re also forced to find new coping strategies to manage your feelings and deal with stress. You get to find and use healthy coping mechanisms that actually work (and don’t in any way compound the problem like alcohol does). Emotional regulation strategies, breathwork, exercise, journaling, yoga, time in nature, talking it through with a loved one, art, music, therapy, bodywork, the list is endless.

So not only will you be able to cope, you’ll be amazed at how much better you cope. Our students consistently report massively reduced anxiety and feeling more capable than ever that they can handle anything life throws at them.

Fear #4: Life will be boring without booze

Alcohol gets a lot of credit for the fun we have. But is it really the booze? Think about the time when you arrive at an event, before any drinks are served. There’s a heightened energy, a buzz in the room as people hug and kiss hello and start catching up. That energy has nothing to do with booze. It’s there because there are a bunch of human beings doing a very human thing – connecting with each other.

The hurdle that holds many people back from having fun in early sobriety is the limiting belief that “it’s not fun without booze”. You can overcome this by cultivating the belief that “it’s fun anyway”.

If a group of people or an event is boring without booze, that’s probably because it IS boring. The opposite is also true. If a group of people or an event is fun, it’s fun whether or not alcohol is involved.

When you change your mindset to “it’s fun anyway”, you’ll quickly find that you don’t need booze to laugh with friends or dance your ass off.

And without booze, you’ll find you have a greater capacity to have fun. When you drink regularly, you mess with your brain’s capacity to experience joy and pleasure. Not to mention that pouring a known depressant down your throat can lead not only to depression but anxiety as well (hello hangxiety!).

A 2019 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that people who abstain from drinking alcohol enjoy the highest level of mental wellbeing – particularly in the case of women. So, the truth is that you’re likely to be happier than you were while drinking. And happier people have more fun.

Fear #5: Failing at sobriety

There’s no way I can do this long-term

You’ve probably tried to lay off the booze in the past and found it incredibly difficult. Maybe you’ve proven to yourself through half-hearted attempts at Dry January or Dry July that you can barely take a month off drinking, so you conclude that there’s no way you could give up drinking long-term.

What I want you to know is that past ‘failures’ at sobriety (and I use inverted commas for a reason!) are in no way an indicator of future failure. In fact, the times when we stopped and started again are extremely helpful and contribute to our future sober success. Why? Because every time we drink when we’re trying not to, helps us learn what doesn’t work for us.

For example, you may have tried to stop drinking by relying on willpower alone, without proactively working on removing your desire to drink. Maybe you put yourself in a high-risk drinking situation too early and went in unprepared. Maybe you didn’t have any tools to move through cravings or a supportive community. Perhaps you allowed your addictive voice to get the better of you, without challenging it and shutting it down. If you’re open to learning, the lessons from each previous ‘failure’ can be the very fuel that help you sustain sobriety next time.

And the reason I put ‘failure’ in inverted commas is because there really is no such thing as failure when you’re trying to quit drinking. If you really want to get sober, keep trying and learning until it sticks. As long as you never quit quitting, you will get this.

The thought of ‘never again’

If you’re wanting to try sobriety but think you have to commit to never ever drinking again, think again.

Many, many people start sobriety by committing to a sobriety experiment. They try sobriety for 60 or 90 days. This extended break from booze gives them an opportunity to experience life without it, while also allowing them to feel some of the benefits of sobriety that may not be obvious in the very early weeks.

They’re not committing to forever. They’re committing to a proper break. And once the break is over, if their life isn’t better without it, they can go back to drinking. Many however, find they don’t want to.

So really, you have nothing to lose by giving sobriety a try, and you can’t fail.

In closing, fear is a huge barrier between drinking in a way that’s not serving you and taking a leap of faith into sobriety. Fear causes us to future trip, imagining all the worst-case scenarios. And fear is a natural response before making any big lifestyle change.

But the fear itself is far worse than the reality. The reality is surprisingly beautiful. Just look at book titles like, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, and The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life. There is a reason sobriety is becoming more and more mainstream – as Brené Brown puts it, it’s a superpower.

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