Learning to live AF is a skill (just like learning to ride a bike!)
When a little girl is learning to ride a bike, she’ll wobble and fall off many times before she rides smoothly. When she’s face down in the dirt, no one says ‘forget it, she’ll never be able to ride properly!’. She’ll be dusted off, plastered up, and told a bunch of encouraging things so that she gets back up and doesn’t give up. Because everyone knows that with enough practice, she will learn how to ride a bike. There’s absolutely no doubt that she can do it.
So, she keeps trying, keeps practicing, and eventually she’s riding competently. Even at this stage she may have the odd fall. And that’s okay. Falling off her bike doesn’t mean that she’s destined never to be able to ride again. It just means she had an accident. Maybe she wasn’t paying attention, or she was being careless, or she got overly confident and missed the mark. Whatever happened, she has what it takes to ride well, and her fall doesn’t lessen that truth.
Why is it then, that when a woman wants to quit drinking and she finds herself back at the bottom of a bottle of wine, she allows that to mean that she doesn’t have what it takes to be alcohol-free?
I thought this way for a long time before finding the tools and strategies we now teach at Thrivalist. Each time I drank mid-way through Dry July or five days into Dry January, I berated myself for my lack of willpower. I allowed my ‘failure’ to mean that I was weak and was destined to a lifetime of problem-drinking. Feeling like a failure only led to feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame which fuelled further drinking, keeping me stuck in a vicious cycle of proving myself right that I couldn’t do it. When the truth was, I absolutely could do it. I just didn’t know how yet.
We see this a lot at Thrivalist. Intelligent, competent, and accomplished women, who can do anything they set their minds to (and have proven that in other areas of their lives) but who don’t fully back themselves when it comes to changing their relationship with alcohol. They think that alcohol is something different. Like it has some kind of magical power over them and that the outcome of their decision not to drink anymore is not in their control. Will they succeed or will they fail? They aren’t sure.
If you believe that going alcohol-free is this binary thing that you’re either succeeding or failing at, you’re telling that little girl with her face in the dirt that because she fell, she’s failed. Which is neither helpful, nor true, right?
But what if I told you that learning to live alcohol-free is a skill, just like learning to ride a bike?
Going alcohol-free is not often thought of this way. As something we need to learn to do. As something that takes practice and effort to do comfortably. As something that takes time, and as something that we get better and better at the more we do it. But that’s exactly how it is.
So, instead of deciding to go alcohol-free and then measuring your success against whether or not you’re abstinent, what if you measured your success by your continuous commitment to try again and again until it finally sticks?
Imagine how different the journey of back and forth between drinking and stopping would be if you committed to learning the skill of living alcohol-free. Imagine how different it would be if you committed to the process, rather than the outcome. Because the outcome of sustained sobriety is something that happens often after cycling through periods of quitting and then drinking again. Each time you drink when you’re trying not to, you learn something new. The back and forth grows tiresome, and you become more aware of your patterns, your vulnerabilities, why you don’t want to drink anymore, and how to better support yourself.
As horrible as it can feel to drink when you’re trying not to, try to see these episodes as data gathering opportunities, inching you closer to where you want to be. And let these times become the evidence you need to prove to yourself that you seriously aren’t missing out.
If you approach your alcohol-free journey like this, being gentle and encouraging with yourself as you would be with that little girl, one day your goal of being alcohol-free will stick. Because you can do this. If you stay committed and keep trying, the outcome is within your control. We have absolutely no doubt about that. And if you can believe that to be true for yourself, you’re already halfway there.