When we start thinking about quitting alcohol there can be a period of time where we go back and forth in our minds about whether long-term sobriety is really necessary for us, especially if we haven't experienced hitting a hard, dark rock bottom or spent years drinking wine out of coffee mugs or blacking out every weekend. You may find yourself thinking, ‘Do I really need to stop drinking forever?’
When I first quit alcohol, I didn't think I had a real problem and that my sobriety was most likely going to be a short-term experiment. A ‘take a few months off and see how I feel’ kind of thing. It wasn't until I went into the AA rooms and started to listen to the stories of my fellow members and to then also stand up in front of these people and share my story that I realised; there is no black and white when it comes to problem drinking.
The fact that I had dragged my butt to an AA meeting at 8pm on a Wednesday night after a long day at work and finally putting my babies to bed, to sit in a cold hall full of strangers was a pretty strong indicator that I really wanted to make some big changes for myself in regards to my drinking. And even though AA was not part of my long-term sobriety journey, I am forever grateful for what these meetings allowed me to learn about myself: I wanted and needed long-term sobriety.
It's not always that clear cut for everyone, and I want to help you to understand that when you first decide to stop drinking or take some time off the wine, you don’t need to stick an end date on your sober journey. However, there are a few important actions we highly recommend you take so that you can get off to a good start, and get some solid sober time under your belt so that you can then make a clear-minded and informed decision about how you choose to include (or not include) alcohol in your world moving forward.
If you’re not fully committed to sobriety, it’s highly likely you’ll drink again.
In order to fully commit, it helps to be deeply convinced that moderation doesn’t work for you.
It’s powerful to honour your commitment to sobriety, by making it official through a ceremony or rite of passage.
To seal your commitment, it’s important to make another commitment – to NEVER ever question your decision to quit.
Let’s unpack each of these learnings in more detail:
1. If you’re not fully committed to sobriety, it’s highly likely that you’ll drink again
In our drinking-centric society, if you’re not 100% committed to your sobriety, chances are you’ll end up drinking again. You don’t need to commit to long-term sobriety just yet unless you feel ready to. If you’re not ready for that step just yet, decide on a length of time that feels challenging but achievable that will also allow you to feel the physical and psychological benefits of sobriety (we recommend at least 90 days).
The important thing is to take “drinking again” completely off the table (whether for the long haul or for the set period). If you leave drinking again as an option on the table for yourself, you make yourself vulnerable to choosing to drink when things get tough or when someone particularly persuasive tries to twist your arm.
2. In order to fully commit, it helps to be deeply convinced that moderation doesn’t work for you.
Most of you will have landed on the Thrivalist website to read this blog with months or years of lived experience that moderation doesn’t work for you. You’ve tried all the things to drink moderately, but you just don’t drink like that. If that’s your experience, then you should already be deeply convinced that moderation doesn’t work for you. If you’ve been trying desperately but unsuccessfully to moderate your drinking, the chances are high that addictive neural pathways are deeply embedded in your brain. And once addictive neural pathways are there, they’re there forever. They don’t go away.
As John Dupuy, author of Integral Recovery, writes “The fact is, that once you’re addicted, you don’t become unaddicted.”
But if you are reading this with even the slightest inkling that maybe, JUST maybe, you could be a moderate drinker (which according to government guidelines means no more than 10 units of alcohol per week – less than a bottle and a half of wine), then it might be hard for you to feel convinced that abstinence is your best option and you might struggle to fully commit to sobriety. AA’s Big Book suggests that if you’re questioning whether you’re an alcoholic or not, you should “do some research”. Which means that you “go back out there” and see if you can drink moderately.
This is the only way to prove to yourself whether moderation really works for you and I am assuming you are reading this because you already know the answer to this question (Hint: It rhymes with go and is the opposite of yes).
3. Honour your commitment by making it official through a ceremony or rite of passage.
Transitioning from being a drinker to a non-drinker signifies not only a change in status, but a change in your identity. For many of us, alcohol is such an integral part of our lives that drinking isn’t simply something we do, it’s part of who we are.
As exciting and terrifying as it can be to think about who you’ll be without booze, there’s also a sacredness that comes with embarking on a sober path. You’re about to let go of something that no longer serves you and move toward a more wholesome, authentic and meaningful existence.
We believe that this sacred transition is worthy of recognising through a ceremony or ritual, which is why we recommend holding a quitting ceremony for yourself.
If it feels right for you, you can formalize your decision to quit with a personal quitting ceremony. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Your ceremony could involve pouring out some alcohol onto the earth or down the drain (an act symbolising letting go), sitting quietly meditating, praying, reciting a mantra, setting your intention and goals, and/or journalling and giving yourself a gift or lucky object to represent your sobriety (like a piece of jewellery).
You might prefer to do your ceremony alone or perhaps you would like someone you love and who supports your decision to be present with you. It’s totally up to you.
4. NEVER question your decision to quit.
Once you’ve formally made your commitment to sobriety, it’s important to make another commitment – to never question your decision to quit (whether that’s for the long-haul or for the duration of your sobriety experiment).
What does it mean to never ever question your decision to quit? It means committing to not entertaining ANY thoughts that maybe you made the wrong decision here. It means nipping those doubts in the bud as soon as they arise.
It means following through on the commitment you have made for yourself, no matter what, to truly give yourself the best chance at experiencing how wondrous life without alcohol is.