How to relax without alcohol

relax without alcohol

relax without alcohol

You worked a full day.  You picked up the kids, made dinner, fed them, bathed them, put them to bed, cleaned up the wreckage of your living room and kitchen, and you are fried.  You have a thousand thoughts running through your head.  Responsibilities, worries, and to-dos whiz past your mind in non-sensical order.  You are wound tightly like a spring and you just want to unwind dammit.  Have a little “me” time.  How are you supposed to do this without a glass (or four) of wine?  How do people relax without alcohol?

The Recipe for Relaxation

cake recipe
Don’t question the cake

This is a dilemma that has faced every person who has ever gotten sober.  We all find a way and I promise you will too.  Now as you trawl the internet for ideas, you are likely to see a lot of the same things come up again and again.  Why?  Because they work.  If you look on the internet to find out how to bake a cake, you are going to keep seeing instructions that tell you to mix up some butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla with some flour, baking soda, and salt and bake it.  Why?  Because people have found again and again that if you do that, you will end up with a cake.  So yes, I am going to include things like exercise, meditation, and hot baths, because as much as I didn’t want them to, they do work.  But I am also going to give you a key to find out which relaxing activities might appeal to you most.  Ready?

Your most prominent sense

It all comes down to how you process the world.  You need to figure out your primary sense.  I am excluding smell and taste here because those are not necessarily constant, and well, we don’t want relaxation getting entwined with food because that’s a whole other issue. But generally, you fit into one of four categories

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic (Sensory)
  • Intellectual

We all experience these to varying degrees, but generally, we are more affected by one or two of them.  So do your best to determine your primary (and possibly secondary) sense, and check out some of the relaxation activities in that category.  You may enjoy something from every category, but because your primary sense is how you process the world, doing something that appeals to it is more likely to help you relax without alcohol much faster than one that doesn’t line up with who you are.

If you’re not sure – a sales trick

For most people, their primary sense is obvious and jumps right out at them from the list above.  But if you aren’t sure, there is a hack that I learned in a book about sales that says to pay attention to a person’s language.  Here is an example of a response from each primary sense:

Visual – “I see what you mean”

Auditory – “I hear you.”

Sensory – “I know how you feel”

Intellectual – “I understand/I think so”

Pay attention to which of these you say most often.  You may say more than one, but just keep a gentle note of it when you notice yourself (or hear yourself, or feel yourself, or think about) using language in this way.

Okay on to the list!

***

Visual

visual type

If you are primarily visual, you will probably relax more easily somewhere quiet.  Noise can be overstimulating for visual people. Things like art and design tend to appeal to you and you tend to process things very quickly.  Some relaxing activities that can appeal to a visual person are:

Coloring

adult coloring book
Must. Not. Go. Outside. The. Lines.

Adult coloring books have become all the rage over the past few years and with good reason.  It’s a great way to turn your brain off and make something beautiful.  You can grab some colored pencils at any drug store (or steal your child’s crayons, I won’t tell) and watch as a page transforms in front of your eyes. You can google it and print out free images or you can indulge in something like Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden

Drawing

If you haven’t learned to draw, now is a great time to take up a hobby.  Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the gold standard for teaching even someone like me who could barely draw a stickman to draw semi-recognizable figures.  It is both relaxing and interesting, and you never run out of material.

Zentangle

zentangle
Easier than it looks

Another option if you don’t have the time or interest in learning to draw for real, is to try your hand at Zentangles.  This takes doodling and turns it into something repetitive, meditative, and really enjoyable.

Do a puzzle

I believe dining room tables are only good for two things: holidays and puzzles.  Otherwise, they just collect junk.  So find a puzzle you find beautiful and dump it out on the table and get to work.  Depending on the age of your children, this may or may not be possible.  I love an old-fashioned puzzle, but don’t particularly want to spend the next month fishing puzzle pieces out of the various orifices of my toddler, I tend to go the app route.  Brainsbreaker is my absolute favorite for desktop, and I am currently digging “Jigsaw Puzzles Real Free” on my iPhone.

Nature Walks

forest bathing
Keep your clothes on please.

For visual people in particular, nature walks can be very restorative.  The quiet and the beauty of a forest or park can be just what’s needed after all the noise and distractions of the day.  It doesn’t need to be a hike.  Forest bathing has recently become trendy in the United States but has been a part of preventative healthcare in Japan for over 30 years.  Basically, just being in a forest and practicing mindfulness there can decrease stress and increase immunity.

***

Auditory

listening

Auditory people tend to absorb things better when they hear them rather than see them.  They tend to have an appreciation for music and like to have long discussions.

Audiobooks

While an engaging book is always a good way to relax, sometimes as a parent I am so fried that I can’t really concentrate.  And as an auditory person, listening to an audiobook just takes the experience up a notch, and allows me to do something else at the same time (should I want to).  Audible.com is my go-to, but both Google and Apple have plenty of audiobooks to download on their app stores as well.  I particularly like a good thriller, as they are easy to get wrapped up in and before I know it, the rest of the world has faded away.

Audiobooks are also great if you’ve been over-thinking.  It’s hard to think too hard when you are paying attention to the story.  Look up a book you know you like and see what else is recommended for people who liked that book.

Music

While most people have an appreciation for music, auditory types have a special connection to it.  Make different playlists to go with different moods.  Have a “cheer up” playlist of upbeat songs, a “chill out” mix for stressful days, and a “karaoke” list of things to sing along to.  Which brings me to…

Singing

choral group
Find out about performance uniforms before signing up.

Singing just makes you feel good.  Science says so.  The vibrations both calm us and elevate our mood by producing endorphins (happy hormones) and oxycontin (a hormone associated with relaxation and love/comfort).  It reduces cortisol, a stress hormone and can even help with depression.  Joining a chorus or choir is great if you have the time as these benefits are magnified by singing in a group.  However if like me, your voice sounds like an animal that has been run over by a car, you can still reap the benefits.  Just sing in the shower or when no one else is around.

Phone a Friend

Texting seems to have taken the place of phone calls over the past decade, and while it’s definitely more efficient, it’s not as much of a bonding experience as a long gab session with a friend.  Auditory people, in particular, connect very well this way, and hearing a friendly voice at the end of the day can be a big help.  These tend to work best when you set up a “phone date”.  Otherwise, no one answers these days.  Text a friend and say you want to catch up – do they have time for a call tonight?  Like 20 minutes?  Putting a time limit on it makes it seem less daunting, and if you are enjoying yourselves you can always blow right past it.

***

Kinesthetic/Sensory

kinsethetic type

As a kinesthetic or sensory type, you experience things in a very physical way and tend to feel things very deeply emotionally as well.  So slip into something really comfy and let your body help you relax.

Yoga

yoga tree pose

In the recovery community, yoga is very popular.  It produces a sense of calm and euphoria that can be very helpful when you miss the feeling of a buzz.  As a kinesthetic person, it’s particularly helpful that this practice is slow and steady, and allows you to focus on the sensations and your breathing.

Cuddle

Whether it’s your spouse, your child, or a fur baby, find something you can cuddle.  Cuddling releases oxytocin and particularly for kinesthetic types, helps you feel more connected and bonded with those you care about.

Bath

towels and candlesYou can’t be in early recovery without someone telling you to take a bath.  No, it’s not because you smell (probably?), but because it really is one of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself.  Do your best to make it as full a sensory experience as you can.  Use some lavender bubble bath (lavender is calming), light a couple candles and soak for fifteen minutes.  This is best to do before bed because your body temperature drops when you get out of the tub, which leads to much deeper sleep if you go to bed right after drying off.  That said, don’t wait until too late to take a bath because you don’t want to fall asleep in there!

 

Gardening/Crafting

Get productive with your hands.  Whether it’s weeding a garden, knitting, sewing, soapmaking, painting, or working with clay, find something your hands love to do.  A lot of women who are attached to drinking think of it as something “just for me” after doing so much for others. Hobbies are a great way to have something that is just for you.  Find something you love to create with your hands.  It’s satisfying on a very basic human level.

Cook/Bake

child kneading dough
Kids love helping too if you don’t mind the mess…

Cooking can be very relaxing if done for fun.  Figure out a recipe you’d love to try and take your time with it, focusing on the feelings of preparing the ingredients.  Experience the sounds of chopping and sautéing, the smells of the food, watch it all come together…  It really involves all the senses and can be a lot of fun.

 

 

***

Intellectual

intellectual type

If you are an intellectual type you tend to be in your head a lot.  You think things out logically and like having lists and rules.  It can be hard to get out of your head and you might have used drinking to get your head to give you peace for five minutes.

Journaling/Listmaking

hand with writing on it
I prefer paper but whatever you have on hand…

Sometimes it helps to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page, whether that is in a journal or just a random word document.  For some reason, problems tend to stop rattling around and repeating themselves if you put it down on paper.  To that end, I also recommend list-making.  Do a brain dump of all your to-dos, ideas, projects, next steps, concerns, things to follow up on etc.  Then organize it into action items and reference files.  This is the basis behind the “Getting Things Done” system and it can be very helpful for anxiety.  Knowing where everything stands can allow you to give your brain a break.  Which makes you more likely to be able to…

Meditate

This can be hard if you are an intellectual, but it’s also the most beneficial for you.  If you drank to turn your brain off, this is learning to do that without alcohol.  It’s not hard at all.  Apps like Calm and Headspace walk you through it, so you don’t have to figure it out on your own.  Meditation has cumulative benefits so that over time, things that used to get you all worked up just don’t seem to bother you anymore.

Running (or another hard exercise)

This is another thought killer and a great way to deal with anxiety.  Make your body work so hard you can’t have a thought in your head.  And get a rush to boot.  (Get a doctor’s okay to do this first.)

Bad TV

Real Housewives, silly competitions on the Food Network, Property Brothers, The Bachelor…  Find something absolutely mindless yet somehow entertaining and enjoy the hell out of it.  No one has to know!

These are just a sampling of all the ways you can unwind.  It won’t be automatic at first, because you have conditioned yourself to associate alcohol with relaxation, so you will have to learn what it feels like to relax without alcohol.  It might feel a little different (but still awesome) and if you are in very early recovery your body may still be in a bit of shock, so it may take some time to relax properly.  But you will find what does it for you.  Pick one or two of these that sound appealing and give them a try.  If you feel like you don’t have time, think of all the time you spent glued to the couch or barstool.  The time is there if you work to find it.  You don’t have to spend hours on these things.  Just start creating new relaxation habits that fit your new life.

How do YOU relax without alcohol?

relax without alcohol
Nice if you can afford it

I’d love to hear other ways you’ve found to relax without alcohol.  Drop me a note in the comments or on social media!

I drank. Now what? Dealing with relapse.

relapse

relapse

How did I let this happen again?  How did I slip up? I knew better.  I was doing so well.  I have no willpower.  None.  I’m never going to get this.

These words, or some variation of them, have gone through the head of everyone who has ever relapsed.  While it doesn’t happen to everyone, most people who get sober long-term relapse before getting there.  Sobriety is a skill.  You won’t necessarily do everything perfectly the first time you try.

This is not square one

In AA there is a tradition of “counting days”.  You count how many sober days you have, and people clap for you.  You do this until you reach 90 days.  This has pros and cons.  I think it is valuable because it allows people to see that you are relatively new to sobriety and offer you support.  It also gives you something to hold onto when tempted.  You may want a drink but you really don’t want to lose those 45 (or however many) days you have managed to get under your belt.  This is all very positive.

The problem is, it can get discouraging.  If you slip up and all of a sudden have to start at day one again, it can be tempting to say, “Well screw it.  I better really go for it now!”  This can be incredibly dangerous.  A relapse only has to last as long as you decide you want it to.

24 hour coin
All you ever really have

There tends to be a lot of self-imposed shame to going back into a room where you just had 45 days and saying you are on day 1 again.  Let me assure you – no one is disappointed in you.  No one is exasperated.  Most of the people in that room have been there and will give you every bit as much support as they have to offer.  Now, to be fair, if you have done this a few times, there are some who might shy away a little.  Fuck em.  They aren’t your people.  Any one of us could end up on day one again whether we have two days or two decades.  We never truly have more than these 24 hours.  Those are what matter.

But the most important thing to remember here is that every single sober day you had under your belt before this still counts.  Every lesson you learned, every bit of experience you had is a building block making you stronger.  You are closer this time and you WILL get it.

Analyze what happened

The first instinct is always to berate yourself.  It’s okay to be disappointed but try not to linger here too long.  Because if you do, you can very easily end up in a loop where you believe there is no point and you might as well keep drinking.  And that is 100% not true.

This is a data point.  Use it to learn.  Something happened – what was the trigger?  If you are able to figure out what it was, great.  Come up with a plan for how you will handle it next time that does not rely on willpower.  Such as – when my husband is drinking around me, I will make myself a cup of coffee and go into another room.

Make a plan

girl scouts
Are they made from real girl scouts?

You need to be a girl scout here and be prepared (Thin Mints optional).  I am a big advocate of writing things down in these situations.  With pen and paper.  The act of thinking it, then writing it engages both hemispheres of your brain, and makes it much more likely you will remember your plan and put it into action.  Even if you burn it immediately after, it’s worth doing.  I get a little embarrassed by having these things in writing where others could find it, so I tend to write them down, then trash them.  I still remember.

GOING FORWARD

People places and things

Naughty/Nice list
Santa was onto something

So, what exactly are we writing here?  A list of potential triggers.  One column for people, one for places, and one for things.  People – Do you have a sister who makes you feel like crap about yourself?  She goes on the list.  Places – The liquor store you always went to or an area of your house you drank in?  On the list.  Things – Your favorite wine glass, the sounds of ice clinking in a glass, whatever mixer you tended to use… you know where it goes.

Now the first line of action would be to avoid these things wherever possible.  This is not forever.  You are not cutting your sister out of your life or swearing off anything with ice.  Just give yourself a month or two to make things a little easier.  Yeah, you can probably manage it, but don’t create battles to fight.  There will be enough for you to focus on.  So tell your sister you are busy, take a different route home and put your wine glass away.

That said, you will not be able to avoid every trigger in your life.  You can only control yourself, unfortunately.  Think of some things that have been helpful so far in tough moments.  Was it calling a sober friend?  Posting to a forum online?  Taking a bath?  Going for a run?  (A note on exercise – I hated it my entire life until I got sober.  While it still is not always my favorite thing to do, it was a godsend when I wanted to get away from my thoughts.  I could work out hard enough that I didn’t think for a few minutes and it made the urge to escape subside.)

Write on your list what you think will be the unavoidable pitfalls and write your plan – When my sister upsets me I will_________________.  Do this for all of your people, places, and things, as well as any events coming up that you are concerned about.

HALT!

angry toddler
I am NOT tired.

This is an important tip for those new to sobriety.  Don’t let yourself get too Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired.  I kind of had to laugh at this when I first heard it, because I was pretty much always at least two of those things at any given time, if not more.  But it’s an important lesson.  Willpower is an exhaustible resource, and we seriously deplete it when we are experiencing any one of these.

Keep some trail mix in your purse, text or call at least one friend (who is either sober or is being supportive of your sobriety), and don’t stay up all night watching Netflix.  Grab a cup of coffee if you are flagging.

As the parent of a toddler, it has become painfully obvious that neither of us does well when we need a nap or a snack. But due to the demands of said toddler, I am frequently frustrated and tired.  I have learned to prioritize getting more sleep and doing yoga and/or meditation because it keeps me from getting pissed off about things.

Be careful of your brain

Nearly every alcoholic I have ever met has been incredibly intelligent. Granted they may not seem so while naked singing torch songs at your local Wendy’s, one of the reasons many people drink is to turn their thoughts off.   There are studies that suggest that with intelligence comes the tendency to overthink.  To analyze and ruminate, which is also a risk factor for depression. It’s easy to look at someone who is whip-smart and wonder why they would do that to themselves.  But it makes perfect sense to me.  Unless tempered with optimism (which can be learned), thinking too much can make you want to drown out your thoughts, just to have a little quiet.

Thankfully that big brain of yours may have noticed that drinking hasn’t been working out for you.  So you decide to get sober.  But after a while, the novelty starts to wear off.  And you start justifying.  For me, it was, “Well getting sober was so much easier than I thought.  I must not really be an alcoholic.  I just needed a reset.  I bet I could drink normally now.”  Spoiler alert – I could not.

only on tuesdays

This is how it happens.  Your brain will come up with a thousand justifications, and because you are smart, they will actually sound logical.  You need to be prepared for this.  And then think like a scientist. Look at the experiments.  A+B=C.  You+Alcohol=Drunk and miserable.  The variables yield consistent results.  You don’t have to keep redoing the experiment.

There is a famous bit of advice in AA to “Think through the drink”.  When you find yourself tempted, ask yourself what happens when you drink?  Do you stop?  Or do you have another?  And another, etc. Don’t think about what that drink will get you, think about where you will be at the end of the night.  You can destroy a lot in one evening.  So no “What if…” no “Well maybe…”

Stay busy

One of the reasons AA tells you to go to 90 meetings in 90 days is to keep you busy.  It’s a lot less tempting to get a drink on your way to or from an AA meeting than it is sitting at home in your normal routine.  Being alone takes time to learn how to do properly.  In the early days, I found it essential to pack my schedule.  Volunteering for something can be good in that it motivates you to keep your commitment.  So whether you sign up to make the coffee for the meeting, or offer to coach your kid’s soccer practice, just get some things on the calendar.

You can’t do it alone – and that’s good

It can be very tempting to isolate in early sobriety.  The people you usually hang out with drink, and might make some stupid comments if you say you aren’t drinking.  Alcohol seems to be everywhere.  Plus, you aren’t even sure what people do if they are not drinking.  Maybe alcohol gave you the courage to talk to other people, and now you don’t know how you will do it.  Or you don’t know who you are if you aren’t the party girl any more.

The only way to answer all of this is by hanging out with other people who don’t drink.  They will show you the other side of this life and all the fun and freedom it has to offer.  Yes, you will discover some of that on your own, but it’s much more fun with other people.

This is one of the things I loved most about AA, though any recovery meeting will do.  I have heard good things about Smart Recovery and Refuge Recovery, so if AA really bugs you, there are still other options. Going in, raising your hand and admitting that you are new or struggling is all you have to do to get more support than you ever imagined possible.  If someone invites you out for coffee afterward, go.  If people often go to a diner or something after the meeting – go.  You will laugh more than you imagined possible, and start to discover that the sober you is still actually a good time.

Danger moments – relapse prevention

danger sign
I need an adult

The next time you are having the urge to drink, or you have a tough situation coming up and aren’t sure to handle it, text or call these people you have met at the meetings.  They really want you to, I promise.  For those who have long-term sobriety, it helps keep them sober and makes them feel good that they could help.

If it’s in the middle of the night or you are feeling too shy, try reaching out on a sober message board or app.  I am a fan of SoberMommies on Facebook, or on Twitter, you can tweet that you are struggling with the hashtag #recoveryposse and you will get some pretty awesome people who will talk you through it.

Sometimes just hearing from all these people who have been through it, knowing they have your back and believe in you can give you the extra push you need to make it through that one tough hour and into the next one sober.

Ten Surprise Benefits of Getting Sober

the anonymous mommy

Surprise benefits of getting sober

Before getting sober I always viewed giving up alcohol the way I thought of eating kale.  Everyone knows you should do it.  It’s good for you.  But practically no one does because it sucks.  I was gobsmacked when I kept having the realization over and over – “Hey…  This is actually better!  Wait, do people know this?”

The answer is – kind of.  There are plenty of people who know this to be true in their experience, but our culture (along with hundreds of millions in advertising dollars) has convinced us that alcohol is supposed to make everything better.  Peer pressure doesn’t go away just because you’re not in high school anymore.  It just gets subtler.

Here’s me being not so subtle – you can expect to be richer, thinner, hotter, and happier.  So if you need a little boost to remember why you’re doing this, or want to see what’s just on the horizon, here are some of the cash and prizes you can expect.

1. Lose weight

This was a big payoff to me right up front.  Yes, you may know booze is fattening, but do you realize the extent? Looking at one glass of wine at 120 calories it doesn’t sound that bad.  But that’s a pretty small glass.  And if you are someone who only has one, you probably aren’t reading this blog.  If you consider that a bottle of wine has more than 600 calories, that’s a bit more daunting.  If consumed daily, that’s enough to put on 1-2lbs a week.  Take it out of the equation and guess what starts to happen?

fat apple
Yes, you, like this apple can have a 27-inch waist!

Something else of note – your liver is in charge of turning food into energy for your cells.  But even if you are working at a calorie deficit while drinking, your liver has to deal with the alcohol first to detoxify it so you don’t, well, die.  So while it’s busy doing that, any food you ate can’t be processed as fuel and so is stored as fat instead.  And then just for fun, alcohol makes your blood sugar drop, which makes you feel hungry.  So you eat more but can’t burn it off.

Some people do find that they indulge in sweets a lot when they keep drinking.  I did too.  It helps with the cravings and you know what?  I still lost weight.  I don’t recommend living on gummy bears or anything, but don’t worry too much about the sugar thing early on.

2. $$$$

Who doesn’t want more money?  If you don’t I’m happy to take it off your hands.  Alcohol is brutally expensive.  When it’s a regular part of your life you don’t really think about it, but when you remove alcohol from the equation all of a sudden you look at your bank account and start wondering where that extra zero or two came from.

Money
Oh hey, where’d you come from?

Sometimes I get bummed when I look back at what I could have saved if I never started drinking.  Could I have a down payment for a house by now?  Have my student loan paid off?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I don’t linger there because it’s just pointless.  You can only go forward from where you are.

I am a fan of using a little of your newfound money for a treat.  Something like a massage or a couple of great audiobooks, or some craft supplies.  Just a positive rewards system.  But have milestones for this.  First week, first month, first season etc.  that way it doesn’t become a problem of its own.

3. Restaurants

I still can’t get over this one.  My husband and I used to go out for dinner and it would easily cost $150 or $200 for a nice dinner in Manhattan.  Roughly 75% of profits restaurants make is from alcohol.  They mark-up bottles of wine around 300%.  It’s bananas.  Now, our bill usually tops out between $60 to $80 at a very fancy restaurant.  That’s with multiple courses.  I feel like I’m getting away with something every time I see the bill.

Now, add to this that your taste buds actually start working better!  Alcohol not only dulls your taste buds while you’re drinking it.  Over time it can cause damage to the nerves responsible for your sense of smell and taste.  The good news is, those return once you give up alcohol and a good meal becomes a full experience.

restaurant dateSo if you’re counting, when you go out to dinner, it will now cost less, taste better, and won’t make you gain weight.  I honestly the only place I would find that would be in heaven.

4. You look hotter

Sobriety is honestly the best beauty tip I’ve got.  Within a month my skin got back its glow and my eyes were brighter. When I look at pictures of myself in which I was drinking, I can see that my eyes were never fully open.  I can see it in others’ photos too now.  They’re just not all there.

Similarly to the weight issue, when your body is busy processing alcohol, it can’t be bothered with free radicals (which cause dull skin and wrinkles).  You are also chronically dehydrated which saps the glowy quality from your skin.  Never mind the fact that if you come home drunk you probably aren’t focused on a skin regimen, or putting on sunscreen in the morning when you’re hungover…

There is also just something more poised and happy looking about someone sober.  Over time it gives you a stronger sense of self-confidence.  Which is pretty ironic since so many people start drinking because they feel self-conscious in social situations…

5. Productivity – and maybe a better job

When you aren’t constantly recovering from a hangover, you move more quickly and efficiently.  Your brain works better.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted studies that found being hungover impairs working memory by five to 10 percent and slows reaction times to such a degree that people in their 20s react at the same speed as people in their 40s.

getting sober benefit - woman in meeting
Let me show you how it should be done

There is also something subtler here.  Alcohol is a depressant.  If you are drinking frequently, a sort of fog settles over your life.  Even if it’s not full-blown depression, you just aren’t operating at full capacity.  When you take away that fog, all of a sudden, you start thinking more efficiently.  You don’t want to be stagnant anymore.  You start taking the initiative. I can’t tell you how many people I know who’ve gotten big promotions since they got sober. They just naturally started doing more at work and doing it better.

6. More free time

Along with this productivity comes a lot more free time.  Both the time you spent drinking and the time you spent recovering from hangovers are now freed up.  This is time you spent sitting in a chair essentially doing nothing.  Sure if you were out with a friend or something that counts as an activity, but you can still do that without alcohol and you don’t lose the rest of the night and the next day because of it.

In the same way that you didn’t realize how much money you were giving up, it can be shocking to see how much time you get back.  But that isn’t always comfortable.  If you find yourself wondering what to do with all this time, I highly suggest picking up a hobby.  Maybe something you did years ago, or something you always wanted to try.  Learn to knit, or bake or how to do a handstand.  Yoga is a favorite with the sober crowd because it can give you the relaxed buzz we tried to get with  alcohol without the negatives.

7. Your relationship

We say and do stupid things when we drink too much.  Sometimes we use being drunk as an excuse, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t hurt the person we love.  The fact is, when you are in your right mind all the time, you treat them better, and they treat you better.

getting sober benefit - your relationship
I love that you aren’t throwing up on me

Now it’s true, there are some out there that worry when their partner stops drinking.  What will it do to our social life?  Can I still drink?

These are questions that you will have to figure out together.  Initially, it is often helpful if they don’t drink in front of you, or if they want you to spend time at a bar, it might be best to skip that until you are more sure-footed in your sobriety.  It can have a learning curve, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting dumped because they didn’t get drunk.

8. Sober Sundays

Having a hangover every Sunday is like having the flu once a week.  You are miserable and pretty useless and can’t do much.  Even if you manage to pull yourself out of bed to drive the kids to their 800th birthday party that month, it takes all your will just to get it done, and most likely you won’t have the level of patience that kids require.  Their brains aren’t fully developed yet.  We have to be the ones with patience and maturity, and it’s hard enough to do that all the time without feeling like crap.

getting sober benefit - Sober Sundays
I’d normally just be going to bed around now

When you stop giving yourself that weekly flu, a whole day opens up.  You can get things accomplished, hang out with your family, or maybe sneak in a little relaxation time.  There is a big difference between relaxing and recovering.  I usually use some of that day to batch cook something like chili or some other one-pot meal for the week so that I can free up my weeknight evenings which are otherwise a blur.

9. Not having to think about alcohol

sandwich problem
I only have 1-2 a day. Maybe more on a weekend.

If you are removing alcohol from your life for a period of time or long-term, I’m guessing it’s something you think about.  A lot.  If you didn’t it wouldn’t be a problem.  I heard it likened to having a problem with sandwiches.  Do you lie in bed at night and wonder if you have a problem with sandwiches?  Do you wonder if you have them more often than others?  How many sandwiches do other people REALLY eat?  Maybe you could just have one sandwich a week…  I’m guessing not.  It sounds a bit silly attached to something else, but that’s how you know you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.  If you’re thinking about it, that’s not a good sign.z

Sometimes you don’t realize how much mental energy you were giving to thinking about drinking until you take it off the table.  All the how much and when and who might care…  that’s answered.  It is a freedom that anyone who has been sober awhile doesn’t take for granted.  On days where I’ve been tempted, I realize – I don’t want to have to think about it. It’s too exhausting.

10. Parenting

getting sober benefit - parenting
Yay! Mommy doesn’t smell like a hobo!

I’m not saying that anyone who drinks is a bad parent.  But if it is something you tend to go overboard on, there is no way to keep it from your kids.  They may not know it’s the drinking per se, depending on their age, but they know when you are watching the clock waiting to get to something other than them.  They know when you are cranky in the morning and won’t play with them.

When you feel better and are more present, both of which are a natural benefit of going alcohol-free, you honestly enjoy your children more.  You can be silly with them, and trust yourself with them.  They aren’t magically perfect or without their exasperating moments, but those things just get to you less and you have more of those moments where you are completely overwhelmed with love for them.  Even when they are awake.

Bonus – Basically everything

Now that I have a few years under my belt, I can honestly say that there isn’t a situation or event that would have been better if I was drinking.  I was sober at my wedding and could not have had a better time.  I was sober through six months of unemployment, and while it wasn’t fun to be present for that, I think it would have turned into a bad spiral pretty quickly if I had been home all day with nothing to do but drink.  Even situations where I have to tolerate people I don’t like were never actually improved by alcohol.

So keep going and take your hot, rich, productive ass out to dinner.  You deserve it.  You deserve everything.

How to Avoid Drinking Traps During Dry January (and beyond)

Dry January

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”  The first time I was asked this was two weeks after I quit drinking.  It took me completely by surprise because 1) I was at a work event and 2) these people didn’t really know how much I liked my wine because it was a relatively new job.  All they knew was I was in my 30s and had just asked for seltzer rather than gulping the free Pinot Grigio like the other two women who had managed to make it into the room.

I really didn’t want people thinking I was pregnant, and going ahead and having a drink would dispel that pretty quickly.  But I also knew I’d be mad at myself if that was the reason I drank after going two weeks without. I think my reaction at the time was “Uh, no…” with a deer-in-headlights stare. Smooth.

deer in headlights
A deer who thinks you’re an asshole…

Now you may not be planning on staying alcohol-free past January and that’s fine.  For me, I knew I wanted to make it a longer-term commitment, but either way, discussing your drinking habits at a work event is not the best move, professionally.

Deciding to give up alcohol, whether for a period of time or forever is both easier and harder you think it will be.  For most people, it’s physically not that bad and you get over the cravings pretty quickly.  But it is so ingrained in our culture that it can be tricky to learn how to go about life without it.  Slipping up tends to make us beat ourselves up, when the reality is, we just needed to be better prepared.  Here are my favorite ways to be prepared for the tricky drinking pressures that can arise.

The Pregnant Pause

This one is so common I don’t even have the energy to get mad about it anymore.  While I still believe it’s really strange to inquire about the status of another person’s uterus, I’ve come to the conclusion over time that people just get excited about the prospect of babies and aren’t actually trying to ruin my career or “out” me as sober.

colleagues
I swear to God Tim if you don’t stop trying to look at my uterus…

So, in a work situation, I tend to say something like, “Nah, it’s a work event.  I want to be at the top of my game.”  Generally, that will make them insecure enough that they back off, but if they point out that you’ve drank at these things in the past, just say you know that, but you’ve recently realized that you can make these events more useful to your career if you stay sharp.

If it’s someone in your social circle, you can say you are doing Dry January if you want, or you can always just say you are on antibiotics, have to be up early, or just plain, “I don’t feel like it tonight.”  In either situation, if people persist in saying you are pregnant, just shrug and say “Wait nine months.  You’ll see.”  That usually bursts their bubble.

The Party

Who the hell throws a party in January?  Don’t they know everyone is attempting to deprive themselves in some way???  Assholes.

But they do happen.  People still have birthdays and baby showers and engagement parties etc.  Not drinking is no reason to stop celebrating happy moments in the lives of those you love.  Parties are a really neat way to experience a couple of the unexpectedly cool things that happen when you stop drinking:

cupcakes
Plus, there’s always the possibility of cupcakes.

You enjoy people more – I know that sounds really weird, especially as someone with social anxiety I didn’t really believe it at first.  But drinking really took my focus away from the people I loved.  I was busy thinking about drinking.  Thinking about what I would drink, and when I would get the next one. Was I keeping pace with those around me? Could I have as much as I wanted?  How much was weird?  When should I go home?  Etc.

When I took that off the table, I just focused on those around me.  I was able to listen to their stories and keep in the spirit of the thing we were celebrating, whatever it was.

You can catch a buzz off other people – I noticed this after the second party I went to sober.  While laughing and telling stories with some friends who were definitely tipsy, I realized, “I feel a little drunk.  I’m acting a little drunk.”  But not in a bad way.  I was telling stories a little more loudly and laughing a lot.  That was one of my favorite things about drinking.  That feeling of silly reveling.  But that never happened when I did it at home alone.  It turns out it wasn’t the alcohol at all giving me that feeling.  It was people I loved.  Cheesy, yes but a very exciting discovery.

The Friend in Need

So, you’ve been rocking the alcohol-free thing for a week or so and are feeling pretty good, when all of a sudden your best friend texts that she is having a crisis and she is on her way with a couple of bottles of wine.  This is a tough one because you really do want to be supportive, and the last thing you want to do in the midst of her pain is to make her feel guilty for drinking.

I get it, and this may be one of those situations where you feel like you MUST get a pass here right?  Not necessarily.  As someone who has been sober for almost four years, I can tell you that there is no situation that actually requires you to drink.  Your drinking will not make her situation any better.  Your words will.  Your friendship and encouragement will.

friends
Actually, you might not want to send that text…

This is a boundaries thing. It is not selfish to say you don’t want a drink.  I do like to have some good dark chocolate or ice cream around so I can offer that if they don’t want to drink around me but do want to indulge.  Or hell if it makes me feel better to have some Godiva while they drink their wine, so I don’t feel deprived, so be it.  (Sugar, though it’s another devil, can be a useful thing in the early stages of quitting drinking.  It lessens the cravings for alcohol.)

If this is your best friend or a close friend, hopefully, you can feel comfortable telling them you aren’t drinking right now.  Sometimes we don’t’ want to tell our closest people because we don’t want to be embarrassed if we fail.  But these are the people who are rooting for you to win.  They won’t judge you.  They will try to help you.  Let them.

Tell them you are 100% here for them and to come in and tell you all about what happened to them.  When they indicate the wine, that’s your cue to say, “I’m taking a little break from drinking right now.  It’s just a month but it’s important to me.  I think it will make me feel better.  You go ahead though!”  Then shift the focus back to them.  Your support and camaraderie will be the same as if you were drinking.  It’s like what I said above about catching a buzz.  You will act that way out of habit.  But maybe a little bit less sloppy.  A little bit less selfish.

90% of the time this will be enough.  Unfortunately, if you happen to be someone who is only friends with other heavy drinkers, sometimes they will fight you a little bit on it.  This says more about them than it does about you.  People who are concerned about their own drinking may start pressuring you or justifying their drinking.  For those people, I always just said, “Oh you should do whatever works for you!  For me, this is what feels best right now.”  If they can see that you are not judging them, they will usually relax.  (Note – for this to work, you sincerely need to be NOT judging them.   Keep your eyes on your own paper, so to speak.)

The shitacular day

But what about when you are the one in crisis?  Sometimes you just have one of those days where you step in a slush puddle on your way to work and everything goes downhill from there.  Every tiny thing goes wrong and your children are being less than magical to boot.  You finally get them to bed with the ease of bathing a feral cat and you feel like you just fucking deserve a drink.

I get it.  I really do.  Your nerves feel fried and you just want to soften the edges of everything.  Or maybe black it out altogether and start again tomorrow.

This is where you need to know what else makes you feel better.  Sometimes that involves trying some new things.  I personally think you can’t go wrong with a bath and a call or text to your best friend.  But it’s also really helpful to have someone who knows you aren’t drinking and who can support you in that.  If you don’t feel comfortable telling your friends and family, there are so many amazing resources online.  Instagram has actually become a surprise favorite of mine.  Look up hashtags like #sobermom #soberissexy #sobriety #wearetheluckiest  #sobercurious You can also find me on there @theanonymousmommmy and check out some of the people I follow.

Get a little encouragement and it can get you through the day.

Why it’s worth it

Drinking has a cumulative effect on the brain.  You are pouring a depressive on it every time you do it, and over time, drinkers experience higher levels of depression and anxiety.  Beyond the repairs happening in your liver, your limbic system, etc., you just start feeling a whole lot happier.  Like, ridiculously happy.  You may not be able to stop talking about it.

Do you remember how as a kid you had a ton of energy and used to get randomly excited about small things?  That comes back.  And you start doing more.  You go to places other than bars.  You do silly things like bowling or mini-golfing, or beautiful things like going to a botanical garden or a museum.

Child laughing

Or just hanging at home with your kids starts to become really enjoyable.  Because you aren’t watching the clock, waiting for them to go to bed so you can drink.  You aren’t waiting for the fun and relaxation because they are the fun and relaxation.

This may all sound ridiculous and exhausting right now, but it’s right around the corner.  I hope I’ve made it a little easier for you to get there.  I have three more posts coming to take you through the rest of the month (and maybe beyond?) so be sure to subscribe below so you don’t miss out!

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