In this section, I’m going to talk about learning to live a sober life. Remember that it’s not enough simply to get through the alcohol cravings; you have to eliminate the reasons behind your dependency. If you do this, the risk of slipping back into your harmful habit will be significantly reduced, since you won’t have any reason for heavy drinking. Your life without alcohol will then become a happy one, and not torture.
You can confidently start taking on the recommendations in this section the very day you give up drinking. There is only one exception:
1. Don’t avoid temptation!
No, this isn’t a mistake, even though in the last section I wrote the opposite! But do you intend to live your whole life avoiding the company of people who are drinking? Don’t you need to learn how to stay sober around general drunkenness? You have to learn how to have fun without alcohol even in places where others are using it. And how will you do this if you hide yourself away from all temptation?
In order to learn how to combat temptation, temptation must exist! Otherwise you’ll be extremely vulnerable in unpredictable situations. Imagine you’ve been sober for a year and have cut off contact with all your drinker friends. You’re exercising regularly and only socialise with other teetotallers.
Then you’re invited to your brother’s wedding, which you can’t refuse as it would be highly disrespectful. All of a sudden you’re in the company of people who are drinking, and it doesn’t take long for the thought to come to you: ‘How about a small glass? That wouldn’t be so bad. It seems wrong not to be drinking when everyone else is.’
One small glass turns into 20 and a hangover the next day. Why did this happen? Because you weren’t prepared for it. A celebration with lots of drink was a bombshell for your mind which hadn’t yet learnt to deal with any temptations. You were simply out of your depth at that moment and didn’t know how to conduct yourself when everyone around you was drinking.
Confusion, shyness and unexpected emotions provoke stress. And stress can lead to a slip.
I therefore advise that when you have more faith in your strengths and some time has passed, you meet up with your friends, even if they drink.
It’ll be hard. It’ll be a real test for you. But on the other hand, if you do it, you’ll be much more sure that you can resist temptation in any situation. You’ll also have your first experience of being sober in drunk company.
2. Find new interests
There are a few difficulties connected with this advice. Many sources dedicated to combatting alcohol dependency tell you to find new and interesting pursuits to replace drinking. Would that it were so easy. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t find new passions – you should. But you need to take certain complications into account.
Problem 1 – at the very start you may not feel much enthusiasm for new interests
Remember how I said before that people who are getting over a dependency may go through a mini-depression? You could also experience actual depression due to withdrawal syndrome.
A characteristic of depression is that the sufferer stops obtaining pleasure from many of the things they do. So being advised to find some kind of interest will disappoint a drink lover. They realise that no hobby will bring as much pleasure as alcohol did. It starts to seem to them that there isn’t actually anything as interesting as getting drunk. They think that they’re simply not able to get joy from life when sober. And the disappointment propels them back to the alcohol trap.
So don’t be under any illusion about new passions. At the very beginning of quitting a drug, it may be that nothing brings you joy. This is absolutely normal. It doesn’t mean that you should do nothing or complain about how bad you feel. No, do try to find new and interesting pastimes; just don’t expect that they’ll immediately give you as much pleasure as you got from drinking to excess. It’ll definitely happen, just not right away. I mention all this because I don’t want you to be disappointed and then because of that have a relapse.
A person with any drug dependency, including alcohol, is used to sources of quick and easy pleasure. Therefore when some hobby doesn’t bring instant gratification, they quickly lose interest. But in order for new pastimes to start bringing joy and meaning to your life, work and patience is required. The resultant joy will be so much better than the ‘pleasure’ you got from alcohol. Fresh passions and interests bring all kinds of new and useful things into your life. Alcohol doesn’t bring anything; it just takes and takes…
Problem 2 – using new interests purely as a substitute for alcohol won’t lead to anything good
This second problem is that people who are giving up drinking seek in new interests a way of completely replacing alcohol use. They think that in order not to drink in the evenings, they must do something else instead, for example go to the cinema, do renovations, surf the internet, drink coffee, stay at work, etc.
This isn’t an incorrect tactic at the start of withdrawal from alcohol. It’s useful for you to keep busy so as not to be preoccupied with cravings. But, in my view, in order to learn to live happily without alcohol, you must be able to be by yourself, alone in your own company, without any pursuits.
You must learn to accept internal emptiness which was previously filled by alcohol. You have to learn to live with it, acknowledge it and not be afraid of it. If you start to merely fill it with something else (work, entertainment), you’re going from one extreme to another, one dependency to different one. Only when you learn to be alone with your thoughts, problems, worries and experiences will you be free from the threat of any dependency.
You don’t have to spend all your free time doing something so as to avoid thinking about alcohol, for example working late or playing computer games. Be alone with yourself, allow all your fears and problems so diligently suppressed by alcohol to leave the sphere of your subconscious and enter your consciousness! It won’t be a completely painless experience, but you’ll learn a lot of new things about yourself and possibly uncover the reasons you drank.
I’d advise that you read books, explore your creativity, master new skills, do things you’ve never done before. Buy yourself a bike, learn to play chess, get to know classical literature, watch interesting films.
But at the same time, don’t expect these new passions to bring you immediate pleasure.
Also, learn how to be alone without anything for your hands to do! Without stimulating your sensory organs. Without communication.
For me personally, as well as for many others, meditation became the fundamental weapon for combatting dependency. Many of my readers have written to me that after they started meditating they gradually lost interest in alcohol, which is also what happened with me.
Studies show that meditation and other relaxation techniques help people get through alcohol withdrawal. People who meditate have less chance of returning to their harmful habit than those who don’t.
So how can meditation help you free yourself from dependency?
- Meditation teaches you how to relax deeply and qualitatively without drugs, including alcohol. Studies show that meditation lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body and normalises cardiac function and the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system; this helps reduce stress and increase serenity. Stress, fatigue, nervousness and worry are among the reasons people drink.
- Meditation has an antidepressant effect. Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, neuroscientist Daniel J Siegel, links this effect to the development of the left-prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for feelings of optimism, serenity and good humour. I myself don’t believe that this effect is due only to the physical growth of certain parts of the brain and the forming of new neural connections. In other words, the functioning of your brain improves not only because you’re meditating, but because the practice helps you to learn to better cope with your fears and sadness, and free yourself from negative thoughts. It teaches you to control your mind. You become calmer, happier and more upbeat. And when you feel good, why would you need alcohol? This is exactly what happened with me. I gradually lost interest in alcohol because thanks to meditation I just started to feel better without booze.
- Meditation improves your willpower and the skill of controlling your attention. During meditation people learn to maintain their focus on one thing (their breathing or a mantra), so their willpower, when seen as the ability to control attention, increases. This is very useful when you’re giving up drinking since you’ll constantly be pulling your attention away from all the temptations which arise, from the desire to drink. Meditation allows you to do this more easily.
- Meditation develops awareness. Remember I wrote about the exercise of observing your emotions and cravings to help keep them under control? Meditation is one way to do this. It teaches you to follow your thoughts, emotions and desires as an outside observer without getting caught up in or identifying with them. This skill helps you to acknowledge your craving not as part of your true self, but as something external which doesn’t impinge upon your sense of self. Consequently you learn to control it and will find it easier not to give into your impulses. Additionally, you’ll be able to notice more quickly the deception through which your brain pushes you towards drinking. Meditation cleanses your mind of illusions and fallacies.
- Meditation teaches you to accept your inner silence. The desire to drink for many people comes from their attempts to constantly escape themselves, the thoughts they’re afraid to stay alone with. They either become bored or scared when they start to face what’s inside. You could say that entertainment business and drinking culture are both based on trying to escape ourselves. Alcohol helps people to forget, to have something to occupy their hands and their brain. But having learned to accept your inner silence and be alone with yourself, you’ll no longer need this. You won’t be bored or scared when you spend time alone. You’ll exist in harmony with what’s going on inside you. The best way of developing these qualities is the practice of meditation.
- Meditation helps you get to know and change yourself. Scientists have shown that it leads to the development of new neural connections, new mental skills. Meditation helped me to acknowledge my problems and completely transform myself. You could say that meditation is a tool that allows you to reprogramme yourself and become the person you want to be, a person without any internal reasons to drink. The notion that people can’t change is a relic from the past. Over the past few decades science has come to the conclusion that our brain is in a state of constant development, making new connections, and that we can influence this process. Meditation helps you to uncover the reasons for your dependencies (complexes, anxiety, boredom, relationship issues, loneliness, laziness, etc.) and free yourself of them.
- Meditation frees you from painful attachments. Attachments to alcohol, to pleasure.
In summary I’d say that meditation helps you to get through alcohol withdrawal more easily as well as adapt to and obtain happiness from a teetotal life. It therefore serves two very important functions in supporting abstinence from alcohol.
You can start to meditate the very day you decide to give up drinking, or even before. I personally started to meditate before I’d completely quit, and gradually my desire to drink got smaller and smaller. Of course, you don’t have to be led by my example if you want to quit sooner. However, I don’t want to make an excuse for you to leave your decision until some unspecified time in the future. So if you decide to start meditating before you give up, you must be sure that you’ll practise regularly, every day, but without expecting an immediate effect or letting drinking interfere.
Meditate twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes. Only do it when you’re sober. If you’re going to drink, do so after your meditation, but it’s better not to do that either. You can learn how to meditate properly in my article.
4. Recognise the benefits of an alcohol-free life
I very much understand that this advice may raise some difficulties. Sometimes people expect that sobriety will immediately bring them lots of advantages – their intellect, motivation and feelings will be reawakened after years of neglect and their life will immediately be awash with new colours!
All of this will definitely happen, but not straight away. At the beginning it may seem to some people that an alcohol-free life has few advantages over the alternative. This happens because you’ll still be attached to alcohol and the discomfort associated with giving up any habit can at first ‘override’ the benefits.
I’m not making an absolute rule out of this principle. It can happen in different ways for everyone; some people might feel the euphoria of starting of new life the very day after they decide to give up drinking while to others life without alcohol will immediately feel onerous and boring.
I want you to be ready for the fact that this thought will start creeping into your brain: ‘OK, what next? I can’t see many positives here. Will it be worth it? Should I just go back to alcohol?’
Your initial euphoria upon quitting can easily turn into temporary disappointment; be prepared for this.
I assure you that with time the picture will change; you just need to wait it out. When a person drinks a lot, they get accustomed to hangovers, to feeling rough in the mornings, to the nasty taste in their mouth, to their uncontrollable behaviour. These things stop frightening them, in the same with that a heroin addict stops being troubled when they spend the last of their money on drugs, sleep in dirty cloths and steal.
Dependency deprives them of their will; it slowly kills their conscience. But the weaker the dependency, the more clearly the person feels the negative impact of their harmful devotion.
When I was drinking every day, I found it easy to put up with hangovers. When I started drinking less, they became pure hell. So the time will pass and you will se not only more advantages of sober life, but more disadvantages of drinking!
If after you quit you start to be pulled back because you don’t see enough positives for yourself in a teetotal life, know that this is an illusion. Try to notice how your life is changing for the better now you’ve given up drinking.
- How good it is to wake up in the morning and not have that sickish taste in your mouth.
- How nice it is to wake up feeling fresh and rested, not dishevelled and done in.
- How wonderful it is not to feel constantly ashamed of your behaviour.
- How lovely it is to spend your evenings doing things to improve you and your life.
- How delightful it is to realise that you’ve freed up so much time to devote to whatever you like!
- How amazing it is not to have a hangover getting in the way of your day.
- How pleasant it is not to destroy your body and brain every day and to take care of yourself!
Exercise helps replenish endorphins and serotonin which you can feel a lack of when withdrawing from alcohol. Sport tones you, cheers you up, calms you down and puts you in a positive mood. These are things a person really needs when they give up drink and want to live a sober life.
In addition, exercise is a good way to train your willpower. Start small, for example by incorporating into your routine a run twice a week. An evening run is a great way to decrease stress and weariness – it has the same de-stressing effect that you used to get from alcohol. The difference is that jogging, far from being bad for your health, actually improves it.
Do morning exercises each day – they’ll boost both your energy levels and your mood.
Everyone can get to know people and socialise easily when they’re drunk. But to do this when sober requires a skill which you’re sure to develop as long as you don’t drink at social events.
You’ll see many of your social complexes come out when you stop suppressing them with the help of alcohol. Yes, at first you’ll find yourself alone, face to face with them, but then you’ll start to recognise and work with them.
In order to communicate meaningfully and become close to people, you definitely don’t need alcohol. Drunken ‘heart-to-hearts’ are actually full of insincerity which you don’t notice at the time. Drunk people big themselves up in front of each other, presenting themselves in a favourable light, laying their emotions on thick. It’s all deception and far from honest communication.
If you stop drinking at social events you’ll get to talk intimately, but at the same time not risk saying too much and offending someone. You’ll learn how to be sincere and upfront and how to obtain pleasure from sober communication.
There’s no need to employ any cunning method to learn this how to do this. Simply communicate more, listen to others, don’t be shy about your thoughts, say what you think, but stay within the limits of sensible behaviour. You’ll soon open up all the beauty of genuine, sincere communication with no artifice.
7. Don’t refuse help
No, I’m not going to suggest you go to AA meetings if you don’t feel you really need to. I don’t believe that support groups are mandatory when you’re giving up alcohol. A person can get out of the dependency trap independently, although of course some support and help won’t do any harm.
Get to know people who don’t drink, who stopped drinking a long time ago. If you only mix with people who drink every day then no experience is going to push you towards a teetotal life. But non-drinkers can tell you all the problems they faced when they were giving up. Ask them how they spend their time; let someone serve as an example to you.
This article has been long and detailed, and I believe its length is justified by its aim. Alcohol dependency is a mortal enemy of humankind and in order to free ourselves from it, little pieces of advice aren’t enough; people need some kind of support in this undertaking. I hope my article provides such support for you and has inspired confidence that a sober life is within your reach.
Becoming free of dependency requires time and will. In addition, many people need to fundamentally alter aspects of their personality, which they can achieve through such things as meditation.
It won’t happen in a day. Don’t expect yourself never to feel drawn back to alcohol; temptation will happen, so be prepared.
Sometimes, people who are still drinking find the desire to use alcohol disappears for a while. They wake up in the morning with a stinking hangover and feel a strong aversion to alcohol. They swear they’re never going to drink again, but after a while their enthusiasm passes, their body recovers and they again want to drink.
You mustn’t completely believe your cravings because they’re only temporary. Today, some life event or other may not make you want to drink. But tomorrow or the day after the desire might return. Don’t expect your dependency to disappear immediately. You may experience moments of enthusiasm and feel the joy of life without alcohol; but dependency can keep reminding you of itself until you get rid of it once and for all.
Don’t expect yourself to stop wanting to drink. Be prepared to deal with cravings.
When you feel the pull, just observe it from the side without getting caught up, or turn your attention away from your desire to drink.
As the months pass, your brain can still throw temptation in your way. Danger can lurk behind apparent trust and faith in self-control. When your mind starts to lead you towards temptation, remember theorem number 3 from the first section of this article (You don’t need alcohol at all!).
I don’t want to scare you; I just want you to be prepared. For some the ideas in this article may be intimidating. This is because I’m talking about how much work and self-development it can take to free yourself from dependency
But I’m setting a much more significant challenge than simply ‘giving up drinking’. The goal of this article is to teach you how to live a completely sober life, how to be happy and self-reliant so that you have no need for alcohol or other drugs. So that abstinence isn’t torture, a strict imperative or some kind of restriction of pleasure, but is easy, a norm, and something which leads you to happiness and freedom!