How I quit drinking
If you’re reading this looking for an easy answer, a silver bullet, a miracle cure, or some sort of epiphany, I’ll tell you up front that I don’t have one.
I am truly sorry about this. Because how to quit drinking is exactly the question I scoured the internet for myself, and wow did I wish there was an easy answer to find.
All I can offer you is a list of what did eventually work for me in the hopes that it will ease your journey just a bit.
And one more caveat: I don’t call myself an alcoholic. Labels can get sticky, but what I most closely identify with is being a “gray area” drinker – someone whose drinking is a problem, but not to the level of an acute addiction problem.
I’ve been happily and completely sober since September 17, 2017, and I haven’t really wanted a drink since.
But that’s not the whole story.
Here’s a more complete timeline of my sobriety:
January 2017 - April 2017: angrily and intermittently sober
During this time, I’d made the decision to quit drinking but I didn’t want to give it up. I was pretty pissed about it. I could go dry a few days at a time, maybe even a week. But then, I’d talk myself into thinking I had a handle on it, have drinks again, and the cycle would start all over.
May 2017 - July 2017: grudgingly and intermittently sober
Here, I was able to go longer between drinking episodes, and I was starting to acknowledge that sobriety might just be ok.
August 2017 - September 16, 2017: mostly-on-board but still intermittently sober
Now, my whole self was finally starting to buy it. I maybe drank 3 times during this six-week period, and by the last time I remember waking up the next day thinking, drinking last night was in no way worth it.
September 17, 2017 - present: happily and completely sober
That was a long nine months up there. But I made it.
THE THING THAT FINALLY WORKED
What happened during those nine months to transition me from REAL PISSED to content and happy was this:
I changed my mind about drinking.
From I don’t get to drink to I don’t have to drink.
From I’m missing out on drinking to I’m missing out by drinking.
These shifts were everything, and below is a list of everything I can think of that I did to make them happen (including hokey, cheesy things that I’m kind of embarrassed to share).
1. Meditation and yoga
Meditation! Meditation! I cannot, cannot, cannot say it enough. It changed my life. IT CHANGED MY LIFE. I’m fully aware of how insane that sounds. But seriously, try it. I’ll put in a plug for yoga here too, since it basically functions as a moving meditation.
Why it worked for me:
Meditation gave me perspective on what I was thinking and feeling. It allowed me to stop getting so caught up in the drama of thoughts and feelings, step back from them, and evaluate whether it was doing me any good to stay stuck in them.
Basically, I learned to say things to myself like, yeah I get it, you’re mad. But staying mad is unproductive, so work on letting that go so we can do things that will move us forward.
Moving past feelings like anger, frustration, anxiety, stress through meditation helped me let go of drinking through them.
If you think your mind is “too busy” or “too unfocused” to meditate, you are the person that needs meditation the most. You exercise to get in shape. You’re never “too fat” to go to the gym right? In the same way, you meditate to focus your mind. You’re never “too unfocused” to sit and meditate.
Resources that I used, things I did:
Insight timer - awesome free app for both guided meditations and simple meditation timer.
Glo - $18/month subscription for tons of wonderful yoga and meditation classes in many styles with many teachers (my fave is Dice Iida-Kline) that you can do in your own bedroom. I’d often do a class at night to settle down instead of settling down with a drink.
Meditation teacher training - I went through meditation teacher training at a studio local to me (Yoga on High). It was an excellent way to expand my knowledge and deepen my practice. There’s probably a similar program in your area.
Dandapani’s Intro to Meditation online course - Dandapani is a Hindu Priest who was part of my teacher training. We heard him speak and also took his online course as part of our training. I’m listing the course here since you can get it online on your own and it’s really good.
Mala - these are beads used for meditation. They helped me focus when my mind didn’t want to focus. Here’s a little video I made on how to use them in meditation, with a cameo by my cat’s tail. (At the beginning of the vid, I reference my Walk away from the Wine ebook of meditative practices, which you can get here if you want).
It helped me immensely to explore other people’s points of view around drinking and just around life in general. Here are some things that I read and listened to, including things I didn’t even finish.
You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. I listened to this on Audible and it changed my life. It’s general self-help stuff that shifted my perceptions in a big way. Also, it’s all-around fun to listen to. I’ve heard it at least 20 times at this point. I turn it on especially when I’m feeling discouraged. Jen will pump you up.
Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chodron. I read this as an actual book. I LOVED THIS. It really spoke to me.
May cause miracles by Gabby Berstein - I didn’t make it through all of this, but honestly what I did get through was helpful. This book gave me the idea to set my phone timer to remind myself to stop and say a mantra throughout the day, a tactic I still use often.
Loving what is by Byron Katie - Same with Gabby’s book, I didn’t get all the way through it, but the part I read made a big impact. [I know it’s weird to list books I didn’t even finish, but I really am trying to remember EVERYTHING that helped me]
Hip Sobriety - A website with TONS of amazing content around reframing your thoughts about drinking. One of the big things that tripped me up at the beginning of my “I need to quit drinking” journey was that even though I knew I needed to stop drinking, I didn’t think I was an alcoholic. So I just basically sat around and agonized over whether I needed to go to AA. I did not know there was an alternative. So much changed when I found Holly and found out there was. I especially love these posts: 19 awesome ways my life changed in 19 sober months and Live how other people won’t so you can live how other people can't.
Hello Sunday Morning is also a good way to start reframing your thoughts. I got their emails for a while.
Home podcast - Holly of Hip Sobriety (now Tempest) + Laura Mckowen talk about stuff through the lens of recovery addiction. Awesome.
Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle - A book of essays about lots of great things, including moving past an addiction problem and an eating disorder. Good, quick read.
I read the following drinking memoirs, which I loved. But after these three, I started to feel like drinking memoirs were making me relive too much shame, guilt, and sadness so I never read any more.
These next two books are on the wacky side, but they still helped me. I listened to both on Audible.
I also started following like-minded (sober) people on Instagram, and reading posts from them every day was really helpful.
3. Journaling and Writing
I define journaling as more loose, write whatever, for-your-own-eyes-only kind of a thing. I would HIGHLY recommend journaling as a tool for everyone on earth, whether you’re trying to quit drinking or not. It lets you get your thoughts out of your head, and process information in a way that’s different from just thinking about it.
You don’t have to worry if you’re not a good writer. This shouldn’t be good writing even if you are. It’s just stuff that falls out of your brain and onto the page. You don’t even have to ever read it again if you don’t want. You can write it on the back of an envelope and take it out back and burn it as soon as you’re done writing. However, you might want to tuck it away in your underwear drawer, to take out and read a year from now, because it will be interesting to see how far you’ve come.
Here are a few journaling exercises I found especially helpful:
Free writing (“morning pages”) - this is literally just writing anything and everything that comes to mind for three 8.5x11 sized pages. It starts to feel very meditative when you do it regularly, and makes a nice first-thing-in-the-morning exercise. You’ll start coming out with some really interesting thoughts.
Writing out an ideal future self (here’s an example of how that looked for me)
Writing out mantras to read every day. I had a list of these and read them over and over. Here are four of my favorites: 1. I can keep trying, I have grit. 2. This is how I make my life better. 3. This is my great adventure (from Holly at Hip Sobriety, now Tempest). 4. I choose love over fear (from Gabby Bernstein).
Get a pdf list of my favorite journaling prompts here to print out and keep with your journal.
Bonus journaling resource: The Artists Way by Julia Cameron - This is a book that walks you through 12 weeks of “a course in discovering and recovering your creative self.” I actually did this after I had quit drinking, but I’m putting it in here because I loved it so much and because it has a big journaling component.
As far as Writing, I define that as something that’s more polished and public facing.
I got the idea for my Instagram account Mantras and Mocktails, and started writing for it a couple months before I took my last drink. I’d wanted to join the conversation about gray area drinking, and spread the word so other people like me might see it and understand that you could just stop drinking whenever you wanted without a label. It became a good way for me to work through some of my feelings, and also keep me motivated through a couple times when I might have been tempted to drink, like the holidays and the first spring warm-weather nights.
Later, I started my blog, and now here we are.
If you enjoy sharing your experiences, you might give writing in a more public-facing way a try, especially starting out on a platform that requires few words like Twitter or Insta or Facebook. I think the more voices we have extolling the virtues of not drinking the better.
To quit drinking forever, you have to change your mind about drinking. It takes time, but you can do it. You really can.
Here’s that pdf of 10 journaling prompts. They’ll assist you through any change, quitting drinking or otherwise.
This post is an expanded update to my most popular post here.