I think that the stopping part of drinking can actually be the simplest part of the process. You just stop—either cold turkey, or incrementally. There are some discomforts, but they are not unbearable.
It’s the staying stopped that can be complicated, primarily because of anxieties we may have about what it will be like to be sober. Inability to cope with stresses, problems breaking the daily patterns that reinforced the drinking, or just dealing with the boredom or restlessness that often comes with early sobriety: those are the things a recovery program can help you with. A day or so into quitting, things we’ve suppressed may suddenly come to the front of our brains. It’s best to plan for that!
Figuring out what benefit alcohol was providing you can be a helpful starting point. Anticipating urges, changing your daily routine, and finding a way to make your commitment to sobriety firm and unshakeable are the keys to success.
When your first quit, or if you’re new at it, I’d suggest making specific plans for:
Š what to do with the time you usually spent drinking. It’s a pretty passive activity, and most of us found ourselves pretty restless at first. I found myself stopping at a local bookstore or magazine store almost every day, looking for reading material, and the folks at Blockbuster got to know me on a first-name basis.
Š the possibility of negative reactions from those around you. You might be a little antsy or snappish. Your drinking friends might be a little threatened by your change. Some might show relief when you decide to drink, that you’re “back to normal.” Those are big factors in how we deal with urges.
Š how to quiet your rumbling stomach. This might be a good evening for a high-carbohydrate dinner. Make lasagna! It takes time, is fun to make at home, and fills you up. Plus, people will really be impressed.
Š how to get to sleep. Herbal teas and a good, slightly boring book have helped me many nights. Or, just don’t worry about the fact that you’re up late. I have found I can function just fine on much less sleep than when I was drinking, probably because the quality of sober sleep is more restful.
Again, the next step might be to try and figure out what it is that alcohol was providing you with so that once you have stopped you can stay stopped. Right now, while you’re reducing your intake, would be a good opportunity to observe and describe what you’re missing. That can be helpful in building the tools to combat urges.
Writing those “benefits” down and posting them here can elicit suggestions from others about how they filled the void once alcohol was out of their system. Part of it is practical—tools and techniques—and part of it is philosophical—learning to NOT think of it as a void.
I distinctly remember my first night in over 20 years without alcohol. The restlessness seemed pretty overwhelming, and I kept looking at the clock and realizing how little sleep I was getting. That is a particular symptom of “detoxing” that can really be an obstacle for many people: “I can’t sleep without a drink.”
There are a couple of simple ways to dispute or deflect that. One is to do things that will help you relax—warm bath, book, hot milk, herbal tea, massage, candles, soft music...uh oh, I’m getting carried away here.
Another is to realize that you may be fixating on, and becoming anxious about, your sleeplessness. So stay awake! All night, if that happens. Big deal. Heck, you used to do it in college, right? And you can nap when your body tells you to.
Sober sunrises are beautiful! You may be a little less on top of your job tomorrow, but probably not as impaired as if you’d been drunk. Besides, taking a “sick day” to achieve sobriety isn’t unreasonable. After all, you are dealing with a medical condition.
This is all part of a broader anxiety about quitting drinking. People are often scared of what life will be like without it. Folks on these forum boards often report fears of boredom, coping with stress, dealing with how other people will react (just wait until we get close to the holidays!), etc. It WILL be uncomfortable, but all of those things are bearable. Dealing with them as separate issues, and ruling out alcohol as the solution to any of them, is an important step.