So Dry January is nearly done. Whatever you accomplished during this time, you should be proud of yourself. Taking on Dry January is a challenge for most and being brave enough to give it a go is amazing.
But now we come to the crux of the matter. What are you going to do going forward?
Dry January is an amazing time and there is so much advice on how to cut down on your drinking. All of which is hugely valuable for your Dry January journey, but ultimately, Dry January or any of these other commendable challenges, do not give you much advice on what to do once you have stopped drinking and you have to face yourself, sober.
Whatever the reasons that we drank alcohol, more often that not it was to hide from some part of ourselves that we didn’t know how to handle.
Did we drink to hide from social anxiety? Did we drink to hide from problems at work or home? Did we drink to hide from powerful emotions? Did we drink from frustration or boredom? Or did we drink to hide from our past or from fear of our future? The list could go on indefinitely.
So in this post I want to give you some tips and advice on how to learn to live with your sober self.
So, how do we learn to live with our sober self?
Firstly, what does ‘living with your sober self’ actually mean? We can live with our sober self and be completely miserable but that is hopefully not what we are aiming for!
What I mean is getting to know yourself when you are sober. Learning all about you – you will probably be quite surprised by a lot of what you learn – and then learning to like who you are, with the aim to eventually love who you are. So few people like themselves, let alone love themselves.
Put in the work
Getting to know and learning to like yourself is a huge challenge for many people, probably even harder than not drinking, so be prepared to put in the time and effort to get to know yourself!
You have to make a commitment to yourself that you are going to do whatever it takes to get to know yourself. You need to be honest with yourself and be brave enough to probe into areas of your life that you may have been trying to hide from for a long time.
You must accept that this journey will be emotional, rocky and will quite possibly leave you feeling exhausted, but it is worth it to know that afterwards you will be moving forward to your new sober life, free from the burden of all past worries and fears that have held you back so far.
It only takes a quick look at social media or the internet to see stories of people becoming sober and achieving goals that they never imagined possible. This is because, in order to remain sober, they will have learnt to accept themselves as they are, and that acceptance will have opened a whole world of possibilities that they are now brave enough to accept.
This can be you too, and don’t worry! You do not have to do any of this alone!
Ask for help
The best thing I learnt on my sober journey was that I was not alone. My past history of depression and anxiety problems should have made me realise that I was not alone and that asking for help was not shameful, but while the world is beginning to accept mental health problems without the stigma, I felt that struggling with alcohol was still a massive no no to admit to anyone! I mean, was I an alcoholic? With every preconception that come attached to that label there was no way I was going to be opening that can of worms! (See my post Am I an alcoholic? for more on my thoughts about alcohol labels)
Yet when I did finally enter the sober world, starting with Dry January 2018, I realised that I was absolutely not alone and there is a huge community of sober people out there waiting to help, share their stories and advise you on your journey.
If you are looking for this community try
- Instagram, especially people like Catherine Gray, Sober Dave and Janeyleegrace
- One Year no Beer
- Join Club Soda
Equally, if you need to ask for help on your journey to finding yourself, there is nothing wrong with that. Getting help is the bravest and best thing you can do for yourself and it is your first act of self-love on your journey.
Over the years I have asked for help with depression, help with anxiety that was so severe I couldn’t leave the house, help with pre and post-natal depression, help with staying sober and help with all my emotional baggage. Please ask for help, it is nothing to worry about or be ashamed of.
So, who do you ask?
If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, go to your doctor. They may prescribe medication to help and they are also able to sign post you to other things such as therapy.
Although believe me, staying sober will do wonders for your mental health. My anxiety, which could be debilitating, disappeared at about 6 months sober.
Ask for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an amazing talking therapy that helps you to understand your thoughts and the effect that your thoughts have on your behaviour.
I was referred by my doctor to a mindfulness-based CBT course to help with my post-natal depression after The Baby.
What is wonderful is that CBT doesn’t go delving around in your past, which can often make you feel far worse than you did before, but it teaches you about yourself now and how you are responsible for your life going forward. Although the doctor will often only put you on a short 6 – 10 week course, CBT is ultimately led by you and you can carry on doing it for the rest of your life.
CBT is centred around the idea that your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are an ongoing cycle all connected to each other. Basically, you will have a thought, that thought will make you feel a certain way and that feeling will lead to whatever action you take. That action will then lead to more thoughts and so on.
For example if you think ‘Nobody likes me’, you will probably feel pretty rubbish about yourself and then be less likely to go out to try to meet people, which will then make you think ‘I have no friends’ and then feel pretty lonely and sad etc.
However, if you think ‘I am a nice person’ you are more likely to feel good about yourself and therefore go out and talk to people which will make you think that you have friends and you will feel better.
This is a simplified version, but actually it is pretty simple. Like I said before though, it takes practice and effort to achieve this. We all have an inner voice that we have been allowing to dictate to us what we think and feel for our whole lives. We are now trying to change what that inner voice says. Hard at first, easier the more you practice, and ultimately life changing.
The book above is the one I used when I first started looking at CBT, or you can sign up to my free email course below on how to feel better about yourself in seven days below.
What about mindfulness?
Mindfulness is very closely linked to CBT. It is difficult to miss the rise in popularity of mindfulness, and there is good reason for its popularity.
Mindfulness is simply becoming aware of ourselves. We often run on auto pilot physically and mentally and therefore miss the signs that our body and mind our giving us to say that things are not quite right. I am convinced that had I known anything that I know now, my depression, anxiety and problems with alcohol would never have manifested the way they did. When I look back, I can see the signs that were screaming at me but at the time I didn’t realise what they were.
Physically, our bodies will tell us through niggling pains, repeated symptoms or illness that all is not well. If we ignore these symptoms the body will eventually manifest the problem as something extremely serious that cannot be ignored such as chronic illness, injury, cancers and disease.
It is exactly the same mentally. If we do not deal with what is happening with our thoughts then eventually, they will manifest in a way that we cannot ignore, through depression, anxiety or emotional collapse.
The Eastern side of the world has been practicing mindfulness for ever, but our Western manic hectic lives are often not compatible with taking the time to focus on ourselves and our own wellbeing.
My favourite Dalai Lama quote summarises our Western lives perfectly:
Man “sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Mindfulness techniques such as meditations, body scans and yoga can all help us to beginning to understand ourselves. They teach us to pay attention to what our bodies and thoughts are saying and telling us. This knowledge then gives us the power to change what we are doing and save ourselves from more serious harm.
These techniques are readily available and free on You Tube and here are some of my favourites.
Changing your thoughts is often the hardest things to do because we have been thinking those thoughts for so long.
I have written about habit changing for quitting alcohol in How to stop alcohol cravings, and it is exactly the same for quitting negative thoughts. You brain is happily taking the most well-trodden paths regardless of the consequences. If you have been thinking ‘I’m useless’ for years and years, your brain is going to use that pathway unless you give it another pathway to use. Like I said, this take effort!
Affirmations and visualisations can be a good way of doing this.
Now that you are mindful of your thoughts and aware of how CBT works, you can systematically replace those thoughts with different ones.
When you realise that you are thinking ‘I am useless’, you can actively change it to something else such as ‘I am good at….’. If you feel you don’t believe what you are saying, don’t worry! That’s just because you have said it for so long. The more you actively change your thoughts to more positive ones, the more your brain will start taking those pathways first and the more you will starts to believe them.
I love the quote that says the definition of insanity is “Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”
It just makes it so clear that in order to change something you have to change something!
For more on how to change your thoughts see my post Change your thoughts to change your life.
Be gentle and kind with yourself
This journey to knowing and liking yourself is tough and intense. You are doing a lot of work and putting in a lot of effort with everything above, so it is crucially important at this time to be kind and gentle with yourself.
Your CBT and mindfulness should help with this. If you are aware of self-recriminating thoughts, you will be able to stop them and change them to kinder thoughts. But the important thing is to remember to stay aware, so that you don’t start slipping back to old negative thoughts.
Make sure you take the time you need to do this work and give yourself a break about other things.
Eat and drink what you need to eat and drink. This time, early sobriety and all this learning about yourself, can be exhausting, so you do what you need to do to get you through. You can worry about healthy eating later, and you will probably be amazed how much better your body looks and feels just because you have quit drinking and are learning to like yourself more.
Do what you want to do. This is a tough enough time without you going to events you don’t want to go to or taking on things just because you feel that you should.
There is no should! You have the choice to do what you want with your life. In my post Fun things to do without alcohol, I have written about things that you might want to try. You might be surprised what you learn about yourself and what you actually like doing.
The book you must read
My ultimate recommendation, as always, is a book that changed my life called You can heal your life. It was massively popular in its time because it started people questioning why they acted in certain ways and showed them how they could change their lives for the better. It is the ultimate book in learning to understand, like and love yourself. Louise Hays, the author, had an traumatic childhood but went on to do incredible things for many people and only recently died at the age of 90.
The link to this life changing book is below:
You have the power!
Not to quote He-Man here (for those of my generation, that will remember!) but you do have the power to do all of this.
Your life, your happiness and your health are all in your hands. While this can be a terrifying concept it is also completely wonderful because all you need is you!
The step you have taken towards your new sober life is a powerful one, because now you can really start to work on you and finding out what you actually want from your life.
In my next post, How to trust your sober self, I will look at how we can find that power within ourselves and use it to create the life that we want, however if you want some more food for thought in the meantime, have a read of my post How to build a life you do not want to escape from.