image by The Kitchn
No one enjoys waking up with a hangover, yet we tend to find ourselves dealing with it again and again and again. For many (many) years, I believed that to have a good time; you wanted to have a drink. It isn’t necessarily that I needed a drink to have a good time; I just felt that I ought to have a drink because that’s what fun people do! Dinner? Let’s have a glass (or two) of wine! Going out, out? Manhattans, please! Staying in? Ooo, a gin & tonic sounds good! You get the gist. But, I always felt dreadful after drinking, and it got to the point where I was frequently wondering why I was doing it again.
There was no denying that consuming alcohol was increasing my anxiety, especially because while I would let loose in the evening, the next morning, I would spend at least 30 minutes running through everything I had said and done. What a waste of time! For someone who prioritizes health and wellness in almost every other aspect of life, it just didn’t make sense that I would regularly force my body and mind to endure this. The notion of quitting alcohol stared simmering in my mind in early 2018. Still, it wasn’t until the fall of that year that I decided to take steps to reduce it, ultimately cutting it out almost entirely.
I am certainly not alone in this. There is a significant cultural shift going on when it comes to young people and alcohol consumption. As The Atlantic reports, Millennials seem to be tired of drinking so much. They are keen to “search for moderation in a culture that has long treated alcohol as a dichotomy: Either you drink whenever the opportunity presents itself, or you don’t drink at all.”
Enter the term “sober curious” – which means that you know alcohol doesn’t make you feel great, and you don’t drink it often, but you’re not willing to put an all-or-nothing label on yourself. Within the context of the modern wellness revolution, this outlook makes tons of sense. As we become more conscious about what we are putting into and onto our bodies – organic produce, locally raised and hormone-free meat (if we consume it), non-dairy milk, clean beauty products, and ethical clothing – it seems obvious that we would also question alcohol. If you are considering reducing your alcohol consumption, here are my top tips after a year of being sober:
images via Town & Country
1. Get to know your patterns
Even if you have no intention of completely cutting alcohol out of your life, you still want to ensure you are drinking mindfully and are aware of your behavior concerning it. For a couple of weeks, pay attention to your drinking habits so you can become familiar with your patterns. Perhaps you enjoy the evening ritual of cracking open a cold beer? Or maybe you tend to drink more than you intend when you are bored at an event? This isn’t about judging or being harsh on yourself. Instead, it is about checking-in with your emotions and noticing when and why you are drinking. It will also make it easier to see where you can potentially make some changes moving forward.
2. Make a pros and cons list
When I started seriously considering reducing my alcohol intake, the first thing I did was make a pros and cons list. Turns out, personally, there wasn’t too much on the pros side and a significant amount on the cons. When I had it explicitly written in front of me, it was easy to see what I needed to do. This exercise also helped me to get really clear about why I was abstaining – it was wasting too much of my time, energy, and money, plus I despised the person that I would become when drunk, and I would rather forego the excess calories. I kept a photo of the list on my phone, which helped me to stay strong when I would feel my resolve wavering throughout the first few weeks.
The next time you find yourself craving a drink, or are ordering at a restaurant, pause before you order and think back to your pros and cons list. Start by sipping on water, club soda, or another non-alcoholic drink for the first 45 minutes and then make a decision.
image via A Conscious Collection
3. Choose some appealing alternatives
Now that you have got to know your patterns and have a pros and cons list cemented to your brain to remind you of why you want to reduce your consumption, it is time to choose some alternatives. Luckily, in 2020, there is a wide array of choices (in fact, Bon Appétit estimates that the market for low- or no-alcohol beverages could grow by almost a third in just the next three years). Honestly, my go-to order is tonic water with bitters – six to seven shakes – because it is refreshing, easy, cheap, and pretty much every bar/restaurant can make it. So many of my friends have tried it, enjoyed it, and now order it when they want a non-alcoholic option. Love it. Another easy option is ginger beer (I love Brooklyn Crafted), as it can be found at most bars and grocery stores.
However, if you are looking to make a cocktail-esque beverage, then you want to have a bottle of Seedlip on hand. The world’s first booze-free distilled spirit brand, Seedlip currently has three offerings (a warm spiced version, a zesty citrus-forward blend, and a floral concoction of peas and homegrown hay), each of which can take the place of any white liquor when making a drink. Alternatively, you could try your hand at one of these recipes: Grapefruit Rosemary Fizz, Fizzy Rhubarb Shrub, Tangerine Rosemary Mocktail, Blueberry Maple Mojito Mocktail, and Cucumber Cooler. I haven’t tried them yet, but Kin Euphorics makes a canned “spritz” and two drinks that can be diluted with mixers or enjoyed on the rocks, and that will (apparently) “elevate your state.”
For the beer drinkers, Heineken has created a nonalcoholic version of their iconic brew. At the same time, Surreal Brewing Company makes non-alcoholic craft beer that is so good it won the “World’s Best Low-Alcoholic Beer in 2019.”
4. Communicate with those around you
In the beginning, one of my biggest fears was how I would tell the people closest to me that I was going to become sober. Drinking was such a big part of our social lives that I knew it could be awkward to announce that I was withdrawing – mainly because it would inevitably force those around me also to question their drinking habits. Even if it takes a little time to sink in, these conversations are essential. Openly communicating with those around you is key to building your support system, which you will come to rely on when the going gets tough.
For those outside my inner circle, at first, I would tell them that I was not drinking for a month. This tended not to provoke further questioning. A lot of times, people would say to me that they had once stopped drinking for XXY months and “should probably do it again soon” because they “felt great.” As I became more comfortable in my sobriety, I found myself talking more openly about my decision with anyone interested! The last thing I want is to be preachy (gag), but I also want to use my experiences to facilitate conversation about sobriety when the opportunity presents itself.
All of this is to say; you don’t have to explain your decisions to anyone. While it is helpful to have people on your side, you don’t need anyone’s blessing to do this for you. If people are quick to judge, let it go and continue doing what you know is best for you. There is a good chance that in a few months, they will be inspired by what you have done!
image via Ashley Neese
5. Keep track of how you feel
It took me a while to start really feeling the benefits of sobriety. For some reason, I thought that once the alcohol was gone, all my problems would be resolved. It turns out, that wasn’t entirely correct; my sleeping habits didn’t improve, my clothes weren’t instantly fitting better, and my skin wasn’t glowing from the inside. But, I kept my mind on the bigger picture and the fact that I genuinely believed that sobriety would bring to my life everything alcohol promised. Slowly, I did start to notice changes (mainly in my bank account), and with every “sober first,” I got stronger and surer that this was the right choice.
Journaling throughout those first few months was crucial because it allowed me to work through all my thoughts as often as I needed. It also gave me reference points to return to and to see how far I had come. I highly recommend that everyone keeps a journal, but especially when going through a transition period like this. Having a dedicated, private space where you can braindump everything that is whirling around in your head is such a fantastic release.
The sober curious movement is all about making drinking decisions based on how you are feeling; but, for it to be effective, you need to be in tune with how you are feeling. Being curious and kind opens up the possibilities to better understand yourself and your motive for doing what you do. No matter how you choose to capture your feelings, make sure to embrace your sober firsts (first sober wedding, first sober date, etc.) and don’t underestimate the strength that you employed to reach those milestones.
Are you considering reducing your alcohol intake? What is stopping you? Let me know your thoughts, insights, and any relevant experiences in the comments below!
If you know or suspect that you have addictive behaviors around alcohol, it’s important to seek professional help. Alcohol addiction is serious and has severe consequences. If you or someone you love is struggling, using alcohol to numb feelings regularly, or is often and negatively affected by drinking, seek out a local support group or call a hotline to find the best ways to help.