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Have you heard for “Dry January?” Or perhaps “Sober October”? Sober curious months are becoming more and more popular and can have many positive effects on your life. A couple of months ago, I decided to do my own for a Dry April. I wanted to see how I felt without drinking alcohol. It was a little intimidating at first, but I learned a lot and it is now something I absolutely recommend. Everyone will have their own unique experience, but for me, reducing alcohol has massively improved my sleep quality, decreased my anxiety, given me more time in my day, and more.
Does this sound like something you’d like to try?
There are many reasons to have a sober curious month….from physical or mental health reasons, weight loss, improved sleep, to a just a desire to break a dependency on alcohol. NOTE: If you have a serious physical dependency on alcohol, completely cutting back can be unsafe and should be done under the direction of a physician. But for those that feel like your consumption is moderate but something you want to change, here are my tips to help support you trying out your first sober curious month!
1. Clearly write down your reasons for wanting to stop.
- If you want some help with this, SMART Recovery is a free resource based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (which you know I love) that has some helpful worksheets. Changing a habit is always going to take some work and effort, so grounding yourself in your reasons why will be helpful later on. Think about the pros and cons of making this change, and make sure you believe that the pros outrank the cons. Your reasons can change as you go through the process as you start to see results. One thing I didn’t realize until after stopping drinking was that a major downside of alcohol was how sleepy it made me. For example, I might have had a glass of wine while watching a play or at a social event and then I would start to feel very tired and want to go home. After realizing this, anytime I got a bit of a craving for a drink I asked myself if I really wanted to feel sleepy, and the answer was usually no. That reason consistently has been powerful in helping me stop drinking.
2. Stock your fridge/pantry with interesting substitutions.
- For me, reaching for a drink at the end of a long day was a habitual pattern. So, I got a ton of different non-alcoholic alternatives to have at home as go to drinks when that habit kicked in. There are many directions you can go with this, but my favorites are: La Croix (either plain or with a dash of apple cider vinegar for a little extra bite), kombucha (expensive, but feels like a special festive treat), Fresca (this was the surprise MVP), non-alcoholic beer (Heineken zero is decent, as is Lagunitas Hops Water for an IPA vibe), herbal tea, and regular water. I tried to stay away from things with a lot of sugar because I knew I would be consuming it frequently, so didn’t want to create a pattern of substantial sugar intake. I had some questions about the small percentage of alcohol in Kombucha and non-alcoholic beer at the start, but after doing research I felt that the levels were low enough (from zero to 0.5%) that I was comfortable with it. Some people do find these triggering though, so stay away from them if that is your experience.
3. Find some community.
- This can take many different forms. You could decide to commit to this with a partner or with a group of friends. You could find an in-person group of people also trying to stop drinking alcohol (some options include AA, Smart Recovery, Refuse Recovery). What worked really well for me was an online community on Reddit of people quitting alcohol (“Stopdrinking” thread on Reddit). There is an extremely large range of experiences of people in this community, but it is incredibly supportive, and any time I had a question I found a wealth of knowledge there.
4. Learn about and understand the different ways not drinking might impact how you feel physically and emotionally.
- For me, the first two weeks of not drinking, I felt amazing. I had trouble falling asleep the first couple of nights because I was used to having alcohol help make me sleepy, but that evened out and I started to sleep fully through the night. I had incredible amounts of energy (probably from the improved sleep) and was excited and motivated to take on new goals. My emotions also felt rawer, I teared up at commercials and felt anger more intensely. In the third week, I had a massive dip in energy. My sleep was still improved, but I felt like it was impossible to get enough of it. Following that I had a slump emotionally, where I continued to lack physical energy and motivation. This was where the community was helpful because I learned that this was common and part of the process. The highs and lows passed, and I reached a level of homeostasis. Some resources that I liked for learning more about these effects were: This Naked Mind by Annie Grace, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray, The SMART Recovery handbook, and the podcast “Take a Break from Drinking”. Your experience will be different from mine, so don’t worry if it doesn’t follow the same pattern. The key takeaway is that you will likely experience some unusual changes, which in itself is normal.
5. Take it one day at a time.
- If you are just doing a month challenge, you probably won’t feel too overwhelmed by this, but it can be easy to spiral when thinking of how you will maintain your goal over time, or what you will do at a party next week, or if you can you drink a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. Another great tip from the StopDrinking reddit community was to just focus on not drinking that day. As long as you are doing that, you are doing what you need to be doing.
6. Think in advance about how you want to handle social interactions.
- In researching this on my own sober curious journey, I noticed that it is very common to worry about what to tell other people or what other people will think. And equally, it seems just as common that other people typically don’t even notice or may even be doing something similar themselves. My own partner didn’t even notice I was doing this for the first week until I told him! So I would encourage you to pick a favorite non-alcoholic drink (my go-to is a Shirley Temple) and not let anxiety about what others think hold you back from participating in social activities. Sometimes telling just one person you trust that you are not drinking can help relieve some stress and then you know another person has your back. The caveat to this is that if being around others who are drinking or being at bar is especially triggering to you, then it can be good to avoid for a bit while you are adjusting. You can still socialize, just try to direct the activities to coffee or lunch or maybe something physically active where no one will be drinking.
7. Find some new hobbies to fill your time.
- Many people report feeling like they have found significantly more time in their days from not drinking. On the one hand, this is a great thing considering time is one of the most valuable resources, but on the other hand, this can be very stressful if you experience cravings and suddenly have all of this time to focus on that. Additionally, if you aren’t comfortable socializing with friends while they are drinking and that is what you are used to doing during the evenings and weekends, you want to find some new ways to fill up your time. This wasn’t specifically a problem for me, but I did feel that I had more physical and mental energy, so it was a great time to take on some new challenges. I started running and rock climbing, both things I had not been able to find time for before. Some other things to explore that I have heard are useful for filling your time include: cleaning the house, working out at the gym, yoga, reading, walking outside, taking a class (either in person or online), learning to play an instrument, go on coffee dates and many more. You want to look for things that can absorb your full attention and then generally try to balance solitary and social activities.
Overall, I am so glad I tried a sober curious month. I do admittedly love a glass of wine and craft beers, but I also LOVE waking up early on the weekends without even a hint of a hangover. At the moment, I’ve found that feeling to be worth it to me to keep continuing this experiment. I’ll continue to share how the journey evolves and other tips and tools I find along the way.
Actionable mini-experiment: If you want to try your own sober curious month, you can give it a first shot on a small scale. Pick one night or event where you would normally drink and commit to not drinking alcohol. Write down your “why”, plan out your substitutes, tell one friend, stick to your resolution and see how you feel afterward. Was it challenging? What were the difficult moments? Did you still have fun? If you decide then to take it further, use the answers to these questions and the tips above as a guide. If you’re not ready for this but interested, listen to a podcast with Ruby Washington (author of Sober Curious) or spend 30 minutes on the StopDrinking subreddit for a further introduction into this topic.