Dry January? Here’s how to do it
You don’t have to climb Mont Blanc because you’re sober for a month. Do something you actually like doing
If a lot of your life is built around drinking, you need to figure out what you’re going to do instead. Hill walking?
If you’re among the many people who have given up drink for January, you are on your way by now. But you might already be finding yourself starting to get lured into certain traps. Here are six that I know about through personal experience.
The first goes by the name of euphoric recall, in other words seeing things through rose-tinted spectacles. As you pass by a pub, your brain will tell you that all the people inside are extremely happy because they are drinking and wouldn’t you like to go and join them? In fact, as you well know, they are not extremely happy and the pub might even be one of those gloomy dens in which people have to drink to survive the decor. Keep walking.
Your brain will also tell you that you yourself are always in a good mood when you are drinking. If you’re feeling lousy right now you might think this is because you are denying yourself a drink. In fact, whether you are drinking a lot or not, your moods will vary between good and bad. If you wait, your bad mood will go without the help of alcohol.
To quote Jason Vale, whose book Kick the drink easily I like a lot: “In theory, every time you drink alcohol you should be laughing and enjoying yourself but you can’t say that happens every time you drink, can you?”
Another trap is the thought that normally enjoyable activities will no longer be fun if you’re not having a drink. These might include lunch, dinner, going out to a match, a movie or a play, and so on. What’s the point, your brain will ask, if you not having a few jars as well?
A helpful thought to have is: If it’s no good without alcohol, then it’s no good. It is factual too: if you have to be drinking to enjoy something, then the something in question probably isn’t worth it.
The fourth trap is the failure to figure out what you’re going to do when you are not drinking. Sitting there looking at the four walls or idly flicking from channel to channel are activities that lose their charms after a while.
So if a lot of your life is built around drinking, you need to figure out what you’re going to do instead. These activities, for instance, might include going to a movie or reading – dedicated drinkers may scoff but these are actually quite normal things to do. By the way, you don’t have to run 10 miles every day in the snow or climb Mont Blanc just because you’re sober for a month. Pick stuff you’ll actually like doing and do it.
Another trap is imagining that when the urge to drink hits you, you’re going to suffer for the rest of the month. It’s an irrational thought, but powerful for all that.
Instead of desperately needing to get rid of the urge, just allow the feeling to sit there. Stay out of the thoughts in your head. Observe the physical urge, notice how it changes, and give it time to pass. This is sometimes called “urge surfing”.
The principle here is to understand that urges pass, usually in less than 20 minutes and that what’s important is not to be afraid of them.
The last trap is the fear of being seen as odd for not taking a drink. Here’s a secret: the sad or happy fact is that most other people couldn’t care tuppence whether you drink or not. It is not really a matter of interest to them.
They get over your non-drinking very, very quickly. By and large, they are more preoccupied with themselves than with your good self.
Even going off drink for a month can be tougher than non-drinkers realise. So for each of the next three weeks I will add in some further thoughts from my own experience of having gone through this. You’ll find them at the end of each column.
Enjoy the hangover-free mornings.
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.