I can say, with certainty, that I lived my best life in the last year. I can also say, with full clarity, that the single most important step I took to realize that life was cutting out alcohol. Without the presence of booze I have been healthier, happier, more productive, a better friend, and a stronger person. Have I always hit the mark? No, absolutely not. I’ve had bad days and lazy days and days where I said or did the “wrong” thing. I’ve had days where I was selfish, judgmental, or rude to others. I’ve had days where I was sad, lonely, unsure, or anxious. The beauty is, I found that I was able to bounce back to a space of peace, clarity, and happiness much more quickly without the presence of alcohol.
While getting to this place took more than just cutting out booze, making the decision to be sober for an extended period of time was, without a doubt, the catalyst to me living my best life. The decision to cut out drinking was not an easy one. I talked myself out of sobriety for months because, in my mind, it just didn’t make sense. I’m a single, social, 30-something living in one of the most popular cities for young professionals in the United States. Happy hours and late-nights are practically a rite of passage. Cutting out drinking seemed like nothing short of social suicide.
Regardless, there was something inside of me that told me drinking had to go if I wanted to feel the way I wanted to feel - I was never going to experience feelings like joy, bliss, and fulfillment with alcohol in the picture (at least not at its current status). When I finally decided to make the move, sobriety actually came with ease. Why? It’s because I chose to acknowledge the drinking mentalities I’d come to accept as realities and shift my internal narrative and beliefs about alcohol and everything I’d let it impact in my life. While this is only a small part of the work I did, I wanted to share with you the four drinking mentalities that were most significantly keeping me from living my best life (and of course, how I shifted each one):
Drinking Mentality #1: I won’t be fun/have fun if I don’t drink. The fear of being boring ran deep for me. A shy extrovert, I spent my teenage years feeling intimidated and unconfident in social situations. It wasn’t until I started drinking that I was able to come out of my shell. This reinforced the belief that I wasn’t capable of loosening up without a drink and that I required liquid courage to be outgoing in a social setting. While this may have been true for my teenage self, let’s face it: we’re all going through a lot as teenagers. As I grew into a young adult, I gained experience that helped me to be confident in professional settings without drinking. However, I still used booze as a crutch in social situations. As soon as I’d enter a room full of people, the shy, unsure girl in me would emerge and I’d make a bee-line for the bar.
Choosing sobriety left two options for me: becoming a recluse and completely avoiding uncomfortable social situations or facing them head-on. I choose to do the latter (for the most part) and reminded myself that I am most assuredly not a boring or socially incompetent person. I’d managed to entertain, speak on a platform in front of hundreds and thrive in other situation without booze. I could not and would not let myself believe the myth that I was simply incapable of being or having fun without alcohol.
We all have the tools we need to hack it it life within us. The struggle is, we’ve let ourselves believe we do not. Is it easier to conquer social situations with the help of a little liquid courage? Absolutely, but we are also 100% capable of being social without drinking. Telling ourselves we can’t do something is a sure way to gaurantee our own failure.
Drinking Mentality #2: I won’t have any friends if I don’t drink. The first thing i had to get over when it came to this mentality was pretty harsh: If my friendships are all reliant on alcohol, how great are those friendships? While there may be exceptions, friendships built on a foundation of alcohol are inevitably unstable. They lack meaning, true connection, and commitment. It is extremely likely that the course of many of your friendships will change when you cut out a major tie that holds you together. Truly, a change in lifestyle of any kind - including a shift of focus on health or a new relationship - can alter friendships; this is part of the ebb and flow of life.
Personally, I choose not to give up on my friends when I stopped drinking. I could have chosen to abandon them, affirming that our lifestyles no longer aligned. To me, this sent the wrong message. While I did naturally grown apart from some, I chose to see my friends beyond our social drinking relationship. What I found was that the relationships that mattered actually grew stronger. My shift in mentality required the openness to see my relationships differently and the willingness to put in a different effort with my friendships than I had before.The result was a surprising shift in relationships from superficial to meaningful.
Drinking Mentality #3: I will be an outcast in social situations if I don’t drink. This mentality ties in with Mentality #1, but reinforces the belief that we won’t be accepted if we don’t conform to the social norms around us. Unfortunately, the idea of “fitting in” is something many of us have been taught is important since childhood. Choosing to be different causes us to feel different. We start to play the comparison game and feel like we owe others an explanation for our differences. If you choose to compare your ability to be accepted and to fit in with those who are living a drastically different lifestyle, you’ll come up short every time.
A pivotal point in my mentality change here came from the fabulous Brené Brown. While I could literally quote Brené all day, but I think this quote relates most closely to this Drinking Mentality: “‘Cool’ is an emotional straightjacket.” Meaning that it is our desire to be “cool” or to “fit in” that holds us back emotionally and psychologically. Trying simply to be “cool” deprives us of our greatness by allowing us to accept the story that we will be happier if we try to be like everyone else. Simply put; it’s not true and drinking to fit in is one major tactic we use to sabotage our ability to live our best life.
Drinking Mentality #4: I don’t have a problem (or my friends drink just as much as I do). Measuring your lifestyle against others is an incredibly common and devastatingly ineffective way to judge whether or not we are on the right path. Over the past decade, the presence of social media has only reinforced our instinct to compare our lifestyle to that of others. Ultimately, measuring our own lifestyle or actions against that of others is unhealthy and unproductive.
After moving to a new city, I was surrounded by young professionals who were - for the lack of a better term - functional alcoholics (or at the least high-level social drinkers). Many enjoyed cocktails everyday and some just binged on the weekends (of course, not everyone was drinking in excess, I simply just found this was an acceptable norm). Looking around, my peers and I had started to experience external success: we were making good money, living good lives, with good jobs. By all accounts, we all had our acts together despite the fact that we spent most of our time drinking on the weekends. As a result, my expectations of normal were altered by my environment and I became comfortable with the story that my party girl lifestyle was normal.
Here’s the thing: there is no normal. You set the bar for what will be normal for you. For me, I wanted normal to include feelings - things like happiness and fulfillment - and I wasn’t finding that with my social drinking lifestyle. Though I didn’t know it for sure, I was pretty sure that my contemporaries weren’t truly experiencing these feelings either. Maybe those around me just had a different capacity for alcohol or maybe there was something else going. After one too many hangovers that led to a completely unproductive and unfulfilling weekend, I stopped telling myself that my lifestyle was okay, and choose to see a different path. A path where I still co-existed with and appreciated my friends, but chose to live out my story in a different way.
Ultimately, my decision to denounce these four mentalities and rewrite my narrative about my relationship with alcohol and it’s (lack of) power over me was what enabled me to breeze through a long period of sobriety with little to no trouble at all. Shifting my own beliefs led me to understand that I didn’t need alcohol to navigate social situations and cement friendships. In fact, I developed a new confidence given the notion that I could thrive in life without any help from alcohol whatsoever.
If this resonates with you and you’ve considered giving up alcohol (regardless of the amount of time you want to commit), I’d like to help! Using these tactics, I managed to go from binge drinking every weekend to successfully and easily navigating my way through an entire year without booze.
Follow this link to learn more about my 30-Day Alcohol Detox; a month-long program I created for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol, but need help shifting their mentality about drinking first. In addition to helping you identify and shift your current drinking mentalities, the program will help you change the way you think about alcohol and drinking altogether.