There are quite a few different reasons to quit drinking or just take an extended break from the activity; ranging from mental to physical health, finding a way to interact socially without the crutch of liquor, a faith based reason (Lent, showing of religious conviction, et al) or even just to see if you can do it. All reasons to take a break, extended or otherwise, are equally worthy and should be treated with an equal amount of respect. Humanity is characterized by free will and this should be respected.
That's my way of saying this blog post will not be about why you should quit drinking or if you should, but some tips and tricks to quitting.
I have been sober for nearly six months now, making my way through an extended break, after a long and fruitful relationship with alcohol that started when I was twelve and escalated on Friday the 13th, blowing into my first real break from drinking in my life. In the intervening time I have been collecting anecdotes, stories and some very helpful advice from other people who have taken extended breaks or quit entirely.
There are a few things you need to do if you're going to quit drinking for any period of time and believe it will be difficult.
- Get rid of all of your alcohol. The first thing that you need to be sure to get rid of is any liquor that might be lying around in a flask. I, for instance, recently found quite a few fingers of whiskey in a flask that had lain forgotten in the bottom of my sock drawer for the last ten months. After you check those little odd spots you may be keeping alcohol for improved access or sheer overflow, proceed to get your beer, wine, mead, and liquor out of your home and into the hands of somebody else. I gave it to my friends, knowing that someone would have a good time with it, and they would most likely appreciate the gesture. This will also prime a pleasant event for what could be ninety days of depression, anxiety and anger depending on your level of emotional dependence on alcohol.
- Pick up a hobby. What seems to work best for people is something time consuming that relies on if not finesse then fine manipulation. A good example of the latter is sowing, which also produces something simple, like socks, hats, scarves, gloves. I took up disc golf, a quasi competitive sport that involves a large amount of finesse in your form to get good distance with your shots, it does not involve a large amount of monetary investment to get into and you walk around the course, getting vital exercise in there as opposed to languishing on the couch. However, this will not work for everyone, I just happened to live near a disc golf course. Other hobbies you can pick up besides sowing and disc golf are shooting, jogging, writing, puzzles, crosswords; anything time consuming that will hold your interest. If it's something where you can vent feeling, that's even better.
- Make sure to have some kind of support network. This is your friends and families, as well as coworkers you find yourself particularly close to, or know rather well. Most of the time your friends will support you in a bid to take a break from drinking, and some times will raise concerns they have had for some time. Now, that can be a pit trap, because you may not have a "problem" with drinking. You can avoid that argument by saying, "I'm not an alcoholic--if I had a problem I wouldn't be doing this of my own free will." It tends to shut people up when they are prematurely decrying you as an alcoholic. That line should not, however, be your soul response if you actually care that people know why you are taking a break.
- Invest in vitamins. Particularly, you should be sure to get vitamin supplements that replace thiamin and folic acid. You almost always find those two chemicals in energy bars, such as Tiger Milk or Clif bars, so if you'd rather have that on the go in the morning, it'll work. The reason you should be taking these vitamin supplements is because after the body gets used to alcohol, and then alcohol is removed from the situation for an extended period of time, it has difficulties producing these two valuable vitamins based off of the nutrients you ingest. However, you should be good after three months, at the latest.
- Be aware of your emotional state. Pay attention to how you feel. I know it's a really hippy dippy piece of advice, but as a mind altering substance, alcohol does play a role in how many people interpret their emotions and reach catharsis. When you remove a substance like that from the interplay of chemicals in the human brain some strange things can start to occur, especially for those who are dependent on it or have been drinking heavily for a long time. Depression, anxiety, increased irritability--these are all common occurrences for people who recently quit drinking. Common, but not universal, so you shouldn't feel the need to be too over vigilant and constantly second guess yourself. An easy thing to do to help deal with that is starting jogging a mile in the morning, afternoon, whenever, and stock up on supplements that feature the vitamin B12, which has energizing properties. It is also quite good for you.
- Rationalizations are the most dangerous things. In the Koran, Muslims are taught that the devil is the voice in the back of your head who makes morally questionable things sound enticing, that provides incentive and drive to do things that would harm others. Rationalization of drinking after you have made a promise to yourself to take a break or quit is you being deceived by that devil, by your own desires. However, you should in that situation weigh the worth of your word versus a beer or drink of wine or shot of Bailey's.
- Avoid people who will try to incite you to drink. While after the first few months it most likely will not be an issue, when people try to get me to drink now it becomes irritating, as though I were dragging my toe through burning coals. Some people get a particular pleasure out of seeing someone fail a promise to themselves like that. I believe the word for that sort of humor is schadenfreude.
- Be leery of Alcoholic's Anonymous. It is a good program, but there are a lot of ups and downs to it. On the one hand you're surrounded by sober people who accept you, while on the other hand it does become a large social group that can alienate your older, truer friends. Not everything in your life is based around the consumption or lack of consumption of one thing. It often becomes a large social group, gathering will self-perpetuating sobriety checks.
I hope these tips can give you a little bit of help if you're considering quitting drinking, or are in the process of doing so. Good luck--I believe in you.