Updated: Nov 9, 2020
It is that time of the year when people decide to jump on the bandwagon and quit drinking for a month. The reasons people do this vary but there is one commonality between most of the bandwagoners; they know, even if only on a subconscious level, they have a problem with alcohol. Sober October gives people an excuse to quit drinking for a month without the stigma of being "sober." The stigma, unfortunately, is incredibly powerful and far-reaching. If I had to venture a guess as to why most people who want to quit drinking don't, it's because of the stigma associated with sobriety. Nevertheless, Sober October is here and people are banding together. They are holding each other accountable. They are embarking on the single greatest decision they can make for their minds and bodies, but they don't even know it. After a month, most of them will happily and eagerly go back to the bottle. Some, will even through a party to celebrate their victorious month off the sauce.
I started drinking when I was about twelve years old. Since then, I had actively engaged in a heavy drinking lifestyle. All throughout my high school years, I creatively found ways to access booze. I partied whenever possible with friends, but I partied alone a lot too. I never really needed a reason to drink, I just drank. In the military, I drank so much I passed out and woke up in very unsafe and questionable circumstances, one of which was under a train. I have made all of the horrific drunk choices. I have played a role in hurting many people who were close to me. I have gotten away with many, many things I should not have gotten away with. I have destroyed my mind and body by filling them with poison and never allowing them to recover before consciously making the choice to break them down again. I have made excuses. I have justified my actions. I have ignored every piece of advice I have received from friends, family, and therapists. I lived for alcohol, and alcohol did not do one positive thing for me. It was the most unfair and unbalanced relationship ever, and I loved it.
I don't have a problem
There was a time, though I do not know when it ended when I was unaware of my problem with alcohol. For many years, I just assumed drinking too much was what people did. It was an expectation, and I was living up to my end of the deal. I do not believe I was wrong to think an expectation existed regarding alcohol. I mean, look around us; actively listen. We are not only told but encouraged to drink by everyone and through every medium available. Books, magazines, television, movies, music, friends, family, strangers, and even doctors have told and encouraged us to drink. Please, do not kid yourself. It is an expectation. What we do with that expectation is, of course, personal and up to each individual. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of us fall prey to the overabundance of encouragement to drink. Why wouldn't we? It is a reward, after all.
At some point, I began to see and feel the truth about my drinking. I began to understand I did, in fact, have a problem with drinking. At first, it was subtle. I barely recognized the awareness and feelings suggesting I had a problem, but they were there. Over time, I started questioning myself and my drinking. I never did this out loud, I didn't want people to think I was an alcoholic, for God's sake, but I did question myself. Why did I need to drink alone? Why did I have to have a drink to have fun? Why was I able to recover from hangovers so easily. Why was alcohol the first thing I turned to in times of crisis, stress, happiness, or even boredom? I never spent much time pondering these questions, and therefore, never found any answers. Consequently, I brushed my uncertainty away and went about living my drinking lifestyle.
As a result of my inability to find answers to my questions regarding my drinking, I came up with a brilliant plan to keep myself in check. Every so often, and this generally came about with little to no warning, I decided to quit drinking for a month. I would just proclaim it to myself and set out on a month-long journey of living alcohol-free. I will be honest in saying I didn't always make it through the entire month, but I often did too. Here is what it looked like. I usually had a friend or partner who was willing to join me on my crusade. We would try and hold each other accountable. Each day was excruciating. All I could think about was thirty days from now, twenty-nine days from now, twenty-eight days from now... etc. Each time, it was the longest month of my life. Here is a funny justification I always found myself using. My goal was to quit for a month, thirty days. Within a week, I would already begin rationalizing why I only had to go twenty-eight days before I could drink. I mean, a week is seven days, and a month is four weeks, right? I can pretty much guarantee you I never made it thirty days because of this rationale. Nevertheless, it was miserable. If my friend and I made it through, we would celebrate by drinking to the point of passing out and feeling sick for a couple of days.
Unfortunately, my crusade to quit drinking for a month never really accomplished anything. It was a grin and bear it journey to keep away from something I knew I needed to quit. In order for something to help us grow, there needs to be something learned or gained. At best, quitting drinking for a month allowed my body a period to heal a little, before I began tearing it apart again. I may have added a couple of days to the end of my life. Did I learn anything? Not really. Did I gain anything? Not really. In fact, I might even go so far as to say I ended up drinking more after my thirty-day excursions than before. Annie Grace talks about this in her book, This Naked Mind. She states how nobody ever drinks less over time. She believes, and so do I, if you drink you will eventually have a problem with alcohol. My quitting drinking for a month was a feeble and misguided way to justify to myself I did not have a problem with alcohol. I could quit whenever I wanted. Was this true? Of course not.
Diets work in much the same way. We will try anything to lose those extra few pounds as quickly and easily as possible. Diets consisting of hard work and slow progress do not ever become a fad. People want it now. They want instant gratification. Consequently, even if the diet works, temporarily, it is generally an unsustainable program that causes a person to end up gaining more weight in the end. It is the best repeat business model around. Give people a taste of instant gratification and they will keep coming back for more.
Look at the business model for rehab. I have friends who have told me about their rehab experience. One friend said the rehab center told her cohort on the first day only ten percent of them were going to be successful with sobriety. What? I am a teacher. If I told my middle school students on the first day of school they were not going to learn anything, how successful could they possibly be? I was astounded, but it kind of makes sense if you think about it. How well could a rehab center do long term if they were successful with everyone who came in? They would do well for a little while, but then the business would simply dry up, so to speak.
Why it does not work
Trying to do something from a temporary mindset is kind of a losing battle. Talk to anyone who has successfully negotiated a difficult journey, achieved a lofty goal, or overcame a heavy burden; no one would say they won their battle via apathetic actions. They would say they succeeded by focusing on their goal. By prioritizing their actions to support the desired outcome. By not settling for mediocrity. By aligning their thinking with the actions necessary to succeed. By believing they deserve more. By walking the walk of the person they wish to become. They did not live by words such as try, maybe, if, want, can't, or won't. People who succeed and achieve their goals do so by living their life as though they have already succeeded. There is no other option.
When I tried to quit for a month as a way to prove to myself I did not have a problem with alcohol, I did so from a deficit mindset. I believed I could get through it, but I also knew it was going to suck and I couldn't wait to get back to my drinking lifestyle. It helped solidify my belief I did not have a problem, but it was a false truth. It allowed me to continue with my disparaging lifestyle without the burden of feeling bad about my decisions. In a way, this is almost more damaging than allowing ourselves to continue believing we may have a problem. When I justify the reasons why I do not have a problem, I prevent myself from ever finding the motivation to make a positive change. It's important for us to know we need a change before we can effectively make a change.
How it can work?
The most important thing we can do for ourselves when approaching a dry month is to, at the very least, approach the month with a mindset of potential long term alcohol-free living. Be open to the idea that living alcohol-free may be one of the answers to many of our emotional and physical problems. Quitting drinking for a month is a big task for us who drink heavily. Why not do so with a more positive mindset? Why not give ourselves the option of experiencing a life-changing journey? Why not believe we can live without alcohol in our lives. If we are wrong, we lose nothing, but if we are right... an endless array of opportunities become available to us. Another positive outcome of approaching a dry month with a long term mindset is we may learn a lot about ourselves and our potential problem with alcohol. I believe it is even possible to come out of a dry month feeling good and strong about our relationship with alcohol. We may believe strongly we are in control and able to continue drinking with little or no repercussions, for now. On the contrary, we may come out of a dry month realizing alcohol is a much bigger problem than we initially realized. Either way, we have learned a great deal because we gave ourselves a chance to learn instead of just going through the motions.
I want to be very clear about my above words. I am by no means suggesting to not bother with a dry month if you do not approach it with a long term mindset. Any amount of time without alcohol in our system is a positive change. I support quitting drinking for a day, a week, a month, or even a year. Each time a person abstains from alcohol there is potential for a person to gain confidence in their life sans alcohol. What I am suggesting is if you are going to take the time to quit drinking for a month anyway, why not do so wholeheartedly? Why not approach it as if it is the most important thing you are doing and give yourself the opportunity to see alcohol through a different lens. You just may realize the lens you have been looking through is incredibly cloudy and misleading. You may see things differently and with more clarity. You just may find living alcohol-free is a gift you never knew you wanted or needed.
If not, you will at the very least walk away with a better understanding of your relationship with alcohol, and that is a giant step forward.