Why Are We So Scared To Quit Drinking?

Aug 10, 2023

Why Are We So Scared To Quit Drinking?

In October 2019 the psychiatrist told me point blank, with very little explanation, that I was ‘one of those people’ who had only one option. Total abstinence.

I recall the physical jolt, then my mind literally blew up with a million reasons why this was absolutely NOT an option and a verbal explosion of excuses erupted. The most memorable being “basically my whole life revolves around drinking, my family, friendships, social life, home life, relationship, relaxation time, celebrations, everything".

So not drinking is simply not an option, for someone like me. The irony.

I was good with excuses for a long time. I had them all, and now I hear them all. So I empathize deeply.  The idea of quitting alcohol for good can seem almost as bad as losing a limb.  And of course, it’s scary, change is scary. Especially changing a habit we’ve had for 10, 20, 30+ years.

Before I continue what I am writing here is for grey area drinkers. Those of us stuck in limbo, able to quit for a while, able to only drink on certain days, but who also know alcohol is causing problems in our life.

Here is a brief rundown on the top five fears that people bring up about quitting drinking.

  1. Imagining life without alcohol is terrifying on so many levels. It’s too huge to contemplate quitting for good.
  2. People will judge me and think I have a ‘problem’
  3. I manage my anxiety with it, it’s my only relief
  4. I have so many events and alcohol plays a key role at all of them 
  5. It’s my reward at the end of the day (at work or with kids)

For me the underlying fears that sat beneath all of these were that I had no idea how to function without it as a human being in a society soaked in booze.  I had no idea who I was without alcohol, how I would cope, and I was afraid to find out. 

What I did know for a fact was that it was going to be really, really hard, and at the time I didn’t trust myself enough to believe that I could do it.

For this reason, I believe my psychiatrist was wrong to deliver this dynamite revelation on my first visit. I wonder if many others don’t go back because forever is too big a pill to swallow.  Thankfully I did go back because I realised that the alternative, not doing the work, was just going to get harder and harder.

These fears/excuses are universal, and shared by everyone I work with.  But no one has an excuse that, on rational examination, can’t be overcome. If you want to overcome it.

 The challenge is that when we are in our own heads, living through an alcohol-infused, limited view of the world these fears and excuses prevent us from taking action. In the beginning, we are more scared of quitting than we are of staying dependent.

This is a very brief example of how the fears/excuses above can be tackled by re-framing.  Of course, there are many other techniques, but that would be a very very very long newsletter.

  1. Imaging life without alcohol is terrifying on so many levels. I can't imagine quitting for good.

Imagine life 1 year, 5 years, 10 years from now if I keep drinking. This is genuinely terrifying on so many levels. My kids, my relationship, my health, and my bank balance will all suffer. I will be filled with regret that I didn’t take action. I will say I wish I’d done it sooner (Everyone does by the way)  Make this the most terrifying option then START. Commit to beginning, then give it all you've got. Just one day at a time.

2. People will judge me and think I have a ‘problem’

 People will always judge you, but never as harshly as they judge themselves. When you meet a non-drinker do you judge them or do you admire them? What would you rather be judged for, discipline, confidence, great skin, amazing health, clarity of mind, strength of character, or ‘Here she/he goes again, they always have one too many’  or ‘ Let’s invite X she’s hilarious when she gets pissed’? And who is the most important critic? Other people, or the face you look at every day in the mirror?

  1. I manage my anxiety with it, it’s my only relief

I manage my anxiety by not drinking.  If I drink it only makes it ten times worse. Fact.

  1. I have so many events and alcohol plays a key role in all of them

 I have so many wonderful opportunities to enjoy my newfound clarity and confidence. I love meeting new people and being able to remember their stories. Being present at events is exciting, I can be discerning about who I give my time and energy to, and as an added plus I leave whenever I choose, in my car, and no one even notices.

  1. It’s my reward at the end of the day ( at work or with kids)

I wake up rested and ready for the day.  I punctuate my day with new skills like mindful breathing, exercise, and downtime. As a result, I get more done during the day whilst building up my stores of reward chemicals so that I’m not depleted and exhausted come 5 pm. If I need a reward I choose something that doesn’t lead to me feeling like crap tomorrow. Not drinking is the reward, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, not taking.

These are examples of reframes I still use today. They are a good start. But the most important thing is in the doing and experience of these benefits.  Once we build up a bank of positive experiences being alcohol-free these new ideas become reality creating conscious and then sub-conscious beliefs so you don’t have to try anymore, it’s just the way it is.

 You can re-wire your brain in exactly the same way that you wired it to desire alcohol. You take action, you like it, and you repeat it until it becomes a habit.  The significant difference of course is that alcohol is addictive, so it was much easier for that habit to settle in.

If there is one skill I have learned the most in this alcohol-free journey it’s the skill of patience. The skill of recognising my innate desire for immediate gratification and reining that right in. This commercially driven society keeps telling us that quick, easy solutions are available to all our problems. So much so that when we don’t feel AMAZING after a 30-day alcohol-free stint we are disappointed, let down, disgruntled.  30 days, 60, 90, 120 days to undo years of damage?  It’s time we ground our expectations in reality.

Quitting alcohol is scary, and it’s hard. Let’s not bullshit ourselves.  But I believe from my own lived experience that fear is now my friend. It tells me something is not right, something needs to change, action needs to be taken.

Now imagine a life where fear transforms into fuel, it drives you, inspires you, and motivates you instead of keeping you stuck, small, and dependent.  Could your ability to overcome this fear of quitting be the portal to the greatest personal growth you could imagine?  Now that’s good scary.

Feeling stuck?

 Let me send you my free PDF. It will help you to get ready to begin an alcohol-free journey.

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