I'm beginning this post on January 31st, and it's been 30 days, or more precisely, 720 hours and 8 minutes since my last alcoholic beverage. Today and tomorrow are pretty busy, both work-wise and personally, so I haven't given a great deal of thought to what I plan to do come February 1st. Have you?
- Reflect on what the best choice is for you: So you've completed 30, 90, 151 days without a drink, and you're starting to think about whether or not you want alcohol to become a part of your life again. This questionniare, offered by moderation management might help you to figure out your degree of dependence on alcohol, and help inform your decisions about whether trying moderation is right for you. You might find that you started Dry January as an experiment, to lose weight, or support a friend, but now feel great. Ask yourself why you want alcohol back in your life, and whether you're making that choice because you want it, or you believe you need it.
- Make a plan to help you reach your goals, whatever they are: If your goal is moderation, check out Moderation Management for tips on how to set moderate drinking goals, and helpful suggestions about rules you may want to employ so that you can be in charge of how much, when, and why you drink, rather than the other way around. If your goal is abstinence, Smart Recovery is a great place to get support from like minded people. Whatever your choices, it's important not to fall into the trap of waking up one day and just arbitrarily deciding to drink again. Being thoughtful about your goals and values will help you to maintain the benefits of your period of abstinence.
- Take note of thoughts and feelings that came up during your abstinence: It's not unusual for strong emotions to surface during periods of abstinence. It may be that, consciously or subconsciously, you were avoiding strong affect with substances. Did you feel lonely? Angry? Sad? Anxious? How did you manage those feelings during your period of sobriety? If you developed a new set of coping skills, now is not the time to drop them and grab a martini the next time you feel sad, keep on using your new coping skills! If you found that you white-knuckled your sobriety, and don't believe that you have any skills at your disposal, one of those groups mentioned above, or some sessions with a licensed mental health provider might be in order.
- Be gentle with yourself: I used to feel very frustrated reading other blog posts about how wonderful life without alcohol is. After the millionth blog about how everyone seems to feel physically wonderful, pain-free, and energized, it can be pretty demotivating if this has not been your experience. If that is you, that's terrific! If, like me, you feel pretty much physically the same, booze or no booze, don't despair. The internal benefits (e.g. better liver function, lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure) are not typically apparent. It's also important to remind yourself, particularly if you're still struggling mentally or physically, will alcohol actually help me with that? It's likely the answer is that it would only compound your problems.
- Plan to fail, pick yourself back up, and fail again: A criticism of abstinence only approaches to alcohol abuse is something known as the Abstinence Violation Effect , which, in a nutshell, means that you have one drink and decide, well, I've blown it, might as well go on a full blown bender. Once you recognize this thinking pattern begin to take hold, you have a choice regarding what to do about it. If your goal was abstinence and you had one drink, you have not destroyed all of your progress up to date, you've had a lapse, which is a normal part of recovery. The same goes for going over your moderation goals, or violating one of your drinking rules. Plan for how you will manage lapses, and and it'll be easier for you to recover from bumps in the road.
So what do I plan to do, you might ask? I'm not exactly sure yet. I still have some thinking to do about the role that I want alcohol to play in my life. Whatever conclusions you've come to (or not come to as of yet), I hope you've learned something about yourself along the way, and whatever your choices are in the future, that you're more aware that there's an array of options out there for those who wish to change their relationship with alcohol.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol and/or substance abuse, there is help out there. Check out this link to find out information about treatment programs and providers in your area. Click here if you require urgent or crisis resources. Help is available 24/7 by calling the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, behavioral parent training, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] to set up a free consultation. Visit my website for more information.