When I started my sober curious break from alcohol, there were a few things I wish I had known when I started. First, what is AF? Not what you might think – Alcohol-Free. So, I decided to put together a quick Newbie’s Guide. This guide will include terms you should know, what to expect during the first few days, and critical tactics that helped me when I first took a break from alcohol. I have put together my favorite list of quit-lit books, sober podcasts, and my favorite Alcohol-Free Instagrammers to help keep you motivated and uplifted. You’re going to take a break. Good for you! This is a significant step to take in our culture! I want you to hold on to this truth – you are not broken. You are wonderfully made. I’m a Christian, and I believe your life is a gift from God. God has blessed you with a fantastic body and brain; we are to use them for a greater purpose than ourselves. It is not your fault if you have an addiction or habit of alcohol, but this is your life, and you are ultimately responsible for how you live it. You are also responsible for what you want from your life. You might be feeling guilt and shame around your drinking habit. I want you to know that it is entirely normal, and you are not alone! I had so much guilt and shame around my habits and how they may or may not affect my family. I want to tell you something that Annie Grace told me, “you were doing the best you could with the tools you had.” This statement gave me freedom because I held onto guilt and shame. This statement made me aware that there are different tools that I can use now and in the future. I want to have this guide be something anyone can use, but I am a woman and know what it is like to be stuck at this time of our life. I want women to realize that taking a break from alcohol is one of the greatest gifts you are giving to yourself. Taking a break gave me a clear mind, my anxious thoughts at 2 am diminished, and my overall outlook on life improved significantly! I can now become all that God intended me to be—the person who can handle stress from family & work pressures. I was no longer afraid to step up, try new things, and take on new challenges. I’m still on a break from alcohol. I’m an adult, and I can have a drink whenever I want to, and I don’t want to! So, let’s get started!
Getting Started The first few days will not be easy, but you can make them more tolerable. First, I must tell you that only 10% of adult drinkers are physically addicted. Most people who take a break will have discomfort, headaches, cravings, and anxiety when they remove the alcohol. I am not a doctor, and this is not to be used as medical advice. I recommend that you contact your doctor to see if it is safe for you to take a break. If you decide to take a break without talking to your doctor and you start to have severe withdrawals, please seek medical attention immediately! Preparation is key to making a successful break from alcohol. First, you need to have a positive outlook! This will be hard, but if you think you can’t do it, you are probably right! Decide right now to get curious about this break. Focus on how good you will feel at the end of the 30 days. The first three weeks can be challenging because your body will be re-calibrating and healing. You are going to be tired. You might need to take naps or go to bed early. You might have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. This is normal, rest will come, but the sleep you are getting will be more restful. If you are concerned about sleeping, call your doctor and tell them what you’re doing. They might be able to prescribe something or suggest something to help. Listen to your body; if you are tired, rest.
Make sure to stock your refrigerator with many new, fun, alcohol-free drink options. I like Lacroix water with lime. Also, a light ginger beer (alcohol-free) is a fun option. There are some tremendous caffeine-free teas to try as well. I also was very mindful of getting a journal ready to write down my thoughts and progress. This can be good, bad, and everything in-between. Make sure you are up to drinking lots of water and taking your vitamins. If you are hungry, eat but try to make it a healthy snack or a smoothie. In the first few weeks, if you find yourself imbibing sweets, realize this is normal, give yourself some grace and compassion, and have dessert if you want it. You can change this behavior later. Prep for your usual high drinking times. This can be done by changing the ingredients and keeping the ritual (see tactics). Change what you usually do after work if that is a time you often drink. Go for a walk or workout. Start a new hobby. Read.
You are taking a break, so your thoughts will be on alcohol all the time in the beginning. I consumed large amounts of sober podcasts and quit listening to audio and physical books. If I had a craving, I would drink a glass of water, put a podcast on and go for a walk! Cravings. Get present with yourself and know that a desire only lasts 20 minutes. Talk to your passion. It sounds crazy, but it works. I would look at her (my inner spoiled teenager) and say no. Sometimes my inner teen would fight back! But look at that as a challenge and say no. Dig in and say NO! Play the tape forward (see tactics) and think and feel what tomorrow morning will be like.
Get into the community! Connection is key! I joined lots of online communities and discovered I was one of many! Sharing with others is one of the most powerful things you can do. You will learn tactics others use, share your story, and know you are NOT ALONE! Join my AF Small Group community. Remember to give yourself grace and compassion during this break. Slow yourself down. Get a journal and write why you want to take a break or quit. If you don’t want to write, create a voice memo.
Changes take time, settle in and prepare for something extraordinary to happen because it will! The benefits of taking a break from alcohol take at least 30 days to start to feel fundamental changes in your body. The longer I’m on this break, the better, I think. On day 9, I was on a hike with my dog, listening to the best worship song, and when I got to the top of a rugged mountain to climb, I had the most fantastic feeling over me. Like wow. I have so much more energy and stamina. It’s incredible. My body and mind were sending me feel-good messages, and I was listening. I had a rush of emotions. I was elated, lighter than air; I felt like I could float out of my body. I was smiling, and tears were in my eyes. I was feeling pure joy! I never wanted to go back to being numb again. Sure, you have to feel the messy stuff of life, but when you numb all the icky stuff out, you also numb all the good stuff!
Terms you should know when you are considering a mindset shift change around alcohol or if you are getting sober curious. This list includes many times I was familiar with and terms I had never heard before. Knowing these terms will put you in the know now. AF – Alcohol-Free not As F@!*
AUD – Alcohol Use Disorder – According to the National Institutes of Health, an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined as a “chronic relapsing brain disease” that causes a person to drink compulsively despite adverse consequences to daily life and overall health. Alcohol use disorder replaced the designations that had previously been separately defined as “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol dependence.”
Alcohol – Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) is the type of alcohol that over two billion people drink every day. The fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches produces this alcohol. People have consumed ethanol-based drinks, such as beer and wine, for centuries to change how they feel. However, ethanol also has harmful effects on the body. The human liver can metabolize ethanol, but only in limited quantities. Ethanol is toxic, damaging the liver, the brain, and other organs over time. Ethanol also inhibits the central nervous system, thereby impairing coordination and judgment. Additionally, binge drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse can cause a person to develop debilitating alcohol addiction.
-Alcohol Rehab Guide https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/alcohol/types/
Alcohol Dependence – Over time, the person builds up a tolerance to alcohol. The person used to drink two drinks and now needs 3 or 4 glasses to get the same feeling they used to get after drinking two drinks. The person experiences withdrawal symptoms and often uses another drink to relieve those symptoms. They also are aware of their cravings even when they don’t want to admit it to themselves. They also drink more for extended periods and can’t cut back even when trying.
Alcoholic – (the medical community now uses AUD) continued excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drinks. A chronic, progressive, potentially fatal disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction. -Merriam Webster
Alcoholism – now known as alcohol use disorder, is a condition in which a person has a desire or physical need to consume alcohol, even though it hurts their life. Merriam Webster Binge drinking- As defined by the CDC. Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States.1,2,3 Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about 2 hours.4 Most people who binge drink do not have a severe alcohol use disorder –https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
Blackout – when you drink a large amount of alcohol and cannot remember parts or all of the previous night when you were drinking.
Data Point – During the Alcohol Experiment, it is when someone has an alcoholic drink during the break from alcohol. Instead of calling it a relapse. It is an opportunity to examine why you decided to drink and learn from the experience.
Dopamine – is a type of neurotransmitter. Your body makes it, and your nervous system sends messages between nerve cells. That’s why it’s sometimes called a chemical messenger. Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s a big part of our uniquely human ability to think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting.
DTs – Delirium Tremens is a severe withdrawal from alcohol and is life-threatening. Left untreated can cause heart attack, stroke, and even death. Only 5% of all people in alcohol withdrawal experience DTs. For more information: https://www.webmd.com/mental…/addiction/delirium-tremens
Dry Drunk – someone who has quit drinking alcohol but feels like they are missing out by giving up drinking alcohol.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.
Gray Area Drinker is usually a high-functioning individual who finds themself drinking more than they want. They can often quit for periods and then return to drinking more than they want. Often they find themselves having one too many and binge drinking. Their social life revolves around events that have alcohol.
Hangxiety– Anxiety that a person experiences after drinking. Usually happens in the middle of the night or the following day when a person wakes up after an evening of drinking.
Heavy Drinking – According to the CDC, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 or more per week for men, and for women, heavy drinking means consuming eight or more per week.
Homeostasis– an organism’s ability to regulate various physiological processes to keep internal states steady and balanced. These processes take place mostly without our conscious awareness. www.verywellmind.com
JOMO – Joy of Missing Out.
Moderate Drinking – According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more.
NA – Non-alcohol
Naltrexone – a drug treatment that takes away the desire to drink alcohol.
PAWS – Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
There are two parts to PAWS.
Part 1. Intense mood swings, depression, anxiety, lack of concentration, drop in energy, lack of pleasure, insomnia, sensitivity to stress, lack of coordination, obsessing. This can start 6 hours after having your last drink and last 1 to 2 weeks.
Part 2. After the physical withdrawal is over, the body and mind have to “relearn” what it is like to live without alcohol—learning new habits and learning to deal with old emotions that they have been numbing with alcohol. Suppressed feelings and emotions can rise and disappear, confusing you.
For more information, go to https://westcoastrecoverycenters.com/postacute…/
Primitive Brain/Lizard Brain – the part of the brain that controls your drives/desires, needs, and wants.
Pre-frontal Cortex/The Human Brain – is the part of the brain that controls our thoughts and reasoning.
Sober Curious – when someone starts looking at their relationship with alcohol for health and wellness reasons.
Here are three tactics that helped me create my mind shift change.
• Playing the Tape Forward/ Playing the Movie Forward
I used this excellent visualization tactic at the beginning of my AF Days. It helped me work through my cravings and habits with alcohol in the early days. However, I still use this tactic when I do a new activity without alcohol.
You have the thought, “I want to have a nice glass of wine.” (this practice first takes some time walking through it). Stop and get mindful. Look at the glass, then think about having that drink; how will it make you feel? A rush and then a feeling of relaxation for 20 minutes. Then what happens? Play it forward, another drink or drinks? Continue with “playing the tape.” Do you wake up at 3 am? How do you feel? Anxious, thirsty, worrying about what you may or may not have said the night before. Do you count the drinks you had? Did you call or text someone? Do you have feelings of regret and another broken promise to yourself? Are you living the life you want to with this habit/behavior? Continue “playing it forward” until you get up. Now how do you feel? Foggy head, sluggish, continuing to think about the night before? Anxiety and dread for the work day.
Now, “play the tape” again if you don’t have that glass of wine or beer. Choose to make a “mocktail” or have a NA beer or a cup of tea. You will be present, and you will fall asleep in my chair. You remember the end of the movie.
You have more energy to do something creative. You wake up and feel refreshed in the morning—your workout. You go to work with a clear head. You’re less anxious and can handle the stress of the day better. If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, you have the whole day to enjoy yourself and do what you want to! You are in control, and you get to make choices.
• Say No to the Word Forever
If you want to take a break or think you want to be done with alcohol forever, this tactic is for you. The word “forever” held me back for years from looking at my relationship with alcohol. One of the things that I learned early in my journey is that quitting alcohol is the only drug we are expected to do perfectly. Although we want to get a complete 30-day experiment without any data points, sometimes they happen, and I think the idea of “forever” contributes to these data points. Take the thought of “I don’t know if I can quit forever” and change it to “I can drink whatever I want to, whenever I want to. Right now, I don’t want to.” or “I might have a drink in the future, but right now I’m not drinking.” This is a slight mind shift but so powerful! I’m an adult, and I can do whatever I want to. This sends a message to our primitive brain that it will be ok. It’s not forever; it’s just not right now.
• Keep the Ritual, Replace the Ingredients (Janey Lee Grace, The Sober Club & Jennifer Kautsch, Sober Sis)
For many of us, the ritual of having a drink to relax after work, to celebrate the holidays, or to enjoy a night out is well ingrained into our lives. Because our society is alcohol-soaked, it can be a real challenge for those who want to take a break and make a mind shift change to find NA options at restaurants and events. There are now many NA beers, wines, spirits, and sparkling waters to make excellent alcohol-free options. When I took my break, I prepared myself. I looked up AF drink recipes; I got different sparkling waters, scrubs, and fresh fruit. These options replaced my nightly ritual of a glass of wine or a beer. I didn’t feel like I was missing out. When my husband and I go out, we ask what AF or NA options they have available. This is your journey, and you have the right to have grown-up choices available. Your dollars have power. We were pleasantly surprised when a local restaurant/brewery put NA craft beers on their menu. All we did was ask.
This Naked Mind Podcast
Alcohol-Free Life Podcast
The Recovery Happy Hour
Happy Sober Podcast
Feel Better Live More – Dr. Rangan Chatterjee
Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast
Favorite Quit Lit & Mindset Books
This Naked Mind – Annie Grace
The Alcohol Experiment – Annie Grace
The Sober Diaries – Clare Pooley
Alcohol is Shit – Paul Churchill
Alcohol Lied to Me – Craig Beck
Cold Turkey – Mishka Shubaly
Deep Work – Cal Newport
Diet and Fitness Explained – William Porter
Domaine Nation – Anna Lembke, MD
Mind Over Back Pain – John Sarno, MD
We Are the Luckiest – Laura McGowan
The Sober Survival Guide – Simon Chapple
Alcohol Explained – William Porter
Get Out of Your Head- Jennie Allen
Winning the War In Your Mind – Craig Groeschel
Language of Emotions – Karla McLaren
Happy Healthy Sober- Janey Lee Grace
Welcome, I'm Suzanne Nissen
Find peace with your past, purpose in your present and passion for your future. Clean your slate of unhealthy emotions, behaviors and thoughts and make room for Gods healing light to shine.