If you've struggled with your drinking in any capacity, questioned your relationship with alcohol, are questioning your relationship with alcohol, or are wondering if you should quit or may have to quit, you will understand what I'm about to say all too well: it's fucking terrifying.
To be sure, it is NOT the things that happen on the other side of quitting drinking that are the hardest obstacles to overcome. The biggest roadblock between anyone and sobriety is the decision to attempt it in the first place.
If you are here on this site, reading these words, and in your own personal hell of what to do or when to do or even whether to do, here are 3 of the most common fears I encounter when it comes to quitting drinking, with a lot of tips and tools to reframe those fears and move past them.
Just remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (Lao Tzu) - and it is ALWAYS the first step that is the hardest. All you need to do is put the one little toe on the path, and then it begins.
Note. This piece is LONG, and it's got a LOAD of information. It's not meant to be a one and done read - it's meant to be a longer resource for you to help navigate your way through common fears that may be keeping you from quitting drinking or exploring sobriety. It's also not just for you who are thinking about quitting drinking - it's for you who may have already quit but are still in a fear headlock with it. I'd love to hear feedback or comments - either drop them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also refer to a piece I wrote, 11 Fears About Sobriety, Dispelled.
1. you're afraid you might have a problem...but you're not really sure.
We are so caught up in the black and white nature of drinking - focused on whether or not we are an alcoholic or a normal drinker - that we end up spending a lot of time and energy worrying about whether we have a problem as that problem worsens.
If you are stuck in this "do I, don't I" thought circle - comparing your drinking to your peers, taking online assessments, or otherwise trying to qualify where you fall on the spectrum of problem drinking - give these two things a try.
>>TRY THIS: Stop asking yourself if you have a problem or comparing yourself to others. Rather, ask yourself if you are living to your full potential, and if alcohol is standing in the way of that. Literally EVERY TIME you start to go down the path of comparison or analysis, blow it out with this thought: is alcohol getting in the way of my dreams and the life I want for myself? If it is…that is all you need to know. It then becomes a choice of what we want out of life and what we are putting up with that is standing in the way. Not whether or not we are an alcoholic.
>>TRY THIS: Do a future self meditation. One of my favorite tools EVER is a guided meditation I did with my coach that allowed me to go deep on visualizing future Holly. I know this feels a bit woo - but it works. The you in 10 years has all the answers for the you today (because you already know the answers). The meditation itself will do a number of positive things, but most importantly, it will help you hold a vision of what direction you want your life to go, and who you want to become. And that person most likely isn't stumbling out of bars or drinking a bottle of wine in the evenings by themselves 10 years from now. When you focus on THIS…and hold a clear idea of who you want to be in 2025…it makes the question of "do I have a problem" moot. Here's one I found online for free.
2. you have a love/hate relationship with it - and you are afraid of losing the part you LOVE.
I knew something was wrong with me and drinking for a long while before I started to seriously consider cutting it out. And this is because the thought of a life without alcohol seemed to me to be entirely unimaginable. My life was BUILT around alcohol. I didn't have a single sober friend, I made it a point of avoiding dry events and dry people, my dinner reservations were conditioned on the wine list, vacations were excuses to be day drunk. I could go on. On the other hand, I LOATHED what it was doing to my looks, my self-esteem, my time, my world, my mental health, my maturity, my emotional balance, my wallet, etc. I literally hated it. But living without it seemed like the end of the world. Or at least the end of my world.
So I did what most people do - I tried to prove to myself that I could moderate it so I could keep it in my life. I tried to limit it to weekend nights. I ditched it for two weeks here or one week there. I'd try and limit it to a specific number of drinks. I even tried diluting it - mixing soda water with champagne - to slow my drinking down. None of this ever worked. I'd just end up either obsessing over it or making exceptions to the rules or completely going off the deep end despite myself, and then inevitably, beating the crap out of myself about it.
The night that I became clear I had to address my shitty relationship with booze, I went to Amazon in search of a self-help book and picked up the only acceptable title - The EasyWay To Control Alcohol. To me this was a compromise. I didn't have to give anything up. I just needed to learn to control it. The title turned out to be click-bait and the book explained that I'd already been trying to "control it" and failing, and that the only way to be free of my mess was to give it up entirely. The rest is history.
If you are in this place - the one where you KNOW that alcohol is screwing with your life and something must be done, but the thought of giving up the "good parts" seems unacceptable - and you're still searching for a way to control it and keep it in your life - give these 3 things a try.
>>TRY THIS: Do the circle exercise. This is one of my favorite exercises to do when I'm in a fear state about something or in the place where I don't want to sacrifice certain comforts to achieve a desired outcome. You can watch this video to learn how to do your own, but it's pretty simple.
On a piece of blank paper, draw a picture of you in the middle and draw a circle around yourself. In that circle, write in all the things that are true in your world - the good and the bad. It might be scary relationship with alcohol, stagnant relationship, good position at work, good clothes, premature aging, consistent yoga practice, well liked. Whatever it is that makes up your world today.
Draw another circle outside of that first circle and write in all the things you are afraid of. It might include losing "friends", no more wine tasting, being miserable, being left out, facing fears, working on relationship, being honest.
Draw a third circle outside this second ring. In this circle, you'll write all the things in life that you dream of. Maybe it's a happy marriage, feeling free of alcohol, losing weight,waking up with energy, yoga teacher training, feeling proud of yourself, or even just being joyful or happy.
Take your pen and put it in the middle of the paper - in the first circle with the drawing of you - and draw an arrow from the center to the outside of the circle. This is the path. You cannot achieve the things you dream of without sacrificing and going through the fear. You MUST be willing to lose site of the shore to swim for the new horizon.
>>TRY THIS: Get serious with yourself about what you can and can't fuck with. I love this Gabby Bernstein lecture for many reasons, but the primary one is about half-way through where she talks to the audience about knowing where we can and cannot dabble and getting serious with ourselves about those areas. For me, this is alcohol. This is pot. This is cigarettes. This is coffee. This is certain ex-lovers. There are things I know that I cannot fuck with, things that take me off the deep end. Not every human is the same and our triggers won't be the same. But if you are here on this page, most likely, you cannot fuck with alcohol - and trying to preserve the good parts and ditch the bad parts is not an option. It's a disaster. You KNOW yourself. You do. And you have the power to be real with yourself about what you can and cannot control.
>>TRY THIS: Don't forever it. Just give it a whirl. If you are still not sure about whether you want to go completely sober, then give yourself an out. Tell yourself you'll try it on for an extended period of time. Try it for 3 months, 6 months, or a year and commit to that. This way, you can remove it for a period of time and get clear on how it's showing up in your life, and at the end of your trial period, you can add it back in. As I've said before, it's super easy to start drinking alcohol again. My guess, however, is that you won't want to go back. Two resources to help are my blog post on How To Do An Alcohol Cleanse or you can also check out Hello Sunday Morning - an online community that supports individuals through taking a 3 month alcohol break (or longer).
3. you are afraid of trying and failing - and what failing means.
A year ago I sat across from a girlfriend who had just quit alcohol and had been sober for the past 30 days with seemingly effortless ease. She was clear she didn't have a severe problem - her impetus for quitting was a marathon and just being as clean as she could be. By her own admission she hadn't crossed any lines and her drinking didn't worry her. I asked her if she had any concerns or worries about sobriety, and she said one: she was concerned she might fail. I pressed on and asked why…it had been a lifestyle decision, she didn't have any severe issues with it, why would that be a worry? "Because," she said, "if I fail, then that means I have a problem. What if I actually can't quit?"
So what? What if we try, and we can't actually quit? Why is that such a big deal? It doesn't keep us from trying to lose weight, it doesn't keep us from trying to quit gluten, it doesn't keep us from trying to quit biting our nails or watching trashy TV. We are always on some kick to eliminate crap. Why is the attempt to eliminate alcohol any different? Why is failure here scarier than failing a diet?
Because we have an idea that there are those who can control it and those who can't - and the one's who can't are fucked and destined for a life of struggle. Of failure. Of relapse. Because we have seen too many stories of individuals that try and break free who end up worse off. Because if we try to quit and we fail - then possibly that means we really are alcoholics.
If you are on the verge of quitting - but the possibility that you might try and fail is keeping you stuck from taking the leap - try these tips.
>>TRY THIS: "So what" it. The first time I attempted to quit, I failed 2 months in. I found myself over-confident in my new found "control" and imagined I would drink "just this one night" and let that be it. And of course, that wasn't it. The second time I tried (some 3 months later), it took less than two-weeks to find myself chasing whiskey with a PBR. The third (and final time), it was precarious. I KNEW I would never drink again. I KNEW sobriety was mine. But…I couldn't help but worry "what if" and I had nightmares where I drank.
Three months into my sobriety, I went to Italy with a friend. I called my mom before the trip and told her that I was terrified that I would fail. She said "so what? You have done it before, you will do it again. You want this." And she was right. I wanted it - more than most anything I had ever wanted - and the only thing I had to fear was fear itself. If I failed, I would fucking try it again. And again. And again. There was no way I was going back to the same person I was when this started, no way I was going to forget how amazing sobriety felt. And failure simply meant I had the balls to try it in the first place, ergo I had the balls to try it again and again.
If you want to quit drinking…if you want what is on the other side of a shitty relationship with alcohol…and you try and you fail…then you TRIED. And you will try again. Failure is always possible. But success is built on failure. The only real failure is not trying something in the first place.
Thomas Edison failed at invented the lightbulb countless times. But Thomas Edison also invented the lightbulb. Failure is part of learning and when it comes to quitting drinking, it is no different. We simply pick ourselves up and we try again.
>>TRY THIS: May Cause Miracles. One of the primary ways to kick your fear in its ass is to do a fear cleanse. The best one I have found is Gabby Bernstein's May Cause Miracles book and related meditation CD. It's a 40 day book with exercises that will guide you through "subtle shifts in perception." For me, this was key in recovery. You can read about how it helped me in the blog posts How To Do Your Own Fear Cleanse + How Fear Cleansing Aids Recovery and How I Overcame 43 Paralyzing Fears.
>>TRY THIS: Remind yourself that fear is an indication of what you seek (Thomas Merton quote). If it scares the hell out of you...that means you're on to something really really good. That we feel fear doesn't mean that we are doomed. Rather, it means we are on to something. If you have a ton of fear around quitting drinking, do the fear cleanse, but also remind yourself this is a sign-post that you are on the right track.