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Getting over the Hurdles to a Successful Sober October

Updated: Feb 11

by Duncan McLeod

Taking a break from the routine of alcohol use is trending big time as more people explore the benefits of disentangling themselves from the habit of regular drinking. It seems that hardly a week can go by without the media reporting on another set of scientists or governments 'outing' alcohol for its part in the rise of physical and mental ill-health and its broader adverse effects on our societies.

Over the last half-century, alcohol has wheedled itself into the details of our everyday lives and removing it, even for a short while, can be more onerous and challenging than one might expect. For most of us in this modern world, the alcohol-free path is territory unknown since childhood!

It can be a scary concept, like wading into the dark sea water, not knowing what is under one's feet and rushing back out for fear of what we might step on. Equally, it could be like following a beautiful woodland path into an unfamiliar natural area and discovering hitherto hidden magic.

The difference between these two experiences is preparation, mindset and a comforting guide's hand to hold along the way. Here are some hurdles you may encounter and some advice to help you vault your way into a happier, healthier and more peaceful alcohol-free you.

Chemistry - Awareness It is easy to forget that alcohol is a drug and, as such, sets off a chain of chemical reactions throughout the body, as does removing it from the equation. Understanding what is happening to our bodies is both helpful and comforting.

There are two books which notably helped me get to grips with this (and, of course, there are others):

- William Porter’s Alcohol Explained - a no-nonsense information download.

- The 30-Day Alcohol Challenge by Annie Grace. Annie's book has the advantage of providing a daily framework to use during the month. I loved it!

My advice is to find out about alcohol. Knowledge is power. If you are a big drinker, you need to enlist the help of your GP, who has extra support to bring to this excellent adventure.

The voice in your head - Shut it up For many of us, alcohol appears to have an aid-de-camp in our heads. Some people call it "The wine witch", "Woolfie", or just plain "alcohol voice". That voice is our own thoughts, and we need to be aware of the unhelpful suggestions from this quarter.

We have inadvertently taught our brains untruths, which will recycle back at ourselves:

"I can't do this", "I'm going to fail, may as well be now", "Three days! Yay! Let's celebrate with a drink", "This is foolish", "I need a drink", "Just one"

Please do not underestimate the power of the alcohol voice to sabotage your plans.

I found success in 100% NOT getting into conversation/negotiation with it. ZERO. I would cut it off before forming its first syllable with a curt "Fuck off! I am taking a break! End of!" and move my thoughts on to anything else. The more I did this, the less I needed to.

Chores and endeavours - Keep the bar low One of the effects of alcohol is to reduce the quality of our sleep. We may be unconscious at night but not get the restorative sleep we need. However, the moment we cease the booze intake, our clever bodies begin to reclaim the essential sleep repair they desperately need.

Be prepared to feel tired. I'm talking about have-I-got-myalgic-encephalomyelitis (ME)- exhaustion? Really! Keep your chores and duties to the absolute minimum in the early days. This is a time to defrost the supper from the freezer, not begin a cordon bleu menu.

Get the kids to school and head back to the sofa - the ironing, cleaning and mending can wait. Go to work, do as much as needed not to get fired and get home. Bare essentials only for the first couple of weeks.

The second two weeks might see us take on specific chores for a feel-good factor. I disembowelled 'that cupboard', which I had meant to re-organise for millennia, and it felt fab!

The goal this month is not to drink, everything else is negotiable.

Overwhelm - Avoid Alcohol is a depressant, so the body releases stimulants (e.g. cortisol and adrenalin) into our system as a countermeasure. Your system will have excess stimulants coursing through the first few days of sobriety.

We might be a little more susceptible to stress and anxiety than usual.

While your body recalibrates, try to avoid scenarios which will have you stretched and juggling multiple mental problems. Don't arrange for your needy friend to come over for emotional support on the same day as prepping for an interview, planning your child's birthday party, booking the family summer holiday and fire-fighting other domestic issues. Avoid overwhelm.

Dial it down. Dial it back.

Toxins - Flush them out Read the books for more detail, but the bottom line is that as a result of drinking alcohol, our bodies store excess toxic material throughout our organs. The joyous news is that our bodies eject these toxins once the inflow subsides. The route out is via the bloodstream, so headaches are a possibility.

Drink water! Lots and lots of glorious, refreshing, life-giving, cleansing water. Reserve yourself a toilet because you will spend a lot of time there. I became a wee machine! And my body loved me for it!

A clue to what is happening to your entire body will be visible in your skin which quickly looks younger and healthier - the sober glow! Rinse, rinse, rinse and rejoice.

Mindset - The unsung hero Putting a drink to our lips (or not) is a physical act resulting from a mental choice. Our mind is the battleground where this fight happens. Setting our minds is vital. In addition to stilling the unhelpful alcohol voice, we can support our decisions with complimentary thoughts.

Gratitude is a powerful weapon in the arsenal. It doesn't matter who or what you are grateful to or for; the stance is uplifting and empowering.

Thank you for day one. Grateful for this cup of tea. Thank you, rain, for watering the garden for me. Thank you, me, for doing this. Thank you that I can do this.

Each time we are thankful (no matter who or what for), we acknowledge a positive, thereby shifting our focus from the negative. We look up to what we have instead of down to what we don't, and our feelings tag along.

Speaking well of yourself Imagine what you might say to someone you care about tackling a big challenge, and use those exact words on yourself.

Wow! You're doing great! Amazing you!

You've got this!

Proud of you!

Treats and rewards - Be ready! We use alcohol for a range of purposes. What do you use it for? A glass of whatever can be our goal to get us through the day and the reward once we get there. We might use it as a treat to celebrate a moment or a catalyst to promote relaxation.

However you use it, be ready with alternatives. Figure out what works for you and have them ready in the cupboard, the fridge, shelves .. ON HAND. Ready. Now.

Some of my favourites are: Bath bombs, a bubble bath, flowers, massage, clean sheets, chocolate, alcohol-free drinks*, a new book, TV time, snacks, a walk in the park, delicious herbal teas and the AF community on Instagram.

Socials - Be prepared I wanted to keep my head down and finish the month, but social engagements inevitably came along. We need a plan to stay the course.

Firstly ask yourself: If you need alcohol to get through the occasion and endure the people, why go at all? However, sometimes we must or want to attend, so here are my tips:

  • If the venue is someone's house or place of work - Take your own drinks (Don't rely on provisions being available).

  • Be ready to reply to "Why you aren't drinking?"

  • It's okay to leave early - If everyone else is getting a skin full, they probably won't notice.

  • If you are feeling nervous, remember that everyone else probably is also.

  • If you feel self-conscious, be at peace, people generally focus on themselves and won't be aware of your concerns.

  • Play the tape forward and think how pleased you will be the next day, waking with no hangover or regrets.

One day at a time 30 days can seem frightening, so break the goal into manageable chunks. It is much less onerous to not drink for one day than thirty. Therefore make it your plan to not drink for one day. This day.

Tomorrow: Rinse, repeat. Knowing you managed it yesterday will support your knowledge that you can do it again today.

If one day seems too long, break it down into half-days or hours. There are no rights or wrongs; it is about what works for you.

The only non-negotiable is to be alcohol-free for one minute, hour, day, week or month at a time.

I end by telling you how amazing you are to be even considering going on this adventure. It takes vision, bravery and an independent spirit (no pun intended).

Good luck. You've got this.

On behalf of your future self... Thank you xxx


Duncan McLeod

Duncan lives in London with his wife, Carina, his best friend and partner of 37 years and is a dad to three grown men from whom he draws much inspiration and joy. He has run a small bookkeeping business for the last 30 years and is presently winding it down in favour of pursuing other interests, which include self-development, life-coaching, writing, painting, cooking and hiking/wild camping in the remote areas of the UK.


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