You’ve heard of mindfulness - where you actively question thoughts and feelings before you act - well, now there’s mindful drinking.
It starts with being sober curious. Wondering whether life might be better without booze doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic and can’t ever drink again. It just means you’re interested in taking a look at why you drink. Maybe you're bored of waking up hungover on Saturday because you always hit the pub after work or sick of realising you’ve polished off the bottle of wine meant to last all week by Wednesday night.
Ten years ago Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious (Harper Collins) was a pretty average social drinker when she took an accidental break from booze after a weekend at a health retreat. Ruby was so shocked by just how good she felt without alcohol, it sparked a new chapter in her life. “More of us who are secretly wondering ‘would life be better without booze?’ are ready to get sober curious and find out for ourselves,” says Ruby.
How to start
The first step is to become conscious of when and why you drink. “My FOMA (Fear of Missing Alcohol) was mainly that life would become so boring and one-note,” Ruby recalls. “Without the lows, would I ever experience the highs? I also feared I would be judged and perceived as being sanctimonious and holier-than-thou,” Ruby says.
Yes, the first few weeks might feel a little strange as you encounter moments when you would usually have a glass of wine, but it doesn’t take long to notice your sleep is better (no 3am wake ups with a dry mouth), you have more energy and your skin glows. “In my case, and for many people who try this approach, over time it makes less and less sense to drink at all,” Ruby says. “For somebody with a regular social drinking habit, it soon becomes clear that the cons, in practically every situation, far outweigh the pros and this approach can lead to extensive periods of easy-to-sustain sobriety. And it’ll even save you money!”
Noticing every urge to drink and questioning your instincts will nudge you towards putting more positive stress management techniques in place. And that can lead to greater self-esteem, more fulfilling relationships and a shot at the elusive work/life balance with more time to start a fashion label or work on your screenplay. “The biggest benefit is the overall sense that ‘I got this’ – a quiet, grounded kind of confidence that I put down to no longer outsourcing my need to feel confident to alcohol,” Ruby says. “Going against the grain with my drinking choices, and survived, has made me more confident about trusting and following my own decisions.”
Set yourself up for success
If your FOMA is strong, taking a month off during Dry January or FebFast when going booze-free doesn't face as much scrutiny can help. Or you can do it any time, just as you might approach a new way of eating such as going vego or gluten-free. “Just try it! You have nothing to lose by experimenting with some extended bouts of abstinence,” Ruby says. To start seeing the benefits, she suggests a stint of one to three months.
Just like joining a gym, going sober is easier with a buddy or two on board to help keep you on track and plan non-boozy activities together. If you don’t have someone IRL, try joining an online community like Hello Sunday Morning for tips and support on changing your relationship with alcohol. Telling friends you’re not drinking isn’t as hard as it sounds. Most people are far more interested in what’s in their own glass instead of yours.
Attitude is everything
Confidence is key. If you’re going out, decide what you’ll be drinking before you arrive. Lemon, lime and bitters might be boring but you can get it everywhere. Same with mineral water. And don’t be afraid to ask for it in a stem glass. Holding the kind of glass you usually do when you’re out tones down some of the FOMA as well as the questions. If you’re super confident anyway, ask for a Virgin Mojito or a custom mocktail - bartenders love getting creative.
Telling friends you’ve gone sober curious could mean answering a few questions but you’ll usually find someone in your group who barely drinks anyway. Stick with them. “I’m very happy and secure in my choice,” Ruby says. “Having been so outspoken about it and not tried to hide it or make excuses for why I don’t drink, I’ve met many other people who feel exactly the same as me. That’s been very useful for not feeling like an outsider and a total weirdo for my choices!” Remember you can always leave before things turn hectic. Take yourself out to dinner, go see a movie or head home for some extra couch time, you’ll thank yourself in the morning. After all, as Ruby says, “There’s no time to waste on being hungover!,”
For more advice and support on getting sober curious, visit Hello Sunday Morning and check out Ruby's book Sober Curious.