Sober-October? What next?

If you are nearing the end of your Sober-October and have decided that you want to go back to drinking at the start of November, then here are two exercises to help give you a bit more control over alcohol. You can decide for yourself which exercise best suits you. Or you can do both – in whatever order you prefer.

The first is really just mindful drinking:

When “picking up” again, try to understand exactly what feelings and experiences you are seeking when you drink alcohol.

Approach it in these three stages: the before, the during and the after.

In the before stage, think about what you want alcohol to do for you. So, if you are planning a drinking session, either on your own, or with friends, think carefully about the alcohol you are going to be consuming – sip by sip, gulp by gulp. In what way do you want it to alter your mind? Don’t reach for the bottle without thinking about the affects you want from it.

In the during stage, try to analyse how the reality of drinking alcohol matches up with your expectations. Think about the way alcohol is making you feel relaxed; how it switches the day off and turns you towards relaxation-mode; be aware of the alcohol-induced changes to your perception. Try not to let it all happen without you noticing it (like in the old days pre Sober-October).

At the end stage, try and establish the point where you think alcohol has done for you all you think it is going to before things go downhill. This is a critical point, because it’s at this stage that many people who have a problem with alcohol feel unable to stop drinking. You, on the other hand, are going to know when alcohol has delivered its therapy, and so need no more of it.

Exercise two is about the importance of taste, post Sober-October

The idea is to channel your desire for alcohol towards the taste of it.

It’s useful to select a drink you particularly like the taste of and preferably stick to that drink from now on. No chopping and changing drinks.

Set a limit to the amount of, say wine, you are going to allow yourself on any one day. Two glasses to start with, for instance. This will be your set amount for any occasion. It’s therefore important to pace yourself so that you don’t finish the wine too soon. You will be sticking to your limit from now on, whatever the occasion. No deviations or relaxations for any reason. Deviation is not an option, because this exercise is about switching your focus away from intoxication. The moment you go over the set amount, then you are moving towards intoxication, and once you have done that, it’s a slippery slope back to where you started, pre Sober-October.

The taste of alcohol is something that should be savoured. That’s because different parts of the mouth are designed to appreciate acidity, sweetness, sourness and bitterness. You use your tongue and the surface of your mouth to appreciate it. Also, the smell. Now is the time to focus on these elements of alcohol appreciation – maybe buy a book on the subject or go to a wine or whisky tasting to learn how to get the most out of it.

This is a great time to re-programme your appreciation of alcohol – after the cleansing of Sober-October, as well as the break in behavioral patterns that a period of abstinence allows. You are now re-introducing it into your life with new ways of appreciating it. A big part of that pleasure is the control you have over it going-forward – knowing when you want to stop and feeling comfortable with that.

Food is important in this process as it will act as an anchor on your desire for booze. Food should now be a pleasurable treat in its own rite – something to look forward to, not an interference on drinking. Additionally, at more formal social occasions, the process of eating food communally demands the attention of all concerned. This takes the attention away from alcohol in a distracting, time-consuming way. Great things for the moderate drinker in boozy company.

Social occasions without food are often quite boring occasions. And boredom is often cited as a reason people drink excessively. But here’s the thing, much of life is boring. So, fill your life with pleasures of as wide a variety as possible, food being central, and plan to get away from social occasions earlier than when you were drinking heavily – if they seem too long. It’s very probable that you have been attending social functions because of the availability of alcohol. But now that your motivation is for the taste, not the intoxication, you will find your interest in these occasions rather different. Pace your drinking and concentrate on the flavour of your drink, how it accompanies food and enjoy the feeling of control that you have over your life. It’s a truly amazing feeling to reach your level of satisfaction from alcohol at two glasses (or whatever level you have set yourself) . That’s because you know that anything more than your set amount will stop delivering what you wanted from it. In fact, it will start to spoil your time.

Alcohol is a great accompaniment to food; it’s not a bad way to toast someone at a celebration; it offers a little buzz; it has delicious flavour. This is what you will be tapping into. The moment you allow yourself to go over the limit – you’ve lost it. It’s taken you over. Simple.

To re-cap:

  1. Set your limits
  2. Get the most out of every sip by savouring the taste
  3. Be aware of the effect of the alcohol on your brain and enjoy it
  4. Slow down if you are getting to the end of your set amount of alcohol
  5. Be strict with yourself and do not go over the limit – ever.

Some people will have decided to quit at the end of Sober-October. If so, you’ll find my book “Not Alcoholic, But…” a great way to get inspired for a life of sobriety. It takes you through my 36 year drinking journey to sobriety in a short and hopefully quite amusing way. (Available at amazon in paperback and e-book format). For those seeking a wide range of advice and therapy, my useful links page covers a lot of ground

Gordon’s & Tonic advert

Gordon’s & Tonic

Has anyone seen the latest advert for Gordon’s and tonic?

Two people are discussing what to do for the evening and one of them voices a long list of suggestions. The other sounds a bit bored and after listening for a while suggests instead going for a Gordon’s and tonic – which they decide on instantly – like it’s a no-brainer.

I’m struggling because on the one hand, what’s the problem? – simply two people deciding to go for a drink. But it’s the subtext in the way they hit upon the idea. There is a definite devil-may-care attitude and a half-glance from one to the other that acknowledges their chosen activity isn’t really on a par with the real ones they’ve just rejected (like the movies, a gallery, a night-market, dancing, a play etc) but is in reality way more fun than any of them – and don’t we all know it – nudge nudge, wink wink!!

Is this what adverts do?

The advert deliberately elevates the status of its product to a higher level – it’s what adverts do, I guess – but in this case there’s a knowing cynicism in the way it appeals to the problem drinker (one of their core markets, of course) by allowing him/her to feel fine about choosing alcohol purely for its own sake – no disguising it behind the respectability of a theatre trip or any other sociable pastime.

Gordon’s wants us to feels uninhibited in our choice. And their advert celebrates drinking for drinking’s sake.

It says there are normal, likable people, just like the ones in their advert who drink in this way. So why not you too?

And to a non-problem drinker, it’s just a fun advert for Gordon’s and tonic.

Is that responsible? I’m not sure that it is.

For more about my own drinking, visit my book page

Sober October blues

What do you do if your sober October has taken you right back to where you started?

post sober October beers

My website is dedicated to helping you understand your drinking, without recourse to hot yoga, mint tea or running! Or a sober October

But my method isn’t for everyone out there. If you don’t have an open mind, it won’t work for you. Whilst I do not preach psycho babble of any kind, I do believe that some people are just not capable of looking at themselves and their habits objectively.

Objectivity is key, in my view.

My website ( a new approach page and video) and book, “Not Alcoholic, But…” are all about analysing your relationship with alcohol. The aim is to help you decide what you want from it in the future, and how you get there.

All too many sites and services tell you how to do things that, as yet, you haven’t chosen.

Just remember that desire is everything. If you understand your desires, then you have the opportunity to shape your own future. A sober October may challenge your desire, at least for a while, but it won’t necessarily help you understand it. As a result, you may go back to heavy drinking in a blink.

For more help, why not try my drinking biog “Not Alcoholic, But…

Just one beer…

just one beer

I was coming home the other weekend – a Saturday I think – about 3 in the afternoon, and the sun was shining while I waited on the station platform. It was all very pleasant, and my attention was grabbed by one of those pop-up food markets taking place adjacent to the station. I observed it, peering over the station wall to a courtyard below where young mums and their toddlers were eating and chatting and young men were sitting at picnic tables, drinking, probably just one beer, all very responsibly – and not in the sort of way I remembered drinking when I was their age. Or any age.

Nearly six years sober now, I had no desire to be in that scene. I simply couldn’t see the point of having a beer in the middle of the afternoon. The activity struck me as absurdly pointless. What was ‘just one beer’ going to do other than to give a little buzz that would soon fade away leaving a dehydrated head-achy feeling , a lethargy and irritability that, however mild, would only be cured by several more beers, or a lie-down back home. Where is the fun in that?

I’m sure I’d get a similar effect from a small cup of lighter fuel!!

More and more I am convinced that alcohol doesn’t really offer anything at all, not at any level, whether it’s an epic night out or a quiet sociable drink on a Saturday afternoon. British ‘law’ decrees we engage in drinking as a mark of respect – respect to the occasion, to our friends, to ourselves. Consequently, we reach a point where we don’t really know what we’d do if it was taken away. Even without ‘just one beer’ we feel exposed, unprotected, unable to relax and most importantly, unable to enjoy.

Do you drink too much?

…and if so, are you bothered by it? If you’re anything like me (for almost all of my 36 years of drinking) then the answer to that will be, NO. Besides, even if you do drink too much, haven’t you got used to the reality of this fact by now? And your friends too! Surely, they all know who they are getting when they see you? Perhaps you even quite like being defined by your drinking.  And then there’s the enjoyment factor too. Drinking is relaxing. You do it to unwind and reward yourself, so why not face up to facts. You’re a drinker.

But there’s a catch: medical professionals tell you that you should only drink a limited number of units per week; per day. They say that heavy drinking will cause liver problems and possibly other serious illnesses too. So, what to do? You don’t actually want to cut down – and certainly not give up – so the best option is to push back against the evidence; look for counter evidence. For instance, what about all the people you know who drink as much as you or more, and are fine, including much older people who don’t have any health problems? What about all your friends who go to the gym, yoga classes, swimming or running and carry on drinking, like you, all perfectly fit and healthy?

Many drinkers go through life in a cycle of self-doubt and self-justification over their own drinking. Nothing really gets done about it because there is no actual desire for change. Who wants to cut down unless they have to? And who says they have to? The evidence we witness around us – from our friends and family – flies in the face of the 14 units maximum given by the ‘Chief Medical Officer’ (whoever they are).

But there is an easier way to look at all this.

Stop worrying about units and comparisons and rules. Focus on the alcohol and what it does for you – each mouthful at a time.

In fact, before you even pick up a drink, next time, think about what you want the alcohol to do for you. Imagine the state of mind you want the booze to take you to.

Then, as you take each sip, try to be aware of how well the alcohol is delivering on your expectations of it. Think about what you want from the second and third drink that you haven’t already got from the first. If you are rewarding yourself for a hard day’s work, ask yourself before you start drinking what you want to feel. I bet it isn’t to be comatose on the floor. So, what do you want to feel? Be conscious of your expectations and when they have been fulfilled. Try this as many times as possible – whenever you are drinking in fact – and build up a true knowledge of your relationship with alcohol; unique to you.

Over time – about 2-3 weeks of monitoring your expectations of each drink you consume – the knowledge you gain will empower you to feel a much greater sense of control over your drinking. You won’t have deliberately ‘cut down’, but you may well have drunk less anyway. This is a better way of doing things.

Understanding your reasons for drinking – in the moment – is empowering. It’s not enough to say I drink because I want to relax, or I deserve a treat or a reward, or because I want to let my hair down, or to feel more confident socially, or even because I am bored.

You need to be aware of the exact mechanism – unique to you – by which the alcohol makes you feel relaxed, confident, rewarded or less bored.

I was discussing this with a drinker the other day. He said that he liked to drink because it marked a mental cut-off from the reality of the day. The alcohol took him to a different place. And this different place was his escape, his relaxation. It marked a separation which he could clearly identify.

If you feel the same way, then I urge you to focus on each sip of your first drink, and mark the point when you feel your brain, your mind, your feelings are starting to disassociate from the experiences of the day. Mark this point and be aware of whether the next drink and the one after that, is adding to your enjoyment or not – and why. Try to build a clearer picture of how much alcohol it takes for you to feel relaxed about the day or separated from it. It may not be the same each time, so you need to be mindful every time you do this exercise.

Another friend of mine has spent the last 2 years using a suppressant to curb his cravings for alcohol. The suppressant, a drug that is not available in the UK, allows the drinker to keep control over the amount they are consuming. At first, he was delighted with how it worked. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to try it too, blinded to the fact that I have no need to suppress my desire for alcohol, as I no longer have one. He would take the pill 2 hours before drinking and this would suppress that “f*** it” feeling after the first drink. But over the course of 2 years he built up a tolerance to the pills and found that his desire for alcohol continued beyond the first, second and third drink and was leading to memory blanks and mood swings, just like in the old days. He quit booze altogether a few weeks ago.

So, if you are reluctant to cut down your alcohol consumption because deep down you don’t really want to, try examining your desire over the next 2-3 weeks. You may be surprised with your own findings. You may be even more surprised by your own conclusions!

There are better ways than Sober October to tackle your intake…

is there a point to this?

I’ve always felt that dry January and sober October are a bit of a box-ticking exercise. Whenever I attempted them I felt that they proved one thing only – that my drinking was under control. I mean, if you can go a whole month without a drink, then you clearly don’t have a problem!? I also quite enjoyed some evenings being sober when I would normally have been drinking. This seemed to tick another box – proving I wasn’t psychologically dependent on alcohol.

But these exercises didn’t really do much more than re-affirm what I thought I already knew.

Now, nearly 6 years sober, I have come up with a much better way of regaining control over intake… it’s what led me to quit within 6 months.

This actually works!

It’s all about understanding what you want from alcohol, sip by sip, glass by glass. Then seeing how well it matches up to expectations when you actually drink it.

You’d be amazed how this focuses the mind on what you want from alcohol. It doesn’t happen overnight, but over a few weeks you begin to think about why you are even opening a bottle of wine. This has the effect of making you question how much you really enjoy doing it and whether you are getting near the end of your love-affair/ marriage with alcohol.

Talk about putting a dent in your desire! And when your desire switches focus onto sobriety – anything is possible.

And that’s where the difference lies with sober October. You just don’t gain enough insights from a sober October to change anything.

For more about cutting down and quitting have a look at my book

1st Class Air Travel and booze – good bed-fellows?

First class air travel and booze are great bedfellows. Not that I speak from experience. Just lots of imagination. 
I couldn’t conceive winning the lottery or going on a 1st class flight to New York without a lot of Champagne – back in the old days, that is. 
In fact, even now I can’t see the benefit of luxury travel without booze, despite being not in the least tempted by Champagne anymore. Perhaps it demonstrates how far I have come with my new desires in sobriety, ones that are truer to me.

Then it struck me how much of a parallel lies between the illusive world of first-class air travel –

first class air travel

and special social occasions.

Both are actually ruined by alcohol. In first class, all the little treats and extras laid on by the airline are completely overshadowed by the prospect of endless “free” Champagne. you would never really enjoy the buffet in the first class departure lounge, or the seats that turn to beds when you need some rest, or all endless meals, snacks and films. You’d be thinking about the wine, the spirit mixers in their posh glasses, the circular bar, the top-ups.

Real-life parallel

And in real life the same can be said for special social occasions. 
In those dark old days I would look forward to and plan such occasions down to the first and last mouthful of booze – from the continuous flow of alcohol, the number of pre-paid bottles to get everyone started, the mix of heavy and light drinking company. And on those occasions I would drink from the earliest opportunity. For the duration I would keep topping up my levels of alcohol in case I started to sober up.  
And then I would go into blackout and do silly things or get emotional or fall asleep or get argumentative. 
All the preparation for the social event would have been wasted. As would I. And I would wake up the next day with a sense of impending doom and a lot of gloom. Shame and anxiety would keep me sheepish and full of self-loathing for some time to come, relieved only by the next drink. 

So if I won the lottery or came into huge sums of money, air travel isn’t what I would seek, nor champagne (of course). I’m not really chasing huge sums anyway. I need money to live on, and that’s all I want. I love my life in all its simplicity and although it would be great to have a bit more cash to free up some more time for the things I want to do, I don’t crave a flashy life-style. Far from it.

For more of this sort of thing, pop over to my amazon page

Drink Questionnaire

If the choice was between a sober night at a lovely restaurant with friends or an evening of unlimited wine/beer/spirits/drink with someone you don’t really like very much, which would you pick?

Have you ever taken offence at someone’s comments, walked off then forgot why you were offended?…

Or had an argument on the phone, and the next day forgotten what you were arguing about?

Do you measure all occasions by their drinking opportunities?

Do you come into a room and feel like an outsider, until you have had a drink?

Do you feel depressed in the afternoon if you don’t know when you’ll be able to get a drink later that day?

Do you feel a sense of dread when you hear or read a news item about liver disease caused by alcohol?

Do you take secret swigs from bottles of alcohol?

Do you buy  drinks from bars in between rounds without people noticing

Do you buy extra rounds so as to get a drink more quickly than waiting someone else’s round.

Do you feel comforted when you hear about someone drinking more than you?

Do you feel you could stop or cut down if you really wanted to?

when you think about winning the lottery, do you think about the drink you’ll have in celebration.

Do you think about travelling first class on the plane, and think about free drinks?

Does the thought of a Sunday lunch and a log fire make you think of alcohol.

Does the thought of your favourite meal – without alcohol – turn you off?

Do you eat less in order to drink more

Do you put off eating as long as possible so as to have more capacity for booze.

Do you see food after booze as the end of the night’s main entertainment.

Do you reward yourself with drink?

If you answer”yes” to any of the above, then you’ll find some useful help on this website – and via my book page

Pink Cloud still pink

I’m happy to report that my pink cloud hasn’t blown over, even after 5 years.

My Pink Cloud

We had friends round for Friday-night dinner last night and I felt excited all day about them coming. I guess it’s because we haven’t been all that sociable recently and these friends are special to us, and a lot of fun. They are mostly quite big drinkers too.

So it’s with euphoria that I tell you how fluffy my pink cloud still is and how happy I feel today at how fun and successful the evening was, and how mentally strong and healthy and energetic I feel today. The sobriety drug that I got hooked on 5 years and 4 months ago is still working its magic. This is the real ecstasy! You have to believe me!

pop over to my book page for more of my experiences in the world of sober!