and how to make Sober September different
When it comes to sobriety challenges like Dry January and Sober September, I’m a bit of a pro. I did my first and last Dry January nearly four years ago in 2017. I say “last” ironically as it was the catalyst for me to give up alcohol for good.
Since then, I’ve become an advisor and mentor to ambitious, high-achieving individuals who want to change their relationship with alcohol. Many of them begin their journey working with me as a part of a 30-day alcohol-free challenge. Each month, I see an influx of optimistic souls who hope to transform their relationship with alcohol using the challenge as their magic bullet.
Of course, it can be done — I’m living proof. However, what it’s important to know is that my case is actually a rather unusual one, most people who embark on a sober month barely make it through the first weekend. And, for the few that complete the month-long sobriety challenge, even fewer get what they’d wanted out of the experience. And there’s reason for that: most people go into an alcohol-free challenge with jaded expectations and hopes that have been misguided by media outlets and wishful thinking.
As someone who has consciously watched this process unfold, I’m here to set the record straight for you by sharing what most people get wrong about dry challenges like Sober September…and how you can get it right.
Mistake #1: Using a break from booze as subconscious reinforcement. Let’s face it, if you’ve decided to take a break from alcohol, you probably not one of those take-it-or-leave-it drinkers. While you might not be in danger of addiction, you’re most likely drinking in excess whether it be in small amounts throughout the week or as a binge on the weekends. Either way, I’m willing to bet that you’ve questioned your drinking. If so, there’s probably a tiny part of your subconscious that’s looking to reinforce that you don’t have an actual “problem”. And, if you can withstand a month-long break from alcohol, it can serve as proof that you can control your drinking. Unfortunately, this justification will cause you to go right back to the same pattern you were stuck in before the month began.
I know this pattern because I saw it in myself and the many women I work with who drink in the “gray area”. I frequently see well-meaning women who can take long breaks from alcohol with little trouble. Then, their confidence kicks in and — before you know it — they’re right back in the detox/retox loop they’d been hoping to escape. You see, because society has made heavy drinking “normal” it’s easy to justify staying right where we are. Specifically because giving up alcohol is a societal marker that we “have a problem.”
Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight: You do not have to have a problem with alcohol for it to be a problem in your life. And, if you’re looking into a sober month, my guess is that your inner guide has been whispering to you in growing intensity that alcohol is most likely a problem in your life.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to other common missteps and misconceptions.
Mistake #2: Going into a sober month with no plan and no tools. I suppose it would make sense that if you don’t have a problem (addiction) with alcohol, that quitting it — especially for a short amount of time — should be rather easy, right? Not necessarily. Giving up a socially acceptable, government-regulated substance might sound simple, but it’s certainly not easy. And, if you go into such an experiment without tools and preparation, rest assured you’ll find yourself white-knuckling it at some point.
The tools you need to set yourself up for success are indeed pretty simple. Yet, it requires preparation to gather them…a step many miss. In my experience, the two most important tools you need when taking a break from alcohol is a firm “why” and a plan for communicating that why to yourself and others when temptation rises.
Speaking of others, let’s talk about the importance of a proper support network when it comes to taking a month off booze.
Mistake #3: Going into a dry month with no support (and an active network of saboteurs). I see many people go into their dry month with the false hope that the buddy system will be the magic tool to hold them accountable. I’m all for community support, but when you rely on our friends to be our accountability partners, you fail to realize that they come with their own baggage and wounds. Ultimately, they care most about their comfort. And, if in a moment of weakness, they want to drink…what will make them feel most comfortable is if you drink too. So, while they might truly want the best for you, what they want more is their own mental comfort. Thus, your friends become likely saboteurs of your success. This doesn’t even take into account the majority of your social network who will not be participating in taking a break from alcohol; those who will be going on about their normal drinking lives. Often, I find that being around our friends who continue to drink causes levels of discomfort, social pressure, and FOMO that cause many well-intending participants to abandon their goals.
It is for this reason, that I strongly encourage finding support networks outside of your friend group. Specifically, people who aren’t affected emotionally by your success or failure. You’ll actually find that, often, people with whom you have no emotional ties are your biggest cheerleaders.
If you’ve been proactive in finding a sturdy support network, it’s important that you recognize that completing a dry month will be more impactful if you make the decision to go beyond counting days, which brings us to Mistake number four.
Mistake #4: Counting days vs. doing work. I promise you, that with just a tiny amount of will-power, you can take a 30-day break from drinking. However, if your main focus is just on checking the box of “not drinking”, you’ve missed a major opportunity. You see, it’s not only your behavior of drinking that’s causing you problems. It’s more-likely the limiting subconscious beliefs that lie under the behavior that is holding you back from what you truly desire to achieve in life.
Because most people who take a break from drinking focus solely on the act of removing alcohol from their system, they fail to explore the patterns that have led them to feel like they need alcohol in their lives in the first place. Essentially, this is just like going to the gym but never picking up a weight. Sure, you’ll accomplish the literal goal, but you won’t get the results you truly desire unless you put in the work.
All-in-all, we often enter a sober stint with a romanticized outlook on what we’ll accomplish in our months-long break from alcohol. The reality is, that most participants are giving themselves false hope as to what they can really accomplish. Which brings us to exactly what we’ll discuss in Mistake number five.
Mistake #5: Creating a false hope that you can rewire your habits in 30 days. Did you know that it takes thirty days to merely start a new habit? Keyword: new. Let’s talk about what goes into breaking an old habit. It’s actually quite complex. You see, we first have to acknowledge how long that habit has physically been in place. When it comes to alcohol, for most of the people I work with it’s 10–20 years…or more.
Then, we have to determine how long our subconscious has been absorbing beliefs related to that habit and to what degree. For most of us, we started receiving subliminal imprints about alcohol as children when we observed how our parents and other adults used alcohol, watched TV shows, and commercials where alcohol was glamorized and absorbed influence from our peers. All-in-all, most of us have some very intense mental programming around alcohol. And, while our conscious mind may be aware that we’ve been programmed to believe alcohol is a necessary evil, we aren’t able to simply tap into our subconscious mind and reprogram all of the tiny imprints in one fell swoop (though that would be much more convenient).
Then, you add in the fact that the habit you’re trying to change involves a mind-altering substance that is formulated to create dependencies and addictions. The result is a pipe dream that you might re-wire years of subconscious programming, behavioral training, and physiological cravings in a mere 30 days. Highly unlikely.
So, I frequently see people who have successfully navigated the seas of a month-long break from drinking, hoping it will have magically change their long-term behavior, only to find they’re right back where they left off.
But, don’t fret, I promised I was going to share some tactics for overcoming these common pitfalls. The first step to a successful month off booze is simply acknowledging articles like this and understanding that a 30-day break from alcohol is a success, but it’s not a lifelong achievement. The second is determining what you really hope to achieve out of your sober month (outside of prooving that you are able of taking a break from drinking). Finally, you have to decide at what level you want to commit to your own success.
If you’re certain that it’s time to re-negotiate your relationship with alcohol and you’re serious about it, challenges like Dry January and Sober September are an amazing and helpful first-step. As someone who’s observed this process from the inside and outside, I highly recommend committing to a challenge and support group to help you achieve your goals. There are many groups, coaches, and networks out there and I encourage you to find the one that resonates most closely with you and your goals.
If the messages I’ve shared here with you have been helpful and you want to learn more, I’ll be hosting a Sober September program — which will be a supported month-long exploration into your relationship with alcohol complete with exercises, lessons, Q&A, and community. You can learn more about the program here.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to an entire sober month, but you want to learn more about alcohol-free living & pursuing your authentic truth, connect with me on Instagram and download my Guide to Finding Your Authentic Self here.