I recently traveled to New York City for a series of business trainings, book launch events, and conferences. It was my first time in the city after having made a commitment to myself (over two years ago) to stop getting drunk. I had drastically redefined my relationship to alcohol, and coming back for a whirlwind press tour with my new boundaries made me nervous.
How would I avoid falling back into my old habits in an oasis of cocktail events of open bars? Making matters even trickier (or, in retrospect, luckier), I was invited to participate in a media panel during the first event. I was supposed to share my story, what makes me unique, and withstand a battery of questions from the media representatives in attendance.
Why do I think this is lucky now? It forced me to "out myself" right at the beginning of the trip to hundreds of people. Instant accountability.
I struggled with alcohol through my teens, twenties, and early thirties. I had a work-hard, play-hard, jet-set lifestyle and was totally burned out by 30. When I realized just how fatigued I was, I left my career as a consultant to “find myself." What I found was that I still relied too heavily on alcohol.
I woke up in the morning after my 30th birthday to a giant goose egg on my forehead and no idea how it got there. I told myself I'd cut back, but when my 31st birthday rolled around, I got absinthe-related amnesia. It wasn't until a few weeks before my 32nd birthday that I made a commitment that stuck. No more getting drunk. Period.
Over the past few years, I’ve not only “not gotten drunk”—I’ve also successfully learned to drink in moderation. Now, I only very occasionally indulge in alcohol, and then it's to a very moderate degree. From my experiences, as well as my studies with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I developed a coaching practice to support other women in adopting and practicing moderation with alcohol—on their terms.
I shared all of this on that first night at the media event. I was so nervous about speaking eloquently that I forgot to worry about the impact my words would have on the audience—a room full of entrepreneurs there to learn how to change the world.
Sharing my story gave permission to people in the audience to share theirs. After I spoke, people approached me in the bathroom, in hallways, and at the networking event that following the presentation to discuss my experience further.
Women wanted to share their experiences with alcohol with me. Some felt shame, some wanted to make their own changes. Many of these woman were dealing with issues even less extreme and/or shorter-term than my own.
I was most struck by the profound shame women seem to feel after losing control over alcohol, and how long that shame lingered. Secondarily, I was deeply surprised to discover that nearly all of this shame-provoking behavior could be classified as “alcoholism.”
Most of the stories I heard wouldn't register as even a blip on the radar of most physicians, and even therapists. Yet these experiences had a lasting effect on the women speaking to me. They needed a safe place to discuss their personal issues, and a solution that didn’t necessitate 100 percent sobriety.
Often, people discuss drinking as an “all or nothing” affair. As soon as you admit that you think you drink "too much," you're suddenly a candidate for a recovery program and should be quitting cold turkey.
You can have a problem with alcohol, and not be an alcoholic. You can have a problem with alcohol and not want to quit. My recent experience in NYC affirmed what I had learned in sharing my story with clients and members of my community. Sometimes we need to see our experiences reflected back to us in order to feel comfortable making a change.
The problem with the “all or nothing” approach to alcohol is that many of us don’t relate, and rather than be labeled as addicts, we stay silent about our desire to change.
We face pressure to drink in social situations. The people around us may not be comfortable with their own drinking habits, which can make your decision to do things differently even more loaded. You could lose a friendship, or a business relationship if you rub someone the wrong way on a night out. But isn't it more important to be someone you feel comfortable looking at in the mirror every day?
If any of this resonates with you, consider this permission to make a change—an affirmation that your truth is real. Here are twelve signs it's time to consider redefining your relationship with alcohol.
1. You’ve ever woken up after a night out and thought “I need to cut back.”
It might seem obvious, but we become so good at convincing ourselves—or letting the people around us convince us—that we’re fine or that being hungover every weekend is normal, we stop listening to our gut instincts. If you have that feeling of wanting to change something, let that be enough to get you started. As I always tell my clients, if you feel like you have a problem with alcohol and you want to change your relationship to it, you know better than anyone else.
2. You often wake up tired, lethargic or have a hard time focusing.
As few as two drinks before bed can interrupt your REM sleep and have you waking up feeling less than optimal. Developing a different bedtime routine will help you sleep better and wake up feeling rested and focused.
3. You drink alcohol more days of the week than you don't.
Canadian Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines recommend planning non-drinking days during the week to avoid forming a habit. If you notice you've started to crave a drink more often than not, you should consider finding alternatives. If the first thing you think of when something bad or stressful happens is how soon you can have a drink, you'd be well-served to start developing other stress-reduction tools.
4. You feel shame for behavior you've displayed while drinking.
Instead of burying the shame under more booze, try cutting it out for a bit. It can be hard to learn how to feel and deal, but ultimately feeling and moving through pain, shame, and regret is paramount to healing. Give yourself a break and ease up on the booze while you work through some of this stuff.
5. If you vow “never again,” but keep drinking past the point of no return.
If this happens, it's definitely time to cut back (by a lot) or cut alcohol out completely for awhile. It’s not enough to say “I’m not going to get so drunk.” Set your intention for only one drink, or better yet, experiment with cutting it out completely for an evening to see how it feels. It doesn’t have to be forever, but the key is to break the habit.
6. You find yourself putting off other activities that are important to you.
If you’ve been procrastinating on pursuing your passions, or find that you “forget” what kinds of activities (other than drinking) feel good for you, it’s probably time to cut back. Once alcohol stops being your go-to for socializing and fun, you’ll have to more time (and money) to make other activities and hobbies a priority.
7. You're worried about your weight.
You may not want this reminder, but if you’re concerned about your weight and have tried dieting and exercise, but haven’t tried cutting back on booze, this might be the time. Alcohol might get you drunk, but it has plenty of calories, too. Yeah, the getting drunk part can be fun, but if you're serious about getting in shape, drinking regularly should not be part of your lifestyle.
8. You feel like you’ve got it all together, but alcohol is the one thing you don’t have a handle on.
Sometimes you feel like you're living a double life. Everyone sees you as super-accomplished and “together,” but you feel differently. This might be a source of secret shame for you. That's a burden you don't need to be carrying. Cutting back on alcohol can help you feel on top of the world and in control of your life.
9. You have a hard time connecting with your intuition.
If you wish you could tap into your intuition more easily, you might want to consider slowing down on the alcohol. A lot of my clients spent years agonizing over every decision and second-guessing every choice. A drastic reduction in drinking tends to facilitate tapping into that inner knowing, and making clear-headed, heart-connected decisions.
10. You feel like there’s something more for you.
Sometimes it hard to even articulate this feeling, but you know there’s something more waiting for you. Maybe your problem isn’t severe. You’re just done with feeling crappy, dealing with hangovers, accidentally losing yourself, or doing or saying something you wouldn’t have if you were sober.
11. You know you are meant for more.
I have never met anyone who describes their decision to cut back or cut out alcohol as having a negative impact on their life. To the contrary, the people I work seem to have experienced really positive shifts in their lives within months of changing their drinking habits. So, why not give it a try?
Low-risk drinking is considered to be no more than 2-3 drinks per day with no more than 7 drinks per week for women, and 3-4 drink per day with no more than a total of 14 drinks per week for men (depending on which country’s guidelines you are looking at). If you choose to cut back, getting familiar with these guidelines is a good place to start.
Your version of moderation might look like no more than one glass of alcohol on any evening, committing to more alcohol-free days during the week, or choosing not to drink in situations that are potentially triggering. Whatever you decide, create a plan before you're in the situation you're worried about.
Know what alternatives you have (nonalcoholic drinks, or bringing your own). Do your best to set yourself up for success and focus on the benefits you’ll receive.