Day 30 – Now What? New Goals, Future Plans

Can I just stop for a moment and say…

bunting

CONGRATULATIONS!

Making the decision to take a month off, signing up for the Sober Sprint / MOB and committing your time and money to it, and trying to make changes and learn more about your relationship with alcohol, even if you didn’t do everything 100% ‘perfect’, is more than many people ever do.

Some people can take or leave alcohol, don’t like the taste or how it makes them feel, and rarely have a tipple. These people might not understand why other people feel the need to drink daily or heavily, or what an achievement a Sober Sprint / MOB is for those people – because booze is not something they need to worry about. It’s irrelevant.

Probably you are not one of those people. In which case, this month has been a challenge, and a HUGE achievement, whether you have taken months off before or this is your first one, if it is part of a longer period of being alcohol-free, or whether you have had any slips along the way.

I’m not sure what your plans are for today and beyond. So today’s post is about just that – your future plans for alcohol. There are two broad options: continued abstinence, or drinking again in a more moderate controlled way.

Keeping the Sober Sprint / MOB going – Booze Sabbaticals or Retirement

For some of you the Sober Sprint / MOB might have been the start or part of a bigger plan to take a longer or permanent break from alcohol. We hope that the structure and support of the Sober Sprint / MOB, the information, tips and strategies (that are yours forever), and the Club Soda community can help you carry on beyond it.

You now know you can do it, what you feel like without drink, and what life is like when alcohol is no longer part of it, so at a very simplistic level, being alcohol-free longer term is simply a case of repeating a single month as many times as you want.

Maybe you just want to move your goalposts a month at a time: If this month went well, and with so much positive press recently about the benefits of a booze break, perhaps you’re just going to carry on for a bit longer. That’s great!

Here are some things to think about and reflect upon if you are planning on extending your booze break for a longer sabbatical, or for life:

  • If you made changes during the Sober Sprint / MOB that for whatever reason were only temporary, what kind of possible pitfalls that you haven’t yet encountered will you need to plan for as life gets back to a more typical or normal routine?
    • E.g., You avoided going out socially during the Sober Sprint / MOB but don’t want to do that forever, so will need new plans for social situations.
    • E.g., You over-indulged on sweet food during the Sober Sprint / MOB but don’t want to do that forever, so will need different treats.
  • What changes did you make during your Sober Sprint / MOB that you intend or hope to carry on permanently? Do you feel confident that you can?
  • What would you like a typical week to look like going forward? Can you make that happen?
  • Do you intend to go out socially as much as before, or less?
  • Will you go to the same places with the same people as you did when you were drinking or do you intend to change your social life? Can you imagine this happening?
  • Is there anyone you consider high risk in terms of sabotaging your plans to stay off alcohol? How do you intend to handle your relationship with them longer-term?
  • If your future self begins wondering if you could start drinking in moderation again, what is the answer? Can you? Have you ever been able to? How will you deal with this inner dilemma if the time comes?
  • If you have a slip-up, how will you choose to respond? Are you likely to use a slip as an opportunity to have a full relapse, or can you plan now to nip it in the bud?

Set-Ups

Lapses and relapses can be set in motion way before the actual drink is bought or consumed. In recovery parlance we refer to ‘set ups’. Set-ups can manifest in our thoughts (e.g., forward planning to drink at a certain event), or behaviour (e.g., instigating arguments so we can create an excuse for a drink), or simply in stopping doing the things that we were doing that helped us avoid booze (e.g., relaxation, avoiding certain people/places, AA meetings etc).

So it will be important to be aware of changes to your mind-set or motivation, when your self-talk starts piping up trying to convince you that you can drink now and then, or when you stop doing elements of your daily routine that had been helping you stay sober.

One Day at a Time – Stay in the Day

The questions above encouraged you to project into the future, to think about possible scenarios and your reaction to them. However, once you have identified future risks, and made a plan for how you will respond if/when the time comes, you can then start to focus on the here-and-now.

Right back at the check-in to this Sober Sprint / MOB we wrote about the importance of staying in the day.

Being in the present moment helps us to avoid over-thinking and getting anxious about future events (that have not yet happened), or ruminating and dwelling on past mistakes and difficulties (that have already happened and we can do nothing about). It takes the pressure off the bigger picture and the outcome, and instead we can focus on planning and doing what we need to have an alcohol free day today – the only day that matters and that we currently have control over.

As we wrote back then:

Take one day at a time. Do the daily Sober Sprint / MOB ritual every day to recommit and refocus on having an alcohol-free day today and to look at the immediate issues you need to tackle and steps you need to take to make today a success.

Every single time you negotiate a difficult situation, resist an urge, decline a drink, or respond differently to negative thoughts or emotions, you will have learnt a new skill. And you can use that skill tomorrow – when tomorrow comes!

Drinking in Moderation

I developed a controlled drinking group in one of the drug and alcohol services I work in, to help the many people out there who are not physically dependent on alcohol but do drink heavily, hazardously, or recklessly – whether that’s weekend binges or a steady daily habit – and are unhappy with where alcohol has taken them.

People come to this group knowing they are not physically addicted, and not yet ready or willing to consider lifelong sobriety. Instead they would “like to enjoy a drink now and then”.

When my clients describe what this means to them, I usually hear a variety of the following answers:

  • Not drinking in the week
  • Stopping at 4 drinks when I go out at weekends
  • Not drinking alone/at home
  • Sticking to beer/wine, no shots, spirits or mixing drinks.
  • Switching from 6% to 5% beer/cider.
  • Only drinking when I’m in a good mood/not drinking on my negative emotions

These rules of thumb create a picture of what moderate drinking might mean for that particular person and are certainly acceptable goals as far as I am concerned, although whether it is possible for a particular person is another matter.

However, I also hear a range of caveats and exceptions such as:

  • Not drinking in the week (unless I’m out with friends/on holiday)
  • Stopping at 4 drinks when I go out at weekends (unless it’s a 40th or a wedding or something)
  • Not drinking alone/at home (except maybe for Sunday – I like my cheese and wine on Sunday nights)
  • Sticking to beer/wine, no shots or spirits (I’ll have cocktails if I’m somewhere nice/I like a G&T in the summer)
  • Switching from 6.5% to 5% beer/cider (as long as I can get the one I like, I’m not drinking c**p!)
  • Only drinking when I’m in a good mood/not drinking on my negative emotions (unless I really can’t get to sleep and I have an early start).

These exceptions are the danger zone – the person has given themselves so many reasons – in advance! – to make no changes at all.

Clients often hope that by attending these groups they will have an epiphany, that we will say something that totally blows their mind and changes the way they think about alcohol. They don’t, and we don’t. We repeatedly stress that without plans, everything is just a pipe-dream. Hoping you won’t drink tomorrow night is not a plan. Looking at what might make this hope fail and then putting plans in place to deal with it, is. Learning to tolerate some discomfort and handle urges, managing emotions differently, and creating new routines are the main solutions.

Clients in this group typically take a staggered approach to change, working on reducing their units and days off per week to get to a point they are happy with – which will be different for everyone. You, on the other hand, have already reduced to 0 units, 7 days per week, for the past 4 weeks so you are planning on starting to drink again, rather than cutting down.

It is important to imagine and commit to what “drinking in moderation” and “being in control of alcohol” means to you, if that’s what you want.

  • How many days per week do you want to allow yourself to drink on?
  • Which days of the week are these?
  • What will you need to do differently and what routine will you have on the days you won’t be drinking any more? Can you imagine yourself doing this?
  • What situations do you want to be able to drink in?
  • What situations or times of day do you want to permanently stop drinking in?
  • When you drink, what drink and how many units of alcohol do you want to have?
  • Can you imagine yourself slowing down, alternating with soft drinks, or drinking weaker measures in order to keep within your new moderation limits?
  • Can you imagine stopping when you get to your new limit, and leaving the situation or switching to soft drinks?
  • What benefits are you going to get out of drinking again? What are the payoffs? Are these payoffs genuine or is this euphoric recall and magical thinking. We looked at this on Day 14.
  • By saying ‘Yes’ to alcohol, what are you saying ‘No’ to? Even if you drink in moderation occasionally, will there be any costs? Hangovers, less oomph, low mood…Are you OK with this?  
  • What are the payoffs and benefits of moderating and having days off? Are these important enough to motivate you to stick to your moderating rules?
  • Do you trust yourself to be flexible on the above rules or will you need to stick to them completely (e.g., if you allow yourself to drink twice per week, and you then drink on Monday and Tuesday next week, will you really go the rest of the week, including the weekend, without another drink?)
  • Have you ever drank in moderation before? Do you have evidence it is possible?
  • What will a “relapse” look like in your new moderation lifestyle? How will you know you are slipping back to drinking at levels you are not happy with or are causing you problems again?
  • What will you do to get back on track if you notice you are slipping back to old ways?
  • How long will you give yourself to try out your moderation plan before you stop and re-evaluate whether it is working for you and set some new goals?

I don’t want to put on my big judgemental pants here, but part of my job is to challenge my clients – so I’ll just come out and say it. If you are intending to drink tonight to celebrate your MOB and ‘because you can’, does your future moderation plan include drinking on Sunday nights? If it doesn’t, is it logical, sensible or helpful to make an exception to break one of your brand new drinking rules on Day 1?

The Challenge of Drinking in Moderation

It might seem strange, but many of my clients find that they are more successful sticking to their days off alcohol than they are sticking to their moderation plans on the days they do drink. They can successfully have two or more days off per week, and learn to cope with their urges, and change their routines around to make those days off happen. But when they do drink, they still go over the number of units they planned on having, get more drunk, feel worse the next day, and suffer all the other consequences of that.

As we mentioned on Day 15, alcohol affects our decision-making, particularly how much we care about the consequences of our behaviour. Alcohol shortsightedness also causes us to respond more to our immediate environment and the temptations in it, and we are less able to consider the future consequences of our actions.

So, our sober self will have an excellent plan that they are really committed to for sticking to 2 glasses of red wine when we are out for dinner later. With food to slow down our drinking and occupy most of the evening, sober self thinks it will be possible to maintain that nice buzz we like from a couple of drinks. Unfortunately the 5 units of alcohol from the wine means that our now tiddly self could struggle when the waiter comes over to see if we want to order more drinks, or when our dinner companion suggests a quick nightcap elsewhere.

So, if you are hoping to drink in moderation some nights of the week, your coping strategies will need to be carefully thought out beforehand to compensate for impaired decision-making when the time comes to stop drinking, leave, refuse drinks that are offered, deal with people trying to persuade you to have one more etc. These plans might involve asking others to help you stick to your limits, taking less money out with you, buying and keeping less at home, setting reminders on your phone, white lies, etc.

Whatever decision you make today, the implications of it will affect your future self. What kind of life do you want your future self to be living?

Maybe you already know yourself well enough to know that it’s best to just avoid all booze completely. Maybe you think you can moderate, or are hoping you can, and want to give that a go.

Whatever decision you make, don’t obsess over the outcome, treat it as a process where you can learn from what works AND from what doesn’t. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t 100% perfect 100% of the time. No one is. What you are doing is trying your best to change your life in a positive way.

And don’t forget, there are lots of people in the Club Soda community who are cutting down, taking a break, or stopping for good. You can jump on there to get support whenever you need it from other people who are trying their best and making positive change too.

Your actions for today

  • Reflect on what your alcohol hopes and goals are post-Sober Sprint / MOB. If you want to drink in moderation, look at the questions above, and make some really concrete rules and boundaries around your drinking. If you want to stay stopped, how are you going to approach this?
  • Visit the private Club Soda Facebook group and tell us what you intend to do tonight, and what your goals are going forward.

For more about planning for your future, watch this video from our October 2015 MOB webinar series.

And for some interesting drink ideas for the future, Cassie has horchata and aloe vera. You’ll just have to go read them to find out what she’s on about…

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.