I have been alcohol free for a little over two years. After a decade of trying to moderate and cut back with little success, I reached the point where enough was enough. The TL;DR: Giving up drinking was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself.
Since I embarked on this lifestyle, my entire world has opened up. It’s no exaggeration to say that every area of my life has improved: my mental and physical health, my relationships, my spending habits, my creativity and career, and most importantly and impactfully, my overall clarity, joy, and outlook.
In the hopes to help de-stigmatize the AF lifestyle and to help inform others who might be sober-curious, I’ve been vocal about my experience across social platforms and have received an overwhelming amount of messages, questions and inquiries. Below I’ve shared some of the most common questions I receive and some guidance for them. I am no expert in anything outside of my own experience, but if any of the work I’ve done can be helpful for others looking to change their lifestyle it would make me so happy!
Tarreyn Van Slyke is a multi-passionate creative based in Los Angeles. She is enthusiastic about personal growth, exploring the world, and finding the joy and magic in every day.
What is the hardest part about quitting drinking?
Making the decision.
Drinking was a huge part of my life and identity. I was that friend. The one who ordered a bottle for the table, who had wine club memberships and champagne taste. I loved the “glamor” of a martini at cocktail hour, the salty satisfaction of a sunset margarita, mimosas over brunch. I had been made to think, through society, advertising, and my own upbringing, that this is what being an adult was. Drinking equaled fun. Period.
Accepting the thought that all of that would be gone was tough. And acknowledging that I just couldn’t seem to drink like other people was even tougher. Asking for help was scary. Looking down the barrel at an entire life without a drink was daunting and terrifying. Being stripped of part of my identity, feeling othered and different, experiencing the fear of how people would react and how my life would change all seemed insurmountable.
But. Once I made the decision for myself and no one else - once I just committed - it was uphill from there. NOT EASY - but simple. Simply never drinking turned out to be infinitely easier than the constant attempts to moderate, cut back, count my drinks, calculate and compromise with myself, and deal with hangovers. Life in general got a lot easier pretty quickly. (And spoiler: life is way MORE fun now.)
How do I know if I have a drinking problem?First things first. YOU DO NOT NEED to have a drinking problem to give up alcohol. Period. Drinking isn’t the problem. It’s the ineffective solution. The real question to start with is: IS ALCOHOL SERVING ME? Is it actively improving, benefitting or contributing to my life in a positive way? How?
Questions I urge you to examine instead of “do I have a problem?”
WHY am I drinking? Is it to celebrate or enjoy? ….Or is it to numb? To avoid? To feel more comfortable or confident in social situations?
-Essentially: Am I using alcohol to push myself to behave in a way that is counter-intuitive to my truest self?
- Is my mind preoccupied with booze? Can I not wait until I have my next drink? Am I looking around the table or room to see where everyone else is at in their drinks or am I consistently the first person to order the next round or push for a round of shots? Am I the “party friend?”
Does the thought of socializing with alcohol make me uneasy? Why do I think this is?
-Am I potentially forcing myself to attend events I’d rather skip or stay longer at than I want to? Am I using alcohol as a way to numb the inner voices telling me I’m not charming enough or I need to fit in? Am I ignoring fears, insecurities or people pleasing tendencies I might have by drowning them out?
Is drinking getting in the way of other things I want in my life?
-Examples of this could include: Canceling workouts because I’m hungover, spending money on takeout or not eating great because I don’t have the energy, changing plans with friends because of how I’m feeling?
-Do I feel blocked in any way? Or like some invisible force field is pushing back at me, standing in the way between who I am and who I want to be?
How is drinking affecting my physical health?
-How are my sleeping, eating and exercise habits? Can I find a direct link to alcohol in any of the areas where I want to improve? How does my body feel after I drink my “normal” amount?
How is drinking affecting my mental health?
-Do I often feel anxiety before and after a night of drinking? Do I struggle with any shame or regret?
- HOW WOULD MY LIFE CHANGE OR IMPROVE WITHOUT ALCOHOL IN IT?
Look into gray area drinking. This is not a black and white issue.
Most people who have a “drinking problem” are using alcohol as a placeholder or bandaid for something else. Getting to the bottom of this, your root cause, is the best way to move forward in assessing your habits. Find your WHY, and you’ll begin to find your way out.
How do you cope with cravings and overcome temptation?
A craving lasts about twenty minutes so I focus on that. It’s incredibly easy to kill twenty minutes and it’s important to think about it like that - a wave that will pass soon. (Urge surfing is a helpful cravings technique where you literally visualize surfing over the cravings!)
PLAY THE TAPE FORWARD
Playing the tape forward is a common visualization technique to help cope with urges or cravings.
Visualize yourself HAVING the drink and everything that would follow: More drinks, money spent, greasy food, a hangover the next morning, and so on. Then visualize yourself SKIPPING the drink and everything that follows. Driving yourself home, washing your face, waking up tomorrow happy and hangover and shame free. Picture yourself the next morning and how it would feel. Some things I do when a craving hits…
If I’m at home:
- Bake cookies from scratch
- Go for a walk
- Take a long shower with music playing
- Do something with my hands to keep busy: dishes, bullet journaling, crafts, chores
- Call a friend or relative
- Revisit recovery/quit lit books, passages, quotes I have saved
- Play a game on my phone
- Use the Reframe App (a great tool for those just finding their sober footing!)
- Do a yoga flow (on my own or with a YouTube video)
- Grab a non-alcoholic drink
- Stream of consciousness write out every single reason I do NOT want to be drinking any more
- Do some skin care: Face mask, NuFace, cleansing, eyebrows, a pedicure
- Go out and buy myself some flowers from Trader Joes
- Remember my WHY
If I’m out/at a party/in a situation where others are drinking:
- Step outside and get some fresh air
- Make sure I’ve got a fun AF drink in my hand
- Talk to my husband or a close friend at the event who I feel comfortable telling I’m struggling
- Eat something (for me it’s usually something sweet to help the sugar craving)
- Go do breathing exercises outside or in the bathroom (I’ve legit meditated on the curb outside a restaurant)
- LEAVE. This is something that I never felt empowered to do before, but now I NEVER stay places longer than I want to.
What to drink when you’re not drinking?
You’re reading this on the Three Spirit blog, so odds are you’re already looking into alcohol free alternatives. I am genuinely obsessed with their Spark and Sharp wine alternatives and if you try them I’m sure you will be too. Some of my other favorite things to drink:
- Aaaallll the coffee - hot, iced, frothed, steamed, you name it.
- CBD drinks
- Hop Water
- La Croix & Topo Chico
- Agua Fresca & Lemonade or limeade
- Iced tea (black) or hot tea (peppermint)
- Non-Alcoholic Beer (there are some GREAT options out there now)
- Diet Coke, Mexican Coke, Ginger Beer
- Sparkling teas or other sparkling wine alternatives
Then, when it comes to going out to bars or restaurants: look at the bar menu or website in advance. Its helpful for me to know before I go if they have a specific mocktail menu or AF drinks available or not. My go-to virgin cocktails are margaritas, mojitos or moscow mules. Most every bar or restaurant can make these, and they taste great and refreshing without alcohol.
What do you tell people?
Whatever. You. Want.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation or anything else.
If offered an alcoholic drink I usually simply say “I’m good thanks” (or more often “actually, do you have diet coke?”) The percentage at which people press me from there is extremely small, and if asked about it I simply say I don’t drink. Period. The reactions to this sentence are not as scary or weird or judgemental as you are thinking they’ll be. I promise. (Honestly I mostly receive “oh cool!” as the response and we all move on.)
That being said - figure out whatever sound bytes work for you. But have it ready so you don’t get flustered or anxious. Honestly, a simple ‘I don’t drink’ ends the conversation much faster than any temporary-sounding phrase. If you say “I'm not drinking tonight’ people ask why or go further into detail. The amount of follow-up questions in my experience correlates directly with how firm or confident you are in your reasons. (And reminder: you don’t need reasons to not drink, and you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone else. This is a decision you’re making for yourself, not other people.)
What are some resource recommendations?
Since my personal journey has been fully self motivated and I’ve done it without being in any groups or programs (I DO have an amazing therapist though and highly recommend talking to one,) I have found guidance, solace, motivation, inspiration and affinity from the ever growing “Quit Lit” section of the book store.
Here are my top recs:
- This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
- Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whittaker
- The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray
- Drinking Games by Sarah Levy
- Nothing Good can Come from This by Kristi Coulter
There are also lots of wonderfully helpful podcasts and episodes worth checking out!
What’s the biggest surprise about living an alcohol free life?
I have MORE FUN now than I did before.
Yes, you read that correctly - I have MORE FUN without alcohol than I ever did with it. I’m the first and last person on the dance floor at weddings. I bound out of bed in the mornings excited for each new day. Because I’m not shoving down my feelings and trying to be a people pleaser by numbing out, I only participate in activities I enjoy and want to be at (and only spend time with people I actively want to be around.) I have more meaningful conversations that I actually remember. I’m more present for the people in my life so my relationships have deepened and grown. I do a wider variety of activities and have tried so many new things. My mental and physical health have improved so dramatically that I’m just happier being myself, in my own body, left with my own thoughts.
And its not all just meditation and self improvement vibes over here. Last month I went to a Shrek themed rave with a group of friends and danced in my light-up tutu until my feet hurt.
Because I opened myself up so fully to something that seemed terrifying and out of reach - a life without alcohol - and it ended up being more fulfilling and joyful than I ever could have imagined, I am way more open to newness in general.
This process has felt like shedding my skin; raw and scary at first, but now I’m growing into who I truly want to be. I’m able to be the best version of myself so much more. To draw boundaries, to follow my curiosity, to be truly in tune with who I am. I laugh more, I create more, I like myself more. It has challenges, but overall I have found the joy I knew I was capable of and I’m so excited to keep going. And I’m excited for you too!