Everything I wish someone had told me when I changed my relationship with alcohol
We asked Tim Copeland, journalist and mindful drinker if he could put together a piece for us about his journey with drinking, and what he’s done to succeed in achieving his goals to change his relationship with alcohol. It turned out he’d already written it all down, as he’s been fiercely documenting his progress to aide in his ongoing personal growth, continuing to achieve his goals and improving his mental health. So if you’re just starting out and are looking for some advice or inspiration, then have a read of Tim’s thought process:
Changing your relationship with alcohol for good
Quitting alcohol is a bit like pushing a stone up a hill while all your friends try to push it back down.
It can be done; it just takes strength.
This is my guide to enable you to begin on your journey. I’ve been working on most of these elements for five years but only decided to quit in February 2017. Over that first year, I allowed myself to have the occasional drink to show that I was in control and to limit the temptation of something being prohibited. Since Christmas, I haven’t had a drink. It can be done.
The focus of this guide is for you to remove the underlying causes of drinking, to create a healthy body and to develop a positive social life. It also gives advice on techniques that help you commit to these goals over a long period of time.
If you take alcohol away, you feel like you’re missing something. If you replace alcohol with a better body, mind, and life then you won’t ever look back.
For me, after changing my relationship with alcohol, I started sleeping better, my mind was clearer, my memory became stronger and my anxiety disappeared. I believe it was the best decision I’ve ever taken.
Number 1. the cornerstone to your relationship with alcohol
You have to make a decision to quit alcohol. You need to come to the realisation that it is bad for you, causing long-term damage and that you would rather be without it. No-one else can make this decision for you.
It’s like my dog loves chocolate but every time he snaffles some we have to take him to the vet. They make him sick to get the poison out of his system. He won’t learn that this could one day kill him but I wish I could tell him that. Now, wouldn’t you want that moment of realisation for yourself?
Number 2. the cause
Alcohol is often drunk for a reason. For example, if you want to turn a gas hob off, it is not enough to blow out the flame. The gas would still be on, filling up the room. Likewise, if you want to change your relationship with alcohol you must accept and understand why you were drinking.
For me, I drank alcohol as an escape. I felt the world was a dark and messy place and that I was powerless to change it. The causes are not necessarily something you can change easily by yourself. If you can afford it, try a therapist as they will spend time examining the root cause of your problems, enabling you to deal with them.
Number 3. your thoughts about your relationship with alcohol
If you feel like your mind is a whirlwind of non-stop thoughts, you need to get them out. Since 2013, I’ve always carried around a notebook in my back pocket and a pen. It means that whenever I get overwhelmed with thoughts, I stop and write them out. It makes a ton of difference.
This also relates to prioritisation. For example, even when I didn’t have much money I always allowed myself to buy a notebook because I knew how important it was to my progress. One aspect of writing in notebooks is that you have to be assertive that nobody reads it, it needs to be a safe space for you to write anything.
Number 4: your body
When I first saw a doctor about mental health issues, she prescribed me a half hour walk every day. You can bet my dog was happy about this. Not a walk to work but one in my own time with no rush to be anywhere. This emphasises that if you look after your body, you look after your mind.
Looking after my body was the biggest challenge for me. How to get a good night’s sleep, do enough exercise, eat healthily, avoid caffeine and sugar, see friends regularly and spend time relaxing. For anyone, this is a big deal. My main advice here is to plan it out. Use a notebook to write down what steps can be done during the week to improve on these elements. I’ve put some suggestions at the end of the article.
Number 5: social life
The book ‘This Naked Mind’ gives a good study on the influences on your subconscious by your friends, adverts, and society. In our current social life, there is a huge pressure to drink. Changing your relationship with alcohol personally is one thing but working out how to do this in public is much harder.
Tip 1: Be assertive. You have made a decision to quit and nobody has the right to force you to do otherwise.
Tip 2: Explain your story. If you tell someone why you don’t drink, they are more likely to understand, relate and even encourage you.
Tip 3: Adapt your social life. It might not be the right thing to stay in a group of friends that are choosing to live a different type of life. The worst thing is to remove yourself and isolate yourself but if you replace it with a new social life, one with people who are more open-minded and may drink less alcohol, this can really help you.
Sleep – go to bed early, at the same time every night, no excuses (set an alarm if you have to), read instead of Netflix before bed, do some yoga or meditation first, use an oil burner, drink herbal tea, have a bath, burn candles. I found listening to delta wave music on youtube worked surprisingly well.
Exercise – consider what you can do. Start small. A pair of running shoes and you can go jogging for free. There are so many classes for all types of sports that you just need to try a couple of things to find what works for you. Keep it regular but don’t push it too hard.
Eating – Cooking well takes preparation and effort. Make this easier for yourself by planning some simple meals to make before going shopping. For me, the ideal balance is a really colourful diet focused on vegetables, legumes, whole grains, oily fish, seeds, fruit and high-welfare meat. I found that eating a vegetarian diet for a period of time forced me to be more creative and expand my range of cooking.
Stimulants – Quitting alcohol really helps your sleep patterns. Stimulants, like caffeine and sugar, work against this progress. Alternatives include a decaf coffee from a good coffee shop, herbal tea, kombucha (watch the sugar), cold-brew cacao, cocoa powder-based hot chocolate, turmeric lattes (I like iced cold), ginger shots and mushroom tea if you’re feeling adventurous.
Friends – Friends take time and effort. By using a diary, you can make sure to find times when you’re both free and it will remind you what the plans are. Make sure to keep in contact even when you’re not feeling great. When you’re with your friend, pay real attention to them even if you want them to focus on you.
Relaxing – If you want to succeed, you need to celebrate yourself and every step forward you make. Take some time in the evening to sit by yourself and thank yourself for any progress you have made or even that you possess the intention to improve your life and change your relationship with alcohol. Maybe listen to some calming music. Each time you do this it will take you closer to your goals and provide encouragement.