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Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Quit Drinking

A white woman with blond hair in a black shirt and yellow overalls with her hand on her head, standing in the street and looking to the right.Photo credit: Joseph Frank via Unsplash

Recovery from alcohol use disorder is a beautiful—and sometimes arduous—process of discovery. So long as you’re committed to the journey, growth is inevitable, but it’s not always linear. Along the way, there are several, common mistakes that we make along the journey, and it’s important to know that it’s completely normal to try things that don’t work and circle back around. In fact, we’d like to reframe them not as mistakes, but as learning opportunities. These learning opportunities are a necessary part of the journey. Recovery is all about building a life without alcohol that makes sense for you. In order to do that, you have to go through a process of trial and error, per se, to figure out what fits and what doesn’t.

That said, there are a few experiences that many of us face in sobriety, and it’s worth noting them so that along your own journey, you know you’re not alone. Referring to them as mistakes can add shame and guilt to our experience, which isn’t necessary. There are enough big emotions to sort through in recovery. So long as we focus on the long-term and know that every choice we make is giving us information to grow into the sober people we want to be, we can continue to make forward progress.

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Experiencing Slips

Otherwise known as a relapse, a slip is when you pick up drinking after a period of being alcohol-free, even if you didn’t want to. First, it’s important to know that a slip can absolutely be part of the recovery process for some. Current research shows that around three-quarters of people who decide to quit drinking go back to alcohol after sustaining sobriety for a year. Likewise, many people experience slips along the way within that first year, too.

Some feel like a slip is a common mistake that means failure, and for good reason. In many recovery circles, a slip is seen as a failure, and we’ve adopted that mindset across the board. The opposite is actually true. You cannot fail at quitting drinking. You just keep moving forward. A slip is actually one of the best ways to collect more data to inform your alcohol-free journey. And if you slip, it’s important to practice compassion for yourself and your journey so that you can move forward.

Trying to Do it Alone

Even though the conversation around alcohol use disorder and recovery is changing, there’s still much stigma and judgment when it comes to getting sober. Many times, this prohibits people from seeking help or convinces people that they need to embark on the recovery journey alone.

The truth though, is that even if you’re not ready to quit drinking entirely or are sober curious, going down the path of sobriety or taking a break from alcohol is better done with the support of a community. When combined with things like the guidance of a professional and medication if needed, peer support is noted to provide many benefits to recovery. These benefits include an increased sense of belonging, a safe space to make new friends, and a renewed or new sense of accountability.

Comparing Your Journey to Someone Else’s

It’s easy to compare our journey to someone else’s. We as humans tend to do that in many areas of life, and the rise of social media makes it easier than ever. When it comes to sobriety though, this common mistake can derail our progress if not checked. Tempest believes in recovery for everyone who wants it, which means tailoring the recovery experience to the needs of the individual.

That said, recovery is going to look vastly different from one person to the next. Our sobriety process is informed by many outside factors. Things like our upbringing and the various traumas we might have faced in the past, our culture, class, race, identity, and access (or lack thereof) to resources all inform how we approach sobriety. For these reasons, it’s important to remember that unless our experience is exactly the same as someone else comparison isn’t going to yield any kind of realistic finding. Our journey is our own. It is beautiful, unique, and sometimes messy, just like our overall human experience.

Giving Into a Trigger

A trigger is a person, place, or circumstance that makes you want to drink. Though many of us know what some of our triggers are, it’s nearly impossible to remember all of them, especially in early recovery. It’s also easy to forget about some of our triggers. The goal of living sober is just that: living. Sometimes, in the act of living, we forget that even though we’re really excited about a concert or a night out, we might actually be in danger of triggering a want to drink. Likewise, you might, in earnestness, not realize that hanging out with friends with whom you used to drink might make you want to drink.

Just like a slip though, figuring out what our triggers are is good information to have to inform our journey. Sometimes, the only way to do this is to experience the trigger in real-time. Rather than view this as a common mistake, though, thinking about it as collecting data is a helpful reframe so that we don’t experience shame around it. If you give into a trigger, it’s okay. Know that you’re not alone in doing so.

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Sobriety is a process more so than some linear journey where one day we were drinking and the next day we weren’t, and everything workout out perfectly in between. Having compassion for ourselves and approaching our journey with curiosity makes a big difference. You aren’t making mistakes. You’re learning how to live your best version of sobriety.

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