Get a cheerleader to support your mindful drinking goals

Laura Willoughby, MBE

Laura Willoughby, MBE

It is difficult enough trying to change a habit or behaviour to improve your health or well-being, like quitting smoking, reducing drinking or eating less cake. It is even harder when people close to you, partners or friends, scupper your best laid plans. Laura Willoughby, from mindful drinking movement Club Soda is here with some advice for people who are trying to make positive changes in their lives and would benefit from a team approach...

Other people can react in surprising and sometimes unsupportive ways to a personal goal we have set for ourselves. It can throw us off guard, and make us question the goals we have set. Which is the last thing we need.

So how can you confide in mates about cutting down on alcohol, or deal with a partner who tries to undermine our attempts to change?

Put yourself in their shoes

First it helps to put yourself in their shoes. Why are they acting this way? Whilst you don’t need anyone's permission to change anything about yourself, it is useful to understand why the may be reacting the way they are. I find that that letting people close to you know you are not drinking alcohol any more (or even drinking less), they may:

  • Feel they are losing something that is a common bond, and so challenge your decisions and even try to tempt you off the wagon.

  • Want to support you but then suddenly start acting like your mum and telling you what you should be doing.

  • May not think you have a problem because you ‘drink like them’ and dismiss your goal.

  • Assume that because you are hanging up your beer goggles you are a full blown alcoholic and start hiding your best wine glasses.

Saying what you need

Need is the really important word here. Because our drinking has gotten out of hand often, we feel guilt, shame and regret around our drinking and our behaviour as a result. So talking to people about the change we want to make is hard. It feels like a confession, making it difficult to ask for the help we need. So we hide away and don’t talk about it. 

But you are allowed to want and need support, and be able to expect that help from people close to you. Don’t let past embarrassment stop you reaching out. The reality is that if you are going to make a good stab at changing your drinking, you really need cheerleaders. Those closest to you are the ideal candidates.

Creating cheerleaders 

Your chosen cheerleaders need clear tasks, so they know exactly what will help. They are not mind readers. They need to know what you expect of them. It sounds a bit formal, but family, friends and lovers really do want to help those they care about, but they often they just don’t know what to do. So they spend time on Google, come across the AA website and decide to hide everything alcoholic in the house. Whereas what you may really need is more nights in the cinema, and someone to take an interest in what you might drink instead.

So make yourself a list of the times, situations, and places where you will struggle, what you might want to avoid for a while, some new distractions and drinks you want to try. Work out how others can help you in those situations.

Can they:

  • Plan more social events for a few months in non-drinking venues?

  • Make sure they don’t pressure you to drink or stay late in the pub?

  • Try out some new hobbies with you?

  • Help by not opening a bottle at 6pm as usual?

  • Help you find a new favourite tipple so you still both have something to enjoy in front of the TV.

Be specific, realistic and appreciative, and let them know they won’t have to make these changes forever (even if your drinking goal may be to quit for good).

Plan the conversation

You may not know all the things they could do to help. They may after all have super powers you are not aware of.

Start with ‘What would really help me is…’, and tell your cheerleaders your ideas about how they can help you. Discuss them. Ask for their ideas too.

Let them know that what you need is likely to change over time as you learn more about your triggers, and rediscover the you that is just under the surface.

They may need reassurance too. You are not going anywhere. It is just a period of change for you. You are not asking them to change as well.

A Club Soda member recently talked about how she was worried that the early evening meal and drink she enjoyed with her husband would disappear, and how much she enjoyed that time together. She created a plan:

  • She sat down with her partner and talked about her goal and her reasons for wanting to change

  • She shared her worry about losing this time together that she values

  • And she asked her husband to support her – she did not know all the ways he could help yet, but in the first instance she wanted his help in exploring alternative drinks she could try to replace her evening bottle of wine.

  • She effectively co-opted him to take a role to help her on her journey.