Author’s note: This blog was originally written for our friends at Sunnyside (formerly known as Cutback Couch).
You’re going to be asked, it’s inevitable. Some nosey busybodies can’t shake the itch to poke their sniffer where it hasn’t been invited. Even though they may not know better (which is no excuse, because they should), their typical lack of tact and empathy doesn't help much to put us at ease. Surely it leaves something to be desired when what we need is support, especially during a transition that may make us feel vulnerable.
Most, however, mean well and are curious because they care. Those who know you will notice that something is… well, different. Yet, they may not know how to approach the subject because talking about our drinking still gets often misfiled under taboo. So what happens is that they get nervous, then we get nervous, and great—now everything is awkward. Here’s how we address that elephant.
Know your why
Why have you decided to cut back on your drinking? Before entertaining the conversation with others, it’s vital to the success of your journey to first identify the personal reasons that are compelling you to change your behavior. If the thought of looking any of those triggers in the eye is at all overwhelming, that’s usually an accurate indicator that you’re human. And that you’re making a healthy decision. Be honest and fair with yourself because your why deserves sincere authenticity.
For those who may also be experiencing some anxiety under the assumption that drinking less must mean giving up alcohol for good, let’s define “less.” Simply, it’s a smaller amount. In this case, we understand that to mean specifically less than what you would otherwise normally consume. Depending on your goals, that could reasonably mean any number of scenarios: one drink a day instead of your normal two or three, lower-proof options instead of the high-octane stuff, making a rule to pass on last call, or catching your breath with alcohol-free dry days, etc. Cutting back is synonymous with moving forward.
Less doesn’t have to mean forever either. To be fair though, for some it may. And that’s okay, too. Rest easy knowing that your less will probably be different than someone else’s, but this is not a game of comparison with anyone else. Whether you realize it or not, taking the time to consider, calculate, and calibrate your intake is a demonstration of mindful drinking.
Being able to articulate your why sends a clear message to anyone who asks that you give a damn about yourself and everything that enters your atmosphere (and body). Be proud of that. Even if you aren’t struggling in your relationship with alcohol and your adjustment is just one slight degree to the left on the volume knob, you’ll probably notice how much better the music sounds when it’s not screaming in your ears.
Do not apologize for taking care of yourself. Ever. You may find yourself unfairly backed into a corner by someone who wants to spin your decision to drink better into a judgmental confrontation. They usually take the form of an old—or recent—familiar drinking buddy. When that happens, if you’re being honest with yourself and them you can always fall back on your why.
While your reasons may be none of their business, don’t shy away from educating anyone about the benefits you’re seeking or have already found from dialing in your consumption. Making the conscientious choice to drink better should be nothing you’re embarrassed about. It may also be the inspiration your peer group didn’t know they needed, too.
But, when old harms do come up, be careful to not confuse apologizing for past wrongs you were responsible for while intoxicated (which we do need to own) with feeling emotionally pressured to defend your refreshed lifestyle choices because others don’t know how to appropriately process that you’re drinking less. We know that it’s tough to ditch the stigmas associated with alcohol. We have to be advocates for ourselves without being coerced into defending ourselves. Misery loves company, and those with whom you used to commiserate may get lonely if you’re no longer there to hold their hair back.
Depending on who your audience is, translating your personal why into publicly shared sentiments can be a challenge. If you’re struggling to find the words, consider supplementing the suggestions below with your own characterized touch that’s unique to your situation. Remember that you are under no obligation to sugarcoat your truth nor do you need to over-explain yourself to a self-deprecating degree.
- This is a commitment to myself and my mental health.
- The empty calories aren’t doing my [fitness] training any favors.
- I want to be as present and engaged as possible with my kids.
- Going home for the holidays always stresses me out so I don’t want to escalate it by drinking too much.
- I’ve been making some poor dating choices recently while drinking, so I’m going on all first dates alcohol-free.
- I don’t like being drunk every time we hang out.
- I’m just not as effective going into work with a hangover, so I’m choosing dry days during the week.
- We just landed a huge project for an important client and I need my head in the game.
- I’ve always wanted to try [a new passion], and drinking too much will conflict with it.
- I just calculated how much I spend on alcohol in an average month, and I’d rather save it for our big vacation next year.
Future-proof against setbacks
It’s important to set realistic expectations for how and to what degree you’re going to modify your alcohol use. Be fair to yourself out of the gate to not over-promise. If you’re someone who commonly enjoys 14 drinks per week, decreasing that to an achievable 10 rather than, let’s say, seven—at first—may yield a higher likelihood that you continue the commitment. Cutting back in incremental steps can help you avoid potential disappointment should you slip up and under-deliver. Using Cutback Coach as a personalized daily accountability tool is an effective, encouraging way to do so. Your goals can evolve, too.
Dually important is to remain humble. You should be excited at the lifestyle benefits to be experienced from drinking better, just remember that not everyone is on the same path. If you’re on fire with nailing your daily drinking targets, leading with empathy to others who may not be where you are is a much cooler look than behaving holier than thou. And, don’t forget to bake in a little grace for yourself if you happen to detour along the way. Less is a journey, rarely a straight road.