Some tips for making it through ‘the witching hour’.
Every problem drinker knows about ‘the witching hour’. It’s that time when ordinarily you started drinking. Time slows down and you can’t for the life of you remember why you decided not to drink. Before you know it, you’re drinking again.
How the hell do you change this habit? What on Mary’s earth should you do instead?
Before I successfully quit drinking, the witching hour used to stretch out yawning in front of me, and most often I didn’t make it through without opening a bottle of wine. The trick is to take it seriously.
Have a full-blown action plan and don’t underestimate what you’re dealing with.
Here are the different ways I have tried to defeat the witching hour over the years, and how I managed to beat it for good, four years ago.
1. Make a plan
The worst thing you can do when you are trying to quit drinking is to leave open unidentified windows of time (UWOT). UWOTs are beer vortexes and must be avoided at all costs. So make a plan to meet a non-drinking friend for dinner or go to the cinema. Take sweets (you can deal with your sugar addiction later) or snacks.
Have a book ready to read when you get home or make an appointment to call a friend to debrief about the day. Have a plan for how you will make it all the way to your pillow without drinking. Have a plan for what you will say if somebody offers you a drink.
2. Call a friend and ask how they are
This is tricky when you drink to deal with social anxiety. I often used to drink a bottle of wine before calling my nearest and dearest to chat. Without my favorite tipple, I just didn’t feel so talkative. Without realizing it, I was being selfish.
We call our friends to see how they are and to find out about their lives, not to make ourselves feel good. (Though, incidentally, in the process of connecting, we do usually end up feeling pretty good.) When somebody pointed out how self-centered my thinking was, I started calling my friends more. I asked them how they were and told them what I was up to.
After years of not answering my phone and rarely calling back, it became a lifeline.
3. Build up your tolerance for social awkwardness
After I quit drinking, I discovered that my tolerance for social awkwardness was incredibly low. I needed to build up my awk muscles and so I started to work out, hard. I talked to people while guzzling diet Coke and I just tolerated the occasional silences that fall between flurries of conversation.
And I didn’t die.
It turns out that feeling awkward can’t kill you.
Full disclosure: I never got very far with accountability until I asked the right people. Making pacts not to drink with drinking pals, in my experience, is a one-way ticket to Pub Land.
So, ask one of your non-drinking friends (who?) to hold you accountable. If you don’t have any, ask a non-drinking relative (who?). Locate somebody who understands why it is important that you stick to your decision not to drink, and ask them to hold you to your word.
Don’t know anybody like that? Yeah, I struggled too.
In that case, check out AA or Smart.
As soon as I started attending sober secret societies I knew that the witching hour would never have the same hold over me again. I discovered that the witching hour was exacerbated by loneliness and I found the thing that defeated it.
It was the same thing that defeats most social evils: lovely, caring people.
Drinking becomes such an ingrained habit that we lose touch with the feelings that cause us to do it in the first place. I had little understanding of why I drank so much. I just loved it. I’d always drank.
This is why getting sober is such an education. Stop doing the thing you always do, and you discover pretty quick why you do it. You might be surprised by what you find.
I was shocked to realize that my drinking was caused by feeling lonely. I loved solitude! I just didn’t need people like other people did. Right?
Nope. Humans are social animals. Some of us need less interaction, but not many of us can thrive without any.
In recovery circles we use this special acronym to help us get better at taking care of ourselves — HALT.
When the witching hour strikes, HALT! And ask yourself if any of these things are true. Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?
So, if you are struggling to make it through the witching hour then try these things.
1. Make a plan — alcohol loves to jump into unidentified windows of time (UWOTs — it’s gonna catch on, just give it a chance.)
2. Call a friend and ask how they are.
3. Build up your social awk muscles.
4. Find somebody to hold you accountable.
And if you want getting sober to be enjoyable, take yourself to one of the many top-secret sober societies. Options listed at the end of this post.
I never believed I’d be able to quit drinking longterm. I certainly didn’t believe I would prefer life without alcohol. But the fact is that I do. Without my infuriating drinking habit, I am able to do the things I actually love. Sometimes, I even enjoy them!
Stop trying to beat something that is much bigger than you. Millions of people have been where you are now. I was one of them and I'm incredibly cool. (Have you seen my profile pic?) There’s no reason to be ashamed of taking responsibility for a problem. It's much less embarrassing than what you do when you're drinking.
Stop thinking about what you are giving up, and consider what you might gain. Stop telling yourself your drinking isn’t ‘bad enough’. Start asking yourself, how much better could life be?
If you’re struggling with drinking, know you aren’t alone.
If you relate to this, and you’re ready for something different, try the alcohol experiment. Do whatever it takes to stay sober for 30 days: go to your doctor, try Smart or AA or Hip Sobriety or Soberistas. Listen to Recovery Elevator and SHAIR podcasts. Read This Naked Mind. Try Moderation Management.
Quitting drinking alone is boring, difficult and for many of us, impossible. There is a whole community of people just waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting.