You’re done. You’ve had it with being known as the dad who drinks a lot. Maybe it’s been a long time coming—you’ve been thinking about quitting for a while now, becoming more aware of the effect it has on your ability to be the father you want to be. Or maybe you just decided today, after waking up with yet another nasty hangover that kept you from being present with your kids. Whatever your reason, no matter how long you’ve been contemplating change, today is a perfect day to break up with alcohol and start building an authentic relationship with your life, yourself, and your kids.
This article isn’t going to address all the reasons why you’re better off without alcohol, or how it has insidiously worked its way into your relationship with your kids, or even the effects parental substance use have on children. You’re a smart man and are probably acutely aware of the consequences of drinking. If not, you’ll find no shortage of information that you can read up on.
The goal of this article is to give you a jumpstart on quitting alcohol while building and maintaining a presence in the lives of your children. Here are five tips for kicking the sauce so you can get back to being the dad your kids need.
- Be Compassionate with Yourself
Now is not the time to beat yourself up about your drinking. It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of self-loathing, ruminating on all the ways alcohol has come between you and your kids. Choices were made, things were said, activities were missed, time was lost—none of which can be changed. Recognize the consequences, and let them be your guide as you build your resolve to change, but don’t move into the house of shame. Understand that these were behaviors, and behaviors are not you. They are not your core self. Your core self is worthy of compassion and self-love. Your core self has recognized it is time to make a change and has moved from contemplation to action. That is reason for celebration, not criticism or condemnation.
- Determine What Recovery Looks Like to You
Begin with the end mind. Visualize yourself a month from now, a year, five years, even ten years. Who do you want to be? What kind of father do you want to be? What goals do you want to have accomplished by yourself and with your family? There will be tough days on the journey ahead. If you can hold in your mind a representation of what the “recovered” you looks like, it will be easier to keep the course, even when it gets tough. You are not just quitting drinking, you are realizing your true potential, and that is exciting, even if the work is hard. Know what you are striving for, so you will know when you have achieved it.
- Make a Plan (and stick with it)
To stay the course, there needs to be a course. Make a plan. Anyone who has attempted to quit drinking knows, especially in the early days, it can be rough. Be honest with yourself—what are the biggest challenges you see ahead, and how can you overcome them? You may not know your challenges, and that’s ok, too. If that’s the case, take some time to read up on what may come your way, and list a few ways to handle each challenge. Some common challenges and solutions include:
- Strong Cravings: Try picturing cravings like a wave. They will swell, peak, and then subside. This can help you remember that a craving will not last forever. In fact, cravings typically last just 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. You can handle that!
- Boredom: You have a lot more time when you’re not drinking, and if you drank to have fun, you may find that extra time seems… well, boring. Determine how you’ll fill your time, especially in the early days. Try a new family activity, schedule date nights with your kids, or even just enjoy a movie together. It doesn’t really matter what you do to keep busy, it just matters that you find new, healthy things to do—bonus points if you can build relationships at the same time.
- Difficulty Sleeping: This is a common side effect in the early days of abstinence. Accepting you might feel tired in the early stages can help you plan your schedule accordingly. You may want to get someone to help in the mornings if your kids are early risers. If you’re required to attend work meetings, schedule them later in the day. You could start an exercise regimen, which typically and naturally improves sleep. Whatever your solution is, go easy on yourself in the beginning and understand it’s all just part of the process of becoming a better you, and a better dad.
- Get Some Help if You Need it
There is no shame in seeking help. The predominant cultural narrative when it comes to men, at least in the United States, is that you must be strong, or “tough,” able to do things on your own. But all humans, men included, thrive with support. It is not a weakness, but a strength, to reach out when you need to.
When it comes to rehab, many men feel that an inpatient program would take them away from their responsibilities for too long. If this is the case for you, consider your options. An alcohol rehab that specializes in outpatient treatment is one option. Detox followed by addiction therapy is another option. If you just need some support and accountability, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are also some good options. With some proactivity and a little creativity, you can find help that suits your needs, and allows you to be present with your family.
- Start Reconnecting with Your Kids
You may need to explain what you’re going through. How much information you divulge will likely depend on their age(s) and your relationship with them. Likewise, you may have some things to apologize for. Consider how much you would like to involve your children in your recovery journey, and consider communication that is age-appropriate. If you need to apologize, don’t be afraid to do it, even if they aren’t ready to accept it right away. Have compassion for yourself, and for them, and remember repairing a relationship takes time. You can start out small, with forms of connection that are comfortable for everyone. With time and consistency, both you and your kids will start to rebuild and trust in the bond.
Quitting drinking is hard, but equally rewarding. Celebrate the victory of a decision to take control and recreate yourself as a man and a father. Take joy in knowing you are setting a good example and striving to be the dad your kids need. Most of all, approach the adventure of change with compassion and patience. It will all be worth it.