The Tipping Point

swing balancer for two built of wooden cubes. overweight. concept information asymmetry

A lot of people struggle with endless day ones, or find the thought of attending certain specific occasions (such as socialising, birthdays, etc) without drinking extremely hard and intimidating.

For those not familiar with the phrase ‘the tipping point’ it means the point at which one or two smaller incidents can cause a larger, more important change. This can give us a very useful weapon in our arsenal.

Take socialising for example. A lot of what people worry about when socialising sober is what everyone will say when they say they want a soft drink. In fact, these things are never as bad as you think. Winston Churchill once said:

“When you’re 20 you care what everybody thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, and when you’re 60 you realise no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.”

I think this is particularly true of drinking. Slice and dice it how you like but there tend to be 2 types of people; those who don’t really enjoy drinking to any great extent and can genuinely take it or leave it, and those for whom it is an important and crucial part of their lives. The former really have no interest in whether you are drinking or not, the latter are the ones who tend to comment on it if you aren’t drinking, but really their only concern is whether they can drink or not. You not drinking is really neither here nor there for them as long as their own drinking isn’t affected. They may make a few comments but likely no more than if you turned up with a new hairstyle. It tends to be a short detour in the conversation which then quickly moves on to (for them at least) more interesting topics.

The point is that often the tipping point when you go out socialising is that first drink. The start of the even tends to be when you are most on edge and least relaxed, and when the drinks have been handed round (be the alcoholic or non-alcoholic) things tend to calm down a bit. The conversation flows and everyone (both drinkers and non-drinkers) tend to relax into the evening. Going to your first social event after many years of drinking is not uniformly difficult throughout, the hardest part tends to be the start, particularly when the drinks are being handed round.

If you find the thought of going out all evening not drinking too difficult to contemplate, then stop contemplating the whole evening. Just think about the tipping point, just think about that first drink. All you need to do is turn up, when you are asked what you are drinking order your lemonade or water or coke or orange juice or whatever it is, have your reasons ready if anyone comments on it.

Why in letter tiles

This can be whatever you like but have it ready. ‘I’ve stopped drinking’, ‘I’m driving’, ‘I’ve got a busy day tomorrow’, ‘I’m on a health kick’ or (my personal favourite) ‘I don’t fancy drinking this evening thank you’. The conversation may dwell on this momentarily but then it will move on. Often ordering a soft drink isn’t even commented on, and if it is the conversation never dwells on it for long.

Bearing in mind there are people in the world living on the streets in sub-zero temperatures and people who have to live with horrific disfigurements and injuries and trauma, turning up at a social event and ordering a soft drink should be manageable.

You can do the same with virtually any situation. You just need to identify that ‘tipping point’, that key moment, and just tell yourself that you just have to get through that one single moment. So if you go home and drink every evening, what is the tipping point? When you are heading home past the shops? When you get in, drop your bag down, and then think ‘what now?’ When your other half offers you a drink? Whatever it is identify it, isolate it, prepare for it, plan how you will get through it, run through it again and again in your mind, and think that all you have to do is get past that one moment and all the rest will fall into place.

Often a single action will commit you to a certain path. Concentrating on that one action that will launch you in the right direction is far more manageable than trying to think of the whole journey. If I asked you to fire a rifle at a target 800 yards away, would you sit there and think about every inch that lump of lead had to travel? Or would you just point and shoot and let natural momentum do the work?

Or if you asked me directions and I told you that you had a hundred miles to travel but you take the next left and then it’s a straight road all the way, the part you would need to concentrate on is taking that left, or putting yourself on the right road. When you’ve done that all the hard work is done.

road that splits into two paths

Of course, these situations are not entirely analogous, you may still struggle later on. But in fact, once you’re on the path it’s harder to backtrack than you may think. If you ask for a soft drink and tell everyone you aren’t drinking, you may face some comments but once it is done it is done. It’s then more effort to order an alcoholic drink than a soft drink the next time round. The soft drink becomes your default option, if you then wish to change you have to specifically order an alcoholic drink, then explain to everyone why you’ve changed your mind.

If you can identify that tipping point and prepare yourself to get through it, you’ve done the hard work. After that, it’s just a case of letting momentum take over and sticking to a path you are already committed to.

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15 Responses

  1. This is incredibly helpful to me. I have a few tipping points I immediately identified upon reading this blog. Now today I will visual “taking the next left” at each point. Thank you!

    1. William: I understand and appreciate this writing. Recently I went to a party, was not drinking and the host literally badgered me throughout the night, calling me boring and not fun. When she saw I was drinking a red liquid she got excited that I was drinking, total approval. When I told her it was juice, she had a look of disgust. This went on throughout the party and I wanted to leave but didn’t want to make a scene. I guess my point is that it wasn’t so simple, and over quickly. I was looked down upon by her all night.

  2. Oh my ! This was so on point!!!! What a new perspective this can be for all of us worrying about what others may think!!!! In my 4 months of being alcohol free, I have definitely realized no one truly cares what I am drinking as long as I don’t interfere with what he orcshevis drinking! Thanks again, William, for another excellent blog!! I’m still promoting your book!!!!

  3. Always informative and hugely helpful William. I haven’t had alcohol for almost 13 years. In the early days, my decline when offered a drink was ‘no thanks I’m on antibiotics’ with the risk of being considered hypochondriacal !! I take your point about in truth people don’t care, however the pressure to accept I think is more of an issue than maybe you have highlighted in this article. If you said ‘no’ to a coffee people would accept this, but with alcohol the pressure to say ‘oh alright then’ is immense, which is a massive stumbling block I think. Without doubt it is the ‘drinker’ putting on the pressure to make him / her feel comfortable with their own consumption, and if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, this can become the reason to avoid going out rather than confront this issue. Seeing the devastation alcohol is doing to so so many ( including members of my own family) I am of the opinion if alcohol was discovered now, it would be illegal. I absolutely hate the whole idea of drinking now. Keep those articles coming. Everyone should read them !

    1. Yes I completely agree, there can be a lot of pressure to take a drink in some situations or with certain groups of friends. I’ve actually found that say ‘I don’t fancy it tonight’ is a good way of cutting through it. Most excuses you give, people will find a way round it. Driving? Get a cab? Health kick? Have a night off. Antibiotics? What still?!? But if you say you just don’t want to drink it kinds of cuts the conversation dead.

  4. Hello to all.
    The book “Alcohol explained” is the best I have read in the last few years. I was sober for a while, but yesterday had heavy drinking again. Although I know from the book all information how to fight alcohol, I still drink every 5 days. I must change this. I would like to be sober for long,long time.

    Best regards to all

    1. I’m glad you like the book. Sometimes I think it’s possible to read books on an academic level and not fully associate them with your own experience. If you are drinking 5 nights a week anyway, who don’t you tell yourself for the next week you will do your drinking at home, alone, no distractions, no tv no music, no nothing. Spend that tine really concentrating on the whole experience and associate what you’ve read to your own drinking. It may be the springboard you need.

  5. William
    This blog…( I’ve read them all ..as well as your book).. has opened my eyes to the point of view of the NON- drinker….put yourself in their shoes….When you say I’m not having anything tonite…. they might be asking themselves…” why does he/she fell a need to announce it?… I don’t drink and I don’t announce it to everyone… So it’s only the drinking crowd that even cares or asks?
    Realizing this…now… if someone asks “ how bout a drink? “ …my mind should think…or possibly say…no thanks, why do you ask or why do you drink…. I’m sick and tired of drinking and even more tired being on the defensive…..I look forward to continuing to get my head together on all this? Am I crazy or does this make sense?

    1. Makes sense to me. I’ve found that now I’ve stopped drinking, alcohol just doesn’t interest me anymore. It’s frustrating to be around people for whom alcohol is such a big part of their lives.

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

Read the first five chapters of 

Alcohol Explained

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