80 days ago, I stopped drinking.
It wasn’t a big deal, I didn’t lose sleep over the decision, I suppose I just got bored.
Bored is the best word to describe it, actually.
I got bored of banal pub chat (booze makes you spend time with people you actually hate), whole day hangovers (hello late 20s) and wasting money.
And that’s just the PG-13 stuff.
If I dig deeper (and it’s so obvious, I don’t need to go far), I can see the disastrous effects alcohol had on my mental health.
Alcohol was my crutch. Sad? Drink. Happy? Drink. Hungry? Drink.
I call it ‘numbing and running’ — the act of not facing your emotions and turning to the bottle instead. And it works, to begin with.
Things don’t matter as much after a bottle or three of wine — problems just slip into the inebriated ether. Then, when you wake up, all you can focus on is the skull-crushing hangover.
Drinking is master procrastination because the problem’s still there — it’s just buried under mountains of ibuprofen and craft ale.
Another reason I stopped is genetics. Alcoholism runs in the family.
I’ve witnessed the crippling effects firsthand — the “desperate for a drink” eyes, shaky hands and sallow skin.
I’m watching a loved one slip away. They’re there, but they’re not here. The need for drink dominates — it divides and conquers.
With all this in mind, perhaps quitting was a big deal for me. A notable, if quite natural, decision.
Assessing my relationship with alcohol is a whole other blog or therapy session.
What I want to do here is talk about the benefits and drawbacks of binning the booze.
I’m going to be brutally honest because it hasn’t been easy.
But despite the difficulties, and even in the short time I’ve been teetotal, I’m convinced it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
There’s so much more time
A typical evening for me looked something like this:
“What a day! I’ve been so busy. You know what I might do? I might grab a bottle of wine on the way home and something nice for dinner (which invariably wouldn’t get eaten). Maybe I’ll call Joe (my fiancé) and see if he fancies one or two at the pub. Either way, I’ll need the wine.”
A few hours later…
“I’m a bit pissed, but it’s okay — if I go to bed at 11pm, it gives me plenty of time to sleep it off. Maybe I should get a few more beers? This bottle of wine’s nearly finished *side eyes Joe furiously as he tops up his glass*. Maybe there’s something on the television, or maybe I should just go to bed. If I go to bed, I don’t need more wine”.
How exhausting does that sound?
Not every night was like this, some weeks were practically dry, but it’s an excellent example of how problematic my drinking had become (apologies to my long-suffering fiancé who went on many late-night beer runs to keep me sated).
So, as you can see, drinking and thinking about drinking took up a lot of my head space and time. Once I removed it from the equation, there was a VOID — I had to find ways to fill that sober space.
The problem was I couldn’t remember what I liked doing before drinking. Well, I knew I loved yoga, so I did more of that. But there’s only so much yoga a woman can do before she cracks, so I had to dig around and rediscover my passions.
Alongside yoga, I began to write, read, meditate and walk more. Although I enjoyed these activities while drinking, the quality of them improved hugely once I quit. I’ve become wholly engaged with them — now, they aren’t just ways to “kill time” before my evening glass of wine.
Boredom is okay — just roll with it
What’s the flip side of having all this time? Well, it can be boring. In fact, it can be utterly terrifying for seasoned drinkers.
If you’ve been drinking for a long time, it’s difficult to remember what you liked doing before (if you can remember a “before”). In many ways, the sober space acts as a mirror, reflecting the parts of us that are lacking.
While going through this process, it’s easy to start trash talking ourselves:
- “You don’t have any hobbies? You’re pathetic.”
- “I’m having a rubbish time sober. Why can’t I be like everyone else?”
- “I love all this time, but it reminds me of how much life I wasted drinking.”
My advice? Go easy on yourself. It feels weird at first to have so much freedom. I spent many nights bored out of my mind, but that was preferable to drinking.
Plus, believe it or not, there are loads of things you can do sober. Like, literally everything. Sobriety doesn’t equal social isolation (although it feels like it at times) — call a friend for lunch, go to the cinema, workout or watch a film.
No more hangovers
This one’s a no brainer because hangovers are the worst.
And I’m not just talking about the one-day crippling hangovers, I’m talking about the almost constant fatigue and depression that comes with regular drinking.
Chances are if you’re a heavy drinker you’re living in a perpetual state of ‘hungover’. Sure, you’re functioning, you brush your teeth, go to work, pick the kids up and cook dinner, but there’s a fog surrounding these activities.
It’s very likely you’ve forgotten what it feels like to feel good.
There’s a lot of shit that comes with being sober, but the disappearance of hangovers makes all the social stigma and white knuckling worth it. And there’s nothing better than waking up on a Sunday morning, fresh as a daisy, while the rest of the world suffers.
Smug? Perhaps. But I’m taking it.
You remember books, films and TV shows
This one’s straightforward.
I used to read and drink often — I thought it made me “sophisticated”. In reality, I spilt wine over the pages and forgot my place countless times.
It’s also pretty tragic when you can’t remember the plot to a film (a few years ago, if I went to the cinema, I often pre-drank beforehand). It doesn’t make for great conversation afterwards.
Relationships become more authentic
For better or worse, your relationships change when you quit drinking.
Some people won’t like your newfound sobriety — they’re often your drinking buddies, the people who only materialise Friday and Saturday nights.
To be honest, it’s these people you want to let go. If a relationship can’t exist without chemical lubrication, is it a relationship at all (I’m asking all the hard questions in this blog)?
However, the real relationships, the ones forged outside your drinking, become healthier and more authentic.
Your non-drinking buddies (or your buddies who don’t need a drink to hang out with you) are tired of your shit. How many times have you cancelled brunch with them because you were hungover? How many times have you ignored their call because you were busy boozing? I’m not being harsh or judgmental — I was that lousy friend too.
Drinking made me selfish and I regret how many people I shunned to indulge my habit.
Now I’m sober, I work harder to maintain good relationships with the people that matter. For example, I bought thoughtful Christmas presents for my family this year, whereas previously I’d have spent all my money on getting pissed (isn’t that what December’s for?).
You save money
How much money do you spend a week on drinking?
Let’s see, for me (and this is a very rough guess)…
I’d probably buy three bottles of wine a week and a pack of beer, so £30? Plus, one evening at the pub, where I’d spend another £30 on rounds (and that’s a conservative guess).
And this is at the very least, some weeks I’d go out a couple times, and it doesn’t factor in the cigarettes and takeaways I’d inevitably buy when drunk.
So that’s £240 a month or £2,880 a year.
If that money were just given to me, I’d go travelling or book a holiday. I might further my yoga education. What I wouldn’t do is pour it down my throat.
This one’s a happy byproduct of having no hangovers and more time — your energy skyrockets.
Well, it doesn’t initially. During the first several days after you quit, you might experience withdrawal symptoms.
According to Alcohol Rehab Guide, “symptoms can occur as early as two hours after your last drink. Typically, symptoms will peak within the first 24 to 48 hours. This is when you may experience the most uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, rapid heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, sweating, tremors and fever.”
And that applies to moderate drinkers. If you’re an alcoholic, it’s possible you’ll experience more severe symptoms such as “confusion, shaking, hallucinations and high blood pressure”. If you’re thinking about quitting drinking and your alcohol consumption is at dangerous levels, please consult a doctor.
However, after this gnarly stage, it gets better. Since going sober, I consistently practise yoga, wake up earlier (without moaning) and sleep less (because the quality of my rest has improved).
The sugar cravings are intense
It’s common for individuals to turn to sugar when they quit drinking — but why? I’ve done some digging and found the following…
According to the Design For Change Recovery blog, “Sweets are part of the recovery lifestyle. Sugar, a stimulant substance on its own, is created in the bloodstream by alcohol. Many addicts and alcoholics undergo severe sugar cravings in the first months of recovery as their body searches for some kind of substance to satisfy its urges.”
“Severe sugar cravings”… doesn’t sound great, does it? But, in my opinion, it’s a necessary part of the process. My craving for chocolate, cake and calorie dense treats increased when I stopped drinking. I mean, I’ve always loved sweet things, but this felt ridiculous (how many communal office biscuits can you eat before you make enemies?).
If I’m honest, even at the three-month mark, these cravings haven’t gone away. But what’s the big deal, really? A pack of digestives doesn’t make me want to fight people (unless they nick one without asking).
People stop calling, and that’s okay
Drinking is deeply ingrained in our culture and ‘going to the pub’ is a quintessential British pastime. When you stop, people notice.
You quickly become the health conscious, water guzzling, no fun friend. But fuck it, because the decision to quit drinking isn’t “weird”, it’s brave.
Drinking is killing us, our family and friends. So, if a few people don’t invite you out anymore because they think you’re boring (which puts them in the “people to let go” list anyway), whatever.
Make new friends, better friends, or invest more time into rebuilding those authentic partnerships we spoke about earlier.
You have to explain yourself (over and over and over again)
When you stop drinking, people really want to know why. Here’s how the conversation goes:
“What are you drinking, Ash?”
“Just a coke, thanks.”
“… just a coke? Are you not drinking?”
“No thanks, I’ve stopped.”
One of the following sentences comes next:
- “Are you pregnant?”
- “Are you an alcoholic?”
- “Are you on medication?”
- “Are you driving?”
- “Why the fuck not?”
It’s very rarely met with acceptance. The thing is, when you say you aren’t drinking, people often take it as an attack on their behaviours. Which is weird because it’s a personal decision which literally effects no one else.
While some people are curious and genuinely want to know why, others are just rude — prepare to face resistance.
Nobody asks me why anymore because they’ve come to expect it, but it was awkward explaining at first. I went down the “well, alcoholism runs in the family, so it’s kind of put me off”, which shut people down quickly. Others I’ve spoken to prefer to say they’re on medication or a diet.
Remember, you’re not obligated to explain your behaviour to people who don’t want to listen.
You learn to deal with difficult emotions sober
At the beginning of the blog, I spoke about how I used alcohol as a crutch. Or, more accurately, as a distraction from everyday problems.
This is perhaps the biggest reason I wanted to quit — I realised I had no idea how to navigate difficult situations.
Every time something terrible or inconvenient happened, I drank instead of tackling the issue head-on. I hoped the situation would magically resolve itself while I got pissed on cheap Cabernet. Sometimes they did, a deadline might be pushed back or awkward social event cancelled, but usually they stayed resolute.
I would’ve stayed stuck in this cycle of ‘drinking to avoid problems therefore creating more problems’ if it wasn’t for the tragic events of last year.
When I found out my fiancé had cancer, I couldn’t drink it away. It was the easiest decision I’ve ever made, to stay sober and present so I could be there, wholly, for him. During this time, and despite the pain, I developed a considerable amount of compassion, clear-sightedness and understanding. Not drinking turned the experience into one that strengthened our relationship.
Bad things happen regardless of whether you drink, but not drinking makes them more bearable.
It’s easier to stay sober with community support
Here’s a fact I love, “in 2017, 20% of the population reported not drinking at all and overall consumption has fallen by around 16% since 2004.” The statistics speak for themselves, “more people are waking up to the dangers of drinking.”
It’s brilliant news for us newly sober because it makes it easier to find a community. It’s especially important to find a support network if those in your personal sphere don’t understand your motives.
There are loads of apps you can download which include forums full of advice and encouragement. Plus, they usually have a sobriety tracker which gives you a little push (there’s nothing quite like racking up those days).
Will I stay sober?
I don’t know. If I’m honest, the thought of never drinking again terrifies me (which proves quitting is the right decision for me).
For now, I’m living by the eminent AA mantra “one day at a time”. Why do I need to look further ahead than that?
I hope you enjoyed this blog and I’d love to hear your thoughts on drinking. Have you quit? Do you have an interest in sobriety? If you haven’t taken the plunge but want to, what’s stopping you? Let’s start a conversation.
Originally published at antiunicornclub.co.uk on January 12, 2019.