On New Year’s Eve 2016, after years of berating myself, I finally took the plunge and decided to stop drinking for a year.
My drinking wasn’t excessive, but it was enough to fill me with self-loathing and make me tearful and jittery the next day - even after just a couple of glasses. It was time to break ties.
Now, as any of you who have tried to give something up - whether it be short or long term - will know it’s pretty daunting. And, when it’s something like alcohol, something that the very fibre of our society hangs on, it’s tougher still.
I started by writing a list of 50 reasons to stop. I figured if I could find that many reasons then there was really no excuse to carry on. You can read that hastily scribbled list here. I choose a year because I wanted to give myself a fighting chance and ’forever felt too long, too final.
Here’s what I’ve learned...
1. I didn’t feel amazing instantly
The first question everyone asks when you stop drinking is ‘Do you feel amazing?’ For me, it was sadly a no. I had expected to leap out for bed looking fresh-faced and consumed with boundless energy, however that wasn’t the case. I envied friends who, after stopping for just a few days in January were already reporting feeling ‘100x better’. The energy took it’s time to arrive but now, a year on, I definitely feel I have more mental energy and am starting to think about what else is possible in my life.
2. Giving up for a year is easier than giving up for a month
I found that when I stopped for a month in the past, the social pressure to drink piled on. ‘You have to drink at XYZ,’ or ‘can’t you just add another week on at the end?’ As soon as I told people I was giving up for a year the pressure turned to congratulations. I lost count of the number of people who told me ‘I wish I could do it too.’
3. The booze-free market is booming
I’ve yet to find a credible replacement for wine - everything is too thin, too sweet - BUT there are plenty of great 0% beers out there that can act as a placebo in the early days and I can’t speak highly enough of Tesco’s Virgin G&T’s. Having forgotten what gin tastes like and having failed to get on the Seedlip bandwagon, I asked friends to road test the low alcohol G&T and it got thumbs up all round. At 0.5% alcohol it is technically a non-alcoholic drink but, if you wanted to split hairs, my argument would be that yes, there’s a hint of booze in it - enough to kill the FOMO but not enough to give you a hangover in the morning.
4. It’s a mindset
During the past year I’ve attended a two weddings (my brother’s and my best friend’s) a hen weekend in Palma and a week-long holiday in France with three other families. In the past just one of these events would have been a reason not to give up in 2017. But, I knew that if I kept finding social excuses it would never happen. At the start of the year it seemed impossible that I could attend or enjoy those events without alcohol. The truth is I enjoyed them all the more hangover-free. I reasoned that it was no-one else’s business what was in my glass, why should they care? And that thought, somehow, got me through.
5. You find out who you really are
After 20+ years of social drinking I wanted to know who I really was without it. That sounds a bit deep, right? I won’t lie, I was pretty disappointed to find that I felt sad and miserable most of the time - was that the lack of booze or had the booze been masking / exacerbating a deeper problem? In the summer I eventually visited the doctor to talk about depression. It turned out I had low iron storage which left me feeling permanently exhausted. Now, as long as I keep on top of that, I feel fine.
6. You are not alone
Aside from the public admiration of others I have been amazed by how many people have contacted me privately to say they have also given up drinking or are very close to it. One of the best things about this year has been inadvertently inspiring others. I promise you I am not anti-alcohol - I’ve always said that if alcohol doesn’t affect your life in a negative way then there’s no need to stop. But it’s messages like the one I received this morning (and that finally inspired me to write this blog) that make it all the sweeter; ‘With your inspiration I have decided to do a year booze-free. I am both excited and terrified at the prospect. I need to stop using it as my crutch and the fact I feel the amount I drink is creeping up gradually. I would never had contemplated this last New Year. I envied you when you posted as I didn’t think I could honestly go a week never mind a year. I am so scared but so excited for 2018. I have hid behind it for too long.’
7. You can do it, you really can
Nothing is impossible, certainly not what you choose to pour into a glass and then choose to pour into your mouth. There are a lot of people out there monetising this hot new trend (apparently the Millennials are turning their backs on booze in a big way) but you don’t need to pay to do it. Take one day at a time. One weekend at a time. One social event at a time. Don’t think of the bigger picture. Just get through each day and when you wake up feeling hangover-free, feel bloody proud of yourself and hang onto that feeling. You could also check out this free Club Soda Alcohol Free Facebook group.
8. I’m more confident now that I was before
Now this one surprised me. People drink to give them confidence but I see now that I used to hide behind alcohol and wouldn’t mix outside of my small circle. Now, when I’m out, I’ve found that I’m actually interested in having conversations with people - I honestly feel more confident now than I ever did before. Perhaps it’s not worrying about making a fool of myself. Maybe it’s knowing I won’t wake up with ‘the fear.’ Whatever it is, I love it.
9. Everyone wants to know...
‘Are you going to carry on?’ In January last year the thought of never drinking again was too big to contemplate, in some ways it still is. Over the past year I’ve battled backwards and forwards, sometimes feeling ‘ready’ to drink again in 2018, other times scared I’ll just fall back into the old bad habits. All I can say it that right now, waking up hangover and anxiety-free is enough of an incentive to carry on. As a new year approaches I’m thinking of new challenges - I want to get fit again, blog more... and that, is enough for me.