In my mind, before quitting, images swirled around apace. First, the good times we'd had as friends; clinking glasses, mouths snapped open in hysterical laughter, the gentle nudge of 'friendly fire' and the revealing conversations loosened by drink that always brought us closer to each other, and nearer to ourselves. The scenes changed to those same faces cast in judgement, fading away to nothing as I sat alone at a cafe table, alone in my sobriety. Alone.
None of this happened. Most of my friends don't know I quit.
Now I bet I know what you're thinking -- this is to be a confessional about a drinking problem hidden from the world. It's not. Although there was college, and that time that I got end-of-the-world drunk with workmates and lost the keys to my apartment, a laptop, and a set-top box, but otherwise, I was an irregular drinker, and could take it or leave it.
I stopped drinking to show someone I loved that there was another way, that it was possible to live a full life without alcohol. When I started along this journey, I'm not sure I truly believed that. It is true. You can do it. Here's how.
Six things I learned in four years of sobriety.
1. You will have a strong desire to enter every passing pub.
This will happen, even if you never drank at noon on a Tuesday. Walk quickly.
2. Your relationships will deepen.
The so-called 'deep and meaningful' conversations you think you are having at 4am in the back alley of a 24-hour beer barn are nonsense. However, the discussions that you will have at 10am over coffee will strengthen your relationships, and make you a better friend.
3. You'll become a sparkling water connoisseur.
Everything that they say about soft drink is correct. The true test of this is spending six hours at a bar drinking it, by which point your insides appear to be corroding and you seem to have developed the ability to see through space and time. Drink. Water. This serves two purposes -- it stops your esophagus from leaking and puts you out in the open. You have nothing to hide. Own it.
4. Everyone will think it's about them (and that's great).
One thing you learn quickly is that the least supportive people -- and they are few -- are those who are uncomfortable with their own relationships with alcohol. Largely, they feel that you choosing not to drink is a judgment. The best way to navigate this is to be open about the reasons you quit. It gives them clarity and allows them to have a conversation about your reasons and their situation, if they're ready.
5. Don't lock yourself in a cupboard. Go out and feel the rhythm.
The first wedding I went to after I stopped drinking was an Irish wedding, in Ireland. Anyone who has been to an Irish wedding knows that they begin with reverence and quickly descend into something that resembles the gypsy wake scene in Snatch. Do not be intimidated.
Do not hide at the tea and coffee station with Auntie Mary. Hit the dance floor and make a fool of yourself. I struggle with this, but be brave. If you dance, dance. Your friends need to know that nothing has changed, and while everyone loves cake, it does not match the feeling of performing air flute to 'Land Down Under'.
6. You'll be happier, healthier, wealthier and more productive.
In the years since my last drink, I've successfully launched an international news startup in Australia, bought and renovated a colonial farmhouse in the bush with no previous building or farming experience, traveled abroad and had a host of experiences that would not have been possible had I been on the couch each Saturday and Sunday binge-watching Modern Family. There's a whole world out there waiting to meet you. All you need to do is put down that drink.
This post first appeared on Neil's blog.
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