Today marks my 180th day of choosing an alcohol-free life. That’s six months. Six! Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve reached this milestone. I feel proud and happy. Yes, it’s been tricky at times but I can honestly say it’s been a great decision.
The day I decided to quit was following a Sunday session on the cider. It was beautiful summer’s day, but Sunday was not usually a drinking day. However, the weather was fine and there was a big event nearby. It felt like a day to bask in sun with a cool cider because, hey, why not? As Oscar Wilde said: “I can resist everything except temptation.”
I sank a couple pints and the world became fuzzy around the edges. On the way home I toppled into a pile of brambles, thorns pricking me into sobriety. As I emerged dishevelled and cross-eyed, a man in a passing 4×4 guffawed at my misfortune.
It was on that day, hangover kicking it by 6pm, that I decided enough was enough.
These last six months have been a revelation. I want to share with you the things I have learnt.
Deciding to become alcohol-free doesn’t solve all your problems. I believed, perhaps naively, that stopping alcohol getting into my system would free me from depressive/anxious tendencies. Turns out that nope, not the case. Hmm. I faced uncomfortable truths about why I wanted to drink. While it’s hard work, upping my self-awareness game means I’m hellova lot better at managing my emotions and avoiding things (and people) that trigger me.
You’re given the gift of time. In the first month, I did not know what to do with myself. Literally. Friday evenings traditionally spend guzzling a bottle of wine yawned ahead of me like a chasm. I went a bit doolally: I vacuumed the entire house at 8pm on a Saturday night and made inexplicable interior design suggestions (‘babe, shall we change the staircase spindles?’)
My husband, who’s been unfailingly supportive from the get-go, spent the first few weeks wearing expressions of complete incredulity or utter bemusement. I’ve got over that now because I recognise I was struggling to adjust to this new lifestyle and was scared of caving in. I was distracting myself. Now, I fill my time with stuff that keeps me calm and doesn’t leave him catatonic.
It’s OK to admit you miss it. In the beginning I missed alcohol. I still do, brief obsessions with brushed chrome staircase spindles aside. I read a few books that helped me reframe my thinking around this. I treated it the same way as when I gave up smoking – the longer I go, the easier it will become. I’m breaking a habit, teaching my brain to behave differently. Emotions are fine, thoughts are fine – but they pass. All I needed to do was not act on the craving. It definitely gets easier and when you’ve tackled the firsts of things (first night out, first wedding, first family get-together) you miss it less and less.
Life change = big differences. This is pretty much an endless list: higher quality sleep, brighter skin, weight loss, more money, sharper clarity of thinking. And never having to deal with a hangover is the best feeling!
My relationships have improved. There were times in my life where drink meant I behaved like a self-entitled arse. I let people down, said and did stupid things and, on occasion, behaved appallingly. I feel lucky that some of my friends have stuck by me – if I were them, I would not have. It means everything to me that they have.
I won’t say something offensive or rude (well, not knowingly anyway!), wake up with mysterious bruises or with a pit of dread in my stomach. Speaking on Desert Island Discs recently, chef Tom Kerridge describes his relationship with alcohol. He said he was ‘untrustworthy’ with it and while he misses its chaos, he just can’t go back. That’s me. Inside, it was chaos. I don’t want to go back to that.
My social life is better. I worried my social life would suffer, that perhaps people would not invite me out because they would see me the sober party-pooper. That hasn’t happened. I can’t pretend it’s not changed because it has, but it’s better for ME. My running club, for example, know how to party. But I didn’t join them because of booze – I joined because it’s great club and the people are huge amounts of fun. The alcohol bit is incidental, not a key driver. We had a big night out recently and it was hilarious. I drove and had a great time. The following day I got up early and did a 10k race with zero hangover. Lush.
Here I am today, six months later having successfully avoided any further tangles with brambles or crippling bouts of anxiety. Life feels so much better – not perfect, just better. (OK, I do give motorists evils from time to time. I’m working on that, I swear).