I recently reached 250 days sober so I felt really inspired to write about my experience of giving up alcohol, not just as a way for me to reflect, but also to share my experience for anyone considering that perhaps their life might be better without alcohol.
There’s a real danger when talking about this subject to sound preachy so I sincerely hope I don’t come across that way. I don’t judge anyone for drinking and everything I talk about is only from my own personal experience. I remember when I was thinking about giving up alcohol I was reading absolutely everything I could get my hands on, and I saw that everyone’s experience was different, I could relate and take what I needed from each. It’s such a personal journey so I’ll share a little of mine below.
Why did I give up alcohol?
I gave up alcohol last December but it wasn’t my intention for it to be a permanent thing and I still can’t say the words “I’m giving up alcohol forever”. It's too scary and too long-term. So instead I just say that “I just don’t drink at the moment.” It all started a few years ago when I gave it up for 100 days. I had read Annie Grace’s ‘This Naked Mind’ (an astoundingly brilliant read) and it inspired me to attempt to have a break. I do remember finding it incredibly tough, didn’t last the 100 days and heaved a huge sigh of relief when I could finally drink again, slotting comfortably back into socialising with friends without feeling the need to justify not drinking. That experience of giving up alcohol was very different from the one I’m having now which I attribute to being in the right headspace and feeling ready. Two years ago I wasn’t that interested or concerned with the effect of my drinking but over the past few years a few things happened to change my mindset.
It wasn't a case of big-drinking every weekend but when I did go to a social event, in my excitement, I drank too much too quickly and easily tipped over into ‘out of control’. The anticipation of drinking was big for me, I had all these romantic associations with alcohol; chilled, pale rosé in the evening sun on holiday, warming red wine on chilly, autumnal evenings, a chilled glass of champagne at the start of a wedding reception, you get the idea.
But the anticipation of drinking always far exceeded the actual enjoyment of drinking. After that first sip or glass I received absolutely no pleasure from alcohol. I didn’t like the taste, I hated how it made me feel and I loathed the after-effects on my body and mind. When drinking I stumbled over my words and I couldn’t speak eloquently which felt embarrassing. My body also hated alcohol, especially at a time when I was studying Kinesiology and working on my health, every time I drank I felt so tired and muddled - my tolerance levels were tiny. My hangovers, even with a little alcohol, were physically unplesant, and the low-level shame and anxiety that followed were just an unwelcome side order.
Listening to my intuition
Over the years, what started as a quiet dislike of drinking, morphed into a louder voice that kept knocking on my door, to the point when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. As I began to connect with myself on a deeper level through Kinesiology, I could feel and understand my intuition far better than I ever had before, and it was telling me in a loud and insistent voice 'it’s time'. I also was reading some incredible quit-lit memoirs (a few are listed below) which really fascinated and inspired me. Through reading the stories of others I recognised a place where drinking could go and I realised I never wanted to risk finding out whether I would reach it. The final nail in the drinking coffin was a bad experience at a friend’s wedding where I totally lost control. I just thought ‘never again - I never, ever want to feel like this ever again, it’s not who I want to be’.
I also decided to take a trip down memory lane and really examine all those drinking memories from my twenties which I never liked to focus on - we all have them, those slightly shameful and embarrassing nights we’d rather not remember. I thought about those times when I lost my memory or belongings, those times when I woke up with anxiety and guilt at the previous night's antics, those times when I put myself at risk, those times when I offended or upset someone because of my actions, those times when I suffered momentous hangovers, those times I cried (so many times, I was always emotional). I don’t regret anything I’ve done and of course I have wonderful memories of drinking with friends, bonding and making memories but I now want to make memories I remember and authentic choices I feel clear and confident about, without the blur of alcohol.
Moderation as a solution
I know being sober seems really extreme and a few people have asked me about moderation which I’ve read up a lot on. I don’t believe moderation is a road I want to go down for a few reasons. Firstly, alcohol is utterly addictive. If I asked you to give up fruit for a month you wouldn’t find it that hard, but giving up alcohol is hard because on some level we’re all (whether we’re aware or not) addicted. I know that moderation doesn’t work for me because I’ve tried before.
I also know that if I just save drinking for special occasions, such as weddings and birthdays, it will slowly slide into far more regular drinking (sometimes you just know yourself). Also, being honest, the idea of getting into regular drinking also really frightens me, I just don’t want it to be in my life. Moderation is also mentally exhausting “should I drink tonight, should I not, how many glasses have I had, should I have one more, have I had too much, if I drink tonight then I can’t drink tomorrow, if I drink tomorrow I can’t drink at that event, oh look everyone is drinking maybe I should join in…”. By constantly thinking about whether to drink or not you exhaust yourself and can easily slip into a deprivation and reward cycle. I’d just rather not bother.
Lastly, alcohol doesn’t make me feel good, it actively makes me feel bad, so I don’t want to moderate. I’d rather enjoy other treats like great coffee, vegan ice-cream or ginger beer - I know, so wild.
So where am I now?
I’ve had a lot of challenges since I gave up and of course I’ve been tempted to drink but I know this is just my rose-tinted glasses and romanticising at work. That cold glass of rosé on a balmy August evening still gets me! And it might be that in a year’s time I do choose to drink, I’m just really trying to stay humble because I have found it very hard at times and I know I have a lot of challenges ahead of me.
However, the benefits far outweigh the hardships. Firstly, I feel much stronger because I’ve been able to get through a lot of difficulties without alcohol. I’ve had to really feel my feelings and go through all the emotions without having something to take the edge off. I feel powerful and authentic knowing I’m now able to make decisions with 100% clarity of mind, there’s no waking up the next day questioning a decision I’ve made under the influence. I feel well and sleep well but that doesn’t mean I always feel great, I just enjoy not having hangovers and that will always be a huge benefit for me. Finally, the biggest benefit for me has probably been my confidence. I always used alcohol as a confidence-booster but without it I have to really step into myself and relearn how to ‘be me’ without a glass of something in my hand to gloss over the challenges of socialising, new experiences and meeting new people.
There's so much more I could write about on this sibject but for now, if you’re curious about giving up alcohol I really recommend doing some reading because all my wisdom comes from these incredible authors. Also please feel free to get in touch, I'm always happy to talk to anyone about this subject!