This time last year I stopped drinking alcohol and in this post I want to talk about what prompted me to do so and the ups and downs I’ve encountered over the course of my alcohol-free year. This is the probably the most personal post I’ve ever written and before I’ve even really started it, I’m feeling apprehensive about publishing it. However, it’s a new year and I intend to start 2012 as I mean to go on which means living without limits, so here goes.
A love-hate relationship
I started experimenting with alcohol when I was around 17 years old and like most young people of that age (in the UK), I would go out drinking with my friends most Friday and Saturday nights. It was apparent very early on that I couldn’t really hold my drink and that alcohol, more often than not, had a negative impact on me both emotionally and physically.
Undeterred by this, during my twenties Friday night drinks after work became the norm and what became evermore apparent was my inability to know when to stop drinking once I had started. I have never been a ‘big’ drinker, in the sense that I have never drank alcohol on a daily basis or even felt a strong urge to drink frequently but when I did have a drink, I seemed unable to know when I had reached my limit and stop drinking before I became too drunk.
As a result, I spent many a Saturday in bed suffering with a hangover and trying to piece together the events of the night before. Even though I could see that drinking was causing me to waste half of my weekend every week and cause me unnecessary suffering on an emotional and physical level, at that point in my life quitting altogether didn’t seem like a viable option.
The reasons for this were two-fold, firstly the effects of alcohol weren’t all negative and I had many fun and exciting alcohol-fuelled evenings with friends and colleagues and secondly every single person I knew drank and at one time or another had suffered terrible hangovers, laden with embarrassing memories of the night before. Giving up alcohol completely felt like a totally over the top reaction at that point in my life.
Over the years however, I got tired of the negative impact drinking had on my life and seriously started to cut down. I avoided situations guaranteed to end in regret like Friday night drinks and work Christmas parties and started to make alternative arrangements instead. At the time people complained and tried to encourage me to continue drinking ironically by detailing accounts of their own drunken mishaps and hangover hells, but not one to conform I successfully stuck to my guns and significantly reduced my alcohol consumption.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2010 and I had reached a point where I barely drank alcohol, maybe a drama free evening of drinking once every few months that would consist of a glass or two of wine. But in late 2010 there were a couple of social situations where I felt that my drinking had once again, got out of control. One was a work colleague’s leaving do, when I drank so much that I fell asleep on the tube and missed my last train home and had to stay overnight at a friend’s house and the other was an evening with a friend which resulted in a tearful argument as a result of far too much wine.
It was at that point, at the age of 33 that I decided it was time to call it a day on drinking. Even though the negative impact of alcohol on my life was now minimal, I had reached a point whereby the benefits of drinking didn’t outweigh even the smallest downside and so in January 2011 I quit.
I wish I could tell you that not drinking has been easy for me, but at times it’s been quite tough. Not because I’ve missed drinking, because in all honesty I haven’t missed it one bit. The difficult part for me has been the challenges I’ve faced being teetotal in a society where drinking is the norm.
The difficult side of not drinking
1. Other people’s reactions
For some reason, some people struggle with this one. I’ve had numerous conversations with drinkers who don’t seem able to accept my decision not to drink alcohol. It can get quite tedious having to explain myself and my decision to people and my default response to the question “why don’t you drink?” is simply: “I’ve had one hangover too many”. This will usually suffice, but for some people this isn’t enough and several people have probed me for more details about why I don’t drink, even asking me outright if I am a recovering alcoholic.
I don’t mind answering questions, but at times I’ve felt unwilling to share such personal information with near strangers but what I find particularly hard is when I have explained my reasons to someone and they don’t feel that my reasons are good enough. This can be somewhat infuriating and the irony is that the more drunk people get the more opinionated they are likely to be about my life choice not to drink. After twelve months, I’ve become pretty adept at dealing with these sorts of situations but for a long time I struggled with them and I’ve now come to accept that I’m likely to face these questions for the rest of my life.
2. Losing friends
As a drinker, I had some friendships that were solely based upon nights in the pub. Since quitting alcohol, I’ve inevitably seen some friendships fall by the wayside. Not because anybody has ‘ended’ the friendship as such but because we’ve naturally drifted apart because of different interests. Some people I haven’t ‘lost’ as friends, but because I choose not to spend my Friday and Saturday nights in the pub and they do, I inevitably see them far less than I used to.
I know that some people who don’t drink still enjoy socialising in the pub but if I am totally honest I don’t. I actually find it quite difficult to connect with people when they have been drinking for a while and I think this must be because alcohol effects a person’s mental processes so a person who is drinking and person who is not are bound to be on different wavelengths, inevitably making connection harder to achieve. That has been my experience anyhow.
3. Some situations are inextricably linked with drinking
Another thing I’ve found a bit of a challenge is the way that alcohol is consumed by the majority to celebrate certain things. The recent festive season is a classic example. Christmas and New Year is in the main celebrated, by most people I know, by drinking alcohol and whilst I know I shouldn’t, it’s at times like these that I’m left feeling like the odd one out. Something that I am in the main comfortable with, but sometimes in my more vulnerable moments struggle with.
The benefits of a life without alcohol
1. Every second counts
For me one of the biggest benefits of not drinking has been getting time back, not just the time previously wasted suffering from a hangover but also the time spent being drunk. For me life is both short and precious and the idea that I would consume something that would result in time forgotten or time incapacitated through self-inflicted illness just doesn’t make sense to me now.
2. Every penny counts
When I used to drink, I could easily spend around £40 on a night out and when I smoked even more so. These days I am a very cheap date! I usually choose to drink lime and soda, which generally costs under 50p and on occasion, has been given to me for free by the bartender. Saving for a round the world trip means that every penny counts and once I’m travelling, not spending money on alcohol will definitely help my budget last longer.
3. Living consciously
People often talk to me about using alcohol to “take the edge off” a stressful day and I remember well how I often used alcohol and cigarettes in the same way. It’s only since I’ve stopped smoking and drinking, have I realised how counter-productive that approach was for me. I don’t ‘use’ any substance or drug to relax these days and yet I feel more calm and more at peace than I ever did. I choose to live life consciously because I don’t want to ‘numb’ the pain or ‘take the edge off’ I want to experience life fully, warts and all.
4. Finding other ways to socialise
The default social activity in the UK seems to be drinking in the pub and quitting alcohol has meant that I’ve had to think a lot harder about how to fill my time and socialise with people, without drinking. As I don’t really enjoy sitting in a pub these days, I’ve had to find other ways to spend my time. These have included, attending meetings such as Toastmasters or doing classes such as Pilates, painting and hula hooping. I do still go to the pub on occasion but not nearly as much as I used to and if I do I try to make sure that there is something else going on such as a comedy night or a meal.
5. No more blues
One of the biggest downsides to drinking for me was the blues I’d often experience the morning after. It’s not surprising that many people experience this as alcohol is classified as a depressant. I’ve often heard people describe these feelings as post-alcohol depression and even the post-alcohol “horrors” and what they’re describing is that awful feeling some people get after a heavy night drinking. This is when the customary headache and nausea is accompanied by some serious self-loathing and questions like: did I embarrass myself last night? Did I do anything stupid? Why did I tell that person all that personal stuff? And in more extreme situations how did I get home?
Going out and spending an evening chatting with friends in the pub and waking up the next day free of the blues and the physical side effects never fails to make me feel amazing.
What I’ve learned
As you can see from my two lists, the advantages of not drinking far outweigh the disadvantages of not drinking for me and so in conclusion, I’m really pleased that I made the decision to stop drinking alcohol twelve months ago and whilst I never say never, I can’t really see me drinking again in the future.
I spent many years trying to modify how I drink in order to avoid the unwanted side-effects I described earlier, believing that perhaps because other people could drink and not suffer in the same way that there was something that I was doing wrong, but what I’ve learnt is that alcohol affects everybody differently and for me knowing my limits with alcohol means not having a drink in the first place.
I’ve also learnt that it’s okay for me to go against the grain and that even when something seems like the norm, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for me. Not drinking is something that I battled with for years, precisely because being teetotal is so rare in my society, but having made the leap, I have absolutely no regrets about my decision. I’ve realised that despite the odd difficult conversation, most people don’t really care whether I drink or not and I’ve learnt that doing what best meets my needs is the only way to live.
Living without alcohol nearly 7 years on (an update)
In January 2018, it will be 7 years since I stopped drinking alcohol and 6 years since I wrote this post. I still don’t drink and I love my life even more. No longer do any of the downsides to not drinking apply in my life but they haven’t for years. As I started the year back in 2011, I made the plan to quit drinking for a year – call it a New Year’s Resolution if you will (the only one I’ve kept). What became clear to me was that avoiding the temptation to say “I’ll never drink again!” and taking each day as it came is what has helped me to stay off the booze this long. I’ve put everything I’ve learned on this journey into an email course called 30 Dry Days. See below for details.
Have you been considering doing a Dry January?
Are you tired of the effects of your alcohol consumption? Would you like to take a break from drinking? Starting on January 2nd 2018, this email course supports you to take a 30-day break from drinking alcohol and in the process learn a thing or two about habits, how to break bad ones and form new ones that will support you to live a more fulfilling life.