I have long had an issue with Dry January. It bothers me that pressure is put upon us at a time of year when we’re already on a mental downward spiral from the joys of Christmas, when the days are dark, the weather is disgusting, and our moods are low. In fact, I have an issue with New Year’s resolutions full stop. They make me feel rubbish, I always break them, and taking Dry January as an example, I go without booze for the month and then go full on heavy at it again in February to make up for it. To say it is pointless is an understatement. I also don’t like being told what to do. I don’t want to give something up just because of social media hype telling me it’s Dry January, Sober October or some other facetiously named month. If I’m going to give something up, I’m going to do it on my terms. Which is exactly what I did back in September. I decided to investigate the concept of being sober curious. To take some steps to give up alcohol and see how it made me feel and explore whether I could envisage a life without alcohol in it. So, come with me now as I look back at my relationship with alcohol, follow me on my sober curious journey, and discover how I’m making it work for me.
Where It All Started
I want to start this off by making it very clear that I’m not an alcoholic. There is no big alcohol story with me. There is no major event that has happened that’s made me think, ‘right, that’s it, I’m off the booze for good’. My story is one that is probably similar for many of you out there.
I had my first taste of alcohol at quite an early age. Me and my brother had our own little glasses that we were allowed to have a tiny amount of wine in on special occasions like Christmas. I remember feeling so grown up and sophisticated, as though I had been let into this secret adult world. And of course, as I hit my teen years, alcohol featured heavily. First sneaked out of my friend’s parents alcohol cabinet at sleepovers, little sips from bottles followed by a mouthful of Creme de Menthe to disguise our breaths. Then drunken house parties, where we’d glug on whatever booze we could get our hands on (usually cheap nasty cider), drinking fast to get that alcohol high a lot quicker. We weren’t drinking for the taste, we were drinking to get pissed. It was in the years where alcopops were big business. These were the days of Hooch, Bacardi Breezers, Two Dogs, and Smirnoff Ice. Drinks that didn’t taste alcoholic, were easy to drink, and could be drunk from a bottle, making the drinking experience even easier. This was a market aimed at youngsters hitting the party scene and we loved it.
Of course, I’ve had my fair share of drunken experiences. There was the time I went on holiday with my family when I’d guess I was about 16. We were staying on one of the Greek islands where the hotel bar staff didn’t care what age you were, they’d serve you anything, and so me and my new holiday friends ordered whatever we pleased. Let’s just say, I have never ever drunk Ouzo again. Then there was the time I’d been out with my boyfriend (now husband) somewhere in London (we were living and working there at the time) and we got a taxi back. I remember sitting in the back of that taxi and thinking, ‘hmm yep I think I’m going to throw up’ but rather than tell the driver to stop, my drunken head convinced me that if I just held a tissue over my mouth it would catch the sick. I mean, you can figure out what happened, right? I stumbled out of the taxi while my boyfriend sorted out the mess as best he could, paying extra for the damage. The following morning I had to do the walk of shame past my pavement puke on the way to work.
Then there was the time, a bunch of us had been to see Keane at Ally Pally, and we were so inebriated we ended up getting on a random bus that took us to god knows where. We jumped off by some pub in North London somewhere, played darts with the locals, my mate pulled a moonie, we grabbed a kebab, I switched shoes with my boyfriend (the perks of having the same size feet) and somehow made it back to the hotel we were staying at where my boyfriend and mate spotted Dane Bowers at reception and proceeded to have a go at him for dating Jordan, all whilst my boyfriend was wearing my knee length high heeled boots. So, yeah, there have been some alcohol related stories for sure. Thankfully, nothing serious has ever happened to me as a consequence of drinking too much. Which is probably down to luck more than anything else, because I have been off my nut and out of control more times than I care to remember.
But that was years back. My relationship with alcohol changed as my life changed. I got married, we moved out of London to the countryside, we settled down and had kids. Drinking was either reserved for nights when the kids were at the grandparents, where we drank hard, knowing we might not get another night out for a while, or a glass of wine here or there after a stressful day.
I stated earlier that I wasn’t an alcoholic. But as I continue further on my sober curious journey, I’m starting to wonder whether in fact we’re all alcoholics in a way. That if we’re using alcohol to self-medicate at the end of a long day, or if we can’t envisage enjoying a night out without it, or if we feel we need it to give ourselves some Dutch courage, then surely if alcohol exerts this degree of power over us, that we are reliant on it, powerless to it, we are indeed alcoholics to some degree.
Alcohol And Me
Over the last couple of years I have gradually been reducing the amount of alcohol I drink. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just became something I naturally did. I was fed up with hangovers lasting longer than a day and the ‘hangxiety’ that accompanied it was something I really struggled with. Perimenopause also played a big part in this. I’ve been experiencing perimenopausal symptoms for about 3 years now and have been on HRT for 2 years. And one of the biggest most crippling symptoms was how it affected me mentally, more specifically I felt super anxious, panicky, I was overthinking, catastrophizing, and felt completely out of control, no longer feeling like me at all. And I thought, as I’m sure many other women do, that HRT would be this elusive cure all. Sure, it’s done amazing things for me, but it was incredibly naive of me to think it would solve everything. And so it dawned on me that I would need to tweak other areas of my life to make me feel more like me, as I navigated this hormonal rollercoaster through midlife. I firstly gave up caffeine, something which definitely made me twitchy and on edge, and then started to think more seriously about giving up alcohol.
So the idea was already kind of floating around in my head. But it wasn’t until a friend mentioned that she’d made the move to go alcohol free and how she was currently listening to an audio book by Annie Grace called ‘The Alcohol Experiment‘ to support her on her sober curious quest, that it prompted me to do the same. I bought a hard copy of the book and vowed to read it throughout my own alcohol experiment. The book’s tagline is ’30 days to take control, cut down, or give up for good’ and the idea is that you read a chapter a day as you go through your own 30 days. There’s no pressure, in fact the author openly states that it is fine if you have a drink during the experiment, this isn’t about being told off, or preached to, it’s about opening your mind to explore the reasons you drink, what you get out of it, and whether you are using it to mask something deeper. But I am not one to do things by halves, I am a classic all or nothing, so for me there was no question about having a drink during this time.
Opinions vary as to how long it takes to break a habit. Some say you can do it in 21 days, others say 30, others think it takes longer than that. What I did learn from reading the book, is that it takes 30 days for alcohol to completely leave your body, and so it makes sense that only after 30 days will our bodies stop craving it. Our mind on the other hand is an entirely different story. Because most of us don’t drink simply because we like the taste. There’s usually something else going on. And I wanted to explore what that was. Everyone is different of course, we all have our own different reasons for drinking. The first few days of no alcohol are easy, especially if it’s a weekday and you’ve got no plans. But as the weekend was drawing near, I realised I needed to write down the reasons why I drink…
- To fit in
- To give me more confidence
- To help me deal with social anxiety and awkwardness
- Because everyone else is
- Because I don’t want to seem boring
- To relax
- To make me seem more interesting
- Because it’s what you do on special occasions – a party wouldn’t be a party without alcohol
- Because it’s the weekend.
As I looked at these reasons, I realised these weren’t good enough. How pathetic that I needed alcohol to enjoy myself, that I needed it to feel confident around my friends, that I placed so much importance on it that it became the main focal point of a night out. I needed to test myself. I needed to openly choose not to drink on a night out. The opportunity came on day 14 of the experiment, a friends birthday party. When I’ve been to occasions before and drawn the short straw as designated driver and therefore forced to not drink, I guess I’ve resented the fact. I’ve told myself I won’t enjoy the night, all because I can’t have a drink, and so I’ve sealed my own fate. I believed I wouldn’t have a good night and so I didn’t. This time however, it was different. It was my choice not to drink. I was in control. And that factor switched my mindset entirely. I had a great night and zero alcohol touched my lips. I spoke to people, I engaged, I didn’t feel as though I was missing out, I didn’t feel awkward, I danced. All alcohol free. And best of all I woke up the next morning feeling as fresh as a daisy and with zero regrets. I didn’t miss the drinking part at all. In fact, I enjoyed the night more because I wasn’t drinking. It meant I had quality, meaningful conversations with people rather than slurring, shouting, repeating, stumbling, all the things that alcohol makes us do.
The book changed my mindset completely. With every chapter I read on every day that passed by alcohol free, it was as if the author could see into my head. She knew exactly how I would feel on each day, the stumbling blocks I would encounter, the cravings I would have, the thoughts running through my head. And that utter understanding of how I was feeling helped me massively. There wasn’t a single moment during those 30 days that I missed alcohol. And so I continued. As I write this, I am on day 80 of being alcohol free. I’m not saying I’ll never drink again. I don’t want to place that label on my head. But for now, I am quite content continuing to be sober curious and enjoying the benefits it brings. Of which there have been many. My anxiety levels have reduced, my skin is clearer than it has ever been and I have received many compliments to back this up, I am clear headed, I feel absolutely liberated from the control that alcohol had over me. I am my own person. I am someone who can easily enjoy a social gathering without the need for alcohol. I can drive places without worrying about how I’m going to get back. I’m appreciating the things that matter. Oh, and it’s saving me a shed tonne of money too!
How I’m Making It Work For Me
Moving forwards on this sober curious journey, I’m highly aware that Christmas is coming up soon, a notoriously boozy time. All the Christmas parties, the mulled wine fuelled Christmas markets, Christmas day, New Year’s Eve… how am I going to make this work long term? I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to play it out, but I know that a big thing to make it easier for me to make an informed choice is by having decent alternatives to alcohol in the house, so that I don’t feel as though I am missing out on the celebrations.
The alcohol free market has come a long, long way. You only have to go into your supermarket these days and there is a whole section dedicated to alcohol free beverages. A few years back and there may have been one product, two if you were lucky and it would have been alcohol free beer. Otherwise you’d have been on fizzy drinks or juice, maybe a tonic water if you were feeling fancy. And pubs, whilst they still have a long way to go in terms of the selection they offer, most will at least have alcohol free beers, some now have a couple of alcohol free spirits, and if you’re lucky you may get an alcohol free prosecco. It makes being sober curious a hell of a lot easier when you have choice.
I wanted to get ahead of the game and so I’ve been doing my research. If you’re feeling like you could get on board with this whole sober curious thing, I have compiled a list of my alcohol free drink swaps that I’ll be making this Christmas, and there are some good one’s on there. Honestly, if you’re sober curious yourself, save yourself the bother of having to do the research.
My Alcohol Free Drink Swaps For Christmas
Listen, I’m not going to be the person who preaches on about how bad alcohol is. Just like I’m not going to get all judgey on your asses and look down my nose at people who drink, how much they drink, how they behave when they drink. Seriously, you do you babes. And most of all I’m not going to tell you giving up alcohol is easy. Because it isn’t. Alcohol is so ingrained in our culture and the people around us can make it really damn hard to give it up entirely. You can be viewed as having something wrong with you if you don’t drink on a night out, that there must be another reason other than the fact you just don’t want to drink. That you’re spoiling the night, ruining the fun, killing the vibe. And often people aren’t happy with it, because it’s as though your abstinence somehow shines a light on their drinking habits, which simply isn’t the case. But people are sensitive souls.
As I said, you do you, and that is exactly what I am doing. I’m not setting myself any hard and fast rules around this, I am literally taking it one day at a time. For now, the label of sober curious is enough for me.