Today marks a whole year that I have gone without drinking alcohol.
365 days since my last hangover. 12 months since I last threw up through over indulgence. 52 weeks since I felt the beer fear.
This to some may seem like a relatively small deal, a strange decision, or a choice you lightheartedly think ‘yeah I could do that easily’.
I get that some folk may wonder what all the fuss is about – the day counting, the milestone recognition, the celebration of this ‘other way’. The old me would have found a blog post like this really annoying, I know she would.
But the thing is, it has not been easy for me. Despite declaring every positive along the way a marvel, there is no doubt in my mind that foregoing a habit so deep rooted in my psyche and social rituals has been the hardest thing I have ever done. So much so that I didn’t ever believe I could actually see this through, let alone comprehend I’d embrace a life alcohol free.
Because I was that person who failed to make it to three weeks in dry January in 2016. I was that party goer who was loud raucous and over the top. I was the person who rocked up at the barbeque with the ingredients for a new cocktail or a home infused gin. I was the first one on the dance floor and the last one to leave the party. I was the one who wouldn’t start a night like that.
So who was I without alcohol? The fact that I didn’t even know that, at 37 years of age was the incentive I needed to find out.
My first 100 days were tough. Really tough. I felt lower and more vulnerable than ever before as the raw emotions rampaged through me with nowhere to hide and no way to numb them. Sobriety forced me to face up to my demons and seek help from a place of more substance than a cold glass of Sauvignon blanc.
And do you know what? I got through it. I discovered a different side to my personality that I never knew existed.
A person who listened more and hurt less. A Mum who knows her mind, her worth and her priorities. A woman who took control of her life and took it to where she wanted it to be.
Through those early wobbly days came a light at the end of the tunnel, a new confidence in the world, one that felt calm and safe. By removing the unpredictability and chaos of the dark places drinking took me, life seemed once more full of colour and possibilities.
The simple things in life began to ooze joy and fun, and the daily processes of parenting, living, winding down in the evenings lost their repetition and regained a certain magic. My creativity returned, my sparkle switched back on and I felt like the inner playful child in me was back for good.
Instead of pining back to the ‘good ol’ days’ down the pub or necking prosecco with the girls, I have an overwhelming sense of relief that I no longer feel trapped in a cycle of self harm and regret, with no way off the rollercoaster and no concept of the alternative reality just around the corner. Flashbacks of drunkenness now make me feel uneasy, even panicky and rather than any sense of temptation to go back there, those hazy memories of stumbling disoriented and with unexplainable emotional outbursts only cement my decision that I will never go there again.
The 365 days sober me is all about the zen. Self care and sobriety have come unexpectedly hand in hand, and the new found respect for my body has been a pleasant side effect after years of repeatedly subjecting my body to alcohol poisoning, and kidding myself that everyone has this effect from a good night out. Instead, choosing to ignore the reality that my body was screaming at me to stop.
Ironically even the finest of alcohol free drinks these days have turned my nose up due to their sugar content, and a little bit like paying anything over a tenner in primark, I’ve been mortified at the cost of mocktails even though they’re a fraction of a bottle of overpriced pub wine. Boy, I have changed.
Over the year I have navigated every calendar milestone and experienced it for the first time without a drink in hand, and all through choice with nothing but willpower and determination to see this through. Christmas without baileys, birthdays without bubbles, weddings without toasts, holidays without Pina Coladas. And what did I learn? That all of those things are still fabulous, still lovely, still exciting, still brilliant; if not more so without the self medicating and blackouts that come with that time it just went too far (again). Life celebrations are still worth celebrating without alcohol; let’s celebrate that.
I wasn’t asked or told by anyone to make this change. I was not an alcoholic. I did not think about it for a long time, nor try and fail in the past. This all stemmed from an overnight realisation that if I was not me, I would not like drunk me. A moment of hitting saturation point, whereby too many mornings had been lost to the pit of hangover hell, never to be seen again and with nothing positive gained at all.
Moderation would never have been for me. To all those folk along the way who have declared their ability to stop at enough, to tell me how they can take or leave it, or how they aren’t big drinkers, fair play to you. I will however never be that person. For me a constant to and fro of deprivation, counting and restraint was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to be free.
And now, I am.
Life without drinking turned out to be like a huge warm blanket. I feel safe, warm and at home. I feel like wearing more clothes on nights out to keep it all about being warm and less about baring it all, in more ways than one.
But that doesn’t mean my social life has taken early retirement; far from it. In fact, knowing my ability to get myself home in one piece has done wonders for my desire to go out out. A whole chunk of social anxiety was eradicated with one foul swoop, knowing that my inner thoughts and emotions will stay where they belong; not on the shoulder of a stranger in the most inappropriate circumstances. No one wants an emotional mess on their happy occasion. Especially when the tears are over spilt milk or something equally random and unrelated.
One year sober Sarah can still be found on the dance floor, perhaps throwing a slightly more awkward set of shapes. It’s been a revelation learning how to socialise sober, and one that has taken a bit of practice and patience. In fact, I’m still learning, and probably will be for a long time yet. A lifetime of neural pathways can take a while to re-map. And that’s exactly what is having to happen.
If I were reading this post a year ago, I know it’s words would have spurred me on, as so many other people’s words did. So if you are reading this and feeling like you’ve had enough of the negatives outweighing the positives when it comes to wine o’clock, here is my advice to you.
It feels right now that removing the habits you’ve built into your life are impossible to achieve. But it can be done, and the rewards are better than you’ll ever imagine. If you aren’t sure, try 100 days alcohol free and make a call based on how you feel at the end. Read all the words to help you along your way that you can get your hands on, and be kind to yourself. It won’t always feel easy, but the best things in life aren’t always easy to come by. And last of all? Do it now, from this moment. Don’t wait until after that party, that weekend away, that holiday; because there will always be something. Dive in and see how it feels. What is the worst that can happen? And is it as bad as the worst that can happen if you carry on as you are?
So what now? For me, from this point on life begins it’s new normal. Now this big milestone is ticked off I don’t know if I’ll still count hours, days, months, or just accept this as my way of life. I don’t know if I’ll continue to write about the novel discoveries of a life lived alcohol free, or whether it’s time to go quietly and respect the neighbours.
I used to worry about saying this was forever, now the only worry I have is that what if it isn’t? If a slip or complacency takes me to a place I want to go back. If life challenges my steely determination and makes me doubt my decision, or tricks me into thinking just one won’t hurt.
I can’t predict the future, but I can control my decisions today, and for the tomorrows which will become todays, I can only imagine I will continue to silently celebrate conquering my everest with three little words.
I don’t drink.