It’s been a while since I reflected on how life is going alcohol free, since I packed in the bad habits almost three years ago in the late summer of 2018.
Sometimes I barely recognise myself in the mirror – a far cry from the person I see grinning inanely back at me throughout my vast collection of old photographs. That puffy, sweaty girl with eyes that looked like they had been crying (which they probably had been should it have been after 9pm on someones wedding day / birthday party / gig).
Remembering my why
With every day that passes since I last drank alcohol, it’s easy to forget and dilute the strong emotions and bad memories which prompted me to rethink my life choices in the first place.
I’m sure most of us can relate to the ‘never again’ mornings, which perhaps lead to a short period of abstinence which gradually fade into a thirst for a big night out. It’s that, on a grander scale.
It’s therefore imperative for me to always come back to my why – because I was a terrible drunk. Not a terrible-drunk, but terrible at being drunk. Which was a shame because boy did I like drinking.
We all have that friend; the one who is a total liability, always wins the prize for most pissed, and manages to cause a scene / black out / throw up. Yeah, hi. That was me.
But I NEVER questioned that there might be another choice, an alternative road to follow. I just accepted this was the way it would always be. I believed I was trapped in a cycle that made me unhappy. The very definition of madness; doing something the same over and over again and expecting a different outcome.
I may have envisaged my future many times in my past, but the one thing I never thought I would be, is that person who doesn’t drink. Yet here I am, almost three years on with no doubts at all that this is where I want to be.
For the first year, it was tough, I cannot lie. Untangling those well trodden neurological pathways that told me fun times = drunk times, seeking another way to deal with my anxieties, or better still, learn to sit with them.
I had to rediscover who I was, find my inner confidence and learn how to walk into a party without the aid of a chemical enhancing mood changer. Crazy as it sounds, I had never had to do that before, or do it smiling.
It felt alien for such a long time; uncomfortable to talk about for a while. I was scared to publicly commit to the challenge, and unsure how others would react. And yet, step by step, party by party, I found my comfort zone, realised my true friends loved me regardless, and found that life without drama and hangovers become so much more palatable than the former alternative.
Walking away from alcohol was like leaving a bad realationship; it hurt bad for a while, then gradually life moved on. I got over it. I realised I was better off alone.
And now, I barely think about that relationship – other than to reflect on how bad it was.
Alcohol Free substitutes
In those early days I leant hard on zero percent beers and wines, botanical alcohol free spirits and anything that made me feel less of an outlier. And true still, I do turn to those drinks when I fancy a little bit of a treat or to mark an occasion.
But strangely enough, I’ve gone full circle and am just as happy drinking water, orange squash or a good old cup of tea.
I suppose it’s all to do with acceptance and progress. Breaking those physical habits and finding your own preferences. It’s both liberating and freeing knowing those options are there to enjoy, but not needing them to cope.
The past year has thrown some mega challenges to all of us. Life has been challenging in ways we had never fathomed before. But boy, it’s been a good time to be sober.
Despite the media drip feeding me a story which tells alcohol as the saviour of this pandemic, I know in my heart of hearts, that adding alcohol to this situation would have only made my life harder.
Less patience, increased anxiety, hangovers, poor sleep and lack of mental focus…these things would not have helped my lockdown life.
Of course getting rid of booze has not been the magic formula for a perfect existence. I still have wobbles with anxiety and have to stay well tuned to make sure the balance doesn’t get out of check. But, through the clear lens sobriety has gifted me, it’s so much easier to know where my head is at, and to ask myself what I need in any given situation; life skills that my course of CBT provided me to carry onwards.
Since giving up drinking I have become a size 8 and can run marathons in less than two hours. Ha ha! Of COURSE NOT!
What I have achieved, is the ability to persevere, to work on my fitness long term and to recognise that the rewards of exercise go way beyond fitting into a pair of skinny jeans.
Exercise has become an invaluable part of my self care tool kit which means I actually crave a long run in the same way I used to crave a big night out. Improved fitness is a bonus side effect.
Over the past year I have expanded my regime to work on strength and cardio from home, and I recognise that even if it’s cold outside, I can still work up a sweat and get my kicks.
I thrive on fuelling my body with the good stuff, but I also enjoy the odd MaccyD’s, cake or takeaway. But I do it knowing I have balance. I no longer wake up in the night wondering if I have throat or liver cancer because of the way I am treating my body.
Three years ago, I had a premonition of turning Forty in 2021, surrounded by friends, wearing a long kaftan with feather earrings and being alcohol free. Hopefully at least two out of three of those things will still happen; a full house would be epic.
As random as that sounds, that vision stayed with me, and perhaps that same vision will carry through the next decade, and the one after that.
The alternative – a puffy, tearful mess stumbling around slopping a glass of white wine, makes me shudder. It’s the antithesis of who I want to be.
The hole that alcohol has left in my life has made room for so much positivity; kindness, ambition, creativity, love, laughter. Whilst in the past I have always tried to be rationale and say forever is too big a statement, honestly, I cannot think of one single reason to ever drink again.