It’s a year to the day since I last drank alcohol, so it feels like a good moment to reflect on 12 months of sobriety and share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Read on to learn the main reasons why I decided to quit alcohol, as well as some of the major lessons and benefits I have discovered.
Firstly, let me explain a few of the reasons why I took the decision to quit.
1. To prove to myself that I could
Whilst I didn’t consider myself to be addicted to alcohol (My drinking was mostly exclusively at weekends, and there were periods when I had abstained for a month or more for dietary reasons) the thought of fully giving up for an extended period seemed excessively daunting.
By regular British standards I didn’t think I had ‘a problem’. Generally speaking drinking wasn’t negatively impacting my life, and most weeks I wouldn’t consider drinking ‘on a school night’. However, once the weekend arrived it was a heavily ingrained reflex to head to a bar, or pour myself a large gin and tonic when I got home from work.
Some Saturdays I would start drinking early in the afternoon and keep going until the pubs closed. That was one of the worrying things with me and drinking. Once I had the taste for it, I would keep going until it was time for bed. All the while trying to maintain the optimum balance of ‘buzzed enough’ but not tipping into ‘wasted’.
This weekly routine had intensified over the previous few years when my tastes had progressed beyond beers and wines, to being a regular on the London cocktail scene.
The dangerous thing about cocktails is that they dress up the strongest spirits in ever new, tasty and enticing ways. Although I would perhaps think twice about knocking back triple whisky after triple whisky, mix two or three spirit shots together, add lemon juice and sugar syrup, and it becomes much more delicious and somehow more socially acceptable. Sophisticated even. The marketing and ad men in the alcohol industry are some of the smartest yet most dangerous around.
Anyway, I digress. My main point is that this had simply become what I did. My weekend routine. Very rarely considering an alternative. Bored? Head to the pub. Naturally.
Deep down I knew it wasn’t healthy and I wanted to prove that I could find the self discipline. And imagination. To do something different and less destructive with my time.
2. Drinking made me feel so sick
Despite my best efforts, trying every trick in the book to minimise hangovers, they had become unbearable.
Physically I could often power through. I’m stubborn enough to force my body through anything it doesn’t feel like doing, so I could still get up and run a 10k which helped sweat out some of the booze. But mentally it was like somebody had switched off half of the neurones in my brain. If it was a weekend event that involved socialising with people on the morning after – like guests staying after a party, or a hotel wedding – my conversation would be practically zero. If somebody called my mobile I would ignore the call because I couldn’t face talking to anybody.
And these hangovers weren’t just a one-day affair.
After one of my Saturday sessions I am not exaggerating to say that I would still be feeling the effects on Tuesday. My brain still a little dulled. The sense of some kind of poison flowing around my body. Occasional bouts of cold sweats. It wasn’t pleasant. And whilst I’ve come to learn that a lot of what I was experiencing was a result of the sugar crash, that doesn’t make it any less worrying.
Needless to say, when I think of all the best things to have come from giving up drinking, never having to experience these sensations again is up there.
3. I simply wasn’t enjoying it anymore
For years alcohol played the social lubricant role it is supposed to. It was a lark. People would do increasingly silly things, which created laughter. People relaxed more, laughed more, danced more, and generally became less inhibited.
I don’t remember exactly when things changed and drinking became not fun anymore, but over time I came to realise that, for me, alcohol was losing its effectiveness at doing those things.
If I was feeling uptight or anxious, when once a drink would have given me a bit of a confidence or mood boost, now it just intensified those feelings. If I was stuck for things to say in a conversation, instead of lowering my inhibitions to the point that I would feel comfortable making small talk, instead it amplified thoughts in my head like: “Why can’t I think of anything to say?” “What’s wrong with me?” Whilst others were getting into the party spirit, talking, laughing, dancing – I would find myself feeling like a detached observer.
4. I’d heard good things
I’d listened to the audiobook of Catherine Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. A warts and all autobiographical tale of the author’s realisation that she was an alcoholic, the steps she took to overcome her addiction, and the many positive ways it has impacted her life since.
Whilst I thankfully didn’t identify with some of the more extreme addictive behaviours in the book, it certainly prompted some reflection and gave birth to the thought that my life could be much improved without booze.
So, put all of these things together and I guess you could say that quitting alcohol was a bit of a no-brainer. But that didn’t make it seem like any less of a daunting task.