One year no beer, what's really changed?
On 29th July 2017 I stopped drinking alcohol. Apart from not suffering from hangovers, what’s really changed? Quite a lot is the answer.
My history as a middle aged professional woman isn’t too different to many others. I fell into a pattern of drinking to manage a busy life, raising children, struggling through divorce, full-time work etc. Wine was a reward and often fun, until it wasn’t. When I decided I wanted to reduce my alcohol intake I realised how difficult it was to cut down let alone eradicate it altogether. Life without alcohol? I found that hard, if not impossible, to imagine.
This blog could have been a list of the 74 things that have improved in my life since I gave up alcohol but that would have been boring. However, the list is a useful reference for me, to remind myself how much better life is without it. So, 365 days later, what are my reflections? I will start with the positives.
My Energy levels have gone through the roof. I stay up later and get up early with ease. I’ve gained a lot of time. Where I would have sat drinking wine and watching tv, I have developed a new business - Fit Over Fifty Women and I am halfway through training to become a Pilates teacher.
I realise now, alcohol used to make me jittery. In the past, most days seemed like a trial and wine was the reward for getting through a difficult day. Once I stopped drinking I realise I felt much calmer and that some of my anxiety was probably the result of the alcohol leaving my system the next day.
Food and weight
I lost almost a stone in the first three months after giving up alcohol and the weight has remained off. This is despite the fact that I have developed a sweet tooth that was never there when I was drinking. A friend pointed out that I would have been consuming at least 9 teaspoons of sugar a night in three large glasses of red wine. My complexion has also improved, probably as a result of not being dehydrated.
Alongside the benefits there are some aspects of being alcohol free that remain challenging.
Managing difficult feelings
Alcohol numbs your feelings. It is one of the reasons we use it when we are stressed. I have had to learn to live with difficult feelings. When we scattered my step fathers’ ashes the pain was so acute I could hardly breathe. I felt completely overwhelmed like every childhood and adult trauma had come to visit all at once. All I really wanted to do was drink myself into oblivion. With the support of my family I didn’t.
This is where the desire to live without alcohol has to be stronger than the desire for short-term relief. I had a good few months under my belt by then which helped me focus on ways in which my life was better without it. I knew if I made it through to the next morning I’d be filled with happiness and relief, rather than sadness and despair.
Relationships do change when one of you stops drinking. In my case, alcohol had always been part of our lives. We are very social people, we love travel and food. At first, I had no desire to go out at all. I concentrated on self-care, eating well, going to bed early and connecting with other people who had given up drinking. We’ve had to ‘renegotiate’ our relationship. I never expected my partner to stop drinking but I also wanted him to be sensitive to the fact that I wasn’t. So, extolling the virtues of a red, telling me he was ‘dying for a drink’ even bringing a glass of wine to bed, were all no no’s and led to some tense situations. But I’m lucky, he supports my decision to stop and has cut down considerably himself.
It is not easy to be alcohol free in our culture. At every turn you are faced with imagery and references to drinking. Think about events like the races, festivals, parties, dinners, award ceremonies, weddings, holidays etc and imagine them without alcohol being available. Gradually I have wanted to be more sociable, but generally I avoid situations when alcohol is going to be consumed over long periods of time. In reality I find being amongst people who are drunk boring and uncomfortable. Another realisation is that I have always found being around people who are intoxicated difficult, I just used alcohol myself to cope with that.
What advice would I give to others?
None, is the short answer. Only you know whether alcohol is a problem for you and ultimately only you can decide whether you want to live without it. Many people seem to manage moderation well. I’m not one of them. So for me whilst it’s difficult, it’s not as difficult as berating myself on a daily basis for drinking more than I planned the night before or worrying about what I might have said or done. You can read more about the strategies I used to kick the booze here.