In the beginning, I was not exactly enthusiastic about the idea of life without alcohol. Following a traumatic final encounter with pinot grigio, my favourite poison, I accepted once and for all that I should not, and would never again, drink alcohol. I understood that if I continued to drink as I had for the previous twenty years (without an off switch and with an over-active self-destruct mechanism) I would more than likely die before my time.
And so in April 2011 I quit booze and became sober. Permanently. At first it was awful, but with glimmers of wonderfulness. Waking up without hangovers and minus the knot of fear in my stomach because I couldn’t remember what had happened the night before was delightful. Not experiencing waves of regret and self-loathing as a result of showing myself up whilst drunk, or hurting someone I loved because I was out of it, uncaring and inebriated, felt like I had been born again.
But living without my safety blanket, the little crutch that I knew would always be there for me, scared the hell out of me. However, with time, I came to realise how much better life was becoming now that I had finally walked free from the shackles of alcohol dependency. And it continues to improve, month on month. Briefly, here is what I have gained by letting go of alcohol for good;
- I am no longer a grump. Because of the negative effects that alcohol has on the central nervous system, plus the way in which it interferes with the quality of our sleep and eating habits, binge-drinking frequently plays havoc with our mood. I hold my hand up and say that as a drinker, I was grumpy. Now that I’ve not touched a drop for over three years my mood is level and generally optimistic.
- My weight is easy to manage. Not only is alcohol incredibly fattening, heavy drinking also has a tendency to make us reach for carb-laden and sugary foods the day after a session. Fry-ups, cakes, pastries, Coca-Cola, you name it – when I had a hangover I would trough through the lot. As a non-drinker I eat (mostly) healthy food, and exercise a lot more.
- I’m a better mum. My eldest daughter had a drinker for a mum for the first twelve years of her life. My toddler has only ever known her mum as a non-drinker. The difference in me as a parent since I quit the booze is palpable; more patience, more empathy, more creativity, more energy, more loving, the list goes on and on…
- I sleep like a baby. Once my head hits the pillow I’m out like a light, every night. No more waking up at 3 am reaching for the water to quench my wine-induced thirst, no more muddling through the next day feeling like a zombie.
- I don’t hate myself. Actually, without booze I really like myself. I know what my strengths are and I can finally admit that I have some of these, and I am aware of my weaknesses and work hard at trying to eliminate them. When I look in the mirror I know that I am OK.
- I have more time, so much time to do things that matter – to help others, to spend with my family, to treat myself to a Jacuzzi or a manicure, to read a good book, to snuggle up to my other half at the cinema. There is no rush anymore to get back home to my wine – time feels fluid and ample.
- No more fear – before a big night out I would feel terrified of what was coming, never knowing how drunk I would get and what awful situation I might end up in. When I go out these days I know I am in control, I’m safe and I won’t make a complete fool out of myself.
- Sometimes I don’t even bother to wear make-up. As a drinker I would have to load the make-up on in order to disguise how rough I looked with a hangover. My skin was dull and my eyes had no sparkle – as a non-drinker I look the best I have ever looked, and I don’t feel nearly 40!
- I never waste money on something that will make me hate myself. I can’t believe how much money I used to throw at booze – it was around the £300 ($500 USD) a month mark, and all that alcohol made me hate myself and not a lot else. Now I spend that money on my kids or a treat for me, or on a nice family meal out, but crucially I never wake up in a morning groaning at how much cash I frittered away the night before. It’s nice to feel in control of my finances.
- I appreciate life. I don’t waste time. I love early mornings, I take great pleasure in simple things like the flowers on a cherry blossom tree or a lone heron stalking the pond in the park, or hearing my toddler laugh or going shopping with my eldest daughter. I love the fact that nothing is of greater importance to me than my family, and I never experience the distraction of alcohol when getting on with the business of living.
At the beginning of my life as a non-drinker, I felt quite terrified that everything would become grey and mundane without alcohol to spice things up. I was wrong – the good has become incredible, and the bad has slowly seeped away. Of course there are still tough times to deal with but I now perceive these as challenges rather than insurmountable disasters, and managing the rough patches sober makes me stronger and wiser.
Surprisingly, becoming teetotal has turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.
Photo Credit: Jesus Solana