Hip & Healthy Features Editor, Harriet, takes on the mission and finds inspiration along the way…
After having a more than over-indulgent December, in which I definitely drank every day, sometimes twice a day (!) I decided on New Year’s Day, like many of you out there, to have a dry January. However I ashamedly realised that my own willpower alone would not be enough so I have signed myself up to the Cancer Research ‘Dryathalon’. Encouraging me to not reach for the sauce, not only for myself, but also in aid of charity has really changed my drive to do a wholly dry month. In previous years I have half-heartedly tried by choosing arbitrary lengths of time; 2 weeks of no drinking because I know I have no social engagements on those weekend nights (cheating) or by saying that glass of wine I had with my Sunday roast doesn’t count (definitely cheating).
But, 8 days into January and I feel differently this year. Undertaking it for another cause not only yourself really helps get you kick started and I am intrigued as to how it will make me feel, both mentally and physically. However, even 8 days in it has not been a jog in the park, so I asked around my friends to find someone to give me, and you, some much needed inspiration and incentive for giving up the drink for Jan, or perhaps even for life:
I Cannot Denyity that I Rather Enjoy Sobriety:
So it’s January, that time of year where waistlines are bursting at the seams, livers have taken a beating and the only skinny part on our person is our mal-nourished purse. No wonder January is the month of detox for many!
Having been alcohol-free for coming up to 8 months now (hardly a record breaking achievement I hear you remark)… You’re right. But I did think it a good time to share with you the benefits and discoveries so far of being ‘on the wagon.’ May it inspire you to abstain – if only for January.
My reasons for giving up booze completely are numerous but let’s just say I am an all-or-nothing type of girl and was regularly the last one (surprisingly) still standing at the end of a night during my drinking days. The issue with me was never the regularity of my boozing (I wasn’t supping on gin at 8am) but more the way in which I struggled not to go OTT in party environments once I had decided to “get on it”. My drinking was no worse than many in my social circle and it’s easy not to question it when there is a slightly more wacky boozer than you in the group to compare yourself with.
My reasons for quitting the juice completely built momentum over a number of years – I recall even back when I was 18 considering it although never following through properly back then. It all came to a head when I started dating a sober alcoholic (oooh. Edgy.) at the end of 2011. Although the relationship itself was not much to write home about, the lessons it taught me are scroll-worthy.
I remember upon breaking up with Mr Sober (having enjoyed a fairly alcohol-free lifestyle myself during our time together) and suddenly panicking about having to go back to my ‘old ways’… I had so enjoyed waking up and remembering whole conversations in detail from the night before, my head gloriously clear and feeling happy knowing that I had stayed out at said event only as long as it was actually enjoyable to (as opposed to downing drinks to pass the time away in an environment only bearable under immense intoxication.)
And so, I finally felt that I had come to a point in my life where I was really ready to give abstinence a go.
One of the biggest surprises about sobriety for me on a personal level was the pickle I found myself in on social occasions when I first jumped on the wagon… I quickly discovered I was actually pretty poor at dealing with large groups of people – never realized that one before! I mean, I’d always known that I was better one-on-one but had never really given myself a chance to discover my awkwardness in crowds – I’d always reached for the vino at the first opportunity.
Suddenly sobriety became a challenge to myself. Why couldn’t I be as spontaneous, as loud, as open, as funny as I was when I was drunk? And so all of a sudden, for me, the focus on abstinence shifted instead to a need to grow as a person. And while I was reliant on allowing alcohol to give me that helping hand of confidence, growing wasn’t really an option.
Now people may read this and think, “she’s mad, what’s the point?” but the reactions I’ve seen over the months to my not drinking only reinforce my desire to find life beyond booze. I’ve seen acquaintances literally recoil, stunned that one might consider an evening on apple juice. ‘But you won’t have a good time.’ ‘Oh come on, just have a couple’, ‘Please drink – I feel bad if you don’t drink..’
It seems that many of us are so conditioned by the drinking culture of today that we genuinely believe we cannot have a good time without alcohol.
I intended to include in this article (in as objective way as possible) a list of the pros and cons of a life of sobriety in my experience so far.
So here goes…
Waking up feeling chirpy is worth re-mentioning at the top of this paragraph. I have not been ill/had to call in sick once since I’ve stopped drinking (touch wood, touch wood.)
I am ridiculously more productive. Ernest Hemingway once said, “always do sober what you said you’d do drunk.” I used to chat about doing all manner of things when I was inebriated – it was a great way of letting off steam and venting my dreams. Now I am actually doing the stuff I spent a lot of time chatting about to the poor souls still awake with me at 5am after a house party.
Not using booze to let off steam also means I have to deal with my emotions and misfortunes. It forces me to be more honest and look the problem in the face. I came through a pretty shocking break-up last year and can honestly say, hand on heart, I have no attachment or resentment to it because I really went through the ordeal head on at the time. In comparison, I didn’t deal with things quite so cleanly with my previous relationship a few years ago and still feel quite unresolved and angry about that one. Coincidence? …Or does escapism into a hedonistic lifestyle affect the way in which we come to terms with things?
As mentioned above, I now spend my time doing things I really enjoy and with people I enjoy being around – my tolerance for enduring social falsehood is much lower when I’m sober.
From a fitness point of view, I eat more healthily the majority of the time (no kebabs and garlic mayo for me these days!) Hangovers used to be a big reason for me to indulge in salty, fatty food and the need is just no longer there. Which means ladies, the whole weight battle is much easier to navigate! In addition to this, the surprising amount of calories contained in alcohol itself is an issue I no longer have to contend with. Exercising also comes more easily and I find it quite enjoyable. As you don’t have that ‘release’ from getting drunk, you tend to look for other ways to deal with tension. And so exercising has become something to look forward to instead of dread… *cue my high-school PE teacher keeling over from shock at that admission.
And finally, although I cannot see her (she feels like a ‘she’) and do not know for sure, I feel confident that my liver, let’s call her Livvy, is loving my life transition.
I cannot deny the crushing sense of dis-ease experienced when newly sober and in social situations – especially when everyone else is fairly inebriated. Suddenly, without a drink in your hand, you feel like you have nothing valid to say. As if the right to be loud or funny or controversial is only reserved for those off their heads. This is a myth I bought into long ago but quickly began to overcome and when you do, it feels really great. You see progress, a genuine growth of confidence and sense of purpose and worth. The same goes for dancing (although I’m still mastering this one…), the success of it currently depends on who I’m with and what music is playing. I do find it a challenge to lose myself to trance with no toxicity running through my veins. I feel like an idiot. Perhaps that will not change. Perhaps I can live with that. Put on some RnB and I’m up there shaking it like Beyonce with the best of them. I’m a work in progress.
I would love to list loads more cons but there aren’t any. Other than this – which is less about me and more about those around me but still: reactions from others. People question your choice as if it needs justifying; an explanation for not drinking (…I could just hand them this article from now on and be done with it.) I’ve found the responses to be quite strong; of suspicion, defensiveness, commiseration. In fact, I’ve just begun a new relationship and the first time I spoke to my man’s Mum, within the first five minutes, she’d asked me outright why I don’t drink alcohol. Possibly concerned that her son was going out with a wayward one… Ha!
So there it is – some thoughts on abstinence from the mind-altering substances we consider to be so much a necessary part of our social existence.
And a tip for anyone hoping to make it through January sober or longer-term for that matter: look for the reasons you indulge so heavily. When you focus on merely not drinking, it feels miserable and lacking. If you focus on fixing the reasons why you’ve needed to use it so excessively, it feels like you’re gaining something. Maybe because you are.
Written by Joey, 25. Joey and her best friend Persia run the company Addictive Daughter – an edgy, practical and hilarious new take on self-help for the young woman of the modern world. www.addictivedaughter.com @AddictiveDau
Want to support a friend or find out more about a Dryathalon for Cancer Research? www.dryathalon.org.uk