…no bloody different!
I’ve always liked a drink; ask everyone. But when I hit thirty-five last year and every single one of my birthday cards was alcohol related, I started to wonder if maybe I liked it a bit too much.
Like many Brits, I’d been drinking since my teens and alcohol was just an integral part of my social life. However, unlike my teens, the consequences of this seemed to be becoming more problematic.
Even just a couple of drinks could make me feel like crap the morning after; hangovers could last for days instead of hours; beer fear seemed to be feeding my feelings of anxiety and mixed up in all that were feelings of guilt that as a (mostly) responsible mother, I was probably just getting too old for this shit. The taste was losing its appeal too. More and more when my husband asked what I wanted from the bar all I really wanted to ask for was a nice cup of tea, (I’d obviously order gin to keep up appearances; who orders tea at the pub? Me, now, it turns out).
I’ve tried, like most social drinkers, to cut back over the years and have managed the odd sober month here and there, but it’s always felt like a struggle; the exception being the two stints of nine months of enforced sobriety during my pregnancies (okay, maybe eight months by the time I got round to doing a pregnancy test; don’t judge me, my kids are fine).
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was in a gin and tonic with a slice of lemon (it may have been a triple, but that still counts as one, right?), which left me waking at 2.30am with a tongue like a woolly sock. As I lay there in the dark, wide-a-bloody wake again, a switch flicked in my brain; I’d had enough. I wanted to see what life was like on the other side, for all those people who spent their Sunday’s without a furry tongue and the urge to order everything on the menu at McDonalds. Time to see what sobriety was like when I wasn’t growing another human.
I set myself a target of three months. I mentally rehearsed my come backs for the barrage of inevitably curious questions the next time we hit the pub; no I’m not ill; no I’m not pregnant; yes I really do think it’s in my best interests to give up drinking for a few months for reasons X, Y and Z.
I’d made a decision and I was going to see it through. I was prepared, excited, eagerly awaiting all the good things that were about to come my way. My research told me I could expect clearer skin, less brain fog, better sleep, improved productivity, more energy; I was so ready for all of it.
How unfortunate to have set my expectations so high. Our first outing to the pub with the new sober me, only a couple of people noticed I wasn’t drinking and no one actually cared. I didn’t need to explain myself or pretend to be drinking alcohol or politely refuse the offers to buy me a ‘proper’ drink. Honestly, no one batted an eyelid. The landlord did raise an eyebrow when I ordered a pot of tea one Friday evening, but my husband drinks enough for the both of us, so we’re still very much supporting our local.
What about temptation? This is the weird part; there’s barely been any. In the past when I’ve stopped drinking for the obligatory month I’ve tried to avoid most social situations. Those I had to attend, I did so wishing the night was over and counting down the days until I could get back to socialising properly, with a drink in my hand.
This time it hasn’t taken any effort. Of course, this could have something to do with the current state of the world – we’re obviously not going out as much as we used to – but I’ve been to the pub more than a few times and haven’t enjoyed it any less for not drinking.
So, why am I not founding my own tea enterprise and excitedly extolling the virtues of my booze free existence to anyone who’ll listen?
Well, just like when I stopped social smoking, ditching the booze has been quite anti-climactic. I’ve not noticed any of the physiological benefits my research promised me. My sleep has actually degraded over the past six weeks, though I don’t think this is directly correlated to my abstinence, more an unhappy coincidence; but it’s still very annoying when sleep interference was the instigating factor for this experiment.
I’m almost at seven weeks now and despite my lack of transformative experiences I don’t think I’ll be reaching for a drink anytime soon.
Why? Well, it really doesn’t feel like that much of a big deal to not drink. I’m not missing it, it hasn’t impacted my social life and it’s quite nice to realise I can relax just fine without a skinfuI, whilst continuing my Sunday sofa surfing without a pounding head. Cutting down will probably (hopefully) have a positive impact on my long term health too.
I’ve also realised how much of my drinking was habitual; a glass of wine with dinner, a bottle to celebrate or commiserate, a large gin because…well it was 6pm somewhere, right? So I suppose I’ve gained some mental freedom from the constraints of feeling like I should have a drink. I can cheerfully offer to be the designated driver without feeling cheated of a good night out.
However, when I do decide to have a few drinks (because I want to) I know that I can do so guilt free; I’d probably have woken up at 4am anyway, Sunday’s are meant to be easy (just ask Lionel Ritchie), it turns out anxiety and Mum guilt are their own seperate entities and I don’t need a hangover to get me to McDonalds, those new triple cheeseburgers sell themselves.