One year sober; some advice for the early days.
In a year of pretty cool changes to my life, the fact that I hit one year alcohol free last week is probably the most unexpected.
Sure, when I quit I told myself it would be for good – but I’d also told myself that about 400 times in the past few years whenever I had a hangover. I’m not sure how other sober pals feel about this, but it wasn’t exactly that I’d decided to quit forever as much as I’d decided I couldn’t carry on doing what I was doing.
So what was I doing that was so unsustainable? I was a pretty functional person, I had my job, I wasn’t particularly monstrous when I drank – I was a pain but I wasn’t monstrous. The answer – though it sounds pretty basic to say it – is that I wasn’t enjoying being drunk anymore.
Having cut down little by little over a few years had the opposite effect that it was supposed to; rather than being able to revel in moderation, I was a massive lightweight who was prone to overestimating my ability to drink. I’d have a couple too many, and honestly I’d get home (feeling all dizzy) and be really bummed out with myself – it was like the hangover had started to encroach all the way to the actual night that was supposed to be the ‘high’ to tomorrows low.
Even with this happening, what’s extremely weird – and unique to the experience of things that are basically shit for you – is that I was still determined to find a middle ground solution that allowed me to drink. There’s a great part of Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind (if you have not read it tell me and I will buy it for you no questions asked) that compares how people deal with drinking vs. any other allergy or intolerance. I can’t remember it exactly but the basic principle is this:
When you eat a food and it makes you sick, or you have an allergic reaction, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve enjoyed it before – you will most likely cut it out once you know it could hurt you.
Alcohol can make even moderate, chill drinkers vomit in the bathroom every once in a while, let alone someone with a history of binging. When I woke up on December 1, sick as all hell and my partner mad at me for getting home so late, I got the train to work with my head pounding and wondered exactly what it was that I was ‘fighting for’ in trying to not quit for good.
I never wanted to be drunk again, so was I fighting for a moderate buzz every couple of weeks that at best would make me feel a little less anxious? Was I spending money on stupid london-priced drinks in the hope a higher blood-alcohol % would make me more fun to be around, or more relaxed, or wittier? My life was pretty amazing at this stage, was I really going to keep rolling the dice on how accidentally-hammered I could get, or how worried I could make my partner by getting lost on the way home, for the sake of occasionally getting tipsy and calling it a night?
Alcohol is the absolute worst gaslighter of all, and it makes it almost impossible to quit. It literally creates artificial serotonin to make you think you’re having the most fun you could possibly be having whilst it’s in your system, and then takes it away when you’re hungover. Something I’ve realised since I stopped drinking is that all my old hobbies I enjoyed as a teenager are still really fun! It was genuinely just that alcohol in my system (which takes ~14 days to leave in full FYI) was convincing me that it wasn’t as fun as going for drinks. This is kind of getting to my main piece of advice for people trying out being sober for the first time:
Alcohol is a problematic ex. Be patient.
The first couple of times you go out without drinking, you will 100% not have as much fun as you thought you were having when you were drinking, and that’s because alcohol is a problematic ex that makes you think you can never do any better without it. It messes with your hormones, your cognitive function, it does everything it can to convince you that being what is essentially poisoned is enjoyable and helping you out.
Obviously, nobody should make themselves feel uncomfortable, but I strongly believe that locking yourself away from situations where people will be drinking is kind of just reinforcing the idea that the people drinking are doing something you should be jealous of. Remember why you’re not doing it – you don’t have to judge anyone else but if you’re at the stage where you actually want to try not drinking, don’t get jealous of someone doing something you literally don’t want to do. I hate to hit you with the AA stuff, but the ‘definition of madness’ quote 100% applies here.
Alcohol will try and convince you it’s the best thing you ever had, and it’s basically just being a straight-up liar. Know your worth, hold your own, and be patient whilst you start to experience being the full unadulterated you.
Bonus: Rediscover what you love.
Trust me very seriously on this, and give yourself a couple of weeks, and then try out a hobby or something that you haven’t done in a while. 3 weeks into not drinking, I started playing piano again – mainly out of boredom and an excess of free time – and I felt this tiny little spark that I hadn’t felt in a while. It was a lil drop of real good feelings hitting me, unaltered and unrivaled by fake hormones, for the first time in years, and it was so good.
I’ve started drawing, writing (obviously), playing music, reading and so much more in this past year, and I genuinely think it’s because I’m no longer comparing my good nice warm feelings to a fake unrealistic standard. When I’m happy, I’m actually happy – the little chemicals in my brain are doing the thing and creating little sparks and it’s making me happy. Not numb. Hold out for those good feelings, I can’t even tell you how much it’s worth it.
Lots of love,