IS GIVING UP DRINKING THE END OF FUN?
Former ladette Kirstin gave up alcohol two years ago. And she’s not remotely bored or miserable.
When I was a drinker I dreamed of being able to love a cup of tea as much as I loved a glass of wine. As fantasies go, it’s not an especially wild one yet it felt tantalisingly out of reach.
The truth is, I’d been locked in a love-hate relationship with alcohol for decades and longed to escape, but my desire to quit took me years to achieve.
I’d moved to London in my early 20s just as the ‘ladette’ culture was taking off. Along with my shiny new work friends, I became an enthusiastic early adopter.
We wore our ability to match male colleagues drink for drink as a badge of honour. We were loud, confident and felt utterly invincible.
I drank often and in volume and cringe now when I think a) what I must have looked like and b) some of the ridiculously dangerous situations I put myself in.
“Drinks to celebrate, to commiserate, to end a good day, or a bad one…”
Things changed for me after having my first child aged 35. Hangovers no longer just made me feel lousy the next morning, they also filled me with overwhelming guilt.
Like most people, alcohol was everywhere in my life. A night out with friends, a night in with my husband, drinks to celebrate, to commiserate, to end a good day, or a bad one… to get the weekend started (on a Thursday) or to rinse it out (on a Sunday.) There was always an excuse to drink.
But as the years slipped by and I became a mum for a second time the post-booze guilt grew to crippling anxiety which lasted days. Eventually, even a couple of drinks would leave me jittery and tearful the next day.
I longed to be able to stop drinking completely, but how? Life without alcohol seemed impossible.
Things came to a head in early December 2016 when, once again wracked with self-loathing after a boozy night out, I decided to write a list. If I could come up with 50 reasons to stop drinking I’d stop for a year.
I quickly scribbled down 46 reasons. They ranged from ‘It makes me hate myself,’ to ‘I need to feel focused and strong,’ and then I stopped, too scared to finish.
“If I could come up with 50 reasons to stop drinking then there was no reason to carry on and I’d stop for a year.”
But on December 29th 2016, I added the last few entries and there was no going back.
It’s been two years now since I’ve drunk alcohol. Here’s what I’ve learned:
The freedom is liberating. Once you’ve made the decision to stop you’re no longer faced with the constant mental infighting. When midnight struck on Dec 31st 2016 I expected to feel dread but, in fact, I was flooded with total exhilaration.
A year is easier than a month. No-one likes to lose a drinking buddy, which is why even stopping for a month can be tricky. However, I found that once I told people I was stopping for a year, the social pressure was quickly replaced with encouragement.
You learn about yourself. After more than 20-years of drinking I wanted to know who I was without it. The anxiety disappeared overnight but cutting out alcohol means you also have to face life’s rough and smooth without its numbing effect. That can be tough.
“After more than 20-years of drinking I wanted to know who I was without it.”
Moderating doesn’t work for me. I now accept that I’m an all or nothing person. This is why I can’t ‘have just one’ or ‘only drink at the weekends.’ When people discuss with me now whether they should stop or not, I ask; ‘Can you see the point of drinking just one glass of wine?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then I gently suggest they might want to think about their relationship with alcohol.
Incredible things happen. To begin with, I was embarrassed and ashamed that I needed to stop. I thought people would judge me and think I was dull. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of people who told me they wished they could do the same or the ones who actually did – six at last count.
I’m not judging you. Honestly, I don’t find it hard being around drinkers and I don’t feel left out, I just don’t want to do it. So, if you encounter a non-drinker, don’t write them off as boring, they’re having just as nice a time as you.
I have more confidence. This one surprised me. I expected socialising to be torture but now, instead of spending the night fretting about topping up I enjoy talking to new people and having proper conversations.
You’ll know when you know. In the year I gave up, I had two weddings, a four-day hen weekend in Palma (including a cocktail-making party) and a summer holiday planned. Any one of these could have been an excuse to keep drinking but, once I rationalised alcohol as ‘just liquid in a glass,’ I realised it was no-one else’s business what liquid was in mine.
Not drinking becomes the norm. Where once I couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol it was the sudden passing of my mother-in-law on May 1st 2017 that made me realise something had changed. Usually, my first response to an event of such magnitude would be to drink through the sadness but, days after the news, it dawned on me that I hadn’t thought about alcohol once.
“Once I rationalised alcohol as ‘just liquid in a glass,’ I realised it was no-one else’s business what liquid was in mine.”
Set yourself up for success. Kicking unhealthy habits isn’t easy so I found some little tricks which helped. Every time I had to create a new password I made it one which related to not drinking. And, when starting to watch a new TV series or box set, I purposely created new triggers such as having a cup of tea or a fancy tonic.
One step at a time – initially the idea of stopping forever was just too overwhelming so I settled on a year. Throughout that year I fretted about what I’d do in 2018 but, as soon as New Year’s Eve rolled round, I knew the answer – no drink was fun enough to take me back to those anxiety-riddled days of old.
I feel part of something new. There’s been a huge shift away from drinking amongst millennials and each week sees a new celeb announce their sobriety – just look at Nigella and Zoe Ball. With the adult alcohol-free drink market booming, frankly, it’s never been cooler to give up the grog.
And finally… if you’re considering giving up alcohol but feel daunted or scared, don’t be. Life really does go on without it, some might say it’s even better! When I published my ‘50 reasons to give up alcohol‘ blog a lady in Australia contacted me to say it had made her cry in the cash machine queue and finally gave her the push to give up.
There are so many brilliant resources and books out there to support you. Or message me via Instagram if you’d like to chat @kirstinchaplin.
Kirstin Chaplin is a freelance feature writer & social media manager