A year without alcohol – tick!

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Last year was a different sort of year for all of us. My year began with an intentional change that started well before COVID19 came on the scene with a year-long challenge called the “Year of Zero”. As part of the challenge, I planned to go a full year without alcohol. In my post, in May 2020, I said I’d report back on how I went. Here’s that report.

I won! I did ditch the alcohol!

I went the whole year without alcohol! It ended up being less of a challenge than I had thought.  The hardest part was actually deciding if I would start drinking again. I had concerns and doubts because I was feeling fabulous! No hangovers, no missed days spent resting on the couch, more money, feeling clear-headed, and all the benefits you’d expect to gain from not putting poison into your body.  My joints ached less; I had fewer cold sores. My gut was more settled. I slept better. A repeat liver function test came back with excellent results. I didn’t lose weight which I thought I would. I didn’t lose friends. In fact, my social life didn’t suffer at all! It’s a bit hard to get a good handle on this aspect because my dry year coincided with COVID lockdowns. 

My friends got over hassling me about drinking, although one actually said “welcome back” when I had a glass of wine with them.  There’s something a bit off with the state of the world if that’s the perception of giving up the booze!

I used the app Habit Bull to keep me on track.

I’ve starting drinking alcohol again.

As the end of the year approached, I spent a lot of my mental energy deciding what to do. Would I drink? Wouldn’t I drink? Was my obsession about making this decision proving I was or wasn’t an alcoholic or, at best, someone with alcohol abuse disorder. (Something I have only just discovered is a “thing”).

WHAT SHOULD I DO!!

In the end, I decided I would have a few drinks on social occasions.  Soon after “breaking the drought”, I overdid it and woke up with a horrendous hangover! One of the worst I’ve had. Even though I had drunk much less than I would have normally have had on a “big night”. Out of practice, I guess. I imagined my poor liver shrivelling up and keeling over. It was scary. 

After that night, I had a stiff talk with myself and set down some rules. I would only drink when I was out. I wouldn’t drink at home alone. Ever! And then I would never have more than two.

It didn’t take long before I started to argue with myself and the internal dialogue was very persuasive. 

You’re an adult and you can have a drink when you feel like it!  Relax! You’re on holidays!

Robyn’s brain!

I quickly fell back into my old habits, albeit with more moderation.

Giving alcohol the flick for good?

In the vein of “when you’re ready to learn, the teacher will come” platitude, I have noticed more and more articles both in print and on the net about people being sober-curious and stepping back from our alcohol-laden society. I know I am not alone in this state of confusion about what our culture deems normal and acceptable and consideration for our own health. The stigma of being a non-drinker is nearly as bad as being a heavy drinker! For example, look at Charlie Hale’s article in Wellbeing’s Issue #190 about mindful drinking.

Charlie Hale writes about the new ‘sober-curious’ movement in Wellbeing.

Sober Curious

The term sober curious was coined by Ruby Warrington in her books Sober Curious and the Sober Curious Reset. The book’s marketing blurb describes exactly how I’m feeling – without the green juice!

It’s the nagging question more and more of us are finding harder to ignore, whether we have a “problem” with alcohol or not. After all, we yoga. We green juice. We meditate. We self-care. And yet, come the end of a long work day, the start of a weekend, an awkward social situation, we drink. One glass of wine turns into two turns into a bottle. In the face of how we care for ourselves otherwise, it’s hard to avoid how alcohol really makes us feel… terrible.

How different would our lives be if we stopped drinking on autopilot If we stopped drinking altogether Really different, it turns out. Really better. Frank, funny, and always judgment free, Sober Curious is a bold guide to choosing to live hangover-free, from Ruby Warrington, one of the leading voices of the new sobriety movement.

Booktopia’s blurb about the Sober Curious Book

What next?

I’m ready to have a good talk with you Alcohol!  You’re not working for me anymore! 

Having the whole year off the booze and then three months drinking alcohol again, has been like completing a controlled experiment. The results of the study show that I prefer the no alcohol condition. I’ve decided I don’t need booze, and although I do really like a glass of wine, I’ve learnt it’s better for me not to “break the seal”. I have ordered Ruby’s books, and I’ll write a review after I have read them. In the meantime, I know I am not a moderator and do better at abstaining.

So abstain I will. 

Can I live a life without alcohol?

I have just completed Day 100 of my alcohol-free year. It is the second time I have reached this milestone in the last 12 months. I decided to quit alcohol in the 100 days before Christmas,  2019. I did it for a few reasons. Firstly for my health, secondly to see if I could, and thirdly because I have been becoming more and more concerned about my complicated relationship with alcohol.

I have always been a drinker. I come from a family of drinkers. At some stages in my life, I have been a very heavy drinker. People who know me in real life will know that I am usually one of the first at the bar.  I would usually have a glass of wine (or three) when I got home from work and while cooking dinner. I’d have a few drinks on Tuesday night when I went out with friends to pub trivia and a “few” more on the weekend. Some weekends I’d have two glasses and other weekends, two bottles. The only other time I have had an extended “dry” period was when I was pregnant.

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Home-brewed kombucha, cheap but not nasty!

Ditching the alcohol!

That original 100-day stint was not as difficult as I thought it would be. The first three weeks back in September 2019 were challenging from a habit-breaking point of view. I swapped wine for (homemade) kombucha, soda water with lemon or just plain water. My friends (eventually) stopped questioning my no alcohol stance and I was able to sip on soda water or non-alcoholic beer without being hassled when I went out.

It was my intention to return to “normal” after Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Day 99, I was riddled with anxiety. Not because I was craving for alcohol, but rather that I didn’t want to start up bad habits again.  I had felt more energetic, had less joint pain, was sleeping better and was saving money. I had declared very loudly to my family that I was doing “A 100-day challenge” and joked about enjoying my first drink with them over Christmas lunch. I had bought a very nice bottle of wine which was sitting in the cupboard in readiness.

When D-day arrived I was torn. I had done the work, moved over the hump of looking for wine when I was cooking or socialising and I was doing just fine!

Back off the wagon!

I did have a few glasses of wine at Christmas time but I did not enjoy them with the same gusto as in the past.  I had discovered in those 100 days, that I could have just as much fun without it. I started my next ‘challenge’ enthusiastically on the 30th of December and included it as part of my Year of Zero. This time I  planned for a year-long abstinence.

As a society, we tolerate and even celebrate drunkenness and “party” behaviour. For me, like most people, alcohol meant “fun”. You wouldn’t be going out if you didn’t have a drink or two. Too often though, two leads to three, three leads to four and after that who’s counting ? I have had more hangovers than I can count and many mornings where I have woken with that dreaded feeling of not knowing what I may have said or done. I know I have caused some people distress. I also know I am not alone in this socially endorsed way of using (or abusing) alcohol. It’s almost un-Australian not to drink! Still while I remain a functioning adult and don’t miss work or my responsibilities or break the law, it’s deemed “OK”.

Not alone – sober curiosity is increasing

I couldn’t help thinking there was a  story to tell to others about my experience and it would seem I am not the only one thinking along the same lines. In January 2020, I came across two stories by Flip Prior in  ABC Life about her year without alcohol.  She wrote

“Because excessive alcohol consumption is so normalised for many of us in Australia, no-one had ever said anything to me about the way I was drinking or raised it as an issue, even though for me it felt like a problem to fix.”

Snap that’s a match, Flip! I wanted to solve my problem of overusing alcohol. It was never my intention to not drink again, but rather give it a break to prove to myself I could. I guess in the back of my mind I was trying to prove to myself that I was not an alcoholic.

Let’s be frank. Alcohol is bad for you! Seriously bad! Physically, emotionally, financially! You don’t have to look far to see that.

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Moderation is not one of my strong suits. It tends to be all or nothing!

Flip wraps up her story with a sentiment I  wholeheartedly agree with.

[After a year of not drinking] “You’ve done all that work, you’ve got rid of all those triggers and associations and your brain no longer equates fun with alcohol — why would you want to go back to drinking poison? It makes no sense.

Will I drink again? I don’t know. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I am not going to say I’ll never have alcohol again, I am not ready to do that.

I’ll let you know in January 2021.

(PS: by the time this post is actually published it will be 122 days)

EDITED TO ADD: These video are great! Four short (fun) videos in the affect of alcohol.