Updated: Jul 26, 2019
You may have come across Living Intentionally via Annie Grace from This Naked Mind podcast when we spoke, a few weeks ago, about my journey and turbulent relationship with alcohol as a Positive Psychologist and Food & Wellbeing blogger. Click here to see it.
At 100 days sober today, I wanted to share some hope with you, wherever you may be on your journey, by giving you an honest account of my subjective experience of sobriety; the highs and the lows.
Many of you out there would like to reconsider your relationship with alcohol but people tend not to talk about it much, for fear of what people might think. It might rock the friendship boat. Sobriety is associated with older people for extrinsic reasons (such as health reasons, starting a family, history of alcohol abuse in the family or alcoholism) Therefore to say you are consciously choosing to quit drinking at age 28, whilst being a fully functioning and high-achieving adult, goes down like a bit of a lead balloon in a party town, such as Brighton, UK. People, through no fault of their own, just don't understand why you would do that. The first person in a group in their 20's to say they want to quit drinking gets laughed at by people for many reasons who have been conditioned to react this way, a few being:
a) They may be less far along on their journey for truth and still totally believe that alcohol offers numerous benefits and to quit it would be like donating your arms and then going to a rave. They believe it's essential to have a good time and you're crazy for thinking otherwise.
b) It threatens the friendship - but that's what we do together! Are friendships built on drinking, real friendships? They are fearful that they'll lose you as a friend or that you'll change.
c) It's fear of the unknown. If you've been drinking since you were 18, it might be difficult to remember life before alcohol (or drugs) and it's the similar feeling to ending a relationship with a person; when you feel you can't live without them but also can't live with them. They laugh because it seems ridiculous to imagine life without it.
However, since making the leap, friends often come to me saying they want to drink less and wish they could quit and I know exactly how they feel. It's that shit state of cognitive dissonance that Annie and I talk about in the interview where you believe it to be beneficial, yet you know it's terrible for you, so you end up fighting yourself, in your head, each weekend, or more frequently, until you break free.
The normal ways of dealing with cognitive dissonance are this.
a) Change the belief. Ah drinking isn't that bad. F it. It doesn't even matter. The problem with this is that your opposing argument will tend to creep back in.
b) Change the action. OMG I'm NEVER drinking again! You decide to stop drinking. But it's summmmer and it's so much fuuuun and it's only one and, and, and... I'll stop in September.
c) Change the perception. Drinking is actually a complete load of BS, cultivated by the media and constructed as essential for any fun to occur between groups of people, even best friends, while simultaneously ruining your mental and physical health, putting strain on your relationships and zapping your energy and confidence, increasing your dependency on it (At a social event where you don't know anyone: 'let's go to the bar') whereas kids seem to have a whale of a time without a single drop of alcohol. Hmmm.
Although this period takes an average of six years, it's well worth noting that there's a huge rise in collective consciousness and awareness about the subject. More and more millenials are drinking less. With the age of information comes more sharing of personal stories, different perspectives and angles on drinking that don't focus solely on it being YOU and YOUR problem.
What I most like about Annie's book is the liberation from being a socially-labelled alcoholic if you have blackouts or lose control, when other people "seem to be ok". It's the alcohol which is the poison; you are not any less of a person. You don't have a problem.
So what is going sober like for a 28-year-old living in the UK?
I first quit for a long period last year (95 days - click here to read the blog post from last year and my initial experience with sobriety including the 20 benefits of quitting drinking) and I felt SO good that I started drinking again because I thought a drink would 'enhance' my unparalleled, consistent joy I was feeling day after day as a fitter, better, more rested, more successful, more magical, version of myself. Not so. The drinking sent me back down anxious alley and I met my old friends: fear and sadness. Not surprising really is it, alcohol is a depressant. The initial effects, the dopamine release, lasts 30 minutes maximum, before the depressive effects kick in and last for 10 days in your body. TEN DAYS of withdrawal which is so subtle that it just manifests as that "I just fancy a drink" feeling, after the initial 24-72 hours of hangover have worn off.
So I quit again this year, got a tattoo to mark The Decision and after 100 days I feel absolutely fantastic again but have learnt the tricks that complacency (and booze conditioning) plays on you.
in order of priority:
-Better mental health. Consistently fine everyday. Joyous even.
-Sleep like a baby, every night.
-Way more money
-Much better diet & fitness
-Remember everything. Better friend and family member and general person because of this.
-Way more time. All time (precious time) is spent wisely and not wasted (literally) whether in blackouts, repeating shit during drunken conversations or hungover
-Feel kind to myself. Paving the best possible future for my future self.
-Respect for myself and my body. Desire to learn about the wonderful ability the body has for homeostasis - keeping everything regulated all the time. When we drink we remove the warning signals the body puts out there. Which is essentially like removing your smoke alarms in your house.
-More confidence. Well, alcohol isn't there as a crutch so it's raw, baby. Hello real life!
-More brain power: better articulation, clarity, ability to learn more easily, retain more information and improved recall.
-Know I am being an inspiration to others by signalling that it's OK to quit and life doesn't get worse, quite the opposite!
-Look better overall. Less puffy and bloated. Happiness shows & the whites of my eyes are super white!
The Lows, positively re-framed.
-Feeling apprehensive about hanging around with people you've only really ever drunk with (however this is only before the first time you do it, then you realise quickly if you actually like them or not). You also realise the anticipation is worse than reality. Thoughts aren't reality!
-Avoid situations that are going to be very boozy, such as weddings and festivals. I missed a good friend's wedding due to social anxiety about drinking. It probably would have been fine but I knew everyone would be pissed and slurring at me and too far gone by the time I got there to have a real catch-up. However, reflecting on this made me decide to face my fear and keep an open mind. So the next invitation I had, a week later, to a 30th with free booze, I decided to go and had a great time, even ended up doing some life coaching on someone who was as high as a kite. Got told I was an inspiration.
-Get asked questions like "But what's the REAL reason you don't drink?" - Bless people, they are so conditioned. Most of the time when asked this, they defend with their own relationship with alcohol but I know they are curious to what life on the other side is like.
-Rubbish selection of alcoholic free drinks. But what could be worse than poison in disguise? Sparkling water is making you sexier every sip you take.
-Sometimes feeling like people are boring/feeling disillusioned with society and the state of the world. It's sad that many people still don't do much, in their 20s, other than get drunk at weekends or do hangover activities. Yet if you look closer, there is a whole community out there who don't drink. Search #soberliving on sites and social media, including the wonderful #hellosundaymorning and you find loads of people doing cool stuff with their lives that don't involve hangovers. Meeting new people whose lives don't revolve around drinking, via fun activities which you'll both remember an experience fully is way more bonding than drinking. Plus by quitting drinking, you're helping to change the norm, the mass depressive culture of the UK. Ever wonder why Brits complain so much? Maybe they're hungover!
-Drunk people can be annoying and actually really anti-social! They don't listen very well (because their sense have been numbed and their attention span decreased by the alcohol) and they repeat what they are saying a lot due to the memory impairment. So alcohol isn't a social lubricant really, when people are mostly screaming the same things at each other not to remember any of it the next day.
-Sugar consumption increased loads at first, as did coffee! Gotta get some kicks somewhere! It's balanced out now, though.
Once again, it feels great to experience life as a child does, in it's purity, unfiltered view of the world. I had my first sober birthday since age 14. And at 29 it was so lovely: Big breakfast (guilt free because there are SO many drinking calories in the bank!) then diving, followed by tapas, swimming in the sea, then out for more food and a virgin Piña Colada, before getting into bed feeling absolutely full of love for all my friends and family. Previously, it would have been, wake up, breakfast + Prosecco or gin, day out with cans of G+T along the way, then out for drinks/boozy dinner resulting in loads of money spent (by other people on you) blurred memories/arguments/tears or some other drama plus reparations the next day.
If you do drink, there's no judgement here. Admittedly, I used to think non-drinkers were complete losers, totally not fun, square, whatever you wanna call it. I know that this is because I felt drinking a lot was the best way to show how carefree and cool and rebellious you were. I eat humble pie now. We are all equal.
Going to bed genuinely tired from a productive and fun day each night and waking up FRESH everyday and looking forward to coffee, meditation, yoga and a clear head is absolutely priceless. Each second of this precious life is a gift and I wouldn't swap it for any 30-minute-wonder-drink-that-turns-to-a blur-followed-by-ten-days-of-withdrawal.
Wherever you are on your journey, know it's possible. Know you're not alone. Know it is not your fault. Know you have SO much literature out there and people wanting to connect (hello!). Read This Naked Mind by Annie Grace, she includes SO much science about the damage alcohol does to your body that we just DON'T know ANYTHING about because the media only prints things like "Studies show wine is good for you" because it will sell because it affirms everyone's behaviour. If you saw an article that said "Turns out shopping is fantastic for your bank account" You'd read it because you'd WANT it to be true; it's welcome news. However if you're faced with stories such as "chocolate is killing you" - we turn a blind eye because it's not what we want to hear. We like chocolate, it's pleasurable. So is alcohol (for 30 minutes, guys) So we get selective. Ultimately, it's also a case of delayed vs instant gratification. You all know what happens if you choose instant gratification, you spend your money, you eat the chips, you skip the class, you smoke the cigarette. Delayed? You work for a goal, you save, you get your ass out of bed to workout for that hot body. You say no to one minute on the lips to avoid the lifetime on the hips. You look to the future. No pain, no gain.
People say you need to do a whole calendar year sober to really experience what it's like, experience every eventuality, every holiday, birthday and situation etc. Three months isn't long in the grand scheme of things. However the worst is the first part so if you can do a month, you're cooking with gas.
Keep going. If you go back to drinking, as meditation teaches, every breath, every moment is a chance and an invitation for a new beginning. Don't judge yourself. Have compassion for where you're at now. It's exactly where you're meant to be. Take an open-minded approach to every new situation. You think you know what it's going to be like (such as the wedding) but we don't. We never know. That's a cognitive error, to be able to mind-read or predict the future. Approach social events and new people with curiosity. Who are these people behind the booze? Notice the lovely things about everyone. Notice the details of the venue, the environment. Take it all in, in all it's glory. A fantastic TED talk says addition can be cured by connection. Be the sober person at the party who has real conversations and listens well to people. Last year at Gay Pride I was told it was lovely to be listened to, while everyone else was chewing their faces off (He was telling me about his dreams to write a book. Ok, ok, there may have been a bit of life coaching sneaked in!) Be the driver. Be the person who takes care of the drunk ones. Go home feeling happy, tired and fulfilled. Remember it's the people and the activities that make it fun and memorable, not the booze. It just gets easier everyday.
If you want to speak personally about this subject, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a consultation session to see if coaching would be good for you at this time. Alternatively I offer 30 minute, Whatsapp coaching which is perfect for people on the go. I can keep you accountable during times of need or be that helping hand whenever you feel you need support or want to throw some ideas around about something.