Although quitting drinking is never easy; I drank for 22 years and actively tried to quit for 12 of them, I think it is made much harder by the illusion, perpetuated by our society, that you cannot have fun without it.
Alcohol is so normalised within our society that all fun events seem to include it. What do we do for celebrations, nights out, dates, summer evenings, summer days, Christmases, birthdays and holidays? We drink! Even a child’s birthday party – bring on the gin and prosecco.
This does not even begin to mention when we drink for things that are not fun – loss, pain and commiseration. Society tells us that alcohol is pretty much the answer to everything.
It certainly does have a lot to answer for.
I convinced myself that it was the alcohol that made the situation fun and not the situation itself. There are definitely times when alcohol made the situation feel manageable, for example, parties that I didn’t want to be at with people that I didn’t want to talk to: but why on earth was I putting myself in these situations in the first place?
I drank at university to deal with social anxiety and because it’s what everyone was doing for fun. But I was kidding myself that I was having fun. I didn’t have many friends, probably alienated them with my drinking, I was lonely, shy, anxious and by the end suffering from depression. I probably could have had more friends and a real social life and been happier, if I hadn’t drunk so much and then spent days hungover, ashamed, guilty and too anxious to go out again.
I knew that my drinking was a problem, so after uni, I ‘controlled’ my drinking for 12 years.
Drinking for fun was an illusion. I’d lived in cultures that don’t drink and I have friends around the world that don’t drink. They absolutely have fun, celebrate and enjoy life without alcohol. So yes, I knew it was possible. But I worried that I’d made this impossible for myself. Whenever I managed to quit for a while, every evening was spent craving alcohol and feeling miserable. Three pregnancies equated to about 3 years of feeling miserable and deprived. Even though I desperately wanted to quit, I literally couldn’t cope with the idea that I would feel like that every day for the rest of my life. That would not be fun at all. That would mean I would never have fun again. Better keep drinking then!
Yet the longer it went on, the less fun I was having drinking. Examples of this were Birthdays and Christmases. Since childhood, I have loved family Birthdays and Christmases. The problem became that, as soon as the day got going so did the drinking. The nice fuzzy feeling lasted for approximately one glass, maybe two, of prosecco and then wore off. Then my anxiety kicked in and my worry about the day, the children, the noise and the mess. So I drank to try to recapture the nice fuzzy feeling, which is impossible, and then did not enjoy the rest of the day because it all became a hazy blur which I would end early because I felt tired, upset, anxious and ashamed.
So there I was stuck – no fun drinking, no fun not drinking.
I first rediscovered fun without alcohol when I went dancing. I had recovered from a breakdown about 6 months before and had started to try to heal my life. Very bravely, raging social anxiety present, I went by myself to a dance class. I discovered the pure, unadulterated joy in dancing. I felt like a child again and I was on a cloud for the whole time. I didn’t drink while doing it because I felt so happy. Then I let my negative inner voice and my anxiety in and eventually started drinking again. The thing is that vigorous exercise, which dancing is, and alcohol do not really go together. So in typical style, I self-sabotaged and gave up the dancing rather than the drinking.
I am not going to go into habit-changing here, as this post would be far too long! But let me say that working consistently to change your habits is the key to getting rid of those cravings.
LIFE WITHOUT ALCOHOL
I quit drinking for good on 29th April 2018. I had completed a miserable Dry January in 2018 and started drinking again afterwards. Then I began habit changing. Since I quit I have been basically craving free and have never been happier, less anxious and had more fun.
These are the things that I now find so much fun without alcohol.
The word exercise can put so many people off but please, believe me, there is some kind of movement for everyone out there that they can enjoy. For me, it’s dancing, yoga, cycling, walking and short high-intensity circuits, all of which I can do at or from home. Exercise gives amazing and long-lasting feelings of wellness.
They say nature heals and it is so true. Get out of your house and into nature as often as you can. I love the warm sun on my face, the sound of the ocean, the breeze in the trees, the glistening of frozen grass, the sound of rain and the crunch of snowfall. I walk across a big field to get my bus to work at 5.45 am. I never thought that would be a time I could enjoy but now I feel my heart lifting at its beauty and silence.
Taking me time:
Often people, especially mothers, do not feel they have a right to me time. Me time is so important for your health, mental and physical, and for your healing. Drinking coffee in a bookshop, surrounded by books, while reading a book is my idea of heaven! If I can’t get to a bookshop, a bath will do!
Booze free evenings have been a revelation. In winter they are warm and cosy, with tea, good food, family and probably a few too many sweet treats. In summer it’s eating alfresco, outdoor cinema and sunset walks. I missed so many evenings because of drinking.
Whatever you loved as a child you will probably still love as an adult. So birthdays, Christmas, Easter – try them as booze-free events. I was so surprised and delighted to have these celebrations back the way I wanted them to be. Just make sure you are doing them with people you want to be with and with lots of good food!
My message in all this is please do not keep drinking because you’re worried you’ll be constantly craving and miserable if you quit. Once you start changing your habits, the cravings will go and there is a world of fun and happiness waiting for you.