Eat, drink and be merry accurately describes my August 2017. It was everything I had hoped it would be. Acres of time. Weekends filled with fun times with friends. Holidays. Good food. Good wine. Beer in the sun. Gin in the evening. Prosecco by the campfire. Are you sensing a theme here? I got to the end of a glorious, sun-soaked, fun-filled, booze-laden bank holiday weekend and realised with a jolt that I had not had an alcohol-free day for the whole of the summer holidays. When I was at work I had a pretty strict rule that kept half the week alcohol-free. My Thursday evening glass of wine was often much longed-for and felt like a real treat. Not having the structure of a working week and being very much in holiday mode meant that rule had gone flying out of the window.
This gave me pause for thought. September was looming and with it the prospect of figuring out what on earth I was going to do for a living. I knew that I needed to be as committed to this project as any paid job and cracking open a beer at midday wasn’t going to help to focus my thinking. As I turned my thoughts to what my future would hold professionally, I started to think about the task ahead. I was stepping in to the unknown and challenging myself in new ways felt like the right mindset for making this work. Which is how, somewhat unexpectedly, I decided to go alcohol free for September.
For some people this may not seem like a particularly stretching challenge. For others it may seem unthinkable. I was somewhere in between. In the final week of August and the first few days of September I tried to talk myself out of it a few times. I mean, this was a challenge I set for myself. It wouldn’t really matter whether I did it or not. I don’t drink that much anyway. The odd glass of wine here or there wouldn’t matter. And then the thought occurred to me that I had only gone any length of time without alcohol during pregnancy. In the whole of my adult life I had never voluntarily gone any significant length of time without booze. It genuinely shocked me that I was trying to talk myself out of doing this. Was I dependent on alcohol? I didn’t think so. But it now became important to me to know for sure. A month it was. No booze for 30 days.
And do you know what? It wasn’t actually that bad. There’s one big reason I believe the challenge was easier than it might have been at another point in the year. I wasn’t at work. I wasn’t craving my Thursday night wine. The weekends weren’t as much about decompressing as they had been. But what I did notice was that on those days where I could really have done with a glass of wine – a hellish day with the kids; a day full of self-doubt and worry about this path I have chosen – not having one left me feeling far better. I actually gave myself time to think through why I was feeling crap. I didn’t just bury it and pour myself another.
When I told friends I wasn’t drinking, after the initial fairly shocked response, most people asked me if I was feeling any better for it. My immediate answer until about week three was no, not really. Physically I didn’t feel particularly different. But then, towards the end of the month, I realised that I was getting up an hour earlier than usual, especially at the weekend. I was waking up full of energy. And I was doing good stuff with that energy. Focussing it on my positive new start. I didn’t make excuses as to why I couldn’t go to the gym and I didn’t hide under the duvet when the girls bounded in to our bedroom at 6.30 ready to start the day. It was during this energy burst that I decided to take on a new challenge. A link to a 30-day blogging challenge came up on one of my social media feeds. I’d been working on a new website and umming and ahhing about whether or not to include a blog page. Did I have enough to say about my professional area to keep up a blog? In my wave of positivity and energy I thought, sod it, why the hell not! And so, just as my 30 days of booze free was drawing to an end, my 30 days of blogging started. And where that has led to is a whole other story.
Recognising, admitting, that I didn’t have the healthiest relationship with alcohol; being honest with myself about how much of a crutch I had allowed it to become, came as a bit of a shock. It’s a bit embarrassing I suppose. Alcohol is such a central part of our culture and if I’m honest, not drinking ever again is unthinkable for lots of reasons. But I learnt some important lessons in my month of sobriety. The most important of these were:
· The thought of not drinking was far worse than the act of not drinking
· I wasn’t dependent on booze but my drinking was habitual
· Breaking the habits I’d fallen in to was liberating
· I am now drinking less and feeling better for it
· I can have fun without a glass of wine in my hand
· I cope with adversity better if I don’t drink through it
· I will definitely do it again.