How and why I decided to live alcohol-free

Sometimes, I feel that I am a freak of nature as a Person Who Doesn’t Drink. I’m Irish, so, you know, what are we most famous for? (I’m not talking about red hair and fiddle-playing).

I was a teenager in the tail end of the 1980's and the start of the clubbing 90's. We were supposedly “ladettes” who drank in fields at rural discos before moving to underage drinking in unpopular pubs that turned a blind-eye to the fact that its new patrons were all 16 or 17.

A former lawyer, I cut my teeth in the City of London in the work hard / play hard days of the late 1990's when it was cool to match the boys, bottle for bottle, on an empty stomach – whatever the consequences.

I’m now a mother in my early 40s – so that means the only way of wading through the supposed horror that is modern-day parenting is by counting down the minutes until I can open a bottle of wine (according to a slew of Facebook graphics I see shared day on day). A middle-class, urban parent, living a Netflix / box-set marriage which surely goes hand in hand with a nice Pinot Noir and some artisan, organic chocolate.

So why do I find myself, aged 43, approaching the end of my second year of having consumed no alcohol whatsoever? (Not counting the odd tiramisu made by a chef who’s heavy-handed with the liqueur).

I don’t think its a coincidence that I stopped drinking not long after I turned 40. It’s a cliché, but there is something about that milestone that turns so many of us towards introspection. We look at the life we are leading now, painfully aware that the years don’t stretch infinitely beyond us any more. This is it. This is the life we have.

In my particular case, I couldn’t escape the fact that my own beloved mum died when she was only 56. Turning 40 I was entering the decade in which she had first been diagnosed with breast cancer. The medical link between excessive alcohol intake and cancers of all type was becoming harder and harder to ignore, no matter how much finger-in-ear “la la la-ing” I did.

So I had to start thinking about whether I was living the best life that I could. When I turned the icky, uncomfortable inward gaze towards the reality of how I spent my days, I could not avoid the annoying, inconvenient truth that I drank more than I wanted to drink. Sometimes a lot more.

This was something that had gnawed at my sub-conscious before turning 40 of course. For quite a few years I’d made various attempts to reduce drinking, keeping it to weekends, only on nights out and so on. Sadly, when your mind associates relaxation with alcohol above all else, it doesn’t take much (a particularly stressful day, a child that has a meltdown, a friend coming over) to allow you to make an exception to whatever “rule” is in place. I justified drinking more over a weekend than the weekly recommended amount by the age-old saw “everyone is doing it” (despite the fact that I am always telling my pre-teen that this is not a reason for doing anything at all ….).

One of the most surprising conclusions I found when I examined life after turning 40 was just how boring it was to be in the continuous habit of drinking wine to excess on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Both literally and metaphorically, mind-numbingly, boring! It’s also not conducive to following complex narrative box-sets like Game of Thrones or House of Cards – which really should, by law, only be watched first thing in the morning, armed with a notebook, a bullet coffee and a Rolodex of character names and sub-plots…

As I aged, I also found the physical effects of excess booze to be increasingly unpleasant. Even two glasses (although two glasses can be a good half a bottle!) left me crotchety and (even more than usually) impatient with my kids. My sleep was really badly affected. Waking dry-mouthed and thirsty with a thumping head at 2am isn’t much of a trade-off for passing out the minute your head hits the pillow. On a pure vanity basis, I hated what my sister and I called “wine-face” (a kind of puffy, small-eyed look that was nobody’s friend, especially post 40).

Like so many people though, I couldn’t imagine what life without alcohol would look like. It seemed impossible to even consider. What would other people think? They’d think I was an alcoholic wouldn’t they? How could I socialise with friends? (My memories of nights out when pregnant and not drinking were of boredom and resentment that everyone else could get wasted). How would I relax? How could I even consider going on holiday?

I didn’t know a single person in my circle of friends who didn’t drink (cf Irish, parents, mid-40s). Then I came across on Facebook a blog written by an Australian woman with a very similar background to me – young children, lawyer, interest in writing and so on. She described how she had stopped drinking – and her life had improved. It wasn’t easy, she wasn’t outlining a sudden transformation to the life of her dreams. But lots of things got much, much better for her.

This opened the floodgates (because of course that’s how the whole internet rabbit-hole works) to a whole world of blogs out there, written by many wonderful men and women who have chosen to live without alcohol. For me, this seemed to be the trigger I needed to realise that it WOULD be possible to live a happy, sociable life without drinking more wine than I wanted to, week in and week out.

One of the biggest resources I found was Belle and her blog Belle is pretty much the Ariana Huffington of the alcohol-free world (of course she’s much too modest I’m sure to accept that comparison). Her 100 day challenge gets thousands of people on the road to a life without alcohol. One of Belle’s biggest themes is just how exhausting it is to be thinking about alcohol all the time (if you are a person who drinks more than they want to). Thus her blog title.

Armed with a hundred personal stories from the blogosphere, I made the decision in June 2014 to abstain from alcohol. I made the decision on a Monday and decided to stop that coming Sunday as I had a very large event to attend on the Saturday. I had no alcohol until that Saturday – and didn’t even cane it on that night. That morning, flying back to London I felt relief to know that for the next 100 days at least I wouldn’t have any booze whatsoever. In the very back of my mind though, was the hope and determination that it wouldn’t be 100 days, but “forever”. Rather than scaring the bejesus out of me, that thought filled me with joy and optimism, for a life that wouldn’t be wasted in the endless cycle of booze-fog and regret.

If you’ve found this article in any way useful or have any questions, please let me know! This is my first foray into writing and I would love to have your feedback.

I am planning to write the next article about what it was like when I first stopped – what was hard, what helped me – and most importantly, what life is like now, nearly two years on.

For anyone struggling with alcohol or who would just like to explore the possibility of life without the boring booze, I’ve listed some blogs and resources that were useful for me. Are there any others you would recommend?

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