What I learned from six months without alcohol

[Photo: Unsplash]
[Photo: Unsplash]

Last year I quit alcohol for six months. I felt troubled I’d never known myself as an adult who didn’t drink; the longest break I’d ever taken was a week, two at most. From working in restaurants aged 18, to university drinking culture, to sitting in front of the telly with a glass of red. All ‘normal’ stuff. Oh there were times I abused alcohol; a painful breakup and my quarter life crisis saw me use red wine as one hell of a crutch but I didn’t feel my habits were out of the ordinary, not compared to my peers or even the culture around me.

I wanted 2016 to be a productive year and I suspected booze was slowly eroding my well-being and consequently my ability to get stuff done. At the end of 2015, weighed down by the post-Christmas blues, I decided to call time on my drinking. With my abstinence came the obvious benefits – no hangovers, more money – but there were a number of surprising and unexpected results too.

People didn’t get it

People don’t readily accept it when you decide to stop drinking; they’re a bit suspicious, like you might be a party pooper or something. I know because I’ve been that person so I didn’t tell anyone I was quitting. I wanted to do it quietly, no big deal, just something I was doing for myself. Generally nobody noticed as I usually drank soda with fresh lime which looks deceptively like gin and tonic, but when it came to ordering rounds and my choice wasn’t alcoholic I found I had some explaining to do. Friends had to know why and in detail, then after I’d told them they still tried to persuade me otherwise, “Yeah but you’ll have one though” or “Come on! Let me buy you a drink.” Not one person unquestionably accepted my choices.

Partying is still fun

Despite not drinking I still partied and it was still just as fun – if not more so. Where I’d usually be tired from a few drinks and needing my bed, I had the energy to keep going, often dancing the longest and staying up the latest. The truly great thing about partying sober is – no regrets. No drunken embarrassing conversations or making of promises you can’t keep. Waking up the next day is blissful. As are the following flashback-free weeks, months and years.

My anxiety became manageable

For most of my adult life I’ve suffered from anxiety. I’ve lived with an internal antagonist sabotaging my efforts daily, trying to keep me down, telling me I’m not worthy of love or good things. Let me tell you, if a friend behaved like that towards me I’d never associate with them. I knew alcohol exacerbated this behaviour as I’d always feel it more keenly after a night of drinking but I didn’t think a couple of glasses of wine in the week did that much harm. How wrong I was. The minute I stopped my mental health improved. Sure the anxiety is still there – it’s part of who I am – but the sense of impending doom is almost mute, I’m better able to challenge my negative and unhelpful thoughts and to keep things in perspective.

I’m nicer

With the veil of anxiety lifted I found I had more energy to expend on being nice. I worried less about things I couldn’t control. I was kinder to myself; if I couldn’t clear my to-do list one day things could wait, I didn’t beat myself up about it. My boyfriend noticed a marked change in my behaviour, I guess since I didn’t hate myself as much I was more pleasant to be around.

Things annoyed me less

I expect this comes from being better rested and in a more positive head space but things annoyed me less. I had more patience for those around me. If an idiot driver shouted at me or tried to run me over while I was on my bike, instead of becoming incensed, I’d handle it with humour; making my hand into a phone and shouting “Call me!” then laughing hysterically. Ha. Joke’s on you, potential murderer.

My sugar cravings stopped

I’m a sugar monster, I always have something sweet in my house or in my bag. When I stopped drinking I distinctly noticed my cravings plummeted. I no longer eat sweets every day.

My melasma faded

Why this happened, I don’t know. Perhaps it was the reduced stress levels or lower sugar intake but the dark patches of melasama on my face faded significantly. Massive unexpected bonus.

Fine lines retreated

I was starting so stress about the appearance of a few fine lines but laying off booze (and possibly sugar) saw them fade drastically.

I got fewer headaches

I had come to accept that I was a person who got headaches regularly. Not the pounding, dehydrated hangover kind, just regular the headachey headaches. Along with loo roll, I was always sure to restock my supply of headache pills in my weekly shop but they pretty much stopped as soon as I quit drinking.

I felt more present

I was worrying less and enjoying life more. When things weren’t going right I had the wherewithal to take stock of my blessings and be grateful for them.

I got more stuff done

As I suspected, my productivity increased. I took more pleasure in my work, I set goals for myself but I managed my expectations and didn’t beat myself up when things didn’t go to plan.

I took more risks

I ventured out of my comfort zone and challenged myself artistically. I signed up for new classes. I said yes more. I booked a holiday to Australia. I wrote two plays. One was terrible. Such is life. I’m sure they’ll be more rubbish work to come but lots of great work and good times too. Life hangs on a thread so you may as well enjoy it.

Overall the effects were so positive I’ve decided to take the whole of 2017 off from alcohol. I’m not saying you should too. I just know I’m better without it. Who knows, maybe I won’t ever drink again.

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