I love Rachel’s story about her journey to sobriety because I know it’s typical of many Sobersistas in the membership group. Read her story about how she overcame her weekend binge drinking.
Rachel M, Somerset, UK
Joined Sobersistas: December 2017
“Does anyone else find their friends really unsupportive. I have a great bunch of friends, but some have really surprised me with this. Apart from one who isn’t so much of a drinker these days anyway and has been great, they’ve mostly responded to it as if it’s a really weird thing to want to do and that I’ll never manage it (that came from a close friends husband who bet me £50 that I’ll never make a year!) I know it’s because they’ll miss drinking with me, but it does feel a bit hurtful to be honest! ?”
“Going to a concert tonight (not exactly my choice – Eminem – but still quite excited!) Got to our Travelodge and our room wasn’t quite ready – hubby decided to have a pint whilst waiting and even though I’ve planned to have two or three tonight I just had no desire for a pint, so opted for a Diet Coke. (Old me would have had one whether I fancied it or not). Up to our room, hubby cracks open a cider, and I put the kettle on for a cuppa (old me would have fancied a cuppa but would have chosen the cider instead) – and have no feelings of being deprived whatsoever. Over six months now since I’ve started to change my relationship with alcohol, and I still can’t believe how different I am ?”
Why did you decide to give up alcohol?
I’ve always been a binge drinker – I’d very rarely drink in the week, but at weekends I’d “treat” myself. Throughout my 20’s I’d put away up to four bottles of red wine over the course of the weekend. Since having kids in my 30’s I don’t drink as much – hangovers and children obviously don’t mix too well, and I also found that drinking wine made me feel quite low the next day, so I switched to cider and wine/Prosecco occasionally. I’ve always felt guilty/ashamed about my drinking and didn’t like the hold that it has over me. I hated that I couldn’t abstain without feeling miserable and deprived.
My husband has always drunk a lot too, and his relationship with drink runs much deeper than mine, and much as I certainly don’t blame him for my intake, I don’t think it’s helped – it’s all too easy to have a drink myself if he’s drinking. On Monday’s we’d both feel down and would convince ourselves that next weekend we wouldn’t drink but the weekend would come around again, and we’d convince ourselves that we deserved it. It went on like this for years. In January 2017 we put our house on the market as we wanted more space – cue over eight months of stress – we didn’t feel so guilty about our drinking – we were stressed and drink was vital, or so we thought.
From the September through to Christmas we had a ridiculous amount of ‘big’ birthday parties and events which went hand-in-hand with drinking…to eliminate the damage we decided not to drink on the nights we weren’t going out. I thought we were doing a good thing by doing this, but it actually made things worse for me – my tolerance went out the window and I ended up hammered at every event we went to from October onwards.
It didn’t help that I felt ill too, and just couldn’t shake it, and had a tooth abscess in the December. I was run down and felt horrible. Hubby and I would often argue when we were drunk too.
The final straw came on 29th December when we went to our friend’s house for a party and once again, it got out of control due to ridiculously strong homemade mojitos (it was messy for all of us, to be fair – we now jokingly refer to it as “the night we don’t talk about”, although it wasn’t particularly funny). I barely remember a thing about the night. The hangover I had the following day was beyond anything I’d ever had before. I couldn’t move, eat or drink. I felt disgusted with myself. I stayed in bed for over 24 hours and when I finally got out of bed early in the morning of 31st December, I decided that this was it, my relationship with alcohol just had to change. No more. I did some reading on the internet about quitting and established that I needed to do more than my usual Dry January in order to make any significant changes…so I decided to go alcohol-free for a minimum of 100 days. Day One was 1st January 2018. I told my husband and he said he’d join me.
How long did it take between thinking you should give up and actually committing to it?
I’ve half-heartedly wanted to cut down for years, but I didn’t make a definite decision to “give up” until 31st December, and I started my AF journey on 1st January.
What was the most difficult thing about giving up?
The thought of having to socialise without drink. I didn’t think I knew how to and the thought of it terrified me. But I discovered that my fears were unfounded…it was nowhere near as frightening as I thought it was going to be. I also found “wine o’clock” tricky in the early days – around 5-6pm on a Saturday/Sunday evening, was often a time I’d crave a drink – but I’d pour myself sparkling water with slices of lime, and it would soon fade.
How did you manage your triggers?
Peaky Blinders! Instead of looking forward to weekend nights because I could have a drink, I’d look forward to watching this particular boxset for the first couple of months. For the first four months I didn’t use Alcohol Free drinks, simply because I wasn’t interested in getting the taste of alcohol, but I found them incredibly helpful when summer arrived – sitting in the garden with an alcohol free lager has definitely helped with the summertime triggers. Other ways that I managed triggers in the early days were reading posts on the Sobersistas Facebook page, reading books or info on the internet, and busying myself until the trigger passed.
Did your social life change?
Yes – I don’t really instigate social gatherings as much as I did previously, and if I do arrange to see friends I tend to do it one-to-one and go for a coffee or walk instead. But I don’t feel I’m missing it to be honest – I find the thought of sitting around drinking and talking rubbish very dull now.
Do you understand why you drank?
Yes – I started drinking regularly at 15 (I’m 43 now) – I’d discovered this magic potion which gave me confidence – I could finally have conversations with boys I liked and girls I admired without feeling shy or nervous. And this continued to be the reason I’d drink heavily when socialising – I felt that conversations flowed more easily, my anxiety disappeared (until the next day!) and I felt it made me more interesting. Thankfully, many of my social hang-ups and insecurities have lessened as I’ve grown up and had kids (thinking about it, maybe they’ve lessened because I’ve drunk less since having kids…hmm?) – but it’s as though my drinking self didn’t get the memo as I still felt like I needed alcohol to give me confidence. Having this AF break has made me realise that it was alcohol that was holding me back…alcohol made me believe I was socially anxious!
As I’ve already mentioned, I also drank because my husband drank (although he did give up for 4 years, and I continued!) – but it was what we did – it was who we were – it was an entrenched habit. I also drank as a reward at the end of a busy week, and to slow myself down (mentally and physically).
How did others treat you when you told them?
Many friends were disappointed and couldn’t understand it! Some thought it was just a passing phase like my vegetarianism that lasted three months(!) Funnily enough, though, a couple of our closest friends who were the most horrified actually went on to abstain themselves over two months…which I think speaks volumes. My family were surprised, and thought it was a shame I couldn’t “just have one or two” as it must be miserable without it..!! But people are gradually getting used to it, and dare I say it, but there has been a little admiration from some.
What tools have you used to support your journey?
Facebook groups such as Sobersistas, The 30 Day Alcohol Experiment by Annie Grace
Books – Naked Mind by Annie Grace, Alcohol Explained by William Porter, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray and Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley.
Podcasts – Naked Mind, One Year No Beer, Take a Break by Rachel Hart, Edit your Drinking.
What is the easiest thing about giving up?
Being in my forties and having young kids, nights out aren’t so much of a thing for me anymore. So fewer nights out makes giving up easier. I’ve found that I prefer my weekend evenings at home without drinking – can’t imagine watching a film or box-set now whilst feeling intoxicated…it’s so much nicer when you can follow the plot and remember it the next day!
Do you think you’ll give up permanently?
My journey hasn’t been about giving up completely – it’s been about changing my relationship with alcohol. But having this break, doing all of the head-work and understanding the truth about alcohol has made me realise that I don’t need or want alcohol to be a big part of my life anymore.
I am generally alcohol-free, but there are occasions where I’ll have a couple of drinks (although I’ve learnt that if I go over three/four I start getting into the “ah fuck it” territory). I know that I’m lucky that I can do this as there are many who can’t just dip in and out – my husband is much more of an all-or-nothing drinker. As time goes on, however, I’m starting to feel that complete abstinence is looking like the most viable path for both of us.
What does the future hold?
A life where alcohol plays a very little part, for both my husband and I.
How much money have you saved?
On an average weekend staying in I’d probably spend around £18 – so basing that on around 25 weekends, I’ve saved £450! And that figure doesn’t include any nights out. As I’ve said, I’ve drunk a few times this year, but I’ve still saved a considerable amount!
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about sobriety?
That it’s not dull and boring – and that it doesn’t make me dull and boring! I’m surprised that being free of drink has increased my confidence, reduced my anxiety and improved my social skills. I’ve also discovered that I really enjoy being alcohol-free and I don’t feel deprived…over six months on and I still can’t quite believe it.