Some thoughts and advice on a life of sobriety!
It’s that time of year again! Resolutions, hopeful goals, idealistic mantras…call it what you want. One of the most common statements made some time between Christmas and New Year is “I’m going to ease up on/quit alcohol for (add time frame as appropriate)”. Some people are figuratively blowing smoke and are back in the pub hard at it on the second of January, some people are going to stick it out a while and fall at an early hurdle, some people are going to stick it out for their chosen time frame and some people are going to stop and never look back.
I’m one of them. I woke up on January 1st 2006 with the last hangover I’m (probably) ever going to have. 10 years later, I’ve probably got the advice you might want and answered every question you can possibly think of about a life of sobriety. I’m going to try my best to share some of it with you!
The first question you will get asked is always the same.
Why did you quit/why have you stopped drinking?
This question always annoys the crap out of me, because people will never accept a simple answer. You can’t just say “I wanted to” without ending up in an endless loop. Most people don’t really care; but because you are doing something they don’t understand, unless you’ve got an answer they can comprehend, said person is going to want your life story. Be very aware that you will have this conversation more times than you will ever want to.
In my first year I had 3 answers:
Short answer. “A bet with my friend. The bet was to stay sober for a year and the winner got a pound.”
Is my answer true? Not strictly, but it is a short version that can often get you past a difficult conversation with person who won’t let the subject go.
Medium answer. “I was having a bad time with a few things, had a conversation with my friend, we made a bet to stay sober for a year. We set out a few clauses, 5 wimp days were included, weddings, birthdays, that sort of thing. Other rules were fairly boring.”
Is this answer true? Yes, its a short version, but that quite often satisfies people who want a longer explanation than the short version.
Long answer. Never use the long answer with someone who has a few beers in them.
“I had been through a nasty break up, I was getting drunk too often as an escape from my problems and risked ruining my final year of my degree. When I was talking to my friend about easing up for a while, we decided we should quit for a year. We included 5 wimp days because I graduated that year, two weddings to go to, it was my 25th birthday…5 seemed like a good number. I got 6 months into the year before I thought about using my first wimp day and then decided it wasn’t worth it, I’d come that far to wimp out. I stuck at it and the rest is history.”
This is the truth. There is more to the nasty break up story, but that’s not important. Depending on my mood, I might share a story about a particularly bleak night where I, rather shamefully, got blind drunk to just forget all my problems and woke up on my landing, fully clothed with the worst hangover and massive blanks spots in my memory. It was a really dark moment in my life that inspired me to clean up my act.
Idiotic quizzing stage.
If you are in the middle of your adventure, this is a difficult one, because 90% of people won’t accept that you are doing something different and you are ok with it. Be ready for some high school level peer pressure bullshit.
“One won’t hurt…” – yes it will you clown, I’M NOT DRINKING AT THE MOMENT!
“What about ____ when it’s cooked into your food?” – Congratulations Sherlock, there is wine in quite a lot of sauces. I totally wasn’t aware of this, thanks for clarifying that the fish in white wine sauce has wine in it.
“Are you just ______ loads instead?” – This is always going to be particularly trying, because this can turn into a complicated moral argument. Just try to sweep it under the carpet. Someone once said this to me, “You aren’t drinking? Want some blow?” Quality logic there, I’m abstaining from alcohol, but a class A drug is totally OK. If you are reading this and that logic makes sense, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggesting you re-evaluate your priorities.
“I don’t think I could be in a pub and not have a beer.” – Wow. There is some real depth, chances are, if you are avoiding alcohol, a pub isn’t high on your destinations of choice.
Be prepared for a barrage of stupid questions. If you can see it happening and want to avoid it, don’t be afraid to pretend you have to go to the bathroom, have a to make a phone call, that sort of thing. Unless you are from a walk of life where abstention from something is normal, this could become one of the points where you end up questioning the intelligence of the person talking to you.
This is the point where a friend/family member/co-worker/person you know who sees no problems with their lifestyle will probably turn on you a little. I don’t think they mean to, but it is almost unavoidable. The bottom line here is, you are doing something which is against conventional social norms in this country. There is no escaping the fact that most adults in the UK have limited experience of social interaction outside of work time without a few drinks. This sounds terrible, but think about it, couple of drinks in the pub after work, glass of wine with dinner, a few beers at a gig/football, pub for a few after…whatever. Trust me, I’m not judging you, it is just something I’ve noticed over the years.
Why does it get awkward? Because the person who is quizzing you will most likely believe you are judging them because you are sober and they aren’t. They get paranoid because they think you are think you are judging them. Chances are, you don’t care at all. If you are in the early stages of cleaning up your act, you are more likely to be preoccupied with learning how to live your life sober, let alone having time to judge other people.
If the person you are talking to has gone from trying to be friendly to being trying, make an excuse and leave, or try and change the subject. The ex-smoker is becoming a much more normal thing these days, try asking them if they ever quit smoking and use that as a comparison.
How do you have any fun?
Like I said, most adults haven’t really experienced social interaction without alcohol involved. The truth is, it takes time to learn. I went through it and had to learn. If you are just doing a dry January, the worst thing you can do is hide from your friends, avoid the places you normally go and pretty much barricade yourself away in your house. You won’t learn a thing about a dryer life, all that will happen is you will get miserable and pine for January 31st to end so you can go out and get the beers in.
I’ve seen this happen a bunch of times. All it does it give you a brief break and chances are it won’t do you any favours because you will end up back to old habits once the month is out of the way.
This is a real chance to look at what you consider fun. Maybe you should still go to the pub on after work, stay on the soft drinks and see how much fun it is. There are only two outcomes, the first is you realise that your friends are lovely people and laugh to be around even if they have had a few and you haven’t or your friends are a pack of drunkards who aren’t out to have fun, they are out to get drunk and think they are having fun. Sadly, there isn’t much of a grey area.
This is a good news/bad news situation. I don’t mind admitting, there are some people I’m not really friends with anymore, because it turns out they were the latter group, but something amazing will also happen, you will find out that you have some amazing friends who are genuinely a good time no matter what state they/you are in…unless of course all of your friends are drunkards and you might need to find some new friends.
I went through a terrible phase with my old drinking partner. We didn’t speak for months because he didn’t want to be around me when I was sober, we patched it up though and found a way to be friends because our friendship was more important than our different opinions towards alcohol. We just found things we could do together, which leads nicely to my next point…
You must have loads of money.
As it happens, I don’t really, because I tend to spend my money on doing things now. The good thing is, I’ve got (and maybe you will find) friends who also like doing things!
What do I mean by things?
Gigs, cinema trips, going to the theatre, going for nice (read not cheap) food, events (design talks in my case), trips to other cities….
Let’s do some straightforward maths.
It’s not unreasonable to say that 3 drinks is going to come in around £10 and probably last about two hours on a pub table.
£10 pays for a trip to the cinema for two people if you go to the right place/at the right time.
£10 is entry for two people to a local gig.
I also love buying records, which I do totally guilt free, I might spend £50 a week on records, that is still less than some people I know spend on just Friday night out.
If you are trying to give up because you want to save money, be honest with yourself and write down how much you would spend in a week on boozing, be brutally honest with yourself, I know each week will be different, the important thing is AN HONEST ball park figure. What ever that total is, don’t be afraid to put some/most of it aside for whatever reason you are saving, but week to week make sure you treat yourself to.
If your ball park total is £50, spend £10/£15 of that on yourself. Maybe that can go towards having lunch from the nice place by your office instead of supermarket sandwiches. Maybe it could go towards a streaming service subscription? Maybe you could join a club/gym/class?
The point is, you are changing your life, it isn’t easy, a reward sure helps.
You must be so much healthier.
I took up running about the same time I quit drinking, I’m not going to pretend the two were related, but quitting one made the other far easier.
Did it make much of a difference? I couldn’t tell you. I have always been an active person, the only difference I noticed was that I didn’t feel like shit on Saturday/Sunday mornings.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t still spend Saturday and Sunday mornings in bed some times. The only difference is, now I’m doing it because I want to, not because it feels like someone is punching me in the brain and my stomach is doing an impersonation of a break dancer.
These days, one of my priorities is triathlons. There is no way I could live my old life and do this. Does sobriety give me a greater chance to explore my health? Sure it does. Sunday morning runs are amazing and a lot of the time, when my friends are surfacing for hangover food, I’ve been for a run, showered and need my fill too.
The will power debate.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people have told me they don’t have the will power to give up alcohol. The truth is I don’t have the will power, I’m a stubborn twat. There is a massive difference.
Will power is have 5 or 6 glasses of wine a year.
Will power is one or two beers after work on a Friday and nothing else all week.
I am not that guy. I don’t know which type of person you are.
I’m the guy that one or two could turn into five very easily. I’m the guy who used to take my bank card out of my wallet, and only take £20 out with me to stop me going overboard and frequently wake up with a stinking hangover and a text message from a friend to remind me I owed them a tenner.
For me, will power is self control. I don’t have it.
I learnt to be an ex-booze hound. Much like smokers who want to give up are told to think they are ex-smokers, not someone giving up because giving up implies you are still a smoker. I quit drinking, and learnt to live my life a different way.
You know what type of person you are. That is for you to figure out.
Don’t you miss it?
This is the big hitter for most people.
Do I miss the taste of a quality whiskey? Yes. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that it isn’t a part of my life anymore.
Do I miss being drunk? No, good god no. I was an awful drunk. I’m loud and quite a lot to take in at the best of times, when I was drunk, I made the transition from confident to obnoxious, loud to annoying. I know some people found it funny, but many more people hated it.
I am never going to wake up and worry that I did something horrible last night.
Decisions are made with a clear head and I’m ok with the consequences. I’m not going to pretend I don’t still make mistakes. I am prone to saying the wrong thing here and there, but at least I am prepared to deal with it at the time and not be oblivious to it.
Bottom line here is, this bit makes me a better person and it’s the one thing I have happily traded all the drunken fun I would have had.
The 11pm rule
This is more of a guide time, it’s not concrete, but you can see it coming a mile off. You probably know the feeling too.
I go to lots of gigs and this is the best comparison I can think of.
Doors for the gig are at 8, I’ve gone in early to watch the support bands because the higher prices of the bar in the venue aren’t an issue compared to my friends who are in the nearest cheap chain pub trying to get a few beers in on the cheap before heading to the gig.
My friends arrive more like 9.30, catch the end of the main support, get one in and find a spot to watch the head line band. When the gig finishes at 11, and everyone is buoyed by a great show, the statement come….
“Anyone fancy another?”
My friends buoyed by enthusiasm are eager to keep the good time going and a few beers in, another sounds very appealing. I, on the other hand am thinking an episode of (whatever series I’m currently watching) and bed sounds like a perfect end to my evening.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, some nights, if the mood is right I’m still out dancing at 3am when others have given up, but most of the time, the urge for my bed is going to win.
Here’s some good news, you aren’t boring, you just aren’t being propped up by the enthusiasm that a few beers can add to your night. The weekend is the worst for this, no work in the morning? After a few beers, you become totally carefree and not having to get up in the morning means you can stay out as late as you want and not worry about going to work with a hangover! Or you could just go home when you are good and ready, get some sleep and then start your day when you feel like it, not when you hangover riddled body decides.
Giving up alcohol isn’t an easy road, it takes time to come to terms with. There is good news though, every time you put yourself in a situation where you used to have a few beers and come out the other side having had a good time and not had the few beers, it gets easier to do it the next time.
After 10 years, my resolve still gets tested, at a friends funeral, I came so close to cracking. A few weeks back when my bands practice room got broken into and I had over a thousand pounds worth of irreplaceable gear stolen, as you can imagine, that was a hard day…but each and every time I come out of a testing situation my resolve grows stronger.
The good news is, the more often you test yourself, the sooner a life without alcohol starts to feel normal and that is the goal.
My name is Michael, I was never an alcoholic, but it has been three thousand, six hundred and fifty seven days since my last drink and I’m dam proud of that.
P.S. If you are wondering what the main photo is…that was me drunk a little over 10 years ago.