It was December 2017.
I’d been truly poorly over Christmas and hadn’t been able to touch a drop of alcohol for about a week (probably the longest period of not having a glass of wine since my three pregnancies!).
Dry January was always something I’d admired when I saw other committing to it. A nice glass of vino at the end of a cold, gloomy day almost makes the greyest month of the year bearable. Yet here I was, alcohol free over the festive season and I’d survived it.
That led to my first Dry January and two years later, I'm still on the sober train.
Me and alcohol
I’ve always utterly loved a drink. From my late teens through my heady student days in London and to the age of 43, alcohol has been present at all the major events in my life, and a good merry tipple had always been an integral part of my social life.
Alcohol helped me celebrate love and mourn loss, it had been my comfort, my joy, my security blanket, always there to provide that warm fuzzy feeling after ‘one of those days’.
It never occurred to me not to have a drink, and frankly, the questions that followed from friends if I ever abstained for an evening were laced with shock.
I was never a big drinker but I was certainly a regular one.
A white wine spritzer or a G&T most evenings, two or three glasses of wine on nights out. Enough to give me a very slight muzzy head in the mornings, the kind that is so subtle that you don’t even attribute it to the creamy sauvignon blanc you sipped the night before.
A hangover of guilt and self-dislike
But over the years I started paying more attention to the increasingly nagging voice in the recesses of my mind, a voice that made me feel unsettled and anxious.
Despite the head and neck ache that would follow a slightly boozier evening, the biggest hangover would be emotional rather than physical. I’d feel heavy with guilt and would prickle all day with a sharp dislike for myself. Being a yoga teacher presented another layer of self-blame around my drinking. Wasn’t I meant to be leading a healthy, virtuous lifestyle?
Yet I found it incredibly hard to break the habit. Alcohol was so deeply woven into the fabric of my life. And then the self-questioning would arrive… who would I be without a glass of wine? Would I still be likeable? Would I still be able to relax at the end of a troublesome day?
But being so poorly that Christmas and into the New Year gave me the opening I needed to test my resolve.
Grateful to be sober
Two years later, I’m still sober.
Was it hard at first? Not in the way I’d anticipated. Most of all, it was awkward. A little like getting reacquainted with an old friend. But waking up clear-headed and bright-eyed (literally) was more than enough to make my efforts worthwhile. It felt really good.
It also helped when I’d found a non-alcoholic drink I liked that wasn’t fizzy pop. For me, that’s either a Rhubarb & Apple from Cawston Press or a lovely tonic water with oodles of ice and mint, cucumber or a slice of lemon. It still feels like an adult drink that can be savoured rather than gulped [Image: Hello Fresh]
Most of all, I’m grateful to have been sober through a very difficult year where my emotions have been on a perpetual rollercoaster. My family has been dealing with some devastating news and I know that had I been drinking last year, alcohol would have become an unhealthy crutch to help me blot out my pain.
And we’re not out of the woods yet. This year is likely to be challenging too. There are a lot of unknowns, some brutal truths to face, and I need to be as present as I can for both myself and my family.
Will I drink again?
I just don’t know.
I know that at the moment I love the fact that I don’t drink. Going alcohol-free has gifted me a freedom that I didn’t have before - anxiety doesn’t plague me if I’ve got to teach after a night out, I can jump in the car and pick up the girls whenever they need it, I’m stronger than I thought, and I wake up clear-headed with a clarity and enthusiasm that I didn’t have before.
But…. and there is a but….I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. Sharing a drink with friends, curling up on the sofa with a glass of red or sipping on crisp rose outside during the summer, letting that first sip wash over you at the end of a long day… sheer bliss.
But I worry that one glass on the weekend would lead to two and two to more, and I’d slip back into old habits especially at a time in my life where I need as much clarity and strength as I can muster.
Out with alcohol, in with coffee
So as we roll into 2020, I’m still choosing not to drink. But I never say never. When things feel a little more stable, perhaps I will have that glass of rose.
Life is 100% for living. To be experienced in all its richness and depths. And I feel I’m living a more fulfilled life for not having been drinking.
So in the meantime, that exhale, that sigh of release I used to associate with a nice spritzer has been replaced with a newfound love for coffee. And although an excess of caffeine isn’t ideal either, it’s not something I’m ready to give up just yet.
Coffee is staying!