I’m approaching a milestone which I didn’t think would mean as much as it does. I’m also not sure what to call it either since I’ve not really had a clear strategy from the outset other than being/doing/feeling better. Next week I would have achieved the psychological milestone of 100 days alcohol free, and I’m feeling rather proud of myself.
100 days seems like an age as well as a blink of an eye all at the same time. I’ve always loved a drink and as is true for many, much of my social life has centred on or around alcohol. A consequence of giving up has allowed me to examine my relationship with it objectively and the results have been eye opening.
My journey has started slowly; beginning with a few one on one catch ups I had with some drinking buddies who had started moderating or given up drinking altogether. While they were abstaining I continued to drink, but I found I was very aware of the change in my mind and behaviour and switched to something non-alcoholic halfway through the respective get-togethers. The immediate benefits were obvious, better sleep and not feeling rough after overindulging, but I also realised how easily one can consume too much in company where there seems to be social encouragement to keep going and drink more.
I continued to ponder further benefits during an acutely intense period at work where I felt my mental health begin to suffer. Taking charge of and trying to effectively manage the depression I’ve known since childhood means I notice when it starts to increasingly blacken my thoughts and steal my energy; taking that as a signal to be kinder to myself and make self-care a priority. Feeling a tough episode beginning months ago I thought I’d try remove alcohol from the equation after becoming acutely aware of its mood altering effects.
Successfully avoiding booze for that first week was easy. Completing a big deadline and going out to the pub after work on a Friday with a regular office crew for a celebratory pint felt well deserved, after all what’s the harm in a pint; famous last words. I made it home in the early hours having stayed out all night and woke up later that morning feeling worse for wear on all counts and pretty emotionally unstable. I realised that moderation was going to be difficult for me, and I didn’t want to put myself in a position to feel that terrible again, so I decided to stop drinking altogether.
That was the extent of the plan, no distinct goal or idea of a time frame, just a knowledge that it was best for me to stabilise myself and properly take control of my mental well-being. The decision was easy; putting it into practice was the interesting part.
I was very quiet about this decision and told no one initially because, frankly, what I ingest is nobody’s business and I was still moving headlong into a bad patch so was quite withdrawn generally. Beginning to emerge slowly into the light again a couple of weeks later, I started being a bit more social, which involved pub excursions. I was fine with not imbibing but anticipating the inevitable questions was a strange feeling.
Alcohol is so ingrained in the culture it is seen as highly unusual to not partake. I have also been one of those scoffing at alcohol free choices as ‘pointless’ and joining in the good natured teasing of others choosing not to drink, when that rarely happened. I remember an informal alcohol ‘lucky dip’ among some colleagues last Christmas that had a few non-alcoholic beers thrown in as booby prizes. These bottles still lurk around the office eight months later.
As soon as people find out I’m not drinking they also want to know why. My reasons being quite personal, I found it difficult to answer the question, but did wonder what that says about society in general if this is a decision that warrants justification? I’ve given various answers all ranging from taking a break to health, all true and usually vague enough to move the conversation on.
I’ve noticed another general response, to the knowledge that I’m not drinking, is I am then told about how the other person also likes to cut down under certain circumstances. While this can just be polite conversation, it also feels a little like a justification for their drinking habits. To whom I wonder? What has also struck me is I’ve been asked if I’m “still on the wagon” a couple of times which makes me ponder on why such a phrase is necessary in the first place; cementing alcohol’s status in society.
So here I am, still no succinct plan, but not missing booze. It can take up to three months to change a habit and that milestone has come and gone. I used to drink to commiserate, celebrate, reward and console and I have successfully managed to do all these without, as well as still have fun. I don’t know if I’ll drink again, I don’t feel it necessary to make any final decisions, but I cannot actually find one justifiable reason to start again. Maybe if I do I’ll finish the gin that sits on top of my fridge, but until then I’ve collected the ignored Christmas Becks Blue’s from my team, and will continue to explore the wonderful flavours of tonic sans gin.