On one month without alcohol: benefits and strategies for going sober

Well I actually did it. I finally got around to committing to going sober for a month and I lasted the entire month!

It felt bloody wonderful. And it wasn’t as difficult and upsetting as I thought it would be.

My drinking history is a complex one. As a teenager and even as a uni student, I barely drank. I’d go out clubbing a few times a year and I’d probably get totalled off on those occasions but I certainly wasn’t one to have a drink every night, or even every week.

Throwback to the year 2010! One of my few clubbing adventures as a uni student (The Heart Less Travelled)
Throwback to the year 2010 (a lifetime ago now)! One of my few drinking escapades as a uni student.

That all changed when I started working and moved to Australia.

Along came Friday night work drinks and I thought these were a good way to get out and about and be social. I thought I was awesome because I was the Kiwi girl washing away two pints in the time it took an average Aussie guy to down a single pint (these things apparently matter when it comes to Trans-Tasman relations). People would tell me how fun I was to go out with and so I figured as long as I carried on trying to be the life of the party, people would accept me. Kind of sounds silly now.

Over time, I eventually reached the point where I started craving alcohol and saw it as a way to deal with bad days and loneliness.

I don’t think I could quite call myself an alcoholic but I knew I was developing alcoholic tendencies.

I realised back in January, something wasn’t quite right when I’d spend all day at work craving a glass of wine and the first thing I’d do as soon as I got home would be to pour myself a drink.

I would buy a couple of bottles of wine a week, and if Oyster Bay in particular was on special (you can often get 2x bottles for $19) then holy moly it was like Christmas Day! Sometimes I’d even use those coupons at the end of the Coles supermarket receipts and go off and buy 6 bottles of cider for $10 because hey, 6 bottles for $10 is dirt cheap! And then the guy at the counter would tell you about their specials like the $10 bottle of Pimms, and there I’d go out the door with 2 bottles of wine, a bottle of Pimms and 6 bottles of cider. And this would be all for me…

At the time I was also dating a guy who was quite a big drinker himself so he convinced me that I wasn’t that bad with my drinking and I accepted his opinion even though I knew deep down, this had to stop.

I just wasn’t ready to stop yet.

Until one Saturday afternoon I came home to see one of my housemates working away at a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I ended up joining him, and thinking I was still 21, I drank my face off and ended up spending the rest of the night throwing up. Classy.

It sounds so cliche but that was pretty much the impetus for finally deciding to go sober for a month, mainly because the very thought of alcohol made me want to puke.

THE BENEFITS OF GOING SOBER FOR A MONTH:

I was scared I’d be constantly craving the stuff and start suffering from really bad withdrawals. Alas, the world did not end and instead I ended up discovering so many benefits on cutting out the booze such as:

Learning to confront my feelings and emotions rather than try and block them out: Food has predominantly been my way of dealing with stress and emotions as I discuss in this post. As I got older, alcohol became another (stronger) mechanism for dealing with my emotions, especially when I was feeling lonely. This was especially the case during my first few months in Brisbane. I’d come home from work, there’d be no one home and I’d pour myself a large glass of wine, turn on the telly or sit at my computer and drink. But without alcohol (and still keeping my eating in check), I’ve had to learn to just feel the emotion, acknowledge it and make a decision as to whether to find a more positive and productive way to deal with that emotion or to just let it go and move on.

Dealing with stress more positively: Additionally, I’ve had to find other ways to deal with stress. I recently started taking up yoga again and try and go to classes at least 2 to 3 times a week.

Other tools I’ve started to use for dealing with stressful situations include meditation, reading, going to bed earlier and getting my 8 hours sleep and deep breathing. The deep breathing works wonders especially when I feel like I am about to combust and hit someone.

Feeling healthier: Going without alcohol has meant less “dead” calories going into my body. I’ve also noticed that I haven’t been bloating up as much as I usually would, which is quite nice. In conjunction with regular exercise and eating healthy about 80% of the time, I’ve actually managed to lose an average of 500g a week over the last 4 weeks.

Saving money: Long gone are the days when I first started working and a Friday night out would cost me about $60. Just looking back over the last few months however, I was spending about $30 a week on average on booze. If I had kept doing this over the last month, that would have been about $120 gone – enough to buy me a new pair of running shoes!

I've come to realise that not every single occasion in my life requires a drink (and that goes for flights home over Christmas). (The Heart Less Travelled)
I’ve come to realise that not every single occasion in my life requires a drink (and that even goes for flights home over Christmas).

STRATEGIES TO HELP WITH GOING (AND STAYING) SOBER:

If only it were as simple as saying “I am not going to drink for an entire month”, everyone would probably be doing it. There were several strategies I was able to implement to help me stay on track with not drinking:

Keeping alcohol out of the house: This has been the number one strategy for staying sober. If it isn’t in the house, you can’t touch it! As I mentioned earlier, I’d buy all this alcohol at the shop but I thought I was getting a an awesome deal because it was cheap when really it was a waste in the end because I didn’t really need it.

Drinking tea at night instead: It’s getting a lot cooler now so at night I’d put on the kettle and make myself a nice cup of tea. I absolutely adore herbal and bush teas and at the moment I have in my cupboard: rooibos, peppermint, mango tea and strawberry. It’s nice to settle in after dinner with a hot cup of tea and a good book or just sit at my laptop working.

Keeping busy – finding hobbies and pursuing passions and ideas: I think the reason why I was buying all this alcohol to take home was also because I’d feel lonely when I got home from work, especially if my housemates were out or doing their own thing. So I’d have a drink to feel less lonely. And then a drink would turn into about 3 drinks…

In the last month, I’ve been playing soccer, doing yoga classes and training at a gym I’ve recently joined so most nights I’m not home and when I am, it’s too late to be drinking anyway and after doing something healthy like yoga or gym, drinking is the last thing on my mind.

Realising you don’t need alcohol to have fun (or be fun): When I’d go out for dinners and shows, I’d think that I’d have to have a drink to make it even more fun. I remember when I went out for the Adele concert (solo like a boss!), I started off at a pub in the city with a glass of wine. Then I carried on over to South Bank and stopped at Guzman y Gomez for a bottle of corona. And then when I got to the concert, I got myself one of those awfully sweet frozen cocktails. The drinking probably had something to do with the fact that I was about to break up with someone I was dating but never mind.

However, just a couple of weekends ago when I went to see Urzila Carlson’s show as part of the Brisbane Comedy Festival, I took myself out for dinner at an American BBQ restaurant and while a drink of red wine or a beer would have been perfect with my meal, you know what? I ordered myself a ginger ale instead and the world did not end.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a lot more comfortable in my skin so I don’t stress so much if I’m out and feeling quiet and introverted and don’t feel like being the life of the party. I know what kind of person I am and I don’t really need to put on a front to impress others any more.

Celebrating milestones: As each week passed by, I’d make sure to give myself a pat on the back and celebrate 1 week then 2, then 3 then 4 weeks without a drop of alcohol.

Changing your environment and the company you keep: This has been a huge one for me. Friday after-work drinks no longer exist for me because I work out in the suburbs rather than in the CBD now and almost all of my colleagues have families so going out bar hopping after work isn’t really an option and quite frankly, it’s wonderful! I can go home and do what I want and not feel a bit “lame” because it feels like everyone else is out drinking.

Additionally, you are the company you keep. If you decide to go sober for whatever period of time, there will possibly be people in your social group who will judge and will just keep pressuring you not to bother with the sobriety. And then when they realise you’re actually serious, they won’t want to be around you because what could you guys possibly have in common now?

It sucks knowing you might lose “friends” from this but then they weren’t your true friends in the first place.

I have two housemates. One rarely drinks. The other does his Friday night drinking with his work mates but that’s really about it (well except for the Saturday drinking incident, I’ll let that one slide). When we go out together, it’s usually for dinner or a road trip or a random adventure like catching a ferry down the Brisbane River at 10pm at night (because YOLO obviously).

MOVING FORWARD:

I still think it’s OK to indulge in a drink or two every now and then. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a bit of a wild night every now and then (just not as wild as drinking half a bottle of Jack Daniels on an empty stomach).

But I don’t want to go back to alcohol being this huge part of my life and being as regular on my shopping list as fruit and veggies. And I don’t want it to be this crutch I rely on when it feels like life is getting just a little too tough to deal with.

For me, it’s now just an occasional treat, an indulgence, but certainly not a necessity.

Have you ever tried or thought about going cold turkey and quitting alcohol for a set period of time (or even permanently)? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

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