If you told me a year ago that I was going to go over 365 days without alcohol, I would have thought you were mad. You see, I was stuck in a habit of drinking a glass or two of wine every day, carefully moderating my intake but struggling to have any alcohol-free days. I knew I needed to change my drinking habits, the regularity in particular – while not overly problematic to an external observer – was not what I wanted for life. Alcohol and my personal values just weren’t lining up. Every day I was waking up thinking “I’ll have an alcohol-free day today” and then every day at 5pm I’d cave in and pour a glass of wine.
I wanted to get out of this pattern, so I started looking into ‘quit-lit’ – books about quitting drinking or taking a break from alcohol. I looked at many different titles, some I didn’t want to read because they promised to help me quit forever (which I didn’t want to do…) Then I came across the book by New Zealand author Lotta Dann titled, “The Wine O’Clock Myth”, which really seemed to speak to me. I was also a little familiar with her story from a TV documentary I saw a few years ago, so I thought it would be a good place to start. I downloaded her audio book and got listening. It was so enlightening!
I started off just setting myself a goal of going three weeks alcohol free, then once I got to that point, I figured I might as well keep going and do Dry July. The first few days were the hardest, but after a few weeks I got into the groove of it all. It helped that I was learning all sorts of myth busting things about alcohol from Lotta’s book, and my beliefs about alcohol were starting to change. I went on to reading numerous other quit-lit books, sober memoirs and listened to podcasts, all of which had an impact on reshaping my thoughts about alcohol and our drinking culture in general.
By the time Dry July was over, I figured I might as well keep going and do 100 days (it had been around 62 days by that point so what’s another 38?) Once I got to 100 days, I was feeling pretty good about this sober lifestyle experiment. I wasn’t ready to go back to drinking so I decided to push it out to a year. So here I am, one year later, still alcohol free. Why, you say? The simple and short answer is because my life is better without alcohol.
10 reasons why life is better without alcohol
I’ll spare you all the details, but here are 10 reasons why I feel my life is better without alcohol:
- I can relax easier – I am more aware of what actually I need in any given moment, and have found lots of healthier ways to unwind
- I am less anxious and more resilient – did you know there is a link between drinking and increased anxiety? I didn’t! I honestly felt less anxious within days of going alcohol free
- I am more patient and tolerant – my kids have benefited the most from this one, I’m not such a grumpy mum now
- I am more present and involved – not just for the benefit of my kids, this applies to every aspect of my life, I am no longer sipping a wine and checking out
- I get better sleep – I sleep all night and get a good quality sleep, every night
- I have greater energy – partly because I get better sleep but also just in general I have more of a 'bounce' about me
- I am more motivated and productive – I do way more good stuff! There are simply more hours in the day if you don’t effectively end it by pouring a wine at 5pm
- I am happier in myself – instead of waking up feeling guilty about drinking, I am proud of what I’ve achieved, am content with where I’m at, and have found some sort of ‘inner peace’ ✌️
- I have greater self-confidence – if I can give up drinking, I can do anything!
- I have more fun – I seek out activities and do more adventurous things, I have better conversations, I enjoy the company of others more, I enjoy food (and dessert) more, I enjoy music more, I enjoy the sunshine more, the list really could go on and on, basically life is just better without alcohol!
How to start living alcohol-free
When you’ve been a regular drinker it can be daunting to think about going alcohol free. A good way to start is literally just one day at a time. Before you begin, it may pay to look at some articles online or start reading some quit-lit books. That way you can learn some tools and strategies to help you succeed. If you’re a heavy drinker, you should also check in with your doctor or other health practitioner to make sure you ease off alcohol safely and avoid or closely monitor any serious withdrawals. There is no shame in getting professional help!
A helpful tool I learnt from one of the many books I have read was applying the acronym ‘HALT’. This is often used in sober circles to help people pay attention to their true needs when they get the urge to drink. It stands for hungry, angry (I stretch this one out to include annoyed and anxious), lonely and tired. I also added an S on the end for stress, which makes it HALTS. There’s also boredom to watch out for too, but that can kind of go in with loneliness.
- H = HUNGRY
- A = ANGRY / ANNOYED / ANXIOUS
- L = LONELY
- T = TIRED
- S = STRESSED
Anyway, the gist is that when you feel like you need a drink, you stop (halt) and think “what is going on for me right now?” Think about why you feel like having a drink, are you perhaps actually hungry, angry, annoyed, anxious, lonely, tired, or stressed? Maybe even simply bored? Once you know what’s going on, it makes it easy to know what you need to do to help the feeling pass. It’s a great thing to practice in general, even if you’re not trying to reduce your drinking, because it improves your own self-awareness and, if you listen to yourself and act accordingly, you can care for yourself better – and we all need a bit of that!
This technique really helped me when I was feeling the urge to drink, especially in the early days. I found it very interesting to observe and learn when and why I was craving a drink. It made it much easier to divert my actions away from pouring a wine and more towards doing something that better supported my needs at the time. If you do this each time you feel like having a drink, you’ll be well on your way to cutting back.
Am I going 'teetotal' for life?
As my year of being alcohol free has passed, this is something I have thought about a lot. I’ve also been asked this question by almost everyone. I don’t want to put that level of pressure on myself – I have never and will never say I’m going teetotal for life!
One thing for sure is that I will not go back to drinking the way I was before. At least I never want to. However, I am now acutely aware of how addictive alcohol is, and the thirst it creates for itself. Whether moderation or occasional light drinking is feasible is a topic that’s widely debated, and is no doubt highly individual. It’s not something I’m going to really know until I try it for myself.
I figure, now that I’ve done one year sober, if I feel like having a drink, then maybe I should. If I first check myself using the HALTS technique and none of those things apply, then maybe it’s OK? I really don’t know! I'll see how I go. For now, I’m happy to carry on living my great, alcohol-free life and copy Annie Grace’s saying (author of the book “The Alcohol Experiment”):
“I drink as much as I want whenever I want. The truth is I no longer have any desire to drink.”
So why not join me in my madness? Grab yourself some tasty non-alcoholic drinks from the Clear Head Drinks store and give it a go! Dry July is coming up so there's really no better time. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain 🥂