It’s already been 2 weeks since I had my last drink, and for the next 3 or so months, I won’t be drinking any alcohol.
So far my war medals include surviving an afterparty with a free bar, living with 6 bottles of leftover wedding wine, and managing to eat a delicious leg of lamb without a red wine chaser — #firstworldproblems.
I'm not here to preach or convince you—these are just my reasons for trying Sober Spring, with a little extra information thrown in for the curious.
At the end, I’ll share the book that helped me join the dots and take the plunge. (Or rather, stop the regular plunge. Into wine.)
1. More time for things I care about
I think the idea of just going sober without changing anything else is a wasted opportunity.
You're not just giving up, you're getting back, and it's up to you to get as many nice things back as possible so that it feels like a fair deal.
Sobriety accrues time, health and money, and you can use all of them to indulge in the other things you care about.
Alcohol takes credit for everything. Fun with friends, eating out, festivals, your sense of humour, your dance moves, that deep meaningful conversation that you remember at least 40% of.
But each of these things stands on their own, and it is the activity itself that packs the punch. Get back to those activities. Find out what it is about them that means something to you—the social contact, the music, the connection etc.
And with the money and time saved from drinking, do more of 'em. More breakfasts out, more epic sunrises, more fantastic new blog posts, longer weekends, lie-ins without the accompanying fizz of Alka Seltzer, cooking outrageously indulgent food.
2. A less rollercoaster-esque approach to mood management
Lets cut the bullshit: getting drunk + the hangover is now a 2-3 day issue which involves great self-pity, extraordinary caloric consumption, and a good old case of the glums.
During this process, the soaring levels of meh usually repel any remnant of self-awareness, like water off a waxed jacket.
Especially as someone who meditates each day, a weekend booze feels like spending the whole week slowly adding ingredients into a soup, and then once or twice a week dropkicking it through the patio doors.
Day to day, I feel pretty good. I am lucky with work and relationships, I write, I run. I keep busy, and I'm content. Without the artificial high and very un-artificial depression, things stay like that. Without interruption, they actually seem to get better.
The other ingredient for a consistent mood comes from resolving to face more uncomfortable experiences. One of the key tenets of meditation is that we can learn to be more present with discomfort, to be ok without not being ok. It's a subtle but very unappreciated skill.
Pain is painful. Sadness is uncomfortable. But when we resist these experiences, we pile on an extra layer of suffering. Double trouble.
Next time I feel shitty or stressed, I won’t be reaching for wine. I will have the opportunity/curse to sit with it, or at least replace the wine with a different behaviour—have a bath, play with the dog, watch Netflix, lift some weights. Same trigger, same reward: different behaviour.
3. To improve my anxiety
I have suffered from a panic disorder for about 4 years now. When I start feeling panicky, alcohol is my go-to fix. It's like a magic potion that (usually) shocks the doubt out of my nervous system, and convinces me that everything is ok.
But it is a coping mechanism. It works short term but does not dispel the illusion that something bad is going to happen. To dispel that illusion, you need to stay there and see that nothing bad happens. Without wine. You can even go a step further and call its bluff!
Studies show that longer term breaks from alcohol general correlate with improvements in depression and anxiety. Yes please, gimme.
Finally, I didn't need another reason for why hangovers suck, but they are also a breeding ground for anxiety. No thanks, piss off.
4. To face burnout without numbing myself
Burnout is an evocative word that sums up what many people today experience as a result of a stressful job, a mobile phone that has serious boundary issues, and a billion ideas trying to compete for their attention.
The primary experience of burnout is a feeling of deep exhaustion, not being able to focus, and a variety of other food-related verbs: “frazzled”, “fried”, “cooked.” You are pushing harder than ever yet sinking more with each stroke.
Being able to name and spot the signs of burnout—which is different from general stress—can allow you to back out, before being wiped out.
My usual response to burnout is drinking. The early evening wine thirst.
Now, I’m going to take some time to face the burnout head on. Drinking is numbing the symptoms, not addressing the causes. I’ll still get stressed, but I can get more creative than drowning it in Malbec.
5. Having a better relationship
Strangely enough, getting into bed with someone who’s drunk several large wines is not particularly appealing, especially when you have the wonderful wine lips to match the earthy, paint-stripping breath.
It's especially undesirable when your partner doesn't drink at all. Right now I feel lucky that Gina doesn’t drink, as it makes home drinking a lot easier to avoid.
Spring is here, and each morning we can get out and do more things with each other. There won’t be any mornings that are “off limits” due to the night before. (Unless I have planned a 3 hour run at the crack of dawn. Sorry.)
6. Becoming more confident around others
Addiction is a spectrum, and I've fortunately never been far enough down it to consider myself addicted. Yet it's hard not to be a little weirded out when the thought of not drinking fills you with utter terror and a slew of desperate reasoning voices in your head:
- You're gonna miss out
- You're gonna be boring
- This event is gonna be boring
- Stop making things difficult, everyone has a drink
- It's gonna be painfully awkward
- How will you wind down?
- You're gonna look like a dickhead
- WHAT IF THERE'S A WEDDING
- Everyone will point, stare and laugh at your stupid tonic
- You deserve a drink after a tough day!
Even after discarding most of the trivial concerns, there's still that underlying fear that meeting with people—sans beer—will be awkward.
Well, probably yes. You're meant to feel awkward when you meet people... Some level of vulnerability is actually what it takes to connect with someone. It's a sign that you're doing it right, rather than just talking at a face.
There's also the fact that, like most people, I have spent 15 or so years practising socialising with a drink in hand, and it's probably going to take some time to get used to doing it differently.
7. Giving my body the greatest training effect
I train 5-6 times a week, and love the buzz I get from it. Regular movement is probably the best antidote to drinking I've found. It gives me a better high and as much social contact as I want, all wrapped up in an actual sense of accomplishment.
Since being injured for the best part of 6 weeks, I want all the recovery and training adaptation I can get. Unsurprisingly, booze doesn't help.
I am signed up to run 100k in a day at the end of June, so I don't fancy wasting my weekends or putting my body under the strain of a hangover.
Becoming an ultra-running machine is now a much more interesting long-term goal for me than a short-term shitfacing.
8. To stop the brain shrink (!!!)
Most of us are vaguely aware that alcohol is not quite a superfood, and is also addictive. But the facts are more serious than I realised:
- Alcohol is one of the most well-established causes of cancer, and is responsible for at least 7 kinds of cancer.
- It is a Group 1 carcinogen, in the same category as tobacco and asbestos. Yummy.
- Although it doesn't apply to me, or hopefully you, heavy drinking can knock a decade off of your life.
- Even moderate drinking can cause brain shrinkage. 😮
Yeesh. Pretty grim. Obviously, the dose makes the difference but either way, it's enough to put someone off...
"But wine contains resveratrol..."
Resveratrol is definitely an interesting compound, but if you care that much about it, eat some grapes. When you weigh up the potential benefit derived from the ingestion of resveratrol, against the guaranteed impact of the alcohol you washed it down with, you're not going to come out on top.
9. To sleep like a beast
The research is in, and literally no-one on Earth is surprised that a good sleep has a pretty unbeatable list of benefits: stronger immune system, weight control, heart health, mood improvement, and a significant chance of not being a morning grumpus.
Sleep matters a lot to me. Not much else trashes a day like a terrible sleep, and nothing transforms the glums into funs like a good night of zzzz.
Over time, always waking up in clarity, without the worry and anxiety of a hangover is a deeply comforting experience. It's almost like humans are made to not wake up in pain and doubt?
10. For the challenge
Like most people, my relationship with alcohol is... tumultuous, at the best of times. Best bud Friday night, worst enemy Saturday day.
But doing anything that's tough—especially when most people aren't paying attention to it—brings a corresponding opportunity for growth. Right now, I'm pretty excited about not drinking.
Knowing that it's slowly improving my weight, fitness, confidence and anxiety is a great motivator, but part of me also just likes a good challenge. I thrive on it and get excited about what I might learn.
And nothing says "challenge" like telling the entire Internet what you've signed yourself up for 😶
Like the majority of Brits who want to drink less, I've always had an awkward relationship with drinking.
I've done a few Dry January's, but still regularly get fed up with drinking. Recently I also started noticing that far from being the magic potion for anxiety, a lot of my anxiety is actually about drinking: when can I start, should I have one just in case I feel anxious, should I have another, just one more glass, whoa dude that's a huge glass, shut up it's fine...
I already know it's a short-term fix, and a long-term cop-out, but now it isn't even holding up its end of the bargain in the short term. All of the processes around deciding to drink were literally making me anxious. Hmmm.
So this time things felt different. After a stressful week I read a book that joined up all the dots for me: The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober: Discovering a happy, healthy, wealthy alcohol-free life
Catherine Gray has done an amazing job of writing a non-preachy book for the "sober curious"—everyday folk who want a different relationship with booze, but don't know how to have "the talk" without their world imploding.
My biggest learning is that the pressure to drink has physiological, psychological, social, and cultural roots. Unless you can see them all at once, you're likely stamp on one just as another slaps you in the face. This book talks about each of these aspects, through personal anecdotes, Buzzfeed-style lists and even letters from best friends!
It's hilarious, sad, heart-warming, refreshingly honest and very practical. I read it in a weekend. It was after finishing the book and finding Catherine on Instagram that I found out about her Sober Spring challenge.
I can only speak for myself in saying that now felt like a good time to question my affair with alcohol. If you are unsure where you stand or just a little curious, I can't recommend this book enough.
Want to know how Sober Spring went? Check out Lessons From 3 Months Without Booze