If you have come across me on social media or seen any of my blog posts lately it won’t have escaped your notice that I am flying the flag for joyful sobriety. Note the word joyful, I don’t ever say I ‘gave up’ drinking, because I gave up nothing, NADA, zilch, I only gained.
Of course it didn’t feel like that at the beginning, I stopped initially for Dry January, because reading Clare Pooley’s book The Sober Diaries before we interviewed her on BBC Radio 2 (I’m a co-host on Steve Wright in the afternoon) inspired me to at least give it a go. I’d had years of waking at 3am berating myself for yet again overdoing the booze, (and on a Tuesday to boot), and reading that Clare found her world had opened up, meant I caught sight of the possibilities.
‘Would I go back to it after Dry Jan?’ I asked myself, and in the early weeks when I felt really rough, physically and emotionally, I might have said ‘Yes, at some point I might fancy another drink’ But now? Hell no. Why in God’s, or any other name would I want to subject myself to imbibing toxic poison which made me anxious overweight, insecure, nauseous and fearful, Oh and lacking clarity, irritable…I could go on. When I look back its incredible to me, if I ever ate a food that didn’t agree with me, made me ill or sick, I’d avoid that food forever. Why with alcohol do we pop back up the very next night to subject ourselves to more harm?
I told almost no-one at the beginning, in a way I’m proud of that, it shows I was able to navigate social situations without making a fuss, (its surprising how people don’t really care if you ask for a sparkling water as long as you don’t wang on about it) it shows I was not as volatile on the outside as I was feeling on the inside, and it shows that – thank God, being social without booze is now, certainly in the UK, perfectly possible. Fortunately my ditching the booze coincided with the huge rise in availability of alcohol free drinks so it became perfectly possible to ask for mocktails, alcohol free beers, and even in some pubs, alcohol free wine. (Never be afraid to pimp your drink if a venue doesn’t serve what you want, take your own – they’ll catch up) At home I indulged in artisan ‘gin’ alternatives, fabulous botanicals, which when dressed up with nice tonic and a slice of cucumber provided every bit of the ‘ritual’ and the glamour I needed, SANS the alcohol. We even have ‘dry’ bars now such as the Redemption bars, totally alcohol free bars and restaurant in London. Yey.
On the other hand I regret not making it easier for myself and getting the support I needed, I know now that The opposite of addiction is connection and when I finally did share my ‘guilty secret’, I found incredible strength in shared conversations about some of the weird bits of getting sober, like leg cramps, drinking dreams (so weird!) how to deal with ‘sober shamers’ and the beautiful joys of holing up with quit lit and having an early night. I also learnt just a bit too late, the importance of re-calibrating. My poor brain chemicals were way out of whack and I probably could have felt better sooner if I’d remembered to do what I now tell others too – get checked out nutritionally, get masses of good nutrients in, eat regularly, don’t forget protein and check if you need to supplement Dopamine, GABA and Seratonin.
Did the voice of the Wine Witch come calling in the early months? Definitely, I felt majorly grumpy and definitely FOMO that everyone around me was ‘chilling’ and meeting for drinks, and I had made my ridiculous vow to get to 100 days, I felt irritated that others could ‘just have one’ whereas it seemed I wasn’t born with an off switch. Over time though as 100 days became 200 and the benefits started to kick in, I began to realise that I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to go back to numbing out my real feelings, I found to quote Catherine Gray’s awesome book title – The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober.
I had hoped that I would lose weight within a couple of weeks, be sleeping like a baby, zinging with energy and have clear skin. Sadly there were few unicorns and rainbows at the beginning. I felt raw, out of sorts, chaotic and not at all grounded. Despite not telling anyone, I knew enough about selfcare to know that writing down my thoughts helped, so my trusted journal got a hammering. I finally remembered to put some decent freshly squeezed juice and supplements into my poor body that had suffered years of abuse, and I read every bit of quit lit I could find to keep reminding myself that the best was yet to come.
And it truly was, sobriety really is, the gift that keeps on giving. What a naff phrase!, but I can’t think of another.. I had thought that maybe after all the ‘firsts’ – the first holiday, first party, my first sober birthday, Christmas, et al it might all seem a bit ‘flat’ – but that’s not the case. Being sober changes you in so many ways, and your world literally opens up.
Of course there are benefits that come along in due course that are just as you’d expect. Depending on whether you eat your own bodyweight in sugar, (replacing one craving for another), for most people your weight does reach a kind of equilibrium. Almost everyone I have spoken to has found their anxiety has lessened or gone, and a sense of optimism and joy arises even in people who have always been grumpy sods. I woke up one morning and couldn’t actually place the feeling; Was I apprehensive? Was I about to do something I had forgotten about? Was I inquisitive? I lay there with a kind of fluttering until I realised the feeling was – Contentment.
I don’t think it was till year two that I realised I was actually starting to like myself as a person. Hilarious really, I have been a proponent of self-love for years, as a Hay House author and presenter on Hay House radio I have interviewed every guru going, and know all there is to know about the importance of self-love, of recognising that powerful phrase ‘I am enough’ But was it true for me personally? Of course not! I was lowering my vibrattion with the booze (There’s a reason its called spirits!)
It is true for me now, I have finally being able to step into the ‘authentic’ me. It’s not that I was in-authentic before, I always made my imperfections known, my website is called ‘imperfectlynatural’, it was always really important to me to point out that I don’t get everything right, occasionally a biscuit does go down well with the organic juice, and while I never use chemical – anything – on my body or in my home, of course the odd bottle of Jiff sneaks in when I am not looking and when I led my ‘sobriety’ retreat at Champneys recently, I forgot my lovely natural soap and …OK ..I fess up, I used the regular one in the bathroom. I always ‘owned’ my failings but now I can also value myself.
I got younger too, (!) yep I really believe you roll back the years when you aren’t drinking.
Relationships can shift and shape its true. Being sober means you do have to look at what is really going on in your life, rather than just numbing it out, so if there are cracks starting to show in a partnership, losing their drinking buddy might be the last straw for an unsupportive partner. Thankfully my husband, who was never an especially big drinker, fancied trying out my artisan botanicals and AF beers and soon realised there was no point in drinking alcohol at all. Other relationships didn’t fare so well, I had to face the awful truth that I had regularly wasted hours of my life hanging around with people I actually didn’t like very much. What a waste of time.
On that note, I’ve learnt that Time stretches, you’d be amazing how much time being a drinker takes, thinking about drinking, buying drinks, planning when you will next drink, actually drinking (way past time) making your way home, hopefully safely and recovering from drinking…Not to mention mopping up from whatever disaster is left in the slipstream. When it all stops, you can reclaim time and use it wisely to do the things you always wanted to do. All those things you’d been putting of, changing jobs, travelling, writing a book, starting that charity might all start to seem possible now.
Alcohol steals your joy, but being sober can make you brave.
I saved money too, or rather I re-allocated it, there are many Sober apps online which calculate the amount of money not spent on alcohol, it can be staggering! I encourage people to withdraw actual cash and watch it mount up in a vase or glass jar, then treat yourself to something nice. Actual selfcare.
I became present for my kids, I always kidded myself I was a ‘down with it’ mum, but in reality I was just down the wine bar, it’s incredible how much better a parent you are, when you aren’t intoxicating yourself and putting your relationship with booze before the people you say you love most in the world. The first time I got a call from my teenager to ask if he could have a lift home late at night, or should he call I cab, I actually cried with joy that I could skip out to the car and drive at 2am woop woop.
My first all-inclusive sober holiday felt scary, but I needn’t have worried, so long as you always ask for a nice glass (it really annoys me that they have to be called wine glasses, how can a liquid take ownership of a receptacle?) its fine to sip sparkling water, mocktails (just get them to hold on the sugary syrup) and most bars in Europe have AF beers.
When I’d exhausted most of the inspirational podcasts I started my own, and almost a year later Alcohol Free Life is my labour of love. I feel incredibly lucky to have some amazing guests including quit lit authors, experts and sober heroes. I’ve found something of a niche for myself with my take on wellbeing and selfcare in sobriety, and have found only generosity and kindness from other ‘soberfluencers’ who have been doing it longer than me. The truth is being sober makes you more kind.
I’ve also launched The Sober Club, its an online community with a membership portal choc full of content, inspiration and motivation around becoming the best version of you. I was already super health conscious, so ditching the booze was the missing link in the wellness jigsaw for me, but for many people, once they stop pouring in the toxins they start to realise the importance of good nutrition, of mindset, meditation, following their dreams, passion and purpose. I invite leading nutritionists, relationship experts, doctors and naturopaths as well as hypnotherapists and meditation teachers to share their expertise with us and it includes an online course Get the Buzz without the Booze.
Above all, I want to share one thing with you if you are contemplating trying on your ;sober shoes’
If only people had told me how freaking fantastic life without alcohol really is!