Three Months Without Alcohol: Thoughts, Feelings and Reflections
It’s been three months since I have had a drink. Actually, it’s almost been four, because I was a bit late in publishing this post. Oops.
The end of the year is a strange time to quit drinking, probably not the easiest at all. Yet, if you want to see if you can sink or swim without the booze, it’s the ideal occasion. So many temptations, everywhere.
I’ve survived Christmas, New Years and my 30th birthday without having any alcohol whatsoever. This is a cause for celebration in itself.
I thought I’d sit down and pen a few reflections, partly to work through thoughts I’ve been having over the last few months, but also for the sake of anyone who’s wanting to take a break from drinking and doesn’t quite know where to start.
I hope this article is helpful.
Alcohol – A History
My alcohol consumption is something I’ve monitored from a young age. I wasn’t one of those kids who took their first sip of wine at 13 or under – I didn’t touch the stuff until I was 17 and even then, that was just a sip of a Vodka Cruiser at someone’s 18th birthday party. It was pretty gross – I totally missed the bar on drinking those drinks and I have no regrets over this, whatsoever.
As a teenager, I lived in rural NSW and would go to parties where we were pretty much allowed to run wild on acres of land, everyone passing out in tents in the early morning. Being relatively new to the effects of alcohol, I embraced the role of “the responsible one”, looking after drunken friends whilst being extremely amused at their antics.
It didn’t take much listening or watching of my drunken friends to decide that drinking wasn’t for me. There are some things I did as a teenager that cause me to look back and shake my head in bewilderment, but this is one decision that I’m glad I made and stood by.
I did start drinking at 18, the legal drinking age in Australia. I’d started university and began going clubbing with my new friends there. I wouldn’t say my drinking was out of control, but by the time I was 21, I was sick of the scene in town, along with my own behaviour when inebriated and was ready for a change.
Everyone does stupid things when they’re drunk and twenty-one for me, was a very transitory year. I’m younger than most of my friends and the year before, the last of University, had been a blur of fun and activity.
There’d been parties every weekend, the thrill of getting my first, professional job before I’d finished my degree, scoring top grades in three of my four subjects in a semester. I had a great group of friends at Uni, another good group at my weekend job and so, an active social life.
The end of the year culminated in my first trip overseas to Europe for six weeks, where I fell in love with travelling. My adult life felt like it was coming together.
However, life died down that first year out of university. My job quickly became monotonous and repetitive and I was frustrated with how little I was earning and learning. I craved adventure and began to look beyond the confines of the small, coastal city I lived in, for bigger opportunities.
At this stage, I wasn’t drinking all the time, but when I was drinking, it was a lot. It didn’t help that the relationship that I was in at the time largely centred around alcohol. As that ended, I recognised something had shifted and it was time to act.
Coming into my 22nd birthday, two big things happened. I was accepted into a post-grad program that would see me moving back to Sydney for the first time in a decade and I decided to take some time off drinking, to see how I felt.
My goal was a year.
I had a few factors on my side. The first, was that I didn’t really like the taste of alcohol, to begin with. I’ve never been a beer-drinker and I hadn’t yet developed a taste for wine or whiskey, which would be my beverages of choice in years to come.
The second, was that I was broke. Sydney is an expensive city to live in on a full-time wage. I was moving there to study 9-5 Monday to Friday, working the graveyard shift at a local TV station over the weekend (it started at 2am and remains the worst work shift I’ve ever had to do in terms of hours).
After I paid my rent, I had about 60 bucks to spend on food and activities, which usually consisted of going for a hot chocolate and the local Max Brenner with my boyfriend. Sometimes we’d go all out and see an 11 dollar movie. Big spenders, I know.
I had no money to drink, so I didn’t go out with the other people in my course. They found that weird and it was hard to make friends. This would be a recurring problem for the next couple of years and the reason I’d ultimately start drinking again – I felt I had become “boring”.
In total, I didn’t have a drop of alcohol for two years, until I was 24. Now when I look back over my twenties, it’s one of the things I’m proudest of, despite the issues I had with it at the time.
Moving to Qatar
I started to get frustrated with Sydney in 2013 (hello, patterns) and started looking for new opportunities, this time overseas. Early the next year, the wheels started turning in motion – I moved back to Newcastle to start a new job, which I loved, then was given an opportunity to work in Qatar.
There’s a big drinking culture amongst expats in Doha and after one particularly boozy night, I decided I’d go dry in the desert. Alcohol is expensive in Qatar and I wanted to save money for travel. No one seemed to care that I didn’t drink, largely helped by the fact that my closest friend there didn’t either.
I had lots of great nights out regardless, as well as other adventures outside of Doha.
I look back on those three months so fondly – it’s one of the best things I ever did for myself. I don’t think I would’ve had quite the same experience if I had been drinking at the time.
Moving to London
Things changed when I moved to London. In Qatar I’d had a job to go to, a place to live and I made friends after only three weeks of being there – such is the case in a pressure-cooker environment like that.
Things took a lot longer in London. It was three months before I had a steady income, a year before I found a home I loved. I was still working weird hours and I was exhausted all the time. These things all took a toll.
It was in London that I started to like wine and whiskey, both of which I’d had little interest in previously. As I actually enjoyed the taste of these drinks, it made the prospect of quitting harder to face.
On top of that, the drinking culture in London is intense. Everyone seems to drink, it’s interwoven into every social activity. I drank while I was out, whether it be at dinner, or at a pub. I drank at home. My boyfriend and I would cook elaborate dinners, to pair with wines from a boutique bottle shop in Greenwich. Drinking featured heavily in my travels.
At the very least, I did not get into the time-honoured British tradition of ordering wine before a flight, even if it’s 6am. I remember being at the Weatherspoons at an airport early one morning for a flight to Greece, looking on with horror as my English boyfriend ordered a pint of beer and a group of women at the next table popped open a bottle of cheap Prosecco. That was taking it a step too far, for me at least.
When I decided to move back to Australia, I figured I’d leave my bad drinking habits behind me – they’d become a footnote in the chapters of my life that I’d spent living in the UK capital.
I was so very wrong.
Back to Australia
Moving back home is not easy, particularly as I’d chosen to move to Melbourne, a place that at the time, was entirely new to me.
Unlike in London, I had a place to live and I had a job. Yet, things weren’t easy, during this period of transition.
I loved being in Melbourne, but wasn’t entirely happy with my situation. I’d had a random woman move into my flat, who’d turned out to be a terrible fit. I didn’t want to be at home when work ended, so I’d go out to any of the many great bars that sprawl across Melbourne’s CBD for a drink or two. I’d sometimes buy a bottle of wine on the way home from work, to drink at home whilst reading or working on this blog.
I didn’t have a car, so there were no restrictions when it came to drinking – heck, I probably drank in order to deal with Melbourne’s abysmal public transport system.
The catalyst for knowing that something had to change was after a work party, where I blacked out for a few hours. Until then, I’d remember what had happened the nights I drank, in every excruciating detail. This was frightening and I resolved to do something about it.
Yet, this time I struggled to quit cold turkey. I drank way less in 2018 than I had in 2017, no longer buying bottles of wine after work, but I still bought at least one drink a week while I was out and about. I’d also go all out at parties and celebrations.
The effect it was starting to have on my body was startling as well. I stayed out all night for a party last year and woke up exhausted, with a pulled leg muscle from my exuberant efforts on the dance floor. I’d luckily had the next day off to recuperate, but it felt like such a waste. I didn’t want to put myself in that position again.
Finally, something sticks
In December last year, I went to a Christmas party and decided I’d just have a single glass of sparkling wine, normally my kryptonite.
A strange thing happened. I took a sip and a realisation dawned upon me – I don’t want this.
Finally, something had shifted, after over a year of trying. I enjoyed the rest of the night, woke up at a respectable time and continued on with my day.
I haven’t had a drink since then.
Why give up the booze?
I’m all or nothing. I needed to get it out of my system, change a few core habits and learn to start saying “no” more often, for this decision to have any impact.
It’s been working and the results have been both positive and surprising.
Here are some of the things that have happened so far in giving up the grog.
I’m saving a tonne of cash
The most immediate benefit is the money saved.
At one point, I was probably spending $30-50 on booze a week. It’s not a lot – I know people who will routinely spend hundreds on nights out every weekend, but it was adding up.
I have been noticing a massive decrease in spending, due to this small thing.
My skin has cleared right up
I did change my skin routine around the time I stopped drinking, but I think it’s definitely helped.
My skin is looking tighter and more vibrant and I rarely get pimples now. I’ve had a few compliments on it, which has been pleasing.
I have more energy and sleep better
There are a lot of factors which contribute to this, but overall, I do feel I have more energy and am less sluggish in my day to day life. I have issues with sleep, but I am waking up less in the night than I was previously.
I feel more motivated overall
I’m feeling far less lazy – I’m more likely to get out of the house, to exercise, or go for walks. I’ve noticed my productivity is up as well, as I’ve been writing more often and even drawing at times. I feel more creative and inspired in general.
The more time passes, the easier it is
The more I don’t drink, the easier it is to say no.
I rarely get cravings to drink anymore. I had one for the first time in weeks a few days ago, which was surprising. I rode it out and felt fine the next day.
I also am still managing to socialise almost as much as I did. Having a car helps, as I like being able to drive home at the end of the night.
I think as I’m older now, I have more faith in myself. I know I’m not “boring” and I don’t need to do what everyone else does to have a good time. Plus everyone around me is more supportive in general. Ah, the wisdom of age!
On the downside, my sweet tooth is out of control
A funny side effect which I know didn’t happen last time I quit.
I had a pretty strong sweet tooth when I was younger, but it lost its edge at the end of my twenties.
Since quitting drinking, it’s back in full force, where I’m craving sugar daily.
I know it’s a mental game and this is the next thing I want to address, pairing it with shaking up my eating habits so they’re in a better place in general.
I haven’t lost the weight I hoped to lose
I’ve been working out here and there, having recently got into Pilates. I can feel my body strengthening, but I’m still dragging around a few excess kg’s that I gained overseas and have struggled to lose.
It’s a bit of a vanity thing, but also a health concern. Australia has a rapidly growing obesity rate and I don’t want to be a part of its number.
How long is this going to continue?
In all honesty, I’m not sure. I was aiming for three months but now I’ve passed that goal, I want to keep going.
I’m keen to continue this for as long as possible, whether that be a matter of months, or years.
I do have a voucher to Milk the Cow here in Melbourne that I’ll have to use at some point, but I’m trying to stretch out this break for as long as possible in the interim!
I don’t think I want to start drinking on a regular basis again. The benefits to not drinking are far too appealing.
As I’ve got older, I’ve had some shocking but rather obvious realisations that we all should probably start thinking about. Like, how modern day society likes to abuse our bodies, these vehicles that we will ride for the rest of our lives. And how maybe we should appreciate them more and actively rejoice in taking care of them.
We can do this by letting them sleep and recharge, when they need it. By not putting harmful chemicals into our bodies or on our skin. By not viewing exercise as a form of “punishment”, but delighting in the things our bodies are capable of.
Of appreciating the small things that happen beyond our control – like the simple act of movement or breathing. Not everyone is in this position, yet it’s something that many of us take for granted.
I’m grateful for all my body does for me and this is my way of giving back to it. For me at least, the negatives of drinking heavily outweigh the positives. I don’t really need it in my life and I’m enjoying its absence.
What can you do to cut down on alcohol?
I think in all honesty, to truly cut down on drinking you have to closely examine how it’s affecting you in your day to day life.
If you think you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, then that’s one thing. If it’s something that bothers you, it may be time to take a lengthy break.
I’ve gone down both roads before – of cold turkey and of gradually stripping back until the desire to drink was gone. They were both successful methods, which worked at different points in my life.
If you are truly concerned about your drinking, then there are plenty of organisations you can look to join. One is Alcoholics Anonymous of course, but I also recommend checking out Hello Sunday Morning if you’re looking for an online community to interact with.
Reading Jill Stark’s memoir High Sobriety: My Year Without Booze was timely for me. It details Stark’s journey through sobriety for 12 months, as well as offering a closer examination into the drinking culture of Australia and her own home country of Scotland.
All in all, I got to a point mentally where it was something I didn’t want to do anymore. After a few false starts, it feels nice to have got there at long last.
Over to you – what’s your story? Have you had long breaks from drinking? Or do you want to and are not sure where to begin?