If you live in Sydney, like I do, you hear a lot of noise about being health conscious. The growing popularity of events like dry July (or dry January, depending on where you live) and an ever increasing number of people wearing active-wear ALL THE TIME could lead you to think that everyone has gone health mad and left fun behind in favour of gluten-free-vegan-no-alcohol lifestyles. However, there are people who have genuine reasons to quit drinking altogether, or for a set amount of time. Early 2016, I was particularly unhappy. I felt trapped in a job I hated, my mental health was not great and things seemed to be getting steadily worse. I would go out for work drinks on a Friday night and end up leaving early – always in tears, always feeling incredibly anxious and self-critical. I had always had a few drinks (ok – maybe a few more) when I socialised but all of a sudden it started to make me feel very negative and I wondered if it might be why I was feeling bad. I was diagnosed with depression and my partner was convinced that diet and exercise were the key to regaining control over my mental health. At first I thought he was being a patronising asshole, until another part of me thought, “what have you got to lose?” I don’t in any way think that diet and exercise are interchangeable for anti-depressants, but I was a long way from healthy and thought it could be a good place to start. So the reason I did it was desperation and pretty bad health, but it could also be from a desire to save money, or even just to prove to yourself that you can do it.
What I didn’t fully appreciate was just how much of my life involved alcohol. And completely changing your life is quite hard. Invitations for social events didn’t dry up with my desire to drink less. Things which were already in the calendar like birthdays and camping trips were hard to get around, at the end of a bad day I still wanted a wine. But the hardest part was my inner voice – telling me that I wasn’t interesting enough to chat to people without having had a drink and that I was spoiling things for other people by not drinking and having fun with them. So if you’re thinking of quitting, I’ll warn you – it’s not easy. But I do think it’s worth it. And because I’ve already done it (for six months! No mean feat for someone who loved a drink as much as me) I can give you some tips on how I managed it.
- Find alternatives to relax – I guarantee you will have a shitty day at some point while you’re doing this and your response will be to have a drink. Don’t. There are actually other things that people enjoy doing and which raise endorphins, making you feel better in the short term without the headache the next day. Mine was lighting all the candles in my room and reading a book. Yours might be going for a run, going shopping, a quick trip to the beach after work, baking cookies or phoning a friend or relative who always cheers you up.
- Tell your friends – you don’t have to tell everyone but I recommend having a few strategic allies who know why you’re doing this and how important it is to you. That way when point number 1 is just not working the way you want, you have someone who will (hopefully) be happy to grab a non-alcoholic drink with you over some food and talk about your shitty day.
- Plan some early morning activities – one of the best things about not getting hella drunk every Friday and Saturday is that you regain your weekends. Make the most of this new found time by organising some day trips, or going to an early morning gym class (worth it for how smug you’ll feel the rest of the day), or having breakfast with a friend.
- Have a decoy in hand when you do socialise – if you feel you can handle the pressure of going out with people who are going to be drinking a fair bit then I would advise having this. Having something in your hand that could pass for a cocktail, gin & tonic or vodka & coke will avoid questions like “why aren’t you drinking?” or well-meaning comments like “go on, just have one” which, in my experience, just add more peer pressure than is necessary.
- Remember why you’re doing it. This will come in handy when you feel like giving up.
- Try all the hobbies you’ve always wanted to try. Before I did this, about 95% of my social life was centered on alcohol. If you’re like me you will now have a lot of free time. Don’t waste it staring at your Facebook feed and feeling miserable that you’re missing out. Sign up for all the things you’ve always wanted to do – you could try SUP Ball, Oztag, kayaking, life drawing or rock climbing. Or all of them.
- Have a set end date – I didn’t have one, I just wanted to stop drinking until I felt ‘better’. Rookie error. Having an end point in mind or a fixed goal will help you keep going and keep you focussed.
As you can see, these are all pretty ‘expect the worst’. Which I actually think is a good way to go about it, hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You might learn something about yourself, realise that you don’t need to drink as much as you might have thought, or have your life changed forever. Whatever the outcome, I think that challenging norms is always a valuable experience.