A choice I don’t regret: A year without drinking
This week’s guest blog is from Leonie, one of the featured stars from Hello Sunday Morning’s ‘The Talk We Needed’ Campaign.
It’s life changing when I see how different I am as a woman today, as mother, wife, friend and daughter, and apparently I am changing lives by living life out loud! I am enjoying my Friday nights much more without drowning my sorrows and I look forward to waking to a cup of tea, which is now my drink of choice.
I am happiest to hear from people from out of nowhere who have heard my story, who would like to thank me for talking about my unhealthy relationship with booze.
Even more taken aback when friends tell me that I have helped them to drink less or consider a break from alcohol because I spoke up. So I am making new connections and living the life that I truly desire.
It was from a deep sense of not being able to control my drinking that I felt like I was not worthy as a person. Whether or not I felt like I needed to drink, I did so to feel like I was a better mother, or to fit in, or because I thought I deserved it after a typical busy week. Even during my pregnancies I did not abstain from drinking alcohol, reasoning that if my obstetrician was okay with it, then so was I.
Why was I finding myself calling Alcoholics Anonymous to make enquiries for ‘other people’, but could not see myself, even for looking.
I often feel like I was making more of an issue about my drinking than anyone else was, and the truth is that I was not drinking any more or less than the next person, but I knew that I must seek help for a problem that only I would realise after stopping, was bigger than what I realised, because I did not see that I had a choice.
I thought you were just destined to drink, drink lots, and do it often , usually behind closed doors , or think about it and plan for the next big night , usually when I could sleep it off the next day without having to front-up to friends, family or my kids. It would see me spiralling, mentally spinning and lost for words.
I was sinking further into a pit that I was not familiar with. I was not aware, until I sought help, that I was experiencing a pretty intense mood disorder, not made much better by drinking alcohol.
I wondered, when reflecting upon my relationship with alcohol, whether or not I would discuss mental Illness and I suppose the answer is clear, for me the two go hand in hand. If it wasn’t for the alcohol dependence, I do not believe I would’ve met with many of those debilitating days of depression, finding myself lost, or finding myself locked away because the ceiling was caving in with panic, anxiety which I could only describe as impending disaster. You too, will know what I mean if you have experienced a full-blown panic attack.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the high highs and the dreaded lows lower my insight into what made for a healthy lifestyle, or was the desire to numb, too great?
My weekends are much clearer now. I am more present, less selfish, less irritable, less moody and more inspired to find connection. I feel more ME … I am less inclined to please people, more inclined to listen to my own judgement, more inclined to play and spend the weekend hanging out with the kids, and planning for our fun Friday movie nights together, munching popcorn, and sipping lemonade. Compared to how I used to feel, when I did binge, I was designing the opposite life that I deserved or really craved. I thought that I was craving a normal lifestyle that many had, many did, yet when I looked around I didn’t see the desperate drinker that I had become. I thought that was normal.
What I really desired was the freedom which I have only now that I know that I don’t need to crack open a beer the moment I walk through the door each Friday night. It doesn’t give me what I really crave which is ‘connection’. I was living a disconnect with myself, the real me, the people that I love and the world around me. I never drank to enjoy the taste, when socialising with others; instead it was done in private mostly, with my children in the other room and my husband by my side ready to catch my glass before it hit the carpet. This is not what I wanted to model to my children, so that they too thought this was normal. I didn’t know that I had a choice to change!!
Since giving the booze away, I feel as though Friday is much like every other night, as I am happier every day and I am less inclined to become mentally exhausted by the week’s end. Life in general is less about the need to escape the rat race, as my mood is more stable and I am still within ‘balance’ and too excited to feel ‘pissy’… I am excited about relaxing into the weekend, without hesitation, without trying to prolong it, or make Friday night beers in front of the TV ; instead I’m more looking forward to parenting, or waking on Monday morning.
I was just living life going through the paces, just coping with a mental illness, and consuming drinks meant that I was also digesting additional depression and anxiety each sip, swig, drink; it had become my medicine in a bottle, and I was reckless, misusing and not prepared to make better choices.
I remember I would begin to be quite fun, flirty and frivolous … until I wasn’t. I could become quite fiery and flighty and not much fun to be around. In my sobriety I have found that I made some dangerous choices on boozy nights, and my story is not different to the next person. I am not different to you; I drank to take the fear away, as do many others. I gave up so that I could live again and because I did wake one day and realise that I DID have a choice … I woke one day to realise that all along I had the craving, the longing for a life only half-lived, and the choice to live it fully. I chose to live life sober until I realised that I also had the choice to stop after one drink! By giving up, I gained so much more than I could have imagined. I no longer feel the need to escape …
I chose to speak up, because if my girlfriend on the other side of the world hadn’t done so one day, it could’ve taken me longer or I could’ve just continued doing life the same way I always had, blind to the truth that the choice was there all along. I have the choice and I am living life boldly and I desire connection. It is only with connection that I realise that there is no room for addiction.
I was addicted to a life that I thought was so normal, and it was making me unwell as I was not able to stop at one, until I realised that I had the choice to make that decision for myself all along.
Five Ways to Stay on Track After Dry July
Congratulations, you’re nearing the end of a month without alcohol! Maybe you found it easier than anticipated, maybe it brought up some uncomfortable moments for you, maybe you slipped up a few times and indulged in ‘just a few sips’ … or more. It can be hard to make the adjustment back to ‘normal’ once the monthly restriction has lifted and there’s no longer the public declaration of ‘I’m not drinking’ and the socially acceptable excuse of Dry July sobriety to hide behind. But don’t panic! Here at Hello Sunday Morning, we’ve prepared five tips to help you stay on track to assess or change your relationship with alcohol after your little hiatus.
Well done, you did it! You stuck to a goal and proved to yourself that you can do whatever you put your mind to. You got to reap the many health benefits to your liver, mental state, waistline and vital organs, from having a break from alcohol. Now it might be tempting to think about ‘rewarding yourself’ … so go ahead we say! But keep in mind that reward doesn’t need to be an alcohol-based one. Buy some new clothes, plan a holiday with your mates, take the kids on a spontaneous day-trip or splurge on a giant box of the finest imported Belgian chocolate truffles money can buy (ok, maybe just me?).
Make a note of how it felt:
- To wake up without a hangover
- To remember everything you did the night before
- To have that extra cash in your wallet not spent on late night Ubers, expensive rounds at the bar and greasy hangover food
- To lose a kilo or two
- To have more time up your sleeve
- To go to the social event sober … and survive
- To come home from work and not reach for that glass or bottle of plonk
If you can do it for a month, can you do it for longer?
Assess your relationship with alcohol
Think about the what, why, when and how of your drinking. How much do you normally drink in a week? Three glasses a day is 21 a week, or more than a thousand a year. And the glasses you pour yourself are probably bigger than the ‘standard drinks’ used to measure health effects and long-term harms. Do you drink because it’s fun and enjoyable? Or because of habit and routine? Or because ‘everyone else around you is’? If you’re drinking to manage stress, anxiety or a bad day, some of the tried and tested tips we recommend at HSM include changing your routine, getting out into nature, taking up meditation or yoga, committing to an exercise routine, and finding other ways to process your thoughts – like journaling or therapy.
Make some new goals
Now you know you can stick to a goal, set another one! These don’t have to be as strict as giving up alcohol. You might want to find a new hobby, do that thing you’ve been putting off for a year, learn a language or get your Marie Kondo on and clear the clutter. You’ve already proven to yourself that you can follow through on a goal, so run with the momentum and set a new one to challenge yourself.
Find your community
Was it easier to give up the booze for a month knowing there were thousands of people around the world simultaneously sharing your journey? Being part of a community of people all on the same path is a really effective way to find support and understanding, and makes it more likely you’ll stick to your goal. If your new goal is to join a gym and get fit – find a gym buddy! If it’s to drink less or moderate your drinking, join our Daybreak community right here. Daybreak is a community of people all supporting each other to change their relationship with alcohol, and all from the convenience of the phone that you’re probably holding right now.
How did you find Dry July? What got you through the tough moments? Do you have any tips for others to stay on track? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Four surprising ways quitting drinking can help you lose weight
This week we have a guest blog from a member of our social media community, Vickie King. She talks about the ‘quadruple strike’ of the four ways drinking alcohol leads to weight gain – and a surprising way she turned it all around to lose weight and quit drinking!
I haven’t consumed a drop of alcohol since 23 September 2017. Sounds like a long time doesn’t it? It is and it isn’t. But what hasn’t changed in all that time, is how much better I feel for it.
You don’t have to have a drinking problem, for drinking to be a problem
I wasn’t an alcoholic. I didn’t drink every night. I didn’t binge drink on weekends. I didn’t consume vast quantities or have blackouts. But what I did do was have 2–3 glasses of wine on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. To relax, with a cheese platter, bar snacks, or dinner – all very civilised.
But the problem was I had started to rely on it to relax and unwind from a stressful job. However, I wasn’t happy about how it made me feel, or how it made me look. Inside and outside the booze wasn’t doing me any favours.
I was unmotivated, unfit, overweight, bloated, puffy-faced, and feeling pretty crappy about myself.
Four strikes a charm?
You see booze sets you up for what I call the ‘Quadruple Strike’
- You’re enjoying yourself, but you’re drinking a bunch of calories that have ZERO nutritional value – strike 1
- You’re drinking so you get snacky and end up ordering fatty fries or consuming a whole creamy brie with crackers – strike 2
- You’re riding the cocktail (or beer, or wine) highway till late. The next day you’re dusty … so you skip the gym – strike 3
- Being a little under the weather the next day, you need a big plate of greasy, salty calorific goodness – You’re out!
Swap the bad, for the good.
I decided to draw a line in the sand. I stopped drinking and started going to CrossFit. CrossFit is good for the couch-potato boozer as it has a strong focus on injury prevention, competing only against yourself, and it’s ALL about community. So not only did I get exercise, but I also got to socialise and meet new people without alcohol.
For me, joining a normal gym where you go to anonymous classes or work out alone, wasn’t going to work. If I wasn’t going to the bar, I needed somewhere new to joke around with friends. CrossFit fitted the bill perfectly, so I went twice a week.
Becoming fitter and starting to take care of myself made it a whole lot easier to clean up the food too, because it’s hard to hate a body that you’re looking after. So it was easier to get the motivation to eat well and exercise because my body was responding and giving me encouragement. You start to build a wonderful momentum that carries over into other parts of your life (but that’s another blog post altogether!).
Results that speak to me
Over a period of eight months I did lose weight – 14 kg to be precise! It just fell off me. I dropped 3 dress sizes and had to buy a whole new wardrobe (sorry not sorry). I felt better. Looked better. Thought better. And I had made a bunch of new healthy friends and found a place to socialise that didn’t require alcohol. It literally changed my life.
If I can do it, you can too. And trust me, it’s so worth it.
Courageous conversations without a drink in your hand
This week we have a guest blog from Nicole, a courageous and intelligent woman who was diagnosed with bowel cancer and took action action to regain as much control of her life as possible, including changing her relationship with alcohol, which was not easy … for others.
I had terminal cancer, a glass of Pimm’s and nothing to say.
As I watched a slice of lemon bob around in front of me, I contemplated making a toast.
My family were gathered around a long table at a restaurant on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. Did we look like a happy family? Skipping out of work together for an afternoon drink on a crisp autumn weekday? Or did our forlorn faces betray our devastation? And most pressingly, in that moment, were we really about to cheers to all of this?
I had spent three days with the knowledge that I was dying from bowel cancer. My family had flown in and driven over and gathered close. We had cuddled and cried. We had gazed into oblivion and tried to comprehend what life looked like now. And then, inevitably, eventually, our minds had turned to what we should do next.
Sure, doctors. And hospitals. And treatment. Fighting for life.
But what did we do now, today? On this sunny afternoon?
“We could drive around some wineries and hang out and drink some wine, I guess?”
It made just as much sense as anything else that we could have done in the wake of such destructive news.
And so, we did. Off we went.
It was a peculiar thing to do. Wasn’t it? To tour some wineries and have a long lunch. Were we commemorating this moment, this news, this learning that I had two years left? Were we celebrating life? Were we boldly standing in the face of a cancer diagnosis, resolute? Or were we just doing what we would have always done?
As the wine went down and our spirits went up, I was quietly relieved. This was a dose of normality. It felt familiar. As my inhibitions receded, I felt more comfortable acknowledging the trauma that lay ahead of us. Talking about it and processing it. Glass in hand, glass half full, I had some conversations that I really needed to have.
* * *
I was living a balanced, healthy life when I was diagnosed with cancer. I exercised. I was breast feeding my eight-month-old son, so I was very conscious of what I put in my body – but then, I always had been. I would have that special glass (or three) of wine. The occasional block of chocolate. The sporadic serve of French fries. But overwhelmingly, I ate a balanced diet, high in fibre, fruit, vegetables and protein, and low in meat. And yet, I had found myself with stage IV cancer as a 32-year-old. Bowel cancer. A cancer that research has clearly linked to lifestyle factors.
There was no avoiding the question: had I done this to myself? Research told me that it was possible. Alcohol is a carcinogen. There is no denying that. So is processed meat. The World Health Organisation has determined that even red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans. I began to contemplate the choices I had made and the choices I would make, in the wake of my diagnosis.
My chemotherapy regime, which I kicked off a couple of days after our day of wine-enabled dialogue, was toxic in so many ways. I was asked to fill myself with poison each fortnight, again and again. My doctors told me to keep going for as long as I could possibly go: the chemo was my only chance at extending my prognosis. It made me feel miserable and sick. It made my head spin and my hands shake. It made my body feel like it was not my own. It was intoxicating in all of the wrong ways – for all of the right reasons.
I stopped drinking. I felt like I had to, but I also wanted to. Because yes, I wanted to hit pause on the carcinogens. But more than this: I wanted to regain control over the way that my body functioned. I followed the research and did everything I possibly could to make survival my reality. I took up an intense exercise regime, diligently reported to every chemo appointment and ate a clean, meat-free, alcohol-free diet.
I didn’t feel amazing. I didn’t feel compelled to spruik the benefits. I didn’t love it. I would have preferred a glass of wine over the endless glasses of sparkling water. But it felt right, for my fight. For me.
* * *
Terminal cancer is an impossibly difficult thing to discuss. Be it with intimate friends or casual acquaintances. And even when you don’t intend to mention it, cancer oozes into the conversation. Leeches on to a meaningful connection. Lurking there, stubbornly. Mostly, saying very little, yet all the while, invalidating a whole lot.
I was spending month after month almost completely absorbed in my cancer. Fighting my fight. But around me, life continued. The same, but different. When I did come up for air, it was to a dance card full of awkward cancer conversations.
Yes, I looked fairly well.
No, my treatment was not over.
Yes, I may still die.
My clean-eating, water-drinking self soon learnt that cancer was even more difficult to contemplate while sober. Each time I declined a drink, I winced: how did they see me? Poor sad cancer patient? Mourning the passing of a carefree cheers? Or worse, judgementally tisk-tisking their chardonnay?
As I navigated a road that was choked of abundant, free-flowing engagement, I contemplated a simple truth: alcohol makes conversations easier. Particularly, those tongue-tied, alien conversations in which nobody can claim to be fluent. I was missing the nonchalant connection that alcohol offered. The security blanket that it afforded.
But the more times I carried a glass of water to the depths of my new normal, the better I got at it. And the more I realised that I needed to learn how to tackle the largest of life’s problems without a snuggly blanket of gin. Or effervescent Aperol spritz. I learnt how to speak about cancer, with cancer, around cancer, without a veil. I learnt from others and I learnt from myself.
Slowly, I became comfortable in owning my choice to do my cancer fight – my life – my own way. That is, until I decided to drink again.
* * *
I was given a one-per-cent chance of surviving my terminal diagnosis. It was a percentage that I demanded to know and generally, felt vindicated in fighting for, by my own rules. And in mid-2019, after over two years of waging my delicate rebellion, at least 40 rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries, and countless hospital admissions, I am in remission. Cancer free. For now.
It was a moment that I chose to celebrate with family and a bottle of champagne. Not because it was the only way to celebrate such a milestone. But because I had earned the choice to. And as I have recovered from surgeries and stepped down from intense treatments, I have continued to drink on occasion – when my health has permitted, if I have felt inclined.
Yet, just as I had feared the perceptions of my sobriety, I have been acutely aware of opinions on my drinking. Would I be viewed as thoughtless? Ungrateful? Or worse – reckless?
June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. And this year, my own awareness is drawn not to what caused my cancer, or how to treat it; but instead, how we best navigate cancer conversations. Because awareness is lifesaving. And talking is healthy.
My life is a gift. Trite, but true. My cancer has delivered dreamy highs and distressing lows – and I have encountered and responded to iterations of both, sometimes with a drink, and other times without. I have no idea what caused my cancer, but I am accountable for my actions now, irrespective of what happened then.
I continue to undergo treatment and will do for the foreseeable future. I continue to review my lifestyle choices for improvement and balance. Every choice deserves a rethink. And most importantly, I continue to learn how to have life’s hardest conversations, without the support of alcohol.
* * *
Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is an annual initiative of Bowel Cancer Australia, running throughout the month of June (1 – 30), to raise public awareness of a disease that claims the lives of 103 Australians every week. To find out more or to donate visit bowelcanceraustralia.org/bowel-cancer-awareness-month
To find out more about bowel cancer and Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, visit bowelcanceraustralia.org.
For a confidential conversation with a Bowel Care Nurse, contact the free Bowel Cancer Australia Helpline 1800 555 494 during business hours.
The best reason to give up alcohol: a personal journey
This week, we have a guest post from our mates at Sober in the Country, curated by Shanna Whan.
I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience of beating their alcohol addiction.
In my case, there was this tiny, seemingly inconsequential moment – the kind that happens thousands of times a day – that proved the catalyst for change. It was nothing I could have planned or set up. I could never have foreseen what would make the difference.
I had tried AA meetings, tried quitting drinking for a month here or three months there, tried drinking only on weekends, or drinking by an ever-shifting set of rules that was designed to give me the illusion of control but only left me exhausted and defeated.
My husband, Chris, had landed a new job that included a lovely house on acreage. I was always a country girl in an urban world, so my bag was packed before the ink had dried on his contract. We were only about a month into our new arrangement and still in awe of our good fortune.
Sitting on the front verandah of our beautiful new house on a warm October afternoon, our 18-month-old daughter was playing on the lawn in front of us. I was drinking a glass of white wine – my second or third for the afternoon – when she waddled up to me and stretched her hand toward my wine glass.
‘Tah?’ she said.
In an instant I saw my daughter – not 18 months old now – but eight years old, then 10, then 13, then 17, then an adult, then a parent herself.
I saw her growing and as she did, learning what the glass meant. Learning that after a couple, Mum would become boisterous and funny, after another one or two, quieter, with eyes that were slower to focus, speech that would slow down, imperceptibly at first, just the odd word here and there.
She would learn that awful dread feeling when she saw her mother’s glass being filled. The feeling of knowing what was to unfold over the next few hours and being powerless to stop it. She would learn the shame of despising a parent you love because of their weakness. The inability to respect them as you hear them slurring and repeating themselves, or see them stumbling and holding themselves up on the furniture. The fury at their vehement denial of a problem.
It was October 31, 2009 and that was it. That was the moment.
The day after
The next afternoon when Chris got home, I went to the gym. It was not so much about a healthy lifestyle change as it was about breaking a pattern. If I was at home at the pre-dinner hour, I didn’t trust myself to stick to my promise.
Every day for the next three weeks I went to the gym at 5 o’clock. Then one day, I didn’t. The spell was broken. My days of opening a bottle of wine when Chris got home from work, were over.
There was Christmas to get through, but by then I was two months in. The longer it was since my last drink, the more determined I was not to cave. I didn’t want to have to start the counter again from Day 1, and because I had made this promise to my daughter, I felt that if I didn’t make it work this time, I would never be able to kick it. It felt like life and death to me.
Onwards and upwards
My decision to quit drinking coincided with my first semester of a Graduate Certificate I had enrolled in at university, as a mature-aged student.
I had been a bright kid at school: I was dux of my primary school and went to a selective high school and on to university before wasting my 20s and early 30s in a self-destructive haze of mediocre jobs and a lack of direction.
The time that I reclaimed through sobriety I put into study, and was rewarded with four High Distinctions from four subjects. The certificate I received at the end of that course represents to me a point in my life so significant and poignant, a point where I chose a life of quality and dignity over one of careless disregard for myself, and by extension, my family. That piece of paper signifies a return to self-love and self-respect. I am so proud of it.
One of the things I have come to understand as a recovered alcoholic (I use ‘recovered’ rather than the term ‘recovering’, because I know there will be no going back for me) is that your choice becomes an inspiration for others.
Struggling with alcohol can feel very shameful and lonely, but once you are sober you learn that many, many people fret about their levels of drinking.
When I meet people and they learn that I don’t drink, they are often curious about my reasons. I try to be open about my past, although it depends on the company – I am not always immune to worrying about what others will think.
When people learn I have overcome alcoholism, more often that not, they will say something along the lines of ‘I really need to look at how much I drink’ or ‘I wish I could be as strong as you’.
If I ever lost sight of how important my sober life is to me now, I am occasionally reminded by a nightmare that is always the same scenario.
In these dreams, which I have maybe two or three times a year, I am at a party and I start drinking again after all the years sober. The devastation at having broken my promise to myself is palpable, and when I wake up I am always weak with relief to find that it is not real. These nightmares serve as a powerful reminder of what I would lose if I ever went back to drinking.
In the years since October 31, 2009, I feel like I have started living my life instead of reacting to it. I have found courage because I have stopped feeling like a fraud. I am more organised and more disciplined in every area.
My life of drinking was characterised by ‘I can’t be bothered …’ but now things are very different.
My home and career are as I have designed them, and I am devoted to my little family. Studying is still a big part of my life. Instead of using alcohol to ‘turn the volume down’ every night, I spend my evenings charting new intellectual territory.
We have horses and go riding as a family. I have the energy to experiment with new recipes when I cook. I do ‘tourist’ things in neighbouring towns. I plan holidays, I save money, I buy thoughtful gifts for people, I keep my home clean and uncluttered.
In short, these days I can be bothered.
But beneath all the shouts of ‘Cheers!’ and ‘Taxi!!’ there is a level of shame and concern for many people about the levels at which they drink.
For anyone wanting to embark on a life of sobriety, but who fears what that involves, you should be reassured. Waiting ‘on the other side’ is a life of peace and freedom from craving, of fulfilment and quiet pride, and of endless time to achieve all those things you’ve always wanted.
When it’s socially acceptable to not drink: Embracing Feb Fast and Dry July
This February I participated in my second unofficial Feb Fast. When I completed the first Feb Fast the year before, I did it as part of a group. I finished it and went right back to the way things were. This year, instead of just a month without drinking, the Fast became a re-evaluation of my relationship with alcohol.
Over the last few years I have made decisions reducing processed foods in my diet and reducing the amount of plastic waste I add to landfills. Alcohol consumption had largely escaped my scrutiny. The messages, which I had clearly internalised, were that alcohol is part of celebrations and relaxation. A shiraz after golf, a drink after a hard day at the office and of course drinks with friends, and bubbles to celebrate life’s big moments. But does it have to be that way?
Feb Fast provided me with the opportunity to say no to alcohol in settings where there was an expectation that I would drink, based on my previous behaviour and on social norms. The program gave me a legitimate reason not to drink, which almost everyone respected.
Feb Fast allowed me to make choices about when and what I would drink. After a day out I now have a sparkling water with a shot of lime and loads of ice as my first drink. A long day at the office may end with a shiraz but I may choose to go for a long walk first. Thinking about drinking in general and my drinking in particular, allowed me to examine the messages I had internalised and whether they were actually appropriate to my lifestyle.
I will also participate in ‘dry July’ this year, for two reasons – one is to continue to strengthen my ability to choose my path and the other is to be a positive role model to my children. My lifestyle is all about making healthy choices and choosing to moderate alcohol consumption is part of that.
The things you learn after three months without booze
I blogged a few weeks ago, from the halfway point of my first ever ‘HSM Challenge’ – a three-month period completely off the booze. I’ve now reached the end, and here’s a brief summary of what I discovered:
The first couple of days were disorienting, and I received unsolicited feedback from my spouse that I was a grumpy bugger who had better watch his step.
After the first week, the clouds parted, the sun shone through, and the benefits became very obvious:
- Sleep was wonderful: deep, unbroken and revitalising. Dreams were a little weird, but in a good way.
- Mental acuity was noticeably improved. At times during the three months that followed I felt I’d gained a bonus 10 IQ points.
- A general feeling of wellbeing ran over me like a warm mink glove from morning to night.
- My background level of anxiety reduced steeply and stayed low for the whole three months.
Not drinking for three months: a timeline
After the first month, my old habits started to fade away and it didn’t feel odd to spend a weekend without a drink. (I was also slightly disturbed by how surprised my kids were when they saw I wasn’t drinking wine in the evenings.)
After the first six weeks, my usual pre-dinner conversations with my wife started to feel normal again and I didn’t miss the tongue-loosener.
After the first two months, I began to take the new benefits for granted – they became the new normal, and I began to feel I’d hit ‘peak benefit’.
By three months I’d read more books than usual and painted a couple of rooms in the house in the evenings after work, but apart from that there was no noticeable change to domestic productivity.
I didn’t lose any weight, but I wasn’t particularly aiming to, and I probably compensated for the lost alcohol calories with ice-cream and chocolate.
We seemed to be invited to other peoples’ places less often over the three-month period than is normal. One friend wondered aloud whether HSM was a cult that I’d been caught up in, and some others asked if I was responding to a booze-induced medical crisis.
I discovered that zero-alcohol wines are pretty awful, and best avoided. Zero alcohol ‘spirits’ and botanicals are either insipid or medicinal-tasting when you first try them, but they do start to grow on you, and they are worth the effort. On the other hand, zero-alcohol beers are surprisingly good, and I’ll keep drinking them even though the three months is up.
Oddly for someone who only occasionally drinks spirits, the real craving during this period was for scotch, not my usual tipple, red wine.
What’s next after three months without alcohol?
I thought a lot about extending the HSM Challenge out to six months. In the end I decided not to, but instead I’m going to do three more random dry months during the rest of this year. I’ve also decided to use the dry spell as a way of resetting how I drink, so I’ll stick to a few new rules: never more than 3 days in a row, even during holidays; stay under 14 standard drinks a week, and no more knee-jerk drinking without thinking about it.
Overall, the three dry months have been a useful experience. Would I recommend it for everyone? Actually, I would: I’ve learned some unexpected things about myself and have developed a more cautious view about habitual, casual drinking. I have no ambitions to become a complete abstainer, but I want to maintain a more mindful relationship with alcohol and be aware of some of the more subtle effects that can creep up on you, unnoticed.
Roger, Marketing Manger, Hello Sunday Morning.
How to explain your alcohol choices – 8 creative excuses for not drinking
Looking for a list of solid excuses for not drinking alcohol? We’ve got you covered, but you might not need to rely on ‘excuses’ after all…
So, you’ve started your booze-free period, and things are looking up. You’re over the first few disorienting days and you’re starting to feel the growing benefits for mind, body and soul. That brain-fog, that you hadn’t previously realised was there, is lifting. The guts are stabilising, the sleep is awesome and the skin is glowing. It’s time to take this ‘new you’ out for a spin and do some socialising!
You hit the gathering, and, despite the fact that these are mostly friends from way back, you’re a little nervous. How is this going to work without the lubricant? Will you get into the swing of it quickly? Come up with the repartee? Dance like a mad thing?
That tricky question
What you weren’t expecting was to be flummoxed by the first question: ‘Why aren’t you drinking?’
This is a really common issue – not knowing what to say when you are in social situations and someone offers you a drink, or asks why you aren’t drinking. For a lot of people it can feel really rude to turn down a drink, like you’re spoiling the fun. Or you feel exposed by saying ‘no’, feeling that you have to justify your decision or engage in a conversation about why you don’t drink.
But consider that we don’t question pregnant women why they’re not drinking – or designated drivers, or people training for a marathon. That’s because they have a good reason not to drink, that we all accept socially. It is good to consider that idea for yourself.
You don’t need excuses for not drinking, you have a really good reason not to drink, too, and you’ve spent some time coming to that decision – so own it. This is a personal choice and one that you’ve made yourself, like what kind of car to drive, or where to go on holidays. But if you simply want to kill the line of inquiry dead and move on to more interesting topics, you can try a ‘Move on – nothing to see here’ approach:
- “I’m the designated driver”
- “I’ve got an early start in the morning”
- “I’m taking the night off – giving the liver a break!”
- “Just wanting to see what it’s like!”
- “I’m doing it for charity – [and, if you really want to get them out of your face] do you want to sponsor me?”
However, some of your friends may deserve a more frank explanation (and, importantly, some of them may actually benefit from your example), so consider some of these responses.
- “I’m having a break from drinking as I noticed it was affecting my health”
- “I’m not drinking at the moment as I’m on a health regime”
- “I’ve found I’m much better without alcohol”
A reflection of their own beliefs about alcohol
Often people will be surprised or disappointed if you turn down a drink as it may reflect on their own drinking – they might feel a bit exposed if you are staying sober. It can be good to show them that you are not passing judgement on their behaviour, and that this is a really personal decision.
At Hello Sunday Morning, we believe that others’ responses can be partly to do with their own ‘baggage’, and this can be uncomfortably brought to the surface by someone who is abstaining.
In other words, the discomfort of the situation might be more with them than with you.
More common than you think
The reality is, that most people at some point in their lives have considered cutting back on alcohol – it is something that tends to affect our health and mood, particularly as we get older. Most people can relate to the idea of cutting back or taking a break from alcohol to focus on their health – this is something that is becoming more and more common, and no longer a tacit admission of a deeper and humiliating problem with drinking.
What kinds of social situations are the most problematic for you – turning down a drink, or being around a lot of alcohol? Let us know in the comments section.
Some Harm Minimisation Life-hacks for the Christmas Period
For all its positives, Christmas can be a challenging time when we are trying to focus on our health – those parties, heavy food and socialising can mean we are low on sleep, eating to excess and without the usual structures that keep us functioning well. Often we’re torn between wanting to enjoy life to its fullest, and also wanting to enjoy great physical and mental health.
In addition, we don’t really want to be ‘that person’ who refuses dessert or avoids social situations because of our health – things like family and work events are important for a number of reasons, including catching up with relatives, celebrating the end of another year, and making plans for the year to come.
So, how to have it all? Recent research into wellbeing and ‘protective health behaviour’ has good news for us – which you may have already suspected. In a nutshell, it is not the juice-fasting, two-session-a-day gym fiends who enjoy the highest levels of wellbeing, but rather those who demonstrate regular and consistent health behaviours – the plodders rather than the sprinters.
With alcohol, one of the ideas that fits well with this framework is that of ‘harm minimisation’ – finding ways to keep ourselves healthy and functioning well, even if we are in the midst of holiday festivities. With this in mind, here are some realistic tips for an enjoyable holiday period.
AF Days – we know that a lot of harm from alcohol use comes from drinking in high volumes, and frequently. In fact, a lot of the issues that arise around holidays (e.g. fatigue, weight gain, low energy and low mood) can be due to regular and excessive alcohol consumption. If you are intending to have one or two drinks over the holidays, it might be helpful to plan a certain number of alcohol-free days. This gives you the opportunity to catch up on good quality sleep, recover physically and engage in some restorative activities, like exercise and reflection. It can also give an opportunity to experience some of those holiday activities without alcohol, and to reflect on the role of alcohol in your life. For many people, this is a great opportunity to do things differently, and stock up on energy to get active, or start to prepare for the year ahead.
Self-Care – it sounds obvious, but often alcohol can be a form of self-care – particularly when we are in the midst of holiday activity and tired out from preparing for family events or trips away. For many people, self-care really entails having some control over how they spend their time – e.g. taking an hour out to have a nap, or a coffee with a friend, or heading to the movies alone. Giving ourselves some space to recover and recharge can mean that we are less likely to use alcohol to relax – and we may be more present and appreciative of the things around us, and enjoy things like the opportunity to sleep in or spend time with family.
Self-Monitoring – a large amount of the behaviour change- and wellbeing literature supports the practice of self-monitoring for (1) raising our awareness of the behaviour and (2) providing us with insight into ‘risky’ situations and triggers.
For many people, using apps to record their food intake and exercise helps them to be more aware of their consumption, and set a bit of an internal calculator around what they consume. The same goes for alcohol. If we are able to set ourselves some realistic goals for the holiday period, and keep a rough track of what we are eating and drinking, it can help us to stay on track – or a lot closer to the track than if we were not paying attention. Goal-setting theory proposes that, by setting a goal, we are likely to get closer to the goal than if we had never set it. Just having the goal – whether that is to keep below a certain number of calories or drinks, or to exercise a certain number of times per week – is a really good first step, as well as considering how we might work that goal into our plans over the holidays (e.g. bring walking shoes on a trip, or bring some alcohol-free wine to Christmas dinner).
Replacements – this is the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ section of the tips. As noted, most of our issues over the holidays come from our love of excess. We love to eat Christmas food, and the feelings of celebration and freedom can result in us over-indulging in food and drink, and then regretting the consequences. Just being aware of this is part of the battle, and knowing that for most things there are moderate replacements that can reduce some of the harm that we’d otherwise be experiencing. Some ideas are here and also:
- Champagne – AF sparkling wine, or Champagne with sparkling mineral water
- Cocktails – AF cocktails (recipes here), Seedlip (AF gin replacement), Altina (AF spirit replacement), Brunswick Aces (AF gin replacement), Kombucha with sparkling water
- Beer – AF beer (Carlton Zero), Kombucha
- Wine – Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon (AF wine).
Alternatively, here are some cocktail ideas from our archives:
- Cranberry juice, blood orange juice, lime, soda, and fruit pieces.
- Quarter of a glass of apple juice, fill up the rest with Indian tonic water, throw in a couple of mint leaves
- Soda, lime, and bitters
- Soda water, a spoon of maple syrup, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cayenne
- Lemonade, pineapple juice and a splash of lime cordial
- Ginger beer, ice and lots of mint leaves.
Remember, the aim of any of these kinds of changes is that we want them to be sustainable – we want them to be valid alternatives to how we are currently doing things. Exploring what works for you might be a matter of reflecting on what went well for you last year, and what didn’t go so well, and how you might like to do things differently this year.
It is likely that even a couple of small changes (e.g. a few AF days, some self-monitoring and having some replacement drinks in the fridge if needed) will have an impact on your physical and mental functioning over this period.
It can be a tricky balance between enjoying the festivities and also looking after ourselves physically and mentally, and we don’t always get it right! This is fine – remember, harm minimisation is about being realistic about human behaviour and acknowledging that sometimes we may over-indulge – and the important thing is that we can recognise this and plan around it. This looks different for everybody. For some people, regular exercise isn’t important, but they need eight hours of sleep or else mayhem ensues. For others, focusing on their diet means that everything else works like clockwork. Considering your own wellbeing and health goals might be useful in the lead-up to this holiday period, so that you can enjoy the whole experience and head into the new year in good physical and mental health.