I don’t need to tell you that we have a problem with alcohol, do I? That alcohol is directly related to 23 cancers or that just two drinks a day increases your cancer risk by 7% , five increases it to 37%. Or that alcohol is considered the most dangerous drug in the world and responsible for around 1,000 deaths each year in New Zealand. That no amount of alcohol is healthy. You’ve heard this story over and over again. So I’m sharing a story you haven’t heard a lot: That in the midst of a society that celebrates alcohol, I decided to quit.
- The background
- How I stopped
- The surprising bits
- The good and bad bits
- The final word
- Your questions
Becoming one of those non-drinkers
Growing up in a small town in New Zealand, we created life-long bonds over a $10 bottle of Kristoff Vodka and a bottle of Sprite. Getting drunk at parties and passing out was just what people did. I had never considered *not* drinking.
I wasn’t a wine-with-dinner kind of drinker, I was a binge drinker. I’d only drink on special events and sometimes on weekends but I loved those times. I let alcohol define my character as an entertainer. I was the person that hosted parties and made sure everyone’s glasses were topped up. But during those times there are nights I have no recollection of, conversations I don’t remember having and flashbacks of embarrassing things I would never do or say sober. Each year I became more resentful of my drinking.
I felt like a walking contradiction. I lived and breathed health and fitness but some weekends, I would drink so much that I’d be bent over a toilet the next day. Just mull that over for a second. Your body is literally purging the poison you took in because it can’t process it. It’s not that normal, is it? But we make normal it by calling it a hangover and curling up to some movies.
Your body is literally purging the poison you took in because it can’t process it. It’s not that normal, is it? But we make normal it by calling it a hangover and curling up to some movies.
For five years, my resolution was to become one of those non-drinking types.
When Dad passed away I didn’t drink much at all, knowing how delicately balanced my mental state was. But after a while, I allowed myself to drink some weekends. Then, my team at work was being restructured and as way to let off steam, we would have a wine together after work. I was never a mid-week drinker but I was having one or two every now and then.
I started having cigarettes with alcohol, alcohol was a trigger for smoking in me and this was becoming far too frequent for my liking. I was getting hooked and my Dad’s absolute hate for cigarettes kept repeating in my head. He had been trying to live and I was busy doing things that could kill me. Crazy.
Deciding I was done was a relief
The escapism of alcohol felt nice in the midst of my loss. For a couple of hours at an event, I’d forget the enormity of my loss but the morning after became tough. I felt guilty for the cigarettes and for not making the most of my life. Hangovers with guilt AND grief are rough.
I started feeling incredibly exhausted. I was too tired to go running in the mornings like I used to. I’d drag myself to the gym but my soul felt tired. I would look at old photos of fit Katie and wonder how I would get her spark back.
On a whim, I booked some cheap flights to Hawaii. I had no plans, just that I needed to refresh my health and I thought taking myself away from New Zealand would help. In the lead up to Hawaii, I looked up detox healing retreats, desperate to feel a bit more like myself. But nothing I found fit.
It wasn’t until I got there and I was drinking cocktails by the pool that I questioned why I was drinking. I didn’t like the taste, I didn’t like how I felt after a few drinks and it wasn’t good for my health. I realised that I actually didn’t like drinking .
I made the decision right there that I wouldn’t drink again. This build up of years of bad decisions, headaches and pointlessness just ended. What a relief!
The people I spent time with were non-drinkers so the time we spent together was outdoors. We climbed mountains, surfed, worked out at the gym. It was so wholesome and I liked it.
When I returned to New Zealand I cemented the decision by blogging about it. This added another layer of accountability to you, the readers of my blog. I had made a commitment and had a bunch of supporters cheering me on.
My introduction to sobriety was sweet.
The surprising bits
I had made a bunch of assumptions about sober life, like that I was being this one fish swimming in the other direction when there were actually quite a few quietly swimming that way. Here’s some of the surprising bits:
There’s a lot of people in the sober club
I thought I would stand out like a sore thumb but there are far more people that choose not to drink than I ever realised. I just never noticed. We have great chats at parties and having others normalise sobriety is great. I realise how strange that statement is but that’s how far we have gone with normalising alcohol. There are a bunch of sober movements:
- Sober Curious: a movement to allow the exploration of sobriety.
- Club Soda: a NYC group that asks ‘what if it was cooler not to drink.’
- No Beers Who Cares: a Kiwi group focused on sober socialising. It’s cool.
The clarity can be overwhelming
Being fully present at events can be a bit startling at first. I notice everything, smell everything, hear everything (not always the best when you’re sober). It felt uncomfortable at first, having such awareness. Where do I put all these thoughts? Who do I give attention to? Are they judging me for not drinking? But now I’ve learned this new way to be and I’m getting better at it. You do have to rediscover yourself as a non-drinker – it’s wonderful and frightening at the same time.
Alcohol is EVERYWHERE
When you’re a drinker, you don’t notice it but as a non-drinker, the push for booze is always present. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for someone with a drinking problem to give up. It’s at every step in life, pushed down peoples throats and always in their subconscious. It’s in the supermarkets where we have to get our food, it sponsors our sporting heroes, it’s used as a prize or a reward. Alcohol ads are expensive, witty and entertaining. It’s any wonder we have a problem with it.
The tide is turning
When I tell people I don’t drink anymore they tell me how they want to drink less or give up. They tell me that they would love to do what I’ve done. I get a sense of guilt from some people and a real desire to have a better relationship with alcohol. Some people have said “I’m not drinking tonight with you” and I love that. Having sober buddies is great. It feels like there is movement away from the traditional attitudes towards alcohol and I’m happy to be turning with that tide.
The good bits
Being alcohol free is all encompassing goodness so it’s hard to fit all of that into a few points. So here’s some of my favourites:
- Overall health improved: My skin is brighter, I have more energy and I’ve lost weight. Alcohol-related fat sat around my stomach so I’ve managed to burn belly fat. I’m consuming less alcohol calories, I have more energy for the gym and reduced cortisol (stress hormone) – this all led to my weight loss. My ability to deal with stressful situations has increased.
- Great sleeps: I sleep deeply right through the night and wake up feeling well rested. I get up early for exercise without a problem now (hi fit Katie!). Read more on how alcohol disrupts your sleep cycle.
- More money: I’m not spending on alcohol-related weekends and everything that goes with it like takeaways and packs of cigarettes that get thrown away.
- Much more time: Because I’m not hungover or tired on the weekends, I have so much more time. My days are packed full of walks, catch up with friends, writing and reading.
- Clarity: I have such a clear mind now. It’s not hazy with remnants of last nights alcohol anymore. I’m not delaying or treating emotions with alcohol. I make better decisions (over-thinkers like me will love this bit).
- Better mental health: my ability to grieve in a healthy way has increased. I’m not dealing with the incredible lows that I used to experience after a big Saturday night, or the guilt of smoking. The mental clarity equips me to bounce back after tough days.
- Different friendships: my friends have made a real effort to include me and to do fun things that aren’t all about drinking. At a hens night, there were juice shots for me so I felt included. For some friends, it’s the first time we’ve hung out like this so it’s been really sweet.
The not so good bits
I’d be lying if I said this was all smooth sailing. Being alcohol free is a complete shift on the way I lived life so rather than bad bits, these are just adjustments I’ve had to get used to:
- Changed friendships: There are people who have drifted from my life that I would normally become close with over drinks. People can make time for alcohol-related catch ups but not for a cuppa or exercise. Some friendships were kept warm by alcohol.
- Constantly reassuring drinkers: people don’t know how to be around me now. I spend a good chunk of time reassuring people that I’m really okay with not drinking, that I’m not sick or pregnant, that I can still have fun without it and that I’m perfectly okay with them drinking around me.
- Learning a new normal: I’ve discovered that I have some social anxiety. In the past, if I wasn’t comfortable I could just have a wine at an event and build courage that way. Now, I have to deal with it head on and in some events if I’m feeling off, I’ll just make an appearance and quietly head off. I’m still getting used to this very present new Katie.
- Being around at witching hour: theres a fine line between fun drunks and drunk drunks and I’ve discovered I need to leave before things get too wild. I’ve heard hurtful comments that were in earshot and had things spilled on me accidentally. It’s best to exit before any of that happens!
The final word:
I found my spark again as a happy non-drinker.
Alcohol is no longer part of who I am and no longer has a role in my life. I really don’t miss it at all. I’ve been adapting to that over six months and slowly, the people around me will adapt to Sober Katie.
Alcohol is harming our society on many levels. I would love more people to join me in normalising sobriety, not alcohol. I’d love it if someone decides not to drink at an event, that their decision isn’t questioned.
I’m really excited about this new ‘sober curious’ movement and I hope this starts an honest conversation about the way we drink. The tide is most certainly turning.
Cheers to that!
Here’s the answers to some of the questions I’ve been asked about this new sober life. I love these questions so please fire more my way!
1: Have you been tempted to drink in 6 months?
There have been a few times where I thought I wanted a drink. One was at Boomrock. It was a cold day, they had the fire on and a red wine would’ve been lovely next to the cosy fire. Another was at a wedding. Everyone was drinking, dancing and I was getting a bit sick of drinking sodas and water, and because it was an emotional day, tiredness set in. Normally, the alcohol would keep me awake but no amount of coffees would! In those cases, I survived, and still had a great time.
2: Come on, you’ve had a sneaky drink
Nope, I really haven’t! At Christmas there was brandy in the trifle I had but as soon as I tasted it, I stopped eating that bit. I haven’t touched cigarettes since either.
3: Will you ever drink again?
I don’t think so. Perhaps if I go to France, I’ll try the French wine. But I just don’t like the taste of it anymore and I’m used to this new norm.
4: I drink, are you judging me?
Nope. You do you, friend. But if you ever want to not drink every now and then, I’ll be here to be your sober buddy.
5: What are your thoughts about alcohol?
I think it is a poison and it is responsible for so much damage in our society. I believe it contributed to my Dad’s type of cancer – red meat and alcohol are leading causes of colorectal cancers. I hate that we have been conditioned to believe we need it. It is directly linked to multiple cancers, causes death through drink driving and violence. And it’s broken families. Yet, it is so readily available at every turn. I’m not a fan, obviously.
6: What’s been the hardest bit?
Seeing the effect alcohol has on people, the absolute damage it’s caused our people and the conditioning that has happened for us to think alcohol makes everything better.
Convincing the people waiting for me to slip up that I’m not a drinker now.
7: Have you stopped drinking for yourself or to prove to others you can do it?
I stopped at the beginning for me. It was a big lead up and something I needed to do for my health. The added accountability layer by sharing it has helped me by not giving me the option to change my mind. It reaffirms my reasons. So, a bit of both.
8: What is your secret to success?
For me, being able to say “I don’t drink” has been the most powerful tool. People respect that are more than ‘I’m not drinking at the moment.’ Also, the timing was right for me.
8: What’s your hope out of this?
I’d like to inspire other people like me to reconsider the way they drink. If I can show more people that life without alcohol is pretty fun, I’ll be happy. I’ve already had two people message me to say that they have given up too after reading my posts. That sort of thing makes me beam from ear to ear.
9: What’s the most surprising thing?
That there are far more people that don’t drink that I ever knew. I’m not that special in that respect, lots of people do it.
10: Any annoying things?
People assuming I’ll want to sober drive them home, I’ll take people home if they want to come when I leave! People taking my non-drinking as an insult to their own drinking – this really is for me not anyone else but if it makes them rethink their own behaviours then good I guess? People acting like I’m missing a limb or completely unable to enjoy things sober.
I used to be the person convincing others to drink and now that I’ve been on the receiving end of that, I realise how annoying it is to someone trying to make positive healthy decisions.
11: Do you miss drinking?
I really enjoyed my twenties and the house parties I’ve had. I’ve been to a few big events sober now and at the start I felt like I was missing out on those fun times. But then I would hear about the person that passed out and had to go to hospital or the fight someone had. I see how sick they are the next day and then I’m reminded why I stopped and I don’t miss it at all.
12: What’s your advice for someone wanting to quit or cut back?
Try to be more conscious when you consume alcohol. Ask yourself why you’re drinking and if you actually like. Then be firm on your decision when you do choose to not drink. Try going to some events sober to see what it’s like and if you need to, find a sober buddy like me to join you at them.
If you have any questions of your own, leave a comment or send me a message.