I spent years quietly worrying about my drinking. It was a secret, shameful problem that I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone else about.
I felt so stuck and confused. I was tired of feeling hungover and fed up of the constant battle with myself over when I’d next drink. But the idea of actually giving up alcohol seemed unthinkable. My social life revolved around cocktails and boozy nights out. At home, I always had a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge. Drinking was normal, right? It was what everyone did and it was my favourite way to relax and switch off.
Alcohol occupied a lot of brain space. I always seemed to be thinking about booze and trying to decide whether things were really ‘bad enough’ for me to have to quit. (I realise now that if you’re constantly wondering if you’re drinking too much then you probably are.) Back then, googling questions like “am I an alcoholic?” was practically a hobby.
I’d sit at my laptop, glass of wine in hand, hunting for information. But what I was really doing was looking for things that proved my drinking wasn’t that bad. I’d read stories about other people’s rock-bottom moments: getting fired from jobs, swigging vodka in the morning or getting arrested for drinking-driving in the middle of the day.
I was not that kind of person. I was holding down a good (but stressful) job as a TV producer. I cared about my health. I worked-out, I drank green smoothies. I didn’t drink every night. Sometimes I’d take a whole week off from drinking, just to prove that I could do it. I knew I was a binge drinker, but in my personal and professional life I was surrounded by people who seemed to drink just like I did. Hangovers were something to joke about and not being able to remember the night before was the sign of a good night, right?
To the outside world, my drinking looked pretty unremarkable. But what no one knew was that I’d slowly begun to drink more and more at home, alone. In fact, that was my favourite way to drink. To be honest, it always had been. I liked being able to get as drunk as I wanted, without having to worry about what other people thought or how I’d get home afterwards. After a stressful day, sinking into a bottle of wine felt like pulling the shutters down on the world.
When I was drinking alone, I always intended to just have one glass. I aspired to be the kind of person who just had one. Yet every time, once I’d started I seemed unable to stop. I had no off switch and would carry on drinking until I passed out on the sofa. Then I’d wake up at 4am and crawl into bed feeling awful; exhausted but unable to sleep.
In those moments, I knew I had to do something about my drinking. I didn’t want to go to AA (I’d already been to a few meetings and didn’t feel they were a good fit for me). I couldn’t possibly go to rehab as I was sure I’d be laughed out of the place for not having enough of a problem. I spoke to my GP, but she wasn’t much help. She gave me a leaflet about cutting down and sent me on my way.
With hindsight, being told to simply ‘cut-down’ was unhelpful, but it was what I wanted to hear at the time. I wanted to believe that there was a way for me to control my alcohol intake without having to quit completely.
I was no stranger to the moderation game – I’d already spent years trying to cut back. I was an expert in creating rules around my drinking. Sometimes I’d promise myself that I was only going to drink on certain days of the week, or that I would wait until a set time before having my first glass. At other times, I had rules about not drinking alone, or only drinking at meal times, or only drinking in bars and restaurants. I tried buying low-alcohol beer or buying wine in small bottles. I even tried drinking alcohol I didn’t actually like the taste of.
Of course, none of this stuff ever really worked. Before I knew it I’d be waking up at 4am, hungover and feeling like a giant failure. I was a successful, motivated person – so why couldn’t I get a grip on this?
The end of my drinking career came about rather unexpectedly and uneventfully.
There was no rock-bottom moment, no drama. My friends and family didn’t stage an intervention, or issue some kind of ultimatum like they do in the movies. (To be honest, most people still didn’t realise how much I was drinking in the first place.)
It was 2013 and I was feeling utterly exhausted. I was so tired of drinking, recovering from drinking and worrying about my drinking. I’d attempted to do ‘Dry January’ – but failed spectacularly. My boozing seemed to kick up a gear after that. By the time spring arrived I couldn’t ignore this sense that something had to change. I looked at the calendar and realised I had exactly six months to go before I turned 30. The thought of dragging this problem into another decade seemed really miserable.
So I decided to take a break from drinking – a proper one this time.
In my previous (half hearted) attempts at quitting, I’d always promised to quit ‘forever’. But ‘forever’ is an awfully overwhelming concept. In AA, they tell you to take things ‘one day at a time’ – but I knew that wouldn’t work for me either – I needed something bigger to work towards. In the end, I settled on taking a break for 100 days. I vowed to give it everything I’d got, and to my surprise, I followed through on my promise to myself.
I read countless books about sobriety and listened to podcasts. I followed sober bloggers who were writing about their experience as it made me feel less alone. (I even started my own blog to keep myself accountable). I began going to the gym after work to burn off my stress instead of drinking through it. I trained for a half-marathon and started buying personal development books. I left my noisy, city flat and moved out to the countryside. Later on I changed careers too.
Basically, I got my act together. I stopped numbing out in order to cope or tolerate my lot in life. Instead, I began trying to build a life that I didn’t need to numb out or escape from.
To my surprise, I discovered I loved my new, hangover-free lifestyle. When I was drinking, I hadn’t really realised how badly alcohol was affecting my mood and mental health – I’d been too focused on recovering from the physical effects. Sober, I felt less anxious and I didn’t wake up feeling sad in the morning. I started sleeping for eight hours a night and I began eating better. I stopped hating myself and feeling like such a failure. Instead I was proud of what I was doing and felt positive about the future.
It’s been five and half years since I took that break from booze… and I’ve not looked back! I still go to bars and parties and do all the other normal stuff that 30-somethings do – the only difference is that I can remember it all the next day! Initially, I sort of assumed I would go back to drinking at some point, but I realised fairly early on that I’d be giving up so much if I let alcohol back into my life. Deciding to live alcohol-free is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If alcohol’s making you miserable I thoroughly recommend you try it – you have nothing to lose.
You can follow Kate on her sober journey at thesoberschool.com
Kate’s top tips for an alcohol-free life
Are you stuck in an unhappy relationship with booze? Well, with the right help and support, alcohol-free living doesn’t need to be so hard. Follow Kate Bee’s top tips to living your best life – without drink
Could you imagine life without alcohol? Well, maybe it’s time to consider it – you may never look back. Here are Kate’s top six tips to move towards an alcohol-free life.
1 Ask the right question
So many of us focus on whether our drinking is ‘bad enough’ for us to have to quit. But what is ‘bad enough’ exactly? A much better question to ask is this: “Is this good enough for me to carry on as I am?” Given that we only have one life – and it’s a pretty short one – are the benefits of drinking enough for you to keep putting up with all the side effects?
2 Take a proper break from booze
You’re only going to know what sobriety is really like if you do it and keep doing it for long enough to really ‘get’ it. If you’re sober Monday to Thursday, but drinking like a fish all weekend, then you’re not experiencing alcohol-free living properly. What you’re actually doing is making yourself repeat the hardest bit of sobriety (those first few days and weeks) over and over again. You’re teaching yourself that sobriety is tough and unsustainable.
3 Don’t wait for the perfect moment
I recommend taking a break for two or three months as that’s how long it takes to really get into the swing of things. Trust me, there’s never going to be the ‘perfect’ moment to do this. So rather than waiting until you have three temptation-free months ahead of you, commit to stopping drinking now, no matter what’s on your calendar. You can survive that holiday, or birthday, or wedding anniversary stone cold sober – you’ll feel so proud of yourself afterwards.
4 Mother yourself
Most of us drink because we’ve got out of the habit of paying attention to our own needs. We’ve trained ourselves to treat every bad emotion with alcohol, rather than thinking about what our minds and bodies really need. Look after yourself as you would a young child. What’s really going on at wine o’clock? Are you hungry, dehydrated, tired, overwhelmed, lonely, bored? These are all issues that you can fix without alcohol.
5 Play the movie to the end
When a craving strikes, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment. Next time, imagine your drinking as a story. You’re at the start of the movie right now and you get to decide the storyline. If you choose to drink, how’s the movie going to end? What will really happen if you have ‘just one drink’? How you will feel in a few hours or tomorrow morning? Will it be worth it?
6 Find a tribe
When you’re going against the grain and doing something different – like quitting drinking – it helps to know that you’re not alone. Build a little sober bubble for yourself and stack it with tools and inspiring resources. Follow blogs, read books, listen to podcasts, join Facebook groups or seek out other non drinkers on Instagram. Once you start looking, you’ll begin to see that sober people are everywhere.
Health & Living