What I Wish I’d Known When I Quit Drinking
Hi, I’m Lou, and I’ve been sober from alcohol for just over four years! It’s been a strange journey – sometimes really great, sometimes really fucking horrible, sometimes just downright weird – but I can genuinely say that, at this point, I’m glad I went through it.
But I also wish I had known a little more before spilling that last, symbolic glass of cheap red wine down the side of the couch four Hogmanays ago. And I thought I would share that with you, just in case some of you are considering or have started your own alcohol-free approach to life – this is just my experience, but
- Get Ready to Feel Your Fucking Feelings
Jesus. This is the one I wish I’d been told about before I started my sobriety journey, but I had to find out the hard way: when you take away something that you’ve been using to help manage difficult emotions, no matter whether you thought that something was a major issue for you or not, those feelings are going to Make Themselves Known.
Drinking, for me, was a way to help me cope with some difficult mental health symptoms like social anxiety, depression, and heavy past stuff I hadn’t really addressed in myself yet, but I didn’t know that till I quit. In the year after I stopped drinking, I had probably the most insane and uncomfortable and worthwhile period of mental health shifts and development that I’ve had in my adult life. I can’t tell you what your experiences might be in this regard, because I don’t know what’s going on in your head (apart from thinking about how hot and smart I am, obviously), but if you take only one thing away from this article to keep in mind in quitting alcohol, let it be this: a whole heckin’ lot of emotion is about to drop on your doorstep, and having some plan to deal with them, whether that’s clinical help, social support, or something else, is going to make this so much easier.
2. Your Social Life Matters – But Your Solo One Matters More
I’m a reasonably solitary person, so the social aspect of drinking wasn’t necessarily the one that hit me hardest – I have amazing friends and family who supported me in the early days by picking non-boozey places to hang out, until I got to the point where standing in a Wetherspoon’s wouldn’t send me into a conniption.
But what was tough was being alone. I really enjoyed spending time by myself with a few drinks, and restructuring my personal solo time was way more impactful to quitting drinking than my social life, which just takes up less of my literal time. I was so used to grabbing a bottle or two of wine and chilling by myself of an evening while I got drunk, and that was time I really valued, as a chance to be by myself without spending the whole time panicking as I might have done sober.
I still really thrive on having a lot of time alone, and focusing on turning that into non-drinking time has been one of the most beneficial parts of quitting alcohol. I had to take a step back and look at what I actually enjoyed, as opposed to what I did to pass the time while drinking. I needed to figure out how I spend my free time without the haze of booze to make everything a bit more agreeable. I got back into gaming, reading, podcasts, and walking in a big way, and honestly, being able to enjoy them without drinking the entire time has been a really fun revelation.
3. Drinking as Self-Care Is Everywhere
It’s really strange, when you first quit drinking, to see how common it is for people and society in general to treat drinking and getting drunk as a form of self-care (this really interesting article in “wine moms” helped illuminate it for me). That’s a really easy way to justify drinking even after you’ve decided to go sober, because booze is a go-to when it comes to relaxing and having fun and focusing on yourself for a while, and everyone deserves to feel that way once in a while, don’t they?
The best way I found to combat this was to find that “treat” feeling in other, non-alcohol-related stuff. It’s helped to have a few fun, fancy drinks to hand if I do feel like treating myself – this raspberry lemonade slush is all that matters to me in life – but more than anything, it was finding ways to indulge myself that felt genuine. Alcohol, for a long time, was one of the only ways I could let go and indulge myself, and I spent a lot of time trying to work out just how I was meant to do that without it. For me, stuff like baking fits the bill – I have to go out of my way to do it, and I really enjoy it, so making space for the time and resources to do it feels really indulgent. Drinking was an act of anti-self-care for me, and the more I come to understand that and replace it with stuff that really feels good, the more I realise how much better off I am without it.
Are you planning to try going alcohol-free? Have you already gone sober or quit booze? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments, and what you wish you’d known when you started out too! If you’d like to see more of my work, you can check out my horrible short story collection, or consider supporting me on Patreon.