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HELLO !!!! I HAVE NOT DRUNK ALCOHOL IN 365 DAYS!!!
Alright. You know I've been in a group for people looking to change their relationship with alcohol for the last year. I've done quite a lot of writing in there - some of it will migrate back over to this blog and future book, but not all of it. People have been very kind to me about it, and that's one of the main reasons I finally plucked up the courage to actually start writing and associating my name and face to my words. Anyway ... At the end of this first turn around the sun without alcohol (and WHAT a year to choose to go AF!) - here are some of the things I’ve learned :
You need a sober tribe, a support group (of whatever size) of people who get it. People further down the road than you, people following behind, people on the same stretch. They’re all capable of changing your day, mindset, and life.
The more you can support others – even just with a “congratulations!” or a “get back up and be gentle with yourself” type comment – the more you will get from the adventure. I have learned equal amounts from those who are ahead of me on their AF journeys, and those who are still fighting their demons and who do not stop quitting. I am forever grateful to those who share their struggles as well as their successes.
SO much of my anxiety (which had gone back to being really quite bad a year ago, a baseline around 7/10) has just “disappeared”. There are new ones, of course. COVID, lockdown, family, health, finances, living as an out trans person … but that general baseline anxiety? Reduced from 7-8 to a 1-2, despite the pandemic. I've gone from taking a LOT of anti-nausea tablets (nausea and wild temperature changes was how anxiety tended to present itself for me) to never really taking them. From regular anxiety and panic attacks to incredibly rare ones (having a dentist in a hazmat suit mumbling questions behind a mask while also fitting her fist in my mouth was one notable exception to the "no more anxiety attacks" trend).
It is possible to host a soirée and not drink booze and not end up hating my guests! It’s also possible that an evening I’d have jumped at a year ago (too much wine followed by horrific karaoke) just doesn’t float my boat in the same way any more. I have to listen more carefully to my body and mind’s needs before thinking about the kind of interactions I can commit to.
Relationships will change. I have drifted, and sometimes actively paddled, away from some of the people I was closest to. Having the clarity of thought and convictions that comes from a good long stretch of not drinking alcohol brings sometimes surprising answers to questions you never thought you’d ask. I have also developed some incredibly close relationships with people – some of whom I’m waiting to meet in person, some of whom I’ll likely never meet, and some of whom I’ve already met. There are people out there ready to join you.
Alcohol-Free alternatives are SUCH an important tool. I drank a fuck-tonne of them at the very beginning, and tried very hard not to question my drinking of them too much. Having AF drinks allowed me to get past the rocky few first days and weeks and months, tricking my brain into thinking that we were NOT undergoing a complete overhaul of life as we knew it. My reliance on them diminished by itself, I did not make a conscious decision to reduce or stop. I still have AF beer in my fridge, and still drink it sometimes while making dinner, or having a chat on the phone, or having drinks with friends. Just because we don’t drink alcohol doesn’t mean we have to drink milk or juice. There are some amazing AF drinks out there – try as many as you can until you find one (or several) that work for you. HOWEVER. I have also become a fan of a cool fizzy water, and an even bigger fan of a good mug of tea. I “need” the AF drinks less and less.
Asking “what kind of AF beer do you serve?” in a bar or restaurant is a good way of putting the onus on *them*, rather than us having to carry the responsibility of it (with a hopeful "do you have any AF beer?"). If the answer is “none” – a shocked face / raised eyebrow can be quite efficient at making them consider stocking some for the future. Also, if they don’t serve anything like that – fuck ‘em. Around a month into my AF journey, I was invited to a 40th birthday party in a punk bar in Paris (oh, the good old days of November 2019). The punk bar didn’t have any AF beer, so I smuggled a six-pack of my own in. What’s more punk than that?!
I was able to quit smoking because I wasn’t drinking alcohol any more. I have not yet signed the contract with the universe that I’ll never drink alcohol again (although I’d need a bloody good reason TO drink it, to counter all the wonderful reasons to NOT drink it), but I know I’ll never smoke again. I’m free – and for someone whose identity and activities centred so largely around drinking wine and smoking … I’m over the moon to have found this freedom.
I didn’t use patches or gum or any nicotine replacement to quit smoking and vaping, but went the Allen Carr route, remembering that each hour and day I got further away from Day 0, the stronger I got and the weaker the cravings and triggers got. The same is true for alcohol, for me. The further away I get from Day 1, the stronger I feel, the better equipped I am to deal with the occasional whisper (or scream) from the Wine Witch.
I’m trans (raise your hand if you didn’t know ^^). The answer to a question I’d been drunkenly theorising on since my university days, saying “I’ll deal with that when the ancients have passed on” … suddenly with the relentless (it definitely can feel that way) clarity of AF living, I couldn’t avoid it any more. It was do or die – answer the question honestly, and live accordingly, or drink and smoke myself to an early death. So I’ve added “realise gender identity, come out to everyone, live openly and authentically” to my list of achievements since going AF.
Ice cream makes me spotty, but not as spotty as booze and nicotine did.
I still have an issue with internalised fatphobia (as well as the explicit shite marketed to us on a daily if not hourly basis); I still struggle to find the right balance between wanting to be waif-like Cate Blanchette and also wanting to eat things that do both brain and body good. Sometimes that’s spinach, sometimes it’s Ben and Jerry’s, oftentimes it’s both. My heart still breaks when I read people’s posts saying “I’m on Day 3 and I haven’t lost any weight, when does the magic happen?!” – but I have to remember what is *mine* to carry and what is not. I could say that I’ve lost 20kg over the last year, because I have. I’ve also gained 18-19. I’ve been dancing around a 5kg or so gain and loss pretty much all year, and I have to accept that the excess weight I carry didn’t just magically fall off because I quit drinking alcohol. I also have to remember that I’ve quit smoking, suffered through long-COVID and not been able to (find my motivation to) exercise as much as would have been good for me. Practising gentleness with myself is a constant work, but no matter what size I am, it’s a life-long requirement. No matter what size we are, society, the media, adverts will tell us we’re too big, too wobbly, too muscly, too thin, too tall, too small. Amplifying that little voice inside that says “actually, I’m just right like this right now” is key. The balance is to be found in aiming for health and fitness and happiness and fulfilment in a way that is right for us right now.
The sugar cravings are REAL, yo. In the early days, it’s replacing the booze calories. After that, it can be a different source of comfort, another way to “treat” ourselves. What has helped me in finding balance is to make sure I’m eating at least 5 fruit/vegetables a day, enough protein, drinking all the water, and then listening to my body. I’m trying very hard to not associate guilt or shame or judgement of any kind in terms of the “extras” I have – ice cream, pizza, pastries … if it feels like I need (or at least really, really want) it? Fuck it, I’m sober – I’ll have it.
SLEEP! Holy fuck. OK, so I have 4 elephants living upstairs, who sleep and stomp in shifts; it seems there is always someone around and awake, ready to drop something or throw themselves on the floor or find some squeaky pleasure … so I don’t always have the luxury of sleeping all night long, but a) I can manage SO much better on less sleep than before (because my body doesn’t have to spend hours and hours reducing and removing the damages done during the evening) and b) when I do sleep, it’s beautiful. It didn’t arrive straight away, and I took melatonin in the first couple of months because I was struggling to get to sleep without the help of wine, but over time, it definitely became easier. Still a work in progress, but literally all parts of my life are works in progress!
Hard things are still hard. One of my favourite people in the whole wide world passed on this year. I had to have my cat euthanised. Two of my closest friendships have fallen apart. My dad was diagnosed with really scary cancer. I am unable to visit family back in the UK due to fears of infection (as well as shut / sticky borders etc …). My coming out as trans hasn’t always been received with the grace and understanding I would have liked, I’ve been disappointed by some reactions to my truth and my choices. And I haven’t turned to booze during these tricky feelings. I have fought the urge(s) to grab a bottle of wine or whiskey and set fire to the feelings, or drown them in poison. I’ve resisted the pull towards destruction – of myself or others. I’m not always AF Zen Warrior Goddess, but I’m trying. I am further developing empathy both for others and for myself. I’m realising what is mine to carry, and what is not. I realised I need an extra source of safety and support, and am getting that from therapy. Through being AF, I can better see and feel what I need, and act to get that.
Listening to myself and my body is key. Especially after the initial COVID-19 infection and subsequent tail-end consequences (I’m so glad and grateful I’d already left the booze and nicotine behind, I’m 100% convinced it would have been a LOT worse) of fatigue and joint pain – if my body tells me I’m tired, it’s because I’m tired. So I rest. Particularly in the early days, treating ourselves like kids is really helpful – plenty of sleep, plenty of good food, plenty of treats, plenty of kind, gentle words. Rest, reward, rinse, repeat.
Talking of rewards – I calculated how much I was spending on booze and nicotine, and decided that on any given day, I could spend that amount of money, no questions asked, no guilt to be had ever. I have bought myself ridiculously overpriced AF wine (in the early days), new proper knives, a fucking grown-up’s salad spinner, a bike, a load of harem pants (hello working from home glam realness), a new yoga mat that has never been pissed on by a cat, books, and donations to causes that I care about. I don’t spend as much money as I used to, but I do enjoy being able to treat myself and others in ways that make me happy and feel good, rather than providing me with the false highs and real, crushing lows that come from alcohol.
I’m super lucky. I’d had 3 years of therapy and became a certified business and life coach last year after following a 9-month intensive course. Working from home and with a flexible schedule meant that I was able to concentrate on myself and the journey in the first few weeks and months. I found my tribe and got an amazing amount of support from them. I had a sober lighthouse who showed me some of the benefits for her, and I have met so many others so far along the journey. I want to carry on talking about and working in the world of sobriety, fighting to destigmatise it, doing what I can to amplify the necessary diversity of voices and faces and stories in the AF world.
I have a voice. I can effect change. I can inspire. I can tell my truth and be heard. I can be me. I can write. I can own my words. I want to use my soberskills and soberpowers to help make the world a better place for people, on an individual level but also for the wider world in general. Whether it’s through my coaching, writing, mentoring or friendship – I want to continue learning and also spreading the benefits of what I’ve learned.