It’s been 6 months today since I decided to stop drinking alcohol. Crack the champers! (Um…jokes)
It’s weird I guess…alcohol-free living has just become a normal part of my life and although this has not been remotely as challenging as I thought it would be, it is not without its hurdles along the way.
While the benefits of not drinking far outweigh the costs (some of which you can read in some of my other blog posts) I do feel there is value in acknowledging and sharing the things that we miss when we stop drinking.
Over the last few weeks I have asked a few people to share the things they miss the most. Here are an annoyingly-uneven 11 of them!
It’s no secret that drinking is a commonly shared action/experience between people and groups. Drinking in social settings has become so normalised in our everyday life and in a way makes us a part of ‘tribe’. When you stop drinking this does, by nature, distance you from the ‘tribe’, which can leave you feeling left out, and sometimes leave others feeling ‘rejected’. Drinking can speed up a feeling of comradery with people. Of course this can happen in other ways, but drinking has become the ‘lazy’ solution to this in our society. In these situations, it helps to fake drinking whenever you can, but also to find other common interests to align yourself with (such as underwater basket weaving for example).
2) That ‘buzzed’ feeling
Yup…this is a tough one, and one I miss a lot! Alcohol is a drug, and it makes you feel a sense of elation and happiness. Those first few sips light up your pleasure centers like a Christmas tree, how can you not miss this?? We tend to take this for granted when we are drinking every day or week, but there are huge physiological responses at play. Everyone is getting high around you and enjoying this feeling – which seems unfair. Unfortunately smoking up a joint or dropping a tab of acid in public just isn’t as socially acceptable. BOO! To help with this I suggest finding other enjoyable and addictive vices like eating shit loads of sugar instead (joking ;). But seriously find activities that make you feel excited and elated – for me this is dancing for hours to techno and house music.
3) Increased social skills
For some, alcohol may feel like it helps increase social skills. Some feel alcohol assists in dealing with social anxiety and opening up easier in groups and becoming more ‘entertaining’ or the ‘life of the party’. Especially for those who might feel more introverted (such as myself). Some mention this helps them ‘break down walls’ and helps with trust issues and ‘opening up’ to others. Of course this doesn’t work for everyone – with some folk just becoming bigger asshole versions of themselves instead. Nevertheless, this is a common thing which people seem to miss, although many will attest to being way better versions of themselves socially without alcohol and feeling more confident in these situations once they have gotten over the initial anxiety.
4) The taste
Ah…the taste of a cold beer, or crisp white wine on a sunny afternoon. Interestingly, once we start dissociating from the meaning and the feelings we attach from alcohol the less appealing the taste becomes. Beer and gin seem bitter, wine acidic, tequila repulsive. But these associations are strong, and you are bound to miss these tastes/feeling sensations from time to time – which I do when I think of champagne. Mmm…champagne. BUT these feelings generally pass after a few minutes…so just hang tight!
5) Getting out of my head for a while
This can be a toughy. Many people describe drinking as a way to ‘escape’ – escape the pains of the world, but often a way to escape our minds, our thoughts and ourselves. I know this is big reason I drank. Hell, I managed to escape so far away from my body for hours on end, barely even recognising the body I was leaving behind (or the body I was entering for that matter). It’s a weird thing when you can’t do this anymore. You are kind of just stuck with yourself at all times. Whilst this might be frustrating, it’s also a massive opportunity to see what it is you are trying to leave behind and why. A time for self-improvement. Still…this doesn’t make it suck any less, especially when everyone around you is getting to ‘escape’ their woes. Dealing with feelings, thoughts and insecurities isn’t a pleasant experience. These feelings do subside though, and even though we feel we are doing ourselves a service by dissociating from these emotions, they generally catch up with us, particularly in those brutal hungover moments the next day ( #SuicideSunday much?).
It’s quite normal that by quitting drinking you might lose some friends along the way. Whether buddies from the pub, or friends who you spent most time getting drunk with. These friendship dynamics will change, and sometimes you will need to leave those friends behind. I have had to do this over the last few months. I miss these people and the innocent banter, the silliness, the routine of getting together for wild and pointless nights. While some friends will go, it’s important to get involved in activities where you can meet like-minded people – meetup.com has plenty of meet up groups for all kinds of interested, join a hiking club, or try new activities to make more meaningful friendships.
Ah…ritual. There’s an interesting video online which speaks about how rituals have always been, and continue to be, such an important part of human life and existence, but how we have lost these practices in modern day life (and particularly in western societies). Drinking alcohol, for example, used to be a ritualistic practice embedded with meaning and purpose. However, we have lost this practice, and are left empty rituals of drinking for the sake for getting drunk. It’s important to find rituals in your life – be it in spiritual practice, physical movement, or my favourite – brewing a pot of GOOD coffee each morning!
8) Getting Boozed on Holiday
Drinking while you are travelling is a deeply ingrained practise– Pina Coladas on the beach, a glass of white wine on a wine farm, red wine by the fireplace and shots of tequila at night. The most alcoholism I think I have ever come across was when I was backpacking through Thailand. The backpacking culture is highly fuelled by alcohol, so much so that alcohol-related injuries and sickness is completely commonplace. I went to Argentina a few months ago and did not have as single drink. The experience was different, but it was still awesome – with more time to explore different facets of the culture – the food, the dancing, the markets without the hangover, not to mention a hell of a lot more money left to spare on activities or shopping. That being said, it’s takes a bit of getting used to.
9) ‘Me time’
While I have never been one to drink on my own, some people relish having a glass of wine or other forms of ethanol after a hard day. A time to ‘unwind’ without any distractions – ‘me time’. This can be tricky when trying to find activities after work that fulfill the same need. However, it’s a matter of trying to find this ‘me time’ in other feel-good activities – going for a jog or walk in the park, cooking and baking, drawing, reading or taking a luxurious bath. These rituals can be replaced quite easily with healthier alternatives (if you let them). But yes sure, these will never really be quite the ‘same’ as taking a drug substance. It sucks…but you know what, there are worse things!
10) That ‘adult’ feeling
I miss that ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ feeling of having a glass of red wine with a partner or a friend over a meal, or a whisky at a work event or bubbles to celebrate an event. With the lack of non-alcohol alternatives in restaurants and bars… sometimes there are little options but a coke or a hot chocolate. I won’t lie, this does make me feel like a bit of a pre-pubescent teen at times. But, in fact, there are a lot of sexier non-alcohol drinks doing the rounds these days (like these)– and I make damn sure that when I am making my own drinks at home or at someone else’s house that I am the envy of the party. Fresh fruit, sexy cordials, mint or lavender sprigs and colourful finishes. I have also been seeing more and more interesting non-alcohol bevvies lately while out and about. Sometimes it simply takes a closer look at the menu, or requesting something from the bartender.
11) Easy entertainment
This is probably the biggest thing I miss about drinking and one I have struggled with the most. Drinking is easy entertainment. Hell, you could be sitting at a shitty table, in the middle of nowhere, in the freezing cold having a few drinks and it could be a WHOLE adventure in itself! When you stop drinking you are forced to be more creative with your time and work a bit harder to have fun. Sometimes I find this is difficult when sitting around with friends at someone’s house or at a bar – when the activity is centered around drinking and getting ‘buzzed’. I find it hard to really enjoy these simple times now, and feel my patience for these activities has dwindled. It’s a tough one. The flip side of this is you really are forced into learning what you like and do not like doing – and trying new things to excite and entertain yourself, when drinking would have done just fine before. But still…it’s normal to miss and yearn for these simple times.
With drinking such a big part of our lives, and so heavily encouraged in the media and our daily routines it is normal to feel ‘hard done by’ when you stop boozing. It’s not all easy, and you might need to vent about this from time to time. This is OK.
But when you factor the benefits to yourself, your health, your use of time, these moments seem to matter less.
For those who would prefer a moderation approach, I strongly suggest conquering the above scenarios first and foremost before diving back in. That way, it’s easier to consciously know when and why you are drinking to fulfill a certain ‘need’, and more importantly, perhaps the times when you just might not need it at all.