When I decided to stop drinking around 18 months ago, this was for the most part a fairly spontaneous decision, and I had little planning or understanding for what was in store. I knew that there would be obvious health benefits and changes to my lifestyle, but there were certain things which happened which I never could have anticipated! Some of which brought unexpected joy and rewards, and some that brought about interesting new challenges. Ultimately all have brought massive growth and learnings in my life, which I thought I would share.
1) I got angry and learnt about boundaries
When I first decided to stop drinking, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by a sense of anger. It hit me like a ton of bricks and felt like an exorcisms of sorts, of pent up anger from years of drinking. I was angry at myself for all the times I had compromised my values and let myself down through drinking, I was angry at various men who I felt had taken advantage of me during these times (but I was drunk right so it was my fault?). I was angry at society for its promotion and normalisation of alcohol, despite the destruction it wreaks on so many people, myself included. I was floored. The blurred alcohol-infused illusions started to lift off my reality and I started to see things as clearly as ever before, and I was angry. There is a stigma around woman feeling and expressing anger. Heaven forbid we be that angry, ‘irrational’ or ‘ungracious’ woman right? There is a great deal of shame associated with feeling anger, when in fact this is a very valid, and healthy emotion to feel. The gift of anger for me has been profound – anger has taught me about boundaries. From anger I have learnt that I have never really been OK with how I was drinking, how men have treated me and how society has let myself and many others down. The knowledge of this has allowed me to put boundaries down in my life in deciding what I am OK with, and what I am not. It has taught me how I want to live my life, how I allow myself to be treated by others, and from what I choose to reject in terms of societal norms. For that, I am very grateful for what anger has brought.
2) I started paying more attention to certain people than I would have before
When I started drinking at 14, and to an extent drinking in my 20s, I always wanted to hang out with the party kids, the wild childs, the ones who threw caution to the wind, and drank like sailors. I wanted to be at certain ‘scenes’ and wouldn’t really associate as much with anyone who didn’t fit this mould. I never really had as much time for the quieter people, the ‘geeks’, the ‘intellects’, the ones who didn’t really drink. I thought those people were uncool, and I was so debilitated by my own insecurities, that I disassociated with these individuals. Looking back, I wish I knew what these kids knew. I wish I developed certain hobbies more instead of drinking on the weekend, or had the quiet self confidence that they had. I wish I had the strength that they had to reject getting drunk or smoking weed at parties because it made them uncomfortable. Over the last 18 months I have met so many interesting and wise people who I probably would not have met before who I have learnt from, and have come to realise that we are all cut from the same cloth!
3) I had a lot more time to explore new activities and hobbies (such as starting this blog)
I remember when I first decided to stop drinking, how an absolute eruption of ideas, inspiration and expression started to pour out of me. I started this blog within three days of stopping drinking, drew out a 18 month strategy for where I wanted to take it (which I am still following to this day), and I started to write and write and write. The words and ideas and thoughts and LIFE just started to flow out of me, as if desperate for release. This is one of the amazing things that seems to happen – the excitement, the inspiration and the TIME you have to fulfill various hobbies or reach goals suddenly becomes available. There’s an amazing freedom which comes with it – a freedom to playfully explore hobbies, learning new crafts and skills, and develop myself as a richer, more knowledgeable human. My latest favourite hobby is brewing Kombucha – which takes a lot of time, care, patience and devotion and which all pays off when I get to enjoy a ice cold fizzy cup of Buch at the end of the day!
4) My cravings for sugar and coffee amplified
This one I was not prepared for, and still have to manage to this day. An increased desire to eat sugary foods such as chocolates, sweets and cakes after quitting booze is a common side-effect, and one many people struggle with. Because sugar essentially mimics the effects of alcohol in so many ways, it sometimes can become a replacement drug. Coffee is also one of those things which have become such an integral part of my life, and in some ways is also a replacement ‘stimulus’. And although I try to keep conscious about not consuming to much sugar or coffee, I feel that this is still better than consuming alcohol regularly, and allowing myself some leniency in these areas is also OK!
5) I gained weight, and then I lost more
Because I was replacing alcohol with sugar and food initially, I gained weight, which was very disheartening. But after adjusting my diet, and starting to eat more naturally and consciously I slowly started cutting out sugar, reducing my meat and dairy consumption and the weight started to budge. And although I try to eat healthily as best I can, I am definitely no health guru. I don’t exercise nearly as much as I should, I eat pizza and cake at least once a week, I eat chocolate every day and I still managed to lose around 12 kilos over this last year. Without drinking on the weekends you naturally consume a lot less calories on a night out, and then the next day there is no drunken late night, or hangover junk-food bingeing to completely blow off your efforts from the week. The bottom line is that it becomes a LOT easier to lose weight when you break this cycle!
6) I got over casual hook-ups
In my recent blog of alcohol free sex and dating I go through this in a lot more detail – but essentially what used to be a big past-time for me of ‘hooking up’ over the weekend has become a lot less appealing. This just feels empty now, and kind of pointless. My sense of confidence and validation now comes from a deeper place within, and not from conquests over the weekend.
7) I started to save a lot of money
This is a very exciting thing that you quickly realise after quitting the booze…how much more money you have to spend on things you really want like hobbies, travelling, or perhaps buying a house. I calculated that monthly I have saved around R3 000 from not drinking and associated costs (Uber / junk foods) – which essentially over the last 18 months adds up to R54 000! I know a lot of people that spend a lot more on alcohol than I did, and cringe when I think of how much people put down at the bar for a round of tequilas. I cant help but believe how much of our hard earned money we throw away each weekend, doing the same goddamn things over and over again. Forgive me, but how utterly boring! I’d prefer to take my money and go travel for a few months or spend it on eating out at fantastic restaurants or going on fun adventures! But hey…that’s just me 😉
8) I started to learn about myself for the first time
After stopping drinking, I had nothing to hide behind, and nowhere to run to. I could no longer escape myself, and was faced with the stark reality of…well…ME. It was weird getting to know myself over the last 18 months, and how I am quite different in certain ways than I thought I was – like how I am a lot more introverted than I thought myself to be. I also feel a greater sense of self-confidence, and self-trust. Although I am definitely starting to get to know (and like) myself more, I still have much to learn. After-all, 14 years of drinking and running away from myself makes for a lengthy re-acquaintance!
9) I got over small talk – BIG time
My capacity for surface level or ‘small talk’, has diminished vastly. Without the manufactured happy and fluffy buzz that booze provides in these situations, I am often left bored and under-stimulated in social settings. I struggle to keep interested in the conversation when they seem to be so stifled. And man we talk a lot of shit. Hey, don’t get me wrong, a little bit of small talk is a necessary part of life and serves a purpose, but it frustrates me just how much of our conversation feels like dancing around real topics, around our feelings talking about sweet nothing. This is one thing I struggle with to this day, because small talk is a big thing in the workplace, in our social settings, but once the alcohol is removed, you realise how little substance there really is.
10) I became less moody
Ask any of my close friends and family and they will no doubt tell you that I am, and always have been, a moody and somewhat temperamental creature. What I have come to realise is that a lot of this moodiness had in fact been coming from a place of desperate unhappiness. Unhappiness within myself, and from a feeling of pain and entrapment which I had felt of years of being stuck in the same rut. Not to mention that my moods were being exacerbated by brutal hangovers which would last for days, bad eating habits which left my self-worth at an all time low, and the general roller coaster of self-loathing and pity that accompanied it. Without alcohol in the picture, I feel much more level-headed, I have more patience and I have more self-awareness of my moods, and how these affect others.
11) I realised how not-drinking is really not such a big deal
Many people feel totally awed by the fact that I don’t drink. I remember feeling this was about people I met who didn’t drink too. Alcohol is so heavily embedded in our culture as normal, hell it is even strongly encouraged in many situations. The options in society are 1) to drink, or 2) to drink less or ‘moderately’. Notice how there isn’t really a third option of ‘not drinking’? I certainly did not think it was an option for me, or something I was capable of. The funny thing is after you stop drinking you realise how life carries on! I barely consider or crave drinking anymore, it’s just not something I think of anymore. And yes life had gotten a lot more uncomplicated since I stopped and improved in so many ways, but in other ways things are pretty damn normal. Life has ups and downs which I have to deal with, I still have to get through the ‘adulting’ and the complexities of life, but without alcohol this ride is a lot smoother. At the end of the day it is crazy how we are led to believe how it is ‘normal’ to drink ethanol – a poison, at every turn of the way of our precious lives, yet when it comes to abstaining this elicits gasps? Come on…we know better!
12) I found a sense of spirituality and purpose
When people ask me why I don’t drink, I feel this is predominantly a spiritual, and ‘mindful’ decision and practice for me, so much as it is just a lifestyle choice. Since I started this path towards more conscious living – which has manifested in various ways: drinking less, meditating more, eating healthier and more ethically, I have found a greater sense of purpose. Through this blog I have found a sense of accountability and catharsis. It has meant opening up publicly, discussing things in the hopes to break this ridiculous ‘taboo’ around an issue which is so pervasive. We all deal with compulsive behaviors in our lives, some of which manifest in reaching for substances, others of which show themselves in other shapes such as those of codependency or addiction to work, technology or sex.
Never in my life have I felt a sense of direction like I have these last few months, a pulling towards purpose to a place where I feel so alive. Challenging norms in our society is hard, but has come with such beautiful rewards – in finding my authenticity, my essence and true self. It has been an incredible journey of connecting to myself, to my fears, my joys, my vulnerabilities and finding a new respect for my physical body, and how I choose to treat it as it carries me through life.
The journey has been full of weird and wonderful turns and learnings along the way, many of which continue to surprise me to this day.
Ever wondered what a small change in your life could bring?