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11 reflections on 11 years sober

Written by Sarah on

Today marks 11 years since I last drank alcohol. Back in December 2012 the idea of a sober Christmas seemed scary and unimaginable. Now, not having alcohol in my life isn’t something that I really think about on a day-to-day basis, it’s just the way I live. I have been thinking a lot recently, though, about how sobriety in the UK in 2023 is so different to when I took my first tentative steps away from alcohol back in 2012. So I’ve written a blog with 11 reflections on my sober journey over the past 11 years.

This is purely my own personal experience of moving from being a problematic drinker to a sober person. Everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different and I would never try and talk on behalf of other sober people. I also realise that lots of people are able to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. I’m just not one of them!

1. I love how people are now far better informed about drinking and especially the spectrum of problem drinking. There are so many awesome books, blogs and podcasts out there. When I stopped, it kind of felt like it was AA or nothing. I also love the special connections I have with other sober people I meet through everyday life and people who have confided in me that they’d like to stop drinking and asked for my support.

2. My dental health has massively improved in the last 11 years. I had a check-up the other week and I realised that I’ve not had a filling for about 7 years. It seems so obvious, but I can’t believe I didn’t connect drinking alcopops, wine and Strongbow, late night eating and falling asleep on other people’s sofas miles away from my toothbrush to the need for so much dental work in my 20s.

3. People who drink ask me how I manage to relax if I can’t indulge in alcohol. It’s an interesting one as I don’t feel like we should need a stimulant to relax us, and I actually find pubs and clubs the least relaxing environments. But equally, being sober at 10pm on a Friday night doesn’t mean I need to be productive then and it’s important to find time to relax. Overworking was a key issue for me for a long time as I tried to make up for all the productivity time lost in my drinking days (the government would be proud). So finding alternative ways to relax has been important – escaping into a movie, theatre show or book, walking in nature, yoga, exercise and massages have all helped me learn how to relax. But when I look back, I didn’t used to find social drinking relaxing at all. I found it stressful which made me need to drink more to cope with it. And I tell you what I definitely did not find relaxing – hangover induced anxiety and paranoia!

4. I always thought that if I stopped drinking, I’d lose weight. The opposite happened. All those empty calories and late-night kebabs had kind of been cancelled out by all the time I spent hungover feeling too ill to eat. Turns out I’d been an early adopter of intermittent fasting! Sobriety also made me crave sugar like a 5 year old on Halloween. I developed a serious creme egg habit. So initially I did put on weight. But I lost it again once I started looking after myself a bit better and focussing on feeding the adult me rather than my inner 5 year old (the majority of the time anyway).

5. I am so much (materially) richer. Alcohol used to drain my wage packet within 2 weeks and I would then be borrowing money until payday. It wasn’t just the drinks (and the cigarettes that went with them), it was the taxis home and then the next day when I’d overslept or couldn’t face public transport. It was replacing the lost phones, keys, coats, driving licences and sometimes other people’s possessions that I’d lost for them (I was selfless like that). The gifts or lunches I’d have to buy people to try and make up for my behaviour. But the biggest impact was probably the loss of productivity. So many hungover days spent coasting when I could have been moving forward. Or sometimes just moving at all and leaving the house!

6. I am a much better girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister, housemate, colleague, neighbour, fellow traveller (you get the gist) as a sober person. I will (most of the time) now remember your birthday (and your name), I won’t cancel on you unless it’s for a really good (and genuine) reason, it’s unlikely I’ll owe you money or be sick on any of your possessions (or you) and I won’t steal your alcohol if I house sit (although I might still steal your chocolate – sorry about that...).

7. I thought when I stopped drinking, I would also say goodbye to anxiety and depression. I actually ended up taking medication for depression for the first time a couple of years into sobriety. Mental health is complex and a lifelong journey. But removing alcohol from my life helped me to find a strategy to manage my mental health in a much more positive way.

8. Some life events are still hard without alcohol. Even after over a decade of not drinking. Weddings can feel incredibly long and booze focussed. Work dos can be exhausting and bonding with people is harder without that magic social lubricant that is a few glasses of wine. But the day after the night before (and the days following that) are always a million times better now that I am sober, which more than makes up for it.

9. I still don’t know how to identify and how to categorise my drinking days. I think the problematic stigma and stereotyping around the word ‘alcoholic’ probably stopped me from addressing my drinking for a good few years. Because I could go days without drinking, didn’t drink hard spirits or roll out of bed and down a vodka in the morning, I thought I couldn’t be an alcoholic. But when I started drinking, I could not stay in control and it had a definite negative impact on my life. So, I’m still considering whether I was/am an alcoholic, a problem drinker, had a drinking problem or whether our society actually has an alcohol problem (one for another blog!). Sometimes I tell people who I don’t like that I’m an alcoholic if I think the way they are questioning my abstinence from drinking is inappropriate. It’s the best way to get them to shut up, I’d recommend it.

10. I do find it hard when the people I love drink to excess. I think it’s because I can still remember very clearly what I was like and I worry about their physical and mental health and their safety (probably more than I should). It has made some relationships and friendships tricky to maintain and I’ve not always dealt with this admirably. I’m trying to be more objective and compassionate, but it’s definitely not straightforward.

11. If I could go back in time to my pre-drinking self and ask her to make different choices, I don’t think I would want her to stop drinking. Despite some of the harm I did in those drinking years, my relationship with alcohol has formed part of who I am as a person, led to some interesting experiences and made me more empathetic. I would absolutely forbid her from starting smoking, though, and would have immediately bought her an electric toothbrush and told her to wear sunscreen in the UK as well as abroad. And not to take her boyfriend to uni. It would have been much more fun without him.

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