For years I knew that I was drinking too much alcohol, yet I would never have considered going alcohol free.
To me, giving up alcohol was a drastic measure for those really in the grips of an addiction. It was something that people had to do because they had hit rock bottom, not something anyone would voluntarily choose.
And I certainly wasn’t at the stage where I felt I had to.
After all, I didn’t even drink every day. I drank three or four nights a week, and while on those nights I would invariably drink way more than the recommended government guidelines, that was normal, wasn’t it? Practically everyone I knew drank more than the government guidelines.
While I considered myself a ‘normal’ drinker in that I drank in the same way as those around me, I also knew that wine was having an impact on my physical and mental health.
Even after a moderate night of drinking, I’d still wake up during the night unable to get back to sleep then face the next day feeling sluggish, nursing a headache and facing a whole lot of regret.
When moderating your drinking no longer works
I tried moderation so many times. I set rules such as one glass of water with each glass of wine. It would work for the first couple of glasses, then all bets were off as my wine intake increased and the water glass remained untouched.
I would decide to only drink on Fridays and Saturdays but then would make exceptions for any number of reasons – I’d had a crappy day, I’d had a good day, I was going out during the week, the day ended in a ‘y’. Let’s face it, it didn’t take to convince myself to have a drink.
Moderation didn’t work for me. In fact, the rebel within me would look at moderation as a challenge. I would search for loopholes to ‘cheat the system’. The sad reality was that I wasn’t cheating any system, I was simply cheating myself.
Setting ultimatums to stop drinking
Another tactic I used was to play the part of a disciplinary parent. When my children were little and were misbehaving I would threaten to take away a treat or activity they were looking forward to. “We won’t go to the birthday party or have ice-cream for dessert if you continue with that behaviour,” I would warn them.
I tried the same tactic on myself – giving myself ultimatums if I had been ‘naughty’.
“If you don’t cut back,” I would tell myself. “You’ll have to give up.”
Unfortunately, I was just as bad at disciplining myself as I was at disciplining my kids.
My children would only have to look up at me with their ‘butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths’ cute little faces and say: “Please, we’ll never fight with each other again” and I would buckle. Spoiler alert: they continued to fight with each other!
With alcohol I was up against stronger resistance than two cute little children – I was battling willpower and the addictive nature of alcohol, and I was certainly no match for them.
I resisted the idea of giving up alcohol for the longest time. Even the phrase ‘giving up’ reflected my mindset towards this notion.
I imagined that making such a drastic decision would effectively mean turning the light off on so many aspects of my life.
Will going alcohol free be boring?
I envisaged a grey-tinged life where holidays, meals out with friends, time with my partner, weekends spent relaxing would all be a duller version of the world in which I was ‘allowed’ to drink alcohol.
It was this thinking that prevented me for so long from choosing to stop drinking.
Instead, I suffered through years of the pain, shame and guilt of trying to moderate and questioning why I could not.
It was only when I started looking into the concept of positive sobriety that my views started to change.
I read books, listened to podcasts and followed the social media accounts of people who were embracing the joy of sobriety, and it quietly dawned on me that choosing to ditch alcohol might actually improve my life.
Cue the image of the lightbulb going off in my brain!
I realised the use of the words ‘positive’ and ‘sobriety’ in the same sentence were not only possible but the key to unlocking the prison I had created.
Because my choice to go alcohol free was made because I wanted a life that would bring me more joy rather than because I wanted to punish myself, there was such freedom in finally releasing the hold that alcohol had had on me.
And best of all, instead of my fear that it would switch the light off on all the joy and fun in my life it had the opposite effect.
Instead of the darkness of fighting an addictive substance, I was now discovering a brighter, lighter world where alcohol no longer had any hold on me.