What I’ve learnt from a year without alcohol

image of a wine glass and forest background

This time last year I stopped drinking alcohol. There was no dramatic trigger and I didn’t have a booze problem. It’s just that several things happened around the same time which made me want to give it a go. I was working on a memoir called The Sober Diaries which is a funny, honest account of stopping drinking. The author Clare Pooley describes the benefits of not drinking in such an inspiring way that I wanted to try it for myself. A year (and not one drop of alcohol) later, this is what I have discovered:

1) It takes several months to really feel the biggest benefits

I didn’t feel any healthier for about 100 days. But then the benefits came thick and fast. I had a great moment in an exercise class just over three months in. I was always the sluggish one but suddenly I was feeling stronger and fitter and keeping up with the rest. In that moment I became aware that I was feeling way more energetic and healthy than I had in years.

2) The hardest days weren’t the ones I thought they’d be

Big occasions – New Year’s Eve, a friend’s wedding, a hen do, karaoke work night out – all of these were fine. I had at least as good a time sober as I would have done drinking – better, even. I’m pretty outgoing and I get that this could be harder for some people. But for me it’s been okay. I was (and still sometimes am) most tempted to drink at the end of a stressful day at work when my kids are being particularly tricky. When I finally get them down I do sometimes feel the urge to pour a drink to unwind. What helps me resist is because of the next point.

3) I am way less grumpy

At the time of giving up I was stressed and worried about one of my boys. As a result I was drinking more in the evenings, particularly when I didn’t have work the next day. Some say that alcohol is “mother’s little helper” but for me it had the opposite effect. It left me grumpy and impatient the following day – and so less able to deal with my kids, making things even worse. Without alcohol I sleep so much better at night and I have a lot more patience with my children (and husband!). I am more fun for all of them and the house is happier as result. Being woken at 6am on a Saturday morning by two energetic little boys is a far better experience when you don’t have a fuzzy head. I am on the same time clock as my children and have way more energy to enjoy them.

4) There are some great alcohol-free drinks out there

The alcohol-free drinks market is booming. It’s expanded even in the last year. The secret for me was finding something I actually enjoy, which isn’t loaded up on sugar (lots of non-alcoholic drinks are) and which feels like a treat. I loved gin and have replaced this with Seedlip. I also have discovered decent alcohol-free beer and wine from online retailers like The Wise Bartender which has far more choice than the supermarkets.

5) I do not miss a hangover

I only had to drink a couple of glasses of wine to feel groggy the following morning. Now, to routinely wake up every day feeling energetic and alive, is great. Once you experience this for a prolonged time it makes drinking again seem pretty unappealing. I’m not sure I even have time for slow starts to the day now. (And there is something deeply satisfying about watching your husband struggle with a hangover when you feel great…)

6) I have saved money

No more expensive bar bills. No more late night taxi fares. Now I am the taxi! Driving – and having the freedom to stay out as late as you want without worrying about the last train home – is great.

7) I have formed better friendships

This is a big one and something I didn’t predict. Many times over the last year I have returned from a night out having properly chatted to friends or new acquaintances. Being sober means you are more aware of those around you. And you remember the conversation!

8) Attitudes to not drinking are changing – slowly

We have a weird relationship with drinking in this country. If you give up smoking or improve your diet you’re congratulated. Drinking is fun – I know that as well as anyone – but it’s really bad for you and most of us are drinking way too much. Yet people who stop drinking are rarely congratulated. They are more likely to be viewed with a mix of suspicion and pity. Luckily most of my friends have been really accepting and I haven’t seen social invitations dry up (phew). I am still working on my 85-year-old father-in-law who doesn’t get it at all and waves a bottle of posh wine under my nose whenever we visit him.

Emma Knight is Publicity Director at Yellow Kite, which is part of Hodder & Stoughton. She enjoys a Seedlip and tonic, playing with her kids on the beach in Devon, Pilates, and publicising awesome books, including How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Andrea Owen, coming soon from Yellow Kite.

emma knight

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