I never drank more than two nights in a row, never blacked out, and drank the same or even less than most of my friends. But the cracks began to show when I found myself burnt out and experiencing a bout of extreme anxiety in my last magazine job. I soon noticed that alcohol – or rather, the hangovers – only made things ten times worse. At which point I began to question, or get “curious” about, the true impact of drinking on my overall wellbeing.
Not that I identify as an alcoholic or ever hit the kind of “rock bottom” with my drinking that often leads a person to AA. Like many women of my generation I was a moderate to heavy social drinker in my 20s and early 30s, mainly using alcohol to ease social anxiety at work events and to switch off and have fun on holiday or at the weekend.
How has quitting drinking changed my life? There’s a saying in addiction recovery circles: “The good news is, you get all your feelings back. The bad news is, you get all your feelings back” – and this certainly rings true for my experience of getting what I call “sober curious” and removing alcohol from my life. And while living life in emotional hi-def can be excruciatingly uncomfortable at times, I’ve also discovered that being connected to exactly how I feel in any given situation is a superpower – and one I have no intention of sending back any time soon.
What I discovered in the years that followed (a journey that’s documented in my book, Sober Curious, and which I discuss with others in my podcast of the same name) was that my reasons for using alcohol were far more complex than I’d realised – everything from medicated old feelings I’d bottled up and never dealt with, to being manipulated by subtle (and not so subtle) marketing messages about the role of alcohol in my life. Namely, that it was integral to my experiences of fun, relaxation, and having any kind of a social life. None of which is true; as I like to say these days, “the only thing you miss out on by not drinking is … getting drunk!”
Not that I arrived at this place overnight. If there’s no urgent reason to stop drinking, it’s often only when you remove booze that you realise how ingrained it is with every social situation, relationship, family occasion, work event, etc. – and how challenging it can be to go against the grain and be the odd non-drinker out. But as I faced countless “sober firsts” (first sober wedding, work do, holiday, etc.), it’s become easier and easier to make the choice I now know is right for me, versus going along with the drinking culture because it’s just “what we do.”
Which is where the “superpower” of getting all my feelings back comes in to play. Having learned to face my social anxiety, lack of confidence, and tendency to overwork head-on, among other emotional challenges, I now know exactly what works for me, what doesn’t, and why. Which means it’s getting easier by the day to simply say “no” to the things I don’t have the time and energy for, and “yes” to more of what truly fills me up.