Deep down I knew something needed to change

I’d had a fairly ‘standard’ relationship with alcohol… I started at about 16, drank far too much during university years, continued through a job with a heavy drinking social culture, then settled into married life with a focus on getting to the weekend and having too much to drink. I let that slip more and more over the years. Through OYNB I’ve seen that this is quite a common story.

Before OYNB

Sarah before going alcohol-freeI did all of the drinking for all of the reasons; celebrate=drink, something sad=drink, stress relief=drink, need to be more social=drink, need to stay awake=drink, need to sleep=drink, need to chill=drink, need to be livelier=drink – you get the picture. I NEVER gave it any thought (unless I had a hangover and then I only let that thought last until the hangover went).

The bit of my life I am particularly ashamed of is when my children were toddlers, I got into the habit of meeting my girlfriends on a Friday late afternoon for a ‘playdate and to give the children tea’ what it really was, in fact, was an excuse to crack open the white wine and well… y’know, I don’t really want to tell you because… I’d rather not! Suffice to say, I’m not proud of that chapter of my life.

Becoming sober curious

3 months before I turned 40 one of my sons was diagnosed with a critical autoimmune condition and three months later my husband was diagnosed with a different critical autoimmune condition and life needed revaluating a bit. Over my 40th year I was up in the night many more times than I care to remember looking after my then 11 year old, his condition means that we monitor his blood glucose levels 24 hours a day and he often requires treatment through the night. His treatment requires making calculations to work out the correct dosages to treat him with and I realised more and more that I was sharper with this if I had drunk no wine compared to one glass of wine – I couldn’t possibly carry on justifying even one glass of wine, could I? Of course, I could! I told myself I was fine, if I’d had a night out with friends, I’d let my husband do the night shift!

That summer I bought a book about quitting alcohol in a charity shop and put it on my bookshelf (spine facing inwards – too shameful for anyone else to see) and left it there, but the seed was planted. Over the next 12 months I had a handful of nights out where I really ‘let rip’. These nights stick in my mind for all the wrong reasons. That niggling feeling of something needing to change kept coming back to me.

Did I have a problem?

One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is where the problem comes from… if you give up drinking there is a tendency for people to think you have a ‘problem’ with alcohol. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t, I don’t know. What I do know is that our society has a problem with alcohol. In the run up to Christmas I saw so many persuasive adverts and images telling us how alcohol would make me more beautiful (!), added to the party, was expected etc, etc and all of this goes deep into our brains/psyche, it’s hard to fight against.

I listened to the Dr Chaterjee podcast with Andy in November 2019 and everything fell into place pretty quickly after that. I heard so much truth in that episode, I remember I had a long drive for work the day I listened, when I got home I dug that book off the book shelf and gave the idea of OYNB some serious thought. I knew I would go in wholeheartedly; I would sign up for a year from 1st Jan 2020 and do a full 365 days.

Going all in

Sarah after her alcohol-free challengeOver the next week I thought about all the things coming up that I would be ‘needing’ to enjoy alcohol at, Christmas work night out, Christmas party, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, NYE, etc. I had one Christmas party lined up for the 7th Dec too. On the 8th Dec I woke up and wondered why I was making all of the excuses about waiting until 1st Jan. Why couldn’t I go ahead and start now? That way I could enjoy all though Christmas activities AF and then prove to myself that the rest of 2020 would be great with all of those ‘hurdles’ out of the way.

So, I did, I started before I really knew what I was doing. I used different tactics for different activities… I told some people what I was doing, I didn’t tell others, I told some people why I was doing it and didn’t tell others, I pretended to drink when I wasn’t and I was proudly AF with others. I have been surprised and heartened at how many of my friends have been 100% supportive and my husband is behind me too. A night out with one friend led me to have a little cry of relief on the way home… (I have always ended the night out spectacularly drunk when I’ve gone out with him) he booked us an AF restaurant for our night out in early Jan… what a truly fabulous friend!

Over the course of my challenge so far, I have learned:

  • I loved the ritual of pouring my Thursday night G and T rather than the drink itself, I don’t actually like the taste of fizz or white wine – How did I manage to drink so many gallons of it before?
  • My husband, family and friends still love me.
  • I sleep deeply and am better able to see to my sons’ medical needs in the night.
  • Christmas, NYE and my birthday are all better without alcohol.
  • AF drinks are good; I love lime and soda, seedlip, fizzero etc.
  • I am not funnier, more social or a better dancer with alcohol – I’m all those things without it… Actually, that’s a lie – I’m always bad at dancing but I do love it!
  • I feel more able to concentrate on my goals for 2020.
  • My children are 11 and 13 and I feel as if I am sending them a quiet message that choosing this way of life is a good one (whilst trying to let go of some of the guilt around my drinking when they were small). Why is there such a culture around Mums ‘needing’ to drink?
  • I feel happy about going onto my 365-day challenge which will end in Dec 2020, but I will continue through Dec because I want two Christmas, NYEs and birthdays’ AF under my belt… I will then review 2021. I may have a drink in the future or I may not. Although at this moment in time I can’t see myself ever getting drunk again.


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