The reality was that I could still have the fun, still enjoy the sun, be with my friends etc, but didn’t need to have the anxiety and headaches that followed.

I never considered myself a problem drinker, I have always been known as someone who liked a good drink but I just didn't seem to have an off button when out and about with friends and very rarely would have “ just one”. I was always a bit of a party girl and a social butterfly. I never blacked out or anything bad, so I believed it never really caused me any problems, it was all just good simple fun. 

I used to have quite a few big events every year that I knew would be extremely boozy and heavy going and I would go with the flow and drink far too much then suffer the consequences after, it was the payback for the fun! I would drink most days on holidays or weekends away but try to resume “normal service” once these events were over.

Over the years…

I think this quietly shifted to having a drink for all sorts of occasions; good days, stressful days, fun times, sad times. You name it, there was always a good reason to crack open the wine or have a few beers. In my twenties and thirties and even in my early forties, I largely got away with it all but it was getting harder and harder to recover as I got older but it never stopped me.

A few years ago along came the menopause, I didn’t realise it at the time but anxiety and migraines were to become a regular part of my life. I had never suffered with anxiety before and didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like it came out of nowhere and it completely blindsided me. There were other personal and work related things I was dealing with at the same time so I told myself that was what was causing it.

While I did seek help in the form of hypnotherapy, in reality I actually hid firmly behind my party persona and pretended everything was just fine –  often burning the candle at both ends and going out enjoying myself rather than looking after myself or acknowledging what was happening. I didn't think anyone who knew me socially would ever believe that I was suffering and I became a master of disguising how I was really feeling.

I also started to get the occasional but debilitating headaches that would last days and again I put this down to the other stresses I was facing. It wasn’t until I had some blood tests done to investigate the headaches and was told it was most  likely to be caused by hormones  that I started reading around the subject and I learned that menopause can often have symptoms of anxiety and migraines. I generally started taking a little bit more care of myself, and over  the next few years, things settled down in all areas of my life and I was slowly getting back to feeling more like  myself.

However, I still loved to party and would still drink at the weekends, and at events but more and more often I found myself having a few drinks alone watching the telly to relax. The anxiety and headaches were much better than before but never really went away.  

March 2020

When we went into lockdown, I felt anxious with the unfolding events. I was worried for my family and friends and I was spending a lot of time alone. I was working at home and didn't have to use the car as much so it just became easier and easier to have a glass of wine in the evenings to ‘relax and unwind’. I knew I was anxious, I knew I was drinking more frequently than before and I wasn’t taking care of myself – and it certainly was not fun or relaxing. 

It was around this time I realised my drinking was habitual rather than social and it didn’t sit well with me. In a nutshell I just felt tired and achy all the time and was in a complete and utter rut. I was functioning just fine day to day, working from home, being a mum, cooking, shopping etc but   generally felt pretty awful overall. I started getting migraines again and was anxiety ridden and knew deep down that I was on the top of a slippery slope that felt like it could only go one way.  

Finding OYNB

Around this time, I kept seeing the OYNB ads on my facebook feed and one of my close friends had joined up for a 90 day challenge. I was curious but I had never even done dry January or sober October before!! I thought 90 days sounded such a long time and it felt pretty unachievable for me but the seed was sown.

I started to think more and more that a little break from alcohol would do me good generally; improve my health, anxiety, migraines and may help me get rid of the general day to day ill-at-ease feeling that I was permanently carrying around. I signed up for a 90 day challenge about a month later after a particularly bad headache and feeling ill for an entire weekend. 

My experience going alcohol-free

Bridgene after her challengeAt the start I treated the challenge like a much needed detox so my expectations were quite low. I thought I just needed to abstain from drinking, count the days and I would start to feel better and hopefully ease my headaches and anxiety along the way. I never imagined this would be a long term thing at all. 

I was interested as OYNB advertised ‘resetting your relationship with alcohol’ and that appealed to me. However I was pleasantly surprised by the emails and videos you receive daily as they really made me think about things differently and introduced topics I hadn’t really explored before. It became clear that OYNB is not just about drinking, it's very much a self-improvement platform and incorporates so much more than just alcohol.

Having access to the Facebook group was great, with so many people from all over the world at different stages in their alcohol-free journey there seemed to be nothing that one of this group had not experienced. I didn’t post much to start but really benefited from reading others posts and the advice that members gave them. It was a very encouraging supportive and safe place to be even if you weren't active and having this group of people that were on the same path was such a great tool to have. 

Revealing my challenge

I didn’t tell anyone apart from the friend that was already doing a 90 day challenge that I had signed up. I was pretty sure I would not get past the first weekend. It was so habitual to have a drink on a Friday night once the working week was done. I didn't want to admit failure so kept quiet. After a few weeks I did tell my parents and although they were initially worried that I had a problem, when I explained that I don't have a problem right now but unless I make changes in my life I could have a problem in the future, they were very supportive. They completely understood when I explained that I was just tired of feeling tired and needed to cut out alcohol for a while for my health.

I eventually told other friends and family about the challenge if it came up and at this stage I was still signed up for 90 days and had no plans to go further than that. Generally the responses were supportive and positive which reinforced that I was doing a good thing.

I just knuckled down and got on with my life and counted the days, a few weeks in I started to notice that I enjoyed Saturday and Sunday mornings (and mornings in general) so much more than I ever had done. I felt I had a lot more time on my hands as I wasn’t wasting it sitting around doing nothing. 

Walk o'clock

One of the emails from OYNB suggested that I think about taking up a challenge and at that time some of the members had started a virtual walking challenge so I joined in. This helped hugely whenever I had a trigger as I would normally have opened the wine and I joked that I had turned wine o’clock into walk o’clock but that was the truth – I started to put my trainers on and get out for a quick walk when the laptop closed and it was great to connect to lovely people that were on the same journey as me. 

I was also doing online dance classes and as lockdown restrictions were easing, I met up with friends regularly for evening and weekend walks. It was great to get out and catch up with people and it stopped me from having a drink. The days were stacking up fast! I managed a visit with my parents and that was the first time I felt I was on shaky ground as all my family were having a few drinks in the sun. However my amazing parents had got stocked up on AF drinks so I didn't feel left out and I enjoyed them whenever I felt the urge to join in. 

As my 90 days was approaching…

Bridgene after quitting alcoholI was feeling great, sleeping well, walking every day and I was still reading the emails and keeping in touch with the group. There are many inspirational stories of people who started out just wanting a little break from the booze just like me, feeling the benefits so much they carried onto 365 days. Reading these really started to make me question if I had really reaped all the rewards and benefits of going AF yet? I was feeling great, loved all the walking and dancing I was doing, my anxiety was at an all time low and apart from what was happening with Covid life was good.

I knew my challenge was coming to an end and I was starting to get a little worried about slipping back into my old ways of not looking after myself. I thought I may benefit from doing a bigger stint to fully experience life without alcohol. ie Christmas, nights out, holidays and birthdays. A year sounded like such a giant leap, but I was feeling so good, I knew I had to at least give it a serious go, and so I signed up. I couldn't quite believe it myself, this was never the original plan and just seemed like an unreachable target, but I needed to find out for myself if I could do it and this seemed like the perfect time to try.

On my way to OYNB

The days really did stack up quickly, and obviously there were times over the next 8 months that I was challenged and under normal circumstances would have had a drink but I had the tools to cope with these moments and I found more and more that I didn’t want to undo my good work or suffer the consequences of having a few drinks. The reality was that I could still have the fun, still enjoy the sun, be with my friends etc, but didn’t need to have the anxiety and headaches that followed. And when I received some very sad news a few times, I knew that drinking would not change that news or make me feel better so I cried it out and carried on. I got much better at dealing with things as I just felt so much calmer all round. 

My alcohol-free benefits

Within the first few weeks I noticed my skin was looking so much better and my eyes were not as dull – people actually started to comment! I have always been a good sleeper but one of the things that changed relatively early for me and has stayed is that I sleep much more soundly, I don't wake up thirsty like I used to and I'm overall much more well rested. 

I have been doing salsa dancing for quite a few years and would do this as often as I could in my spare time which I loved, but I rarely did much other exercise other than swimming. Joining a walking challenge as part of my OYNB journey was the start of something completely new for me. It started with me using the challenge to just leave the house and get some steps in but it's now firmly a part of my daily life. I get out every day in all weathers and If I don't get out every day, I actually miss it. 

Another surprise to me was to discover that while I was a silly bubbly drinker, I am also a silly bubbly non-drinker! This was a revelation as I was worried about people thinking I have changed or become boring. I had a huge amount of fun with my family on holiday. We giggled and messed around but as I was not drinking, I had the energy to get out every day and do some great walks with some amazing views – something I had never done when visiting them before as I was usually nursing a hangover or catching up on sleep.

Another thing that I realised quite quickly is that not drinking didn't resolve all life's problems overnight, I did feel tons better. I was having less anxiety and headaches but there were still days when I felt tired and fed up and I realised that this is ok. There will be good days and bad days whatever you do, but I suddenly felt much better equipped to deal with bad days and my low mood never lasted as long.

However, by far the biggest and best change and benefit of doing this challenge has been the reduction in anxiety and menopause symptoms full stop. It's like there was white noise in my head all the time and it's just gone away. I have woken up and genuinely feel the most content  and calm that I have felt in years. 

When I hit my 90 day milestone

I booked a facial and back massage as a treat, but now I'm approaching 365, I wanted to do something to really mark this achievement. I have recently booked a tandem skydive and will be doing this as a personal celebration. I know I will be terrified but I wanted to do something outside my comfort zone where I really felt alive.

What can you expect from the support?

The OYNB support is what you make of it. The part I benefited from the most was the Facebook group and reading the advice of those that had treaded this path before me. The point of the challenge is to reset your relationship with alcohol and I feel that there is the right level of support and guidance within OYNB to do just that. The emails and videos give you plenty of ideas of other ways you can develop if that's something you are interested in, but if it's not then like everything else in life you can just scroll on with no pressure. 

Although the first few weeks and months were hard for me, it got so much easier. It was more habitual to have a drink at home in the evenings as nobody was going out. I missed my friends and family and dancing but I used the support available to me and found other ways to relax and spend my time. After a while it was just something I never really thought about any more. If I did have an urge to have a drink because something inadvertently triggered me then I would have an AF drink and play it forward in my head as to what the likely outcome would be  ie – yes I can have a glass of wine with my friend in her garden but chances are I will then carry on later at home and will sleep badly, maybe have a headache and feel anxious all the next day – is it worth it?? The answer I concluded, was no.

What's next?

Invariably I just found that because I feel so different and calmer within myself, the inner dialogue I used to have just quietened down over time. I now picture future events with friends and family where it just isn't a major factor. I had a lot of fun in my 20s, 30s and even my 40s.. a lot of it was fuelled by alcohol. I have spent the last 3 decades drinking to varying degrees. I am 50 next year and I feel fitter, calmer and more content than I have in years so I still plan to have a lot of fun, just not fuelled by alcohol. I just feel like it's an old friend and we have parted company without any ill feelings. My OYNB is nearly up and I don't plan on drinking any time soon. When asked the question about drinking recently I answered “Will I ever drink again? Maybe occasionally. Will I ever be a drinker again – no”.

I would suggest anyone wanting to take a break, reset or rethink their relationship with alcohol would benefit from doing the 28 days as a minimum but would gain even more from the longer challenges – you don't know what hidden benefits lie in store and there is only one way to find out…!


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