‘Why giv­ing up drink for a month made me quit for ever’

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - CONTENTS - By Kirstin Chap­lin

Since Dry Jan­uary came to an end, you might have been en­joy­ing your first drinks of 2018. I, on the other hand, am cel­e­brat­ing for a dif­fer­ent rea­son – hav­ing spent 13 months al­co­hol-free.

My de­ci­sion to quit was hard. Dur­ing my 20s, I lived the stereo­typ­i­cal ‘ladette’ life­style, but as I got older, I added crip­pling guilt to the list of hang­over side-ef­fects. I had my first child at 35, and gave up al­co­hol when I was preg­nant and breast­feed­ing. Oth­er­wise, my hus­band and I would of­ten drink a cou­ple of bot­tles of wine be­tween us dur­ing the week and at least a whole one each on the week­end. On nights out there was no limit.

It didn’t seem ex­ces­sive, yet the im­pact it had on me was. By my mid-40s even a cou­ple of glasses left me feel­ing groggy and anx­ious, and with the next morn­ing came the self-loathing. I felt like a bad par­ent, not fir­ing on all cylin­ders.

In De­cem­ber 2016, while strug­gling through a par­tic­u­larly grim ‘morn­ing af­ter’, I de­cided to write a list. If I could come up with 50 rea­sons to stop drink­ing, I wouldn’t just do a Dry Jan­uary, I’d stop for an en­tire year. Feel­ing scared, I started to scrib­ble. 1) It makes me feel sick. 2) It makes me trem­ble in­side. 3) It makes me feel tired. On it went un­til I reached 46.

Putting my list to one side, I drank my way through the fes­tive sea­son. As New Year ap­proached I added my fi­nal few thoughts. 49) I don’t want to drink any more. 50) I don’t want to drink be­cause other peo­ple want me to.

When mid­night struck, I had a last Mar­tini and was sud­denly flooded with eu­pho­ria at the prospect of the year ahead.

To be­gin with, I in­tended to keep my al­co­hol-free year un­der wraps – at that point even my hus­band thought we were just do­ing Dry Jan­uary. But by my 47th birthday at the be­gin­ning of Fe­bru­ary, I de­cided to come clean. The re­sponse from fam­ily and friends was over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. Yet, ridicu­lously, I felt em­bar­rassed. Telling peo­ple I was hav­ing a year off felt like ad­mit­ting to a deeper prob­lem.

Ini­tially, the thought of at­tend­ing so­cial events with­out booze was ter­ri­fy­ing, and 2017 was a busy year in that re­spect: two wed­dings, a hen week­end in Spain and a four-fam­ily hol­i­day in France. But with each event I be­came more con­fi­dent. I didn’t miss the al­co­hol as such, be­cause I knew what it led to, but I did miss that feel­ing of be­ing part of the gang.

I used to love a glass of red, but I started drink­ing Bud­weiser al­co­hol-free lager and Tesco Low Al­co­hol Slim­line G&T, which is 0.5 per cent al­co­hol (so tech­ni­cally al­co­hol-free). You’d have to drink 10 be­fore clock­ing up one unit. They all hit the spot and I felt like I was still be­ing so­cia­ble.

Through­out the year I went back­wards and for­wards over whether I would drink again. For the most part it was a no – just think­ing of the guilt and anx­i­ety would stop me in my tracks.

I did, how­ever, an­nounce to a friend that I would have cham­pagne at mid­night this New Year’s Eve, but when the mo­ment came I wasn’t even tempted – I knew I wouldn’t en­joy it. When I ac­ci­den­tally took a sip of my mum’s pros­ecco, I in­stantly spat it out – not only be­cause I didn’t want to drink it, but be­cause it tasted aw­ful.

The past 13 months have taught me a lot about my­self and those around me. With­out al­co­hol to mask or ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem, I have been able to tackle un­der­ly­ing de­pres­sion. I’ve also been amazed at how many peo­ple have con­fided in me that they’d like to stop too, but can’t.

For me, 2018 car­ries a new sense of re­lief – I feel at peace with be­ing a non-drinker. The ques­tion of whether I’ll drink again is gone, along with the nag­ging parental guilt and the anx­i­ety. I know a life with­out al­co­hol is the right one for me.

Left A tee­to­tal Kirstin Chap­lin

I didn’t miss the al­co­hol, but I did miss that feel­ing of be­ing part of the gang

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