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