28 November, 2023

It’s absolutely true that every person who gives (or is giving) up drinking alcohol will have had their own experience. No two stories are the same. However, there are some common themes that we often see, and my story features some of them.

The first is that it wasn’t my first attempt at stopping drinking. This is very common for several reasons, but certainly isn’t a reason to beat yourself up. Changing a habit, especially in a culture that builds so much of our leisure time around alcohol, is hard. A couple of attempts before finally stopping drinking is completely understandable.

One of the common misconceptions is that people often wake up one morning and decide to stop drinking, sometimes after a particular event or incident. This often makes for a good story but is rarely true. In many cases, including mine, it is a more gradual process. A general feeling that the role alcohol plays in your life is out of balance tends to grow. Although this can be sped up by looking at the impact on your finances, physical and/or mental health.

Sometimes you hear that someone’s drinking increased because they became bored. In contrast, a big part of stopping drinking for me was because I became bored. Bored of hangovers (which got noticeably worse as I approached 30), bored of spending more on alcohol than I had budgeted for, and bored of what had become a fairly dull, repetitive routine. I often thought that alcohol helped me to deal with this boredom, in fact, it was compounding it.

You may be aware that there are an array of different techniques people use to lower their alcohol intake. Only drinking between Friday evening and lunchtime on Sunday is a common one, as is, ‘one on, one off’ – drinking a non-alcoholic drink between each alcoholic drink. Anything that lowers your alcohol intake will positively impact you, so I recommend trying these as a starting point. I tried pretty much all of these techniques and none of them worked for me. I found it more stressful trying to stick to whichever rules I’d adopted for that day/week/month. The key here is that you have to be honest about what works, and doesn’t work, for you.

It became clear that what would work for me was removing alcohol completely. What I needed to work out were the tools that I hadn’t had in previous attempts but needed. Two stood out: a free-to-download app called I Am Sober and Catherine Gray’s book, ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’.

The app and the book provided me with different types of support. The app helped me to track my progress and gently introduced targets – one day becomes a week, becomes 10 days, a fortnight and then a month. Whereas the book provided more in the way of actual guidance and reassurance, both of which I felt I needed. I really can’t say enough – find the techniques that work for you and embrace them. There is no ‘correct’ way.

Now that we have looked at the process, I can talk about the benefits. Again, these will be individual, but there tend to be themes. Clarity of thought was a huge benefit in the first week. What I experienced was the lifting of a sort of ‘brain fog’ that I hadn’t even noticed had descended on me. My clarity of thought increased dramatically, as did my memory. My brain went from dial-up to broadband as I could not only take in and process more information but retain it.

Linked to this improvement in cognitive functions, my mood improved markedly. I’d always laughed off the charge of being grumpy, but it was only after a few weeks without any alcohol that I realised that I had been irritable in a way that just wasn’t there any longer.

Mentally, I felt lighter, and as the weeks accumulated, I was lighter. Weight loss is a well-documented benefit of cutting out the often high-sugar alcohol in your diet, but that’s just the beginning. I also reaped the rewards of improved skin and a general healthy glow that cutting out alcohol brings. It’s no exaggeration to say that making this change opened up a whole new world for me. I suddenly had time to read and the clarity of thought to enjoy a hobby I’d essentially given up on.

I’ve tried to avoid cliché in writing this but there is no better way of describing the change that giving up alcohol made to me than to say that it made me happier, healthier and kinder. It isn’t without its challenges but, for me at least, it was so very worth it.

If Gareth’s story about giving up alcohol resonates with you and you would like to share your own, email the team at [email protected]. 

Our ‘Ditch the Drink’ Mockail book is free to download here.

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