What it's like to quit drinking for a year



DISCLAIMER: I don't like writing 'personal' blog posts, you'll see from the rest of my blog, it's all programming tutorials. But I felt like this was worth writing about, and could potentially help others.

The concept of 'a couple of drinks' was completely alien to me. I'm black or white, all or nothing. I was also a massive lightweight...

I started drinking at 14, downing bottles of cheap cider down the park in town, or under a road bridge near the skate park. It felt like the adult thing to do, it felt like the 'cool' thing to do at 14.

And so, after a decade of drink related faux pas, mishaps, and all out disasters. I find myself - on boxing day 2015 drinking my last ever alcoholic drink.

The preceding year had played heavily on my desire to stop drinking. I was the typical 'quit drinking every other week' kind of guy, and whilst I didn't have a serious problem, it was clear to those around me I didn't have the healthiest relationship with alcohol.

I received the news that one of my closest friends, someone I'd lived with for a number of years, someone who I've been close friends with for about a decade, had been involved in a drink fuelled incident which resulted in him being pushed into the path of an oncoming car.

He was left severely brain damaged, with just 1% chance of survival. Remarkably he is still alive today, although severely limited. He can't walk, he can't communicate verbally, his movements are severely limited, entirely dependent on round the clock care, at the time of writing this.

Up until that point, nothing really bad had ever happened to our group of friends, or anyone I knew. So it was a huge shock, and everyone had their own way of dealing with it. For a time, my solution was the good old British approach, drink it off.

But the more I saw my friends long, arduous, gruelling recovery, I realised that looking back, I'd had more than a few close encounters, times I could myself have been severely injured or worse. I started to realise that maybe it was time to address my own relationship with 'the sesh'.

Me blind drunk on a canal lock at 5am...

So after a particularly heavy 12+ hours of drinking after a boxing day football game, I woke up with the most remarkable hangover to date. My hangovers by this point lasted sometimes over two days. When the physical side of the hangover wore off. I'd be left with an anxious, squeezing sensation in my chest and brain fog for two or three days after. This for me felt like a good time to plot my escape.

I also used to smoke heavily, thankfully I've not smoked in over 6 years now, but I wasn't unfamiliar with quitting addictive behaviours.

So here's a few things I've found so far...

Some people are uncomfortable around you

The first thing you notice when you quit drinking, is how uneasy you tend to make others feel by not drinking yourself.

One thing I noticed when I was a drinking, and I met non-drinkers. It made me highly self-conscious of my own drinking. It would make me want to avoid that person, or mock them, because it made me feel so uneasy.

It's strange being on the receiving end of that, but it doesn't upset me or anger me that people make snide remarks about how I'm 'boring' these days, because, whilst many probably do genuinely think I'm 'boring these days'. I think a lot of the negativity towards it, is probably the same way I used to feel around people who didn't drink. So luckily I understand it and don't take it to heart, or try not to anyway.

Your life doesn't actually change that much

I think when I first quit, I expected to have few friends left, I thought, perhaps unfairly, people would abandon me in droves. I thought I'd be shipped out like a pariah to the nearest leper colony, where I'd live out my days, drinking diet cokes alone.

Whereas I still saw the same friends, almost as much as before. But the time I spent with them felt like quality time, I remembered it all, we'd go somewhere where we could actually talk and catch-up.

Okay so I do go out less, and I spend more time alone. But that's because deep down that's all I ever wanted to do. Previously I was downing 8 cans of Carlsberg, just to pluck up the courage to enter a packed, dingy club, that I didn't really want to be in.

You're probably a different person

The biggest realisation I faced, was that I was actually a completely different person without the drink. I'd spent my adult life thinking I was an extravert; it turns out I was just drunk for a sizeable portion of my adult life.

I've come to realise this year that actually I'm a bit of a loner, I don't like being in crowded places, and for all this time I was getting drunk to deal with an array of mild, niggling social phobias and fears. I've also realised over the past 12 months how horrendously bad I am at small talk.

I think a lot of people struggle with some kind of social anxiety, it can be debilitating for some, and barely noticeable for others, but I think it plays a big role in why some people gravitate towards binge drinking more than others. I was likely in that category, so now I have to figure out how to have a social life without the aid of supermarket value branded lager and 'day drinking'.

 You're not as skint as you thought you were

I was notoriously bad with money, I still am, but now I can make it to the end of the month without having to weigh up selling a kidney on the dark web. I sometimes look back and think 'how the shit did I ever afford to drink?'. You know those nights, where you vaguely remember withdrawing £100, you have a hazy memory of getting a taxi back from Nottingham to Derby at 3am, trying not to imagine how much it may have cost. You try to forget the 5 rounds of Tequila slammers you paid for. If you notice nothing else about quitting drinking, unless you only drank cans of White Ace on a canal tow path, you will notice the money you used to spend. You will feel like you've had a fairly lucrative pay rise.

You lose weight

Whether this was purely down to not consuming 6000 calories in premium lager nearly every week, or because I started exercising and running regularly. Not drinking gave me a lot more time and energy, especially at the weekends. I got out the house by going for a run, or going to the gym. In fact, the running got fairly excessive at a point. I felt like Superhans when he went straight edge.

I lost about a stone, which wasn't bad going considering I'd semi replaced getting smashed with eating...

Advice to anyone else reading this who is thinking of quitting!

Find what you truly enjoy doing

If you drank down your local every day after work, don't try to carry on doing this once you've quit. If you go to the pub sober, and you find it a bit... dull. Just accept it! That's the reality of it! Do something else!

I made the mistake of feeling a bit down when I first quit, because I hated being in a nightclub sober. Well, it finally occurred to me, you don't have to enjoy nightclubs, or loud bars. Go out and find what you truly enjoying doing with your spare time, and do that!

At the same time, don't completely avoid social situations. I'm failing to take my own advice on this one at the moment. I'm having to re-learn how to socialise and grow some self-confidence without being able to delegate these things to downing pints anymore. But don't isolate yourself, go out and do things, even if you feel a little uneasy about it at first. If you completely isolate yourself, you'll fall trap to thinking your life depends on alcohol in order to be happy, and you'll never quit, happily at least.

 You're not really missing out on anything

I thought I'd miss out once I quit drinking, I thought it was a bigger deal that it actually turned out to be. Going out drinking only actually made up a small section of my life, and it wasn't the most meaningful or exciting part either. It's hard to describe, but after a while you start to realise that you're not actually missing anything. Nothing bad happens when you quit drinking. It's not a big of a deal as you probably think.

I remember when I used to smoke, I couldn't envision a life without smoking, to me, it looked like an intolerable nightmare realm. I genuinely used to believe that I'd be permanently miserable if I quit smoking. I realise looking back how ridiculous that was. All my past fears about quitting now seem trivial and petty.

Talk to someone!

A lot of people drink in excess because they have anxiety issues, they're compensating for a lack of confidence. If that's the case, there's no shame in talking to someone professional about it. Take Big Mad Andy's advice...

 Your mental health will probably improve

I mentioned earlier that my hangovers included a tight squeezing sensation in my chest for days after. I'd get brain fog, I'd be unable to sleep properly. Mondays were almost a write off, nearly every week. I just chalked it down to being a 'Monday thing'. But now my Monday's are miraculously no different to any other day. My thoughts have been more considered and less chaotic, I've been able to be more productive, and I'm much happier.

You're not the only non-drinker

There are actually plenty of people who don't drink, in fact it's a rapidly growing number. The generations just turning 18 now, are increasingly rejecting alcohol. As are many millennials. Many of the generations before us were absolute piss heads, and we're starting to see the ramifications of that now. We've all heard the horror stories of NHS liver transplant lists. But this means that a lot of people are quitting or drastically cutting back.

Headway - Brain injury charity
https://www.headway.org.uk/donate/

Accomodation for family of injured servicemen
https://www.fisherhouseuk.org/donate

And Help the Heroes who largely fund the facility were my friend's currently living: http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/donate/

A must read if you're thinking of quitting - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004AHKC3O/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1