Club Soda drinks writer Anja lists what she has learned in 100 days without alcohol.
I started working in hospitality when I was 14 doing silver service in a hotel. I’m now creeping up on 30, and have worked my way through the industry, from bartender to venue manager, drinks writer, and brewery tour/tasting host. In that time, my relationship with drink has been both varied and complicated. I don’t think it was anything outside of ‘normal’, but I’m wary of measuring myself against societal norms, as often on closer inspection ‘normal’ is something we should be questioning. I can certainly pinpoint times when I haven’t been happy with the way I was drinking.
Over the last couple of years I’ve cut down a lot, it came naturally. I left a destructive job in the beer industry and started working for myself. But I realised that the breaks I’ve had from drinking and steps I’ve taken to moderate my consumption, have been a bi-product of other things that were going on in my life, namely a desire to be fitter, and recovering from a serious illness. So while my consumption for some time now has been that of a mindful drinker, I don’t think I have necessarily been practicing mindfulness in an intentional way. So I decided to take 100 mindful days away from booze. I hadn’t really planned it (and would recommend planning!), but one day I just said ‘this is day one’. Here’s what I learned…
From the moment I decided to start my 100 days, I felt instant relief. I struggle with the stress of decision making, so making one choice that eliminated the need to make any others felt good. I find abstaining quite easy, and appreciate that I’m fortunate in that. It was exciting to know that for 100 days I wouldn’t skip dinner or a workout because I’d had a couple of beers.
Taking a mindful break allowed me to reflect on my history and identify patterns. This was productive but challenging. I pinpointed the bit where me and drink got complicated, and I think it will take a while to sit comfortably with it.
We lost our dad suddenly in an accident when I was 17. Not long after, it was time for university. Leaving home at that time left me feeling isolated, there was nobody that knew me and my experiences on a deep level.
Student culture promoted drink as a way to loosen inhibitions and get to know people. But I imagine this is where a lot of fractious relationships with alcohol take seed. I did well most of the time, I was fun and unlike school I made a lot of friends, a classic tale of reinvention.
But I sometimes found myself having one too many and going home in tears, and feeling the impending doom the next morning. In the years following the loss of Dad, grief was a constant presence, but I wasn’t giving it room to breathe, I wasn’t processing it. I was masking pain and forcing myself to join in and be fun. I wish that at the time there had been messaging that made me question drinking culture. There was a very polarising view that either you were an alcoholic, or you were fine. So I never considered that my relationship with alcohol was anything other than ‘ok’ because I was the same as everyone else.
This is where I formed my pattern of drinking when I experience stress or sadness. To keep the illusion of being fun and easy-going, and to hide from things. In my time away from alcohol, the times I thought about having a drink were the times when I was under a lot of pressure or having a bad day.
With the above information in my hands, I’ve spent time picturing what my version of acceptable drinking looks like. I will not drink at times of stress or sadness. I’ve identified two moments in this break where I think it would be acceptable for me to drink if the same occasion arose in future. Both of these were meals with family, and everyone had one glass of wine. I wouldn’t be upset with future me if she decided to have a glass at the family table.
I’ve also realised that I may one day choose to stop drinking entirely. I’m open to the idea that maybe it just isn’t for me. That’s scary as someone who works in the drinks industry, it’s a huge part of my identity. But I’m happy to experiment and see what works best for me. My life functions well both with and without alcohol, but if I decide that ultimately it’s better without, I’m no longer afraid to reshape myself to live a good life.
I’ve become very aware of social conditioning around alcohol. The birthday cards, jokes, fridge magnets and characters in movies who model the glamour of it for us. One thing that struck me in particular is that every year on dad’s anniversary, I raise his favourite tipple to him. I have chosen the part of him I liked least to remember him by. Why? Probably because it’s been shown to me by every movie or TV show I’ve ever seen. In the future, I will celebrate his life by emulating the things I love best about him, his dedication to his family and his passion for adventure. I question myself more now, I ask myself if something I am about to consume or do is really what I want, or what I think I should want.
Unfortunately, I didn’t lose weight when I stopped, my consumption wasn’t high enough to have a huge impact on that. I think my skin may be a little brighter, but on the whole I haven’t seen the physical transformation that many people experience. Shame!
My sense of taste, however, has gone through the roof. As someone who writes about food and drink, this has been fantastic. I’m finding that flavour has even more vibrancy now.
I’m also finding I am a little better at getting up early. Having never been a morning person, this is life-changing. I actually got up at 6am today to go and work out. This is unheard of!
In these months I have made big steps toward cultivating the life I really want. I visualise my dream life a lot, the habits I would like to have, the way I would like to be perceived, and the space I want to occupy. Without alcohol in the picture, that life I imagine is becoming even clearer, and it feels closer than ever before.
I feel more in tune with my partner. We are not drinking together, and I don’t think there is a better thing we could have done for our relationship. Our priorities and goals have really aligned, we are more aware of each other’s mood and needs. The time we spend together is always quality time. I am better able to judge which relationships are most deserving of my time and to put more energy into those, instead of giving the small bit of free time I have to people who aren’t actually close friends or family.
I’ve identified things I loved about my younger self and made time for them. I studied classical music at uni and was surrounded by people who were into the same things as me. But I think I started losing those parts of myself when I finished studying, suddenly my interests seemed quite niche, people around me didn’t share them. I used to feel quite embarrassed by all my interests, but I’ve finally realised that there is absolutely no shame in liking the person you are and being proud of your passions. So I’ve made time to reconnect with these things. I’m reading more, Classic FM is on the radio, there’s a puzzle on the dining table. I’m dancing again and practising my musical instruments. I don’t want to be consumed by screens and constant incoming communication. I want to fill my time with adventure, culture and meaning, to live with intention. At the moment, I can honestly say that I feel I am doing exactly that. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a position to say that before.
After my 100 days without alcohol, I remained dry. I knew I didn’t want to drink immediately to ‘reward’ myself for abstaining, the findings above have been more than rewarding enough. A week or so later I had a beer, which made me feel quite drunk. The following day I felt anxious about it like I’d let myself down. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but if the feeling is there I’m going to pay attention to it. I think it has become clear that for me, choosing not to drink can only have positive outcomes. If I choose to drink, there is the possibility of positive or negative outcomes, so I want to make careful decisions based on this.
For now, I’m going to carry on without it and see what happens. We are hosting Christmas for both our families this year, and I’m looking forward to planning, participating, and remembering it, sober.