Today’s post is again a guest article from a Club Soda member. Martin writes about the challenge of moderating alcohol, and how quitting for a time has helped him to moderate his drinking habits over the longer term, with some strict rules in place. He has also found seeing changing his drinking as a long game. Taking part in multiple support programmes has helped him on that journey.
I’m currently doing 100 days alcohol-free before Easter, allowing myself to drink very occasionally during that time. So far, I’ve drunk alcohol twice this year – once at a cava-tasting evening and once at a local carnival before the start of Lent at a brewery over lunch. So why have I decided to do this and what happens at the end?
I’d always seen myself just as a “social drinker” but that hiked up a bit too much after a sudden bereavement a few years ago. Drinking less alcohol had become one of those New Year’s resolutions that was constantly at the back of my mind so eventually I got round to doing a month off alcohol twice – one in March and once in October 2015. The first time around made me realise it was doable and set me on the road to cutting down quite seriously. The second time around I did it with Club Soda’s Month Off Booze programme (or MOB; now called Sober Sprint) which I found good at examining the reasons behind drinking and for breaking habits and thanks to those changes, I now very, very rarely drink at home – for me the only real temptation is being in a bar and seeing other people drinking or having someone offer me a drink at their house or party. So a mixture of the MOB programme and checking in occasionally with Club Soda on Facebook had really changed things for me and help reset my relationship with alcohol. But even after this I was drinking just over the old UK guidelines for men, so when the new guidelines suggested a level of 14 units a week I wanted to try something new. Hence an attempt starting on New Year’s Day to take 90 alcohol-free days before Easter (with some days drinking interspersed within that). When that started to seem very, very doable, I increased it to 100 days before Easter and a minimum of days drinking.
Making a decision not to drink at all can be much less hassle. Building up your skills over time to remain alcohol free means that it becomes much easier to turn down that glass of wine to celebrate a colleague’s birthday and you come to enjoy being the only one sober on a big night out with friends (and can be more than a bit smug the morning afterwards). At the same time, giving myself the option – both now and in the future – to drink occasionally takes the stress out of the rare events where enjoying the taste of a moderate amount of alcohol – a small glass of wine with a good meal; locally-brewed beer – is part of the occasion.
What I find most difficult is those events that you don’t quite want to go to and that I would previously have “bribed” myself with a glass of wine or two to attend. Awkward work socials or French meet up groups in the pub do seem that bit more difficult without alcohol. My trick is always to ask myself what I want to get out of the occasion (who do I need to talk to in a work context or want to catch up with) and then once I’ve done those things I leave and enjoy the rest of my evening. I’ve found that once you stop drinking you suddenly notice that not everyone else around is drinking and that you’re not usually the only one.
Though being alcohol free for a month in the past helped show some of the physical benefits – better sleep, clearer skin, a little bit of weight loss, it’s being alcohol free for longer that’s really got me to a place where I can socialise with confidence. This has got to the point where a few weeks ago I was absent-mindedly holding an open bottle of beer for a friend for about half an hour before someone pointed out the irony of someone who wasn’t drinking holding a beer.
I have a clear picture of my ultimate goal which is to be able to look back at the end of each month and be able to count what I’ve drunk over the month on the fingers of one hand – a glass of wine with a plate of cheese; a whisky to toast Burns Night (but no wine or beer with dinner); some small sips to celebrate with a colleague, but no more. I’m confident that the support of groups like Club Soda and One Year No Beer has really helped me get to that place and that if my consumption creeps up again I can always press the pause button once again and take some time alcohol free to reassess. I’ll let you know how it goes.