Today’s blog post is written by Club Soda member Kathryn Reay.
I remember the day I started my mindful drinking journey clearly. It was nearly the end of January 2018 and came after what I’d considered at the time to be a pretty sensible Christmas and New Year in terms of alcohol consumption. I had been trying to limit my alcohol intake for a while, mainly due to the awful hangovers I’d started getting after even a few glasses of wine, and I thought I was doing pretty well other than a few slip-ups every few months or so.
The New Year celebrations had started with a rugby game where I limited myself to shandy before the game, Diet Coke during and a few glasses of wine after. I spent most of the day thinking about drinking/not drinking but was rewarded with a hangover-free New Year’s Eve, leaving me free to have a few Aperol Spritz with lunch and then a few wines and glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve. I was well enough to get up for breakfast on New Year’s Day but I’ll confess I did have a few gins at lunch-time and then a bit of a lie down in the afternoon. At the time this seemed very moderate but now this would constitute a lot for me and I would certainly forgo the lunch-time drinks in favour of keeping a clear head for as long as possible.
But you could say that things drinking wise were under control and not causing any major issues to my health or life so why the need to make a conscious decision to cut back?
Well the key thing that was causing me issues on a day to day basis was that most of my socialising with friends takes place midweek, and the one or two wines that I could sleep off during the holidays or weekends were causing me more and more discomfort as I dragged myself up at 6:30 each day. I felt slightly hungover at least 2 days out of 5 days which triggered my chronic IBS problems and left me tired and fed up for days afterward. Yet I felt annoyed at feeling that way after only a small amount of alcohol and I just couldn’t seem to accept the limitations. I’d cut out so much from my diet already to accommodate my condition, giving up my few glasses of red with a meal seemed a step too far!
I was in a kind of denial – I knew I’d have to cut down or else give up drinking but it never really came to the top of my ‘personal development to do list’. In the previous year, I’d undergone a 5-day intensive course called Broadband Consciousness which had changed my life and helped me deal with anxiety and limiting beliefs. My focus was a lot on ignoring that negative script that we all have playing in the back of our head and instead choosing my thoughts, feelings and experiences but it was becoming apparent that alcohol was becoming a barrier to the clarity that I’d gained from my training and it was making my anxiety worse. I’d learnt to let go of negative views of myself such as ‘I’m broken’ or ‘I’m not good enough’ but I was still holding onto the identity of being someone who ‘likes a drink’ so of course my behaviour was following that identity and it was no longer serving me.
So to my first day of my moderate drinking. The night before I’d had three 175ml glasses of wine in the pub with my husband and whilst I wouldn’t say that the wine was responsible for the resulting argument, they certainly didn’t help and the argument, like so many before it escalated and nothing was resolved. As I sat alone afterwards dealing with an onslaught of negative thoughts and worries, I did something in desperation I don’t think I’ve ever really done before – I asked the universe what I should do? Surprisingly I got a very clear answer – stop drinking. Now I’m not one to necessarily follow every suggestion or thought that presents itself in my mind, but this was so very clear an instruction and also it did resonate with things I’d been thinking for a while.
My relationship with alcohol had always been not ‘a problem’ as such but probably ‘unhealthy’. I started drinking around the age of 13, it wasn’t a conscious choice but I soon found that it made socialising easier and I quickly became known as someone who ‘likes a drink’. Going to university, like for many people, normalised drinking and my closest friends tended to be those who also liked to drink, a lot. Hangovers were normal and didn’t cause too much disruption to daily life at that time and I guess that mentality continued on for a few years into my early working career. I certainly did some stupid things during that time and I’m sure I embarrassed myself hugely a number of times – but so did a lot of people I knew and it didn’t prevent me from doing well at work or cause any fall outs with friends, so it wasn’t really ‘a problem’.
Around 23 I met someone and had a few years of being in a stable relationship, where I tried to act a bit more responsibly but when that ended and I moved away from the area to live in London the lack of accountability to anyone and opportunity for after work drinks did mean that I drank what would probably be considered ‘too much’ by most. This resulted in weight gain, a few embarrassing incidents and too many drunken arguments with boyfriends, along with many hours in bed with hangovers. Not my best self, but not too much different from a lot of twenty-somethings in London. By the time I met my now husband at 29 I was a lot more settled in myself and my life in London, I enjoyed regular dance classes and events, swam 3-5 times a week and drank more what to me seemed moderately. Getting drunk was more by accident than design and less often and with less dramatic results. Unfortunately, though my tolerance was reducing rapidly, my desire to drink wasn’t really reducing so it was constantly in the back of my head – when would I drink? How much? What? I tried to moderate but still became hungover and cranky the next day, and whilst I didn’t drink at home, going out even for a midweek supper without drinking wasn’t something I’d consider, just like Sunday lunch without a glass of wine was unheard of.
So for these reasons I felt like the message not to drink was one to be taken seriously. I just wasn’t 100% what this would look like. But the day after this epiphany, I was slightly hungover and determined that my relationship with drink was going to change. I messaged the girls I was meeting the following day saying I wasn’t going to be drinking as I was on antibiotics (true but not the reason). To my surprise, one friend messaged to say she was not drinking much at the moment anyway and another revealed that she was reading a book on mindful drinking (Mindful Drinking by Rosamund Dean). I downloaded it and started listening right away. I felt like this was perfect timing and designed to help me on my journey. I decided that I would have one clear shot at mindful/moderate drinking and if I couldn’t sustain it I would have to stop. Strangely, it was the desire to keep drinking that gave me the motivation and will power I needed to drink less. That night I drank one large and very nice glass of wine and then switched to soft drinks.
Since then the amount and how often I drink has reduced each month. At first I aimed for 3 alcohol-free days per week but still drank pretty much as much as I could get away with on the days I did drink (so 2 or 3 glasses). On holiday I drank every day but not during the day and only a glass or two each night. As time went on I got used to not drinking in certain situations and actually found that this was often preferable to trying to stick to one or two drinks. I also found that the feeling from having ‘too much’ (which might just be a third glass of champagne at an afternoon BBQ) wasn’t pleasant to me. Slowly my mindset changed to that of a non-drinker who chooses to drink occasionally. I now have 4 alcohol-free days a week but am very discerning as to if I choose to drink on the other three – as a general rule, I don’t. Even on holiday. There are so many reasons not to bother or when having a drink will actually not add anything to the situation. I often find that for big events or things starting early not drinking is easier and gives me the energy to keep going. I tend to hold off drinking till as late as possible and often by that point I’m not bothered anyway.
Six years ago, the month I met my husband, I did dry January and it was hell on earth. I paid a fine 4 times so I could have a drink for various events. Right now, it’s 11th Jan and I’ve not yet had a drink, just because I don’t happen to have had one. So that’s a massive change and whilst I don’t claim to be perfect, and I’m sure there are people who just naturally drink less than I do even now, I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I’m certainly happier like this. Do I wish I could drink as much as I wanted with no negative side effects? Yup, but it’s just not the reality of life – there are social, health and practical side effects to drinking and I’ve finally learned to accept that.
And as well as no longer suffering the negative effects, I’ve also noticed the following specific benefits:
So if you’re considering reducing your drinking I’d say, go for it! There can only be improvements however much you manage to cut back. I’d recommend by starting with recording your drinking in an app so you become more mindful of it and noting down your feelings about drinking or not drinking after an event. Experiment and see what feels good to you 🙂
I now use my experiences to deliver a one-day version of Broadband Consciousness. These intimate workshops for a maximum of 6 participants focus on letting go of negative self-beliefs and identities, learning to recognise the script and choosing more positive thoughts, feelings and experiences. Past participants have described them as ‘life-changing’! You can connect with me on Facebook and Instagram.