Thinking About Quitting Drinking? 6 Things I Learnt When I Ditched Alcohol – Women’s

Like many who grew up in a drinking culture, by her 20s, Jennifer Savin felt trapped in a cycle of nights out and anxious mornings. So she took a break, reset and became a mindful drinker.

It was a small piece of glass wedged into my shoulder that did it. Where did it come from? I couldn’t remember. I’d spent the night downing shots and requesting old-school J.Lo in a gay bar… but so much of it was still hazy. There were gaping holes in my memory that my hungover brain began to fill with a host of worst-case scenarios, a rush of anxiety that was starting to become all too familiar.

The pattern back then went like this: hit the booze hard and then wake up hating myself (to the extent I’d physically pick at my skin), terrified of what I might have said or done the night before. I’d text my friends and most of the time the answer was, ‘Nothing! You’re paranoid!’ But, as I sat shivering in the shower that one particularly bleak morning, picking the glass out (apparently I’d fallen out of a taxi), I made a vow to stop drinking.

I decided on three months off the booze (one didn’t seem enough) and ended up embarking on a journey that changed my relationship with alcohol forever.

At 27, after a solid 13 years of drinking pretty much every week without fail (such is the culture we’re born into – my teenage friends and I would regularly sneak alcohol from our parents to drink in the park), I was definitely a problematic binge drinker. Bizarrely, my university friends labelled me the one who always kept it together on a night out, but the older I got, the less accurate that title felt. Or maybe I’d always been a hot mess but never realised the extent of it.

Over the past decade I’ve lost phones, thrown up in plant pots and slept with people I shouldn’t have (and let’s not even discuss the drunk texts) – all things that I’d never do sober and that became a lot less funny the older I got. At first, I was unsure I could make 90 days, but the actual experience was life-changing. It very quickly became addictively easy and enjoyable to maintain my teetotal state. I ended up completely abstaining from alcohol for 15 months (a large chunk of which was during lockdowns, when many ramped up their alcohol intake instead).

READ: 5 Ways Your Body Improves After A Month Without Alcohol

When I did start drinking again, it came with little fanfare: I was eating a delicious dinner with my boyfriend and fancied a glass of red to finish. I relished it – just the one – getting a small buzz, but for once knowing I could leave it at that.

It’s been more than six months since I started drinking again, but it feels completely different – because my attitude towards alcohol is completely different. I drink less. I drink better. I’m happier. These are the lessons I learnt while becoming a mindful drinker (side note: abstaining for good might be the right – and necessary – choice for some people; this is just what I’ve found works best for me at the moment).

#1/ You need a strong, supportive structure

When I first went cold turkey, I knew I’d need some kind of structure in place, and after a quick Google search found Club Soda. It offers a supportive Facebook group to discuss abstaining from booze, as well as a 30-day ‘How To Stop Drinking’ online course (around $69). I wanted my break to be reflective and transformative, so undergoing the course, complete with daily emails,

expert talks and prompter questions for journalling, forced me to put why, what and who
I drink with under a microscope. I also had a brilliant therapist, who I was seeing for a bereavement but who helped me stay on track with sobriety, too. She made me dig deep into some of the reasons my mental health has been shakier than a Power Plate since my teenage years.

I also started following Sober Girl Society (SGS), an organisation set up by Millie Gooch, whose story is similar to my own. Motivational content from SGS showed me I wasn’t alone in my quest to ditch alcohol, while encouraging me to carve out time to look at my habits and examine what ought to change.

#2/ Quitting alcohol can help you discover who you really are

It’s about learning what works for you in different situations. At networking events you can strike up a chat without the crutch of a drink – just ask for apple juice in a wine glass or an alcohol-free beer if you’re worried about looking out of place. You’ll be so proud of yourself afterwards. In social situations, I find it all depends on the company you keep.

Yes, it can be quite fun watching people get drunk for a while, but it can also get boring (some drunk folk love having the same conversation over and over). I’ve been out and talked, laughed and danced until 6am and discovered that sometimes I actually prefer partying sober. Previously, I would have drunk so much that I’d be asleep by 2am. Going sober meant I was better company and lasted longer than ever.

#3/ You don’t need to justify why you’re quitting alcohol (to anyone)

During my 15 months off, I was constantly asked if I was pregnant and was expected to explain my choice to stop drinking in the middle of a pub to people I barely knew. If you’re not up for those conversations, it’s totally fine to not mention you’re alcohol-free. Order a lime and soda and say it’s got vodka in if you like, or turn the label of your Becks Blue towards you so nobody can see it. It’s your night out so play it your way. You don’t owe anyone anything.

#4/ Even temporarily quitting alcohol will change your drinking habits forever

I can now say with absolute certainty that white wine turns me into a gossipy, passing-out-in-the-bathroom mess. It left me sobbing with anxiety and regret and I don’t want to be that girl anymore. Now I only have a drink if I really want one and know I’ll enjoy it. Instead of drinking cheap wine to get drunk for less than $30, I’ll have a nice cocktail on a night out (between non-alcoholic beers or water). And because I drink less, the bill is about the same anyway.

I’ll now make sure that I spend the first hour of any night out (at least) alcohol-free. Half of the time I realise that I’m having just as much fun without a hard drink in my hand and I’ll keep it up for the rest of the event or party. Other times I’ll have one or two alcoholic drinks, but only towards the end of the night to perk myself up a bit if I feel like I’m starting to lack energy. Knowing that I’m in control of myself really helps to lessen my anxiety.

#5/ You’ll find other joys in life (like hangover-free Sundays) when you stop drinking

For example, all of the great non-alcoholic drink options out there. Before my booze break, I never drank beer. Now, I absolutely love a Becks Blue, Heineken 0.0 or a Lucky Saint (a non-alcoholic lager). Lyre’s makes a great faux Aperol spritz, which I drink with Nosecco, and Three Spirit does a Social Elixir infused with herbs that bring on a natural buzz and won’t leave you pranging the next day.

I also now relish not having a hangover (or only having one that’s half as bad as my friends’, given I only drank half as much) and love to make wholesome Sunday plans that I can look forward to. There’s also the satisfaction of sleeping better, not eating total junk on the night bus home (leaving me uncomfortable and bloated the next day) and not spending the whole day crying with self-loathing.

#6/ You’ll no longer drink just for the sake of it (and wonder why you ever did)

I’m astounded it took me so long to arrive at this revelation: if you’re not having a good time, you can always just… leave. Have you ever been on an awkward date, or stuck in an uncomfortable social situation, and said, ‘I’m going to have to drink through this one’? Same here. But why not think of the gloriously happy mood you’ll be in the next day if you forgo the booze and head home instead? It’s always good to put your mental health first, just saying.

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