In practical terms, my life is so much simpler now I'm sober.
When I was drinking, there was way more complexity and stress that was completely drink-induced...
When I got invites to social events, I used to have to worry about and plan journeys in advance. I had to calculate how I was going to manage things so that I didn't end up having to drive anywhere after the event. This would sometimes involve some high level and narcissistic manipulation, specifically with my boyfriend.
Thinking back to it now, I'm pretty sure I wasn't fooling anyone. I used to justify my actions to myself by thinking that it didn't matter to him - he wasn't bothered if he drank or not - so it was easier for him to just have a couple and then drive us home. Whereas I "liked a drink" and could only cope with the situation if I got drunk so it made sense for him to do the driving. I can hear myself now, brightly offering to drive us to the event as if I was doing him a favour but really desperately engineering it so that he would end up being the one to drive us back as that would be "fair".
Or, I might have to engineer it that we'd stay overnight somewhere to avoid the whole "who's driving?" conversation. Either way, I was having to spend a lot of time worrying and plotting instead of enjoying the anticipation and excitement of the upcoming event.
Now I'm sober, I don't have to give any headspace or thought to who's driving which way and "fairness" doesn't come into it. If he's too tired or wants a drink, I just drive us - simple as that. If I'm too tired, he just drives us. No stress, no hassle, no deceitful manipulation. It is so liberating to just pick up those car keys, jump in and drive!
When my son was younger, I would plan and organise childcare so that I could drink freely without having to worry about being inappropriate in front of him.
This would often involve stressing over a last-minute arrangement because I'd had an invite to a party or a "session" that I just couldn't bear to miss. Luckily, my son was a very easy-going, sociable and adaptable soul - still is - and was happy to stay with my parents, with my friends and with our child-minder (if he wasn't, I can't honestly claim that that would have made any difference). But, in the process of prioritising drinking opportunities and trying to protect him from that, I gave myself a lot of anxiety and stress.
This was costly and not just financially. When I think it back to it now, I can see that my relationship with alcohol often took priority over my relationship with my son. Not something I'm proud of.
It also resulted in countless mornings and days when I was hungover and recovering and not being fully there for him. The stress of parenting a child with a hangover can be overwhelming - choosing this stress time and time again now seems like a crazy thing to have done but, at the time, I clearly wasn't thinking too straight.
Now I'm living my life happily sober, I do sometimes wonder how different it would have been for me to have had all this sober freedom back then. To have not had to spend headspace, money and time on childcare and, instead, to have spent that time with either with him, creating more memories together or on myself but in healthier ways that nurtured, stretched and grew me and made me a better person, a better mother.
I often had to re-organise my diary around my drinking and subsequent hangover commitments.
Drinking opportunities took priority over nearly everything. So many hair appointments, lunches, shopping trips, social meet-ups, workouts, etc that I either cancelled or rearranged because my hangover had taken over my day.
How many mornings did I wake up terrified that I couldn't face whatever commitment I had planned for that day, panicking about it until I'd cancelled or rearranged it? Again, the amount of time and headspace that drinking drained from me is incredible...
It took so much time away from me at weekends, evenings and holidays. Either I was drinking my time away, losing time from being hungover and incapable or wasting time juggling my diary around and postponing everything.
Living my life sober has given me total control over my diary and my time. I have more time to do what I want with. I have the capacity to fill my time productively and stick to my commitments. It's very rare that I ever cancel anything - in fact I can't remember the last time I did.
Take this morning for instance. It's Easter Sunday and I've woken up quite early (after the kind of refreshing night's sleep that only sober living gets you!) I've been out and fed the neighbour's chickens and cat. I've enjoyed a morning 5k run in the fresh Spring air. I've eaten a healthy breakfast provided by said chickens. And, I'm writing and publishing this blog. All before lunch.
And, having the capacity to stick to these commitments helps to build self-respect. A little sense of achievement each time one commitment is completed adds to the general store and builds up that self-respect and self-confidence. It's good for your overall wellbeing, positivity and health.
Another stress I gave myself when I was drinking was the challenge of balancing my books when I was spending so much money on alcohol.
Every month involved calculations, sweating over columns of incomings and outgoings month after month, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, ensuring above all that a steady supply of alcohol was uninterrupted.
Even as my career grew and my monthly salary grew, the amount I was spending on alcohol went up. I became more frivolous. I would buy more expensive wines and gins. I would remove any limitations. We would eat fancier meals in more expensive restaurants.
The priority was always alcohol and this got in the way of me managing my money as effectively as I could. Saving money just didn't happen. I would also make reckless decisions when I was drinking that would cost me more money.
Living life alcohol-free means I have control over my money. I don't have to stress about it and I don't have to spend time on it.
I can't tell you how much hard work it used to be to "manage" my drinking towards the end of my drinking career.
At weekends I would just give up and let go - allow my time to be swept away by the drinking and the recovering from drinking. But, during the week, when I was working, I would monitor and manage my drinking. Making sure that I didn't have too much so that I wouldn't feel incapacitated the next day but making sure that I had enough to help me feel "better".
If I was in company, I would manage my drinking. Making sure I drank what would be perceived as an "acceptable" amount. Not too much more than everyone else. I would spend time watching what others were drinking and how much they were drinking. I would worry that other people might notice I had a problem and would feel so self-conscious about my drinking, it was all I could think about. Then I would become paranoid about my speech and behaviour and would be self-censoring, monitoring myself to make sure I was "in line". None of this involved fun, enjoyment or sparkle. It was hard work.
Living alcohol-free means I don't have to do any of this anymore. Whether I'm at home or socialising, my focus is the people, the conversation, the situation, the event. My headspace is clear to enjoy what's going on around me at the time. I'm fully present in the moment. There is no more thinking about drinking. No battle, no work. It's all just effortless and easy.
I remember one party that my partner and I went to. I was hungover on that day because it was a Saturday and I’d (obviously) been drinking to unwind on the Friday evening after a hard week at work. I had cancelled the weekly shop that morning because I couldn’t face the drive or the busy supermarket. My anxiety levels were through the roof. I spent most of the day in bed awash with guilt and shame. I dreaded going to the party because my anxiety levels were so high and I “knew” I’d have to drink loads to get through it. I also knew how crap I’d then feel on the Sunday when I had loads of jobs to do. All the work that had piled up from the Saturday was overspilling into the Sunday.
In the early evening, after some time agonising over what to do about driving home from the party, my partner suggested taking the van and putting a duvet in the back so we could sleep there. His reasoning was we could both “enjoy” a drink and not worry about how to get home afterwards. (He was very innocent and nice and thoughtful and had no idea of the mental torture I was putting myself through!)
So, we went to the party. I was tight and anxious at first and desperate to get drunk and relax. I wanted to reach that happy, drunken state that would enable me to enjoy myself and feel sociable and happy so I drank some stiff G&Ts and then started on the wine. I drank loads and didn’t ever reach that state that I craved. I just became aware that I was getting slurrier and slurrier and more inarticulate as the evening wore on. I didn’t enjoy any of it. It all felt like hard work.
I woke up feeling ill, dizzy and disorientated and cold in the back of the van. My partner drove us home and I went straight back to bed to waste another day getting over the physical hangover symptoms and suffering the mental anguish of the accompanying guilt, shame and paranoia. I had to then reorganise all my weekend commitments and find space and time to get everything done in the week, adding to my workload and increasing my stress-levels.
I then had to have a small amount to drink on the Sunday evening to wean myself off, to help me feel normal and relaxed and so that I could be worthy company for my lovely and innocent partner. But I had to restrict the amount I was drinking and worry about managing my drinking as I had work the next day.
When I think back to all of this, it seems like a lifetime ago and I can’t imagine ever putting myself through any of that ever again. The energy and headspace I gave to alcohol and drinking was exhausting.
Life without alcohol is so much easier. If there’s a party, or some sort of social event, I simply decide whether I want to go or not. I don’t have a hangover, so I get things done during the day and can enjoy dressing up and preparing for the party if I’ve decided to go. I don’t have to give driving a second thought – I’m happy to drive as I’m then in control of when I leave. I get in the car, go and enjoy myself and then drive home. Simple. I get to bed and sleep well and wake up with a whole day ahead of me. I can choose to relax or to be productive. And, I feel great and can enjoy remembering the evening and smile to myself.
I just don’t have to think about any of the things that used to be part and parcel of my drinking life. Everything is so easy and uncomplicated. No stress, anxiety or wasted energy.
It’s like taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly while watching the sun dip below the horizon at the end of the day.