Alcohol has always been part of my world. Family life and gatherings, socialising with my friends and then work played a huge part in bringing me and alcohol together. I spent the first two decades of my career working in highly masculinised industries. In my late teens and early twenties working in engineering, I was the only female in my team. Nights out were an obligatory six pints in the local pub on a Thursday, followed by a curry.
Recruitment and financial services were no different. Pre-global financial crisis both were work and party hard cultures. Determined to prove I was one of the guys, I loved the mix of drink networking-fuelled evenings, hanging out with my work colleagues and life, I felt, was an endless round of work and wine.
I’m not shy or introvert, I didn’t feel I needed drink to make myself feel more confident, so I’m not sure why I did; I think societal and workplace pressures were a large part of it. It was simply what we did. I was the life and soul, always happy to carry on the party and would always be one of the ringleaders for arranging work social events. In retrospect, I would excuse any upset feelings or anxiety the morning after the night before and put it down to “the drink talking”. When you take alcohol away from a situation, what you realise is that it is still just you.
The final call for last orders – pardon the pun – was down to a huge realisation that alcohol and my anxiety meds did not work together. Logic says that drinking alcohol – a depressant – with medication used for balancing your moods and panic is likely to be counterproductive. For me, it was the physical more than the emotional side-effects, resulting in serious hangovers.
I’ve reconciled my life a lot over the past year. This whole 12 month no drink challenge has taken a lot of personal work, once you get past the first few months of wanting to sleep a lot! I found holding up a mirror to reflect your absolute true self was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It takes time to sit with all your life baggage and to accept it is OK to be you, that you are not perfect but that too is OK.
I now find myself here at my one year soberversary! People ask if I miss drinking or if I will drink again. Deep down, I don’t miss alcohol. My life has changed because of it but I only focus on the positives I’ve gained from not drinking; more time and headspace, no physical hangovers, less rumination and panic, plus more money! The trade-off is pretty damn good. All my friends and family are supportive too, which has allowed me to find my own groove and acceptance. The increase of more people choosing a sober lifestyle, the drinks companies who are bringing to market a larger range of low or no alcohol products, makes it a much better inclusive space than it ever was before. The reactions can still be incredulous especially from strangers when you say you do not drink. I think many of my own close circle is wondering what will happen now November 10th has come and gone.
In the tone of the rest of this article and my pure honesty, if anything I’m scared of what it means to go past 12 months sober. Does this mean I can’t handle my drink and what label am I trying to give myself? What if I never taste alcohol again? What would happen if I did have a glass of wine, where would it lead and ultimately how would it make me feel?
I don’t have the answers. All I can say is I will be taking it one day at a time. I would not preach to people to stop drinking either. However, what I do preach about is to encourage yourself to think about your own workplaces, your team events, socials and impromptu nights out and how inclusive they are for all your team. Question whether everyone does want to go out to the pub every single time, or whether they feel it is what is expected of them. They may be thinking they will miss out on the out-of-hours client or networking opportunities.
I also encourage you to think about your own relationship with your coping mechanisms for dealing with stress, especially if this includes alcohol. Alcohol is a socially acceptable way of dealing with our life stresses and poor mental wealth. Perhaps you could non-judgementally question your own motivations; you may be surprised at the response.