Why I quit alcohol one year ago today
We have all been there, and we have all said it.
I’m never drinking again.
For the vast majority, that is a weekly slogan and a recurring chant. The resolve lasts three or four days, seven at a push, until the hangover fades and a new weekend rounds into view. Then the sentiment is submerged in a sea of sambuca and regret.
Well, 365 days ago, I uttered those words, eliciting laughter from friends and loved ones. Yeah, whatever. Give it a week. But I was certain. I was determined. More than that, I was passionate. Never again would I drink against my better judgement.
Why I gave up alcohol
My decision to stop drinking alcohol was multifaceted and incredibly complex. It was rooted in nuanced values, wrought from real experience. I believe my rationale can be broadly arranged under five headings, something a little like this:
The relationship between antidepressants and alcohol
With one hand, I was taking sertraline, an antidepressant. With the other hand, I was drinking alcohol, a depressant. Not a lot, granted, but enough to damage the efficiency of medication designed to alleviate a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Alcohol encourages and amplifies said chemical imbalances, stunting the effectiveness of my recovery from mental ill health. To me, this was the very definition of insanity, subtracting two from two and expecting a result other than zero. So I stopped. Just like that.
I was very bad at drinking alcohol
Expressed simply, I just wasn’t very good at drinking alcohol. I couldn’t master that rhythm of a seasoned drinker, and my stamina was laughable. I was a lightweight, a fanny and every other derogatory phrase associated with an inability to drink more than three pints without vomiting.
My hangovers became four-day sagas, while bouts of beer fear were so common as to border cliché. Alcohol does not agree with my body. That’s a simple fact. I quit trying to convince it otherwise.
I just didn’t like alcohol
Deep down, I’m an introvert. I’m a romantic empath, a quiet thinker and a silent dreamer. There has always been a sense of otherness about my personality. I prefer autumn and winter to summer and spring. I would rather get tucked up with a good book than smash shots of Jägermeister in town. I just can’t be arsed with all the bullshit.
I never had an illegal drink of alcohol in my life, waiting instead until I turned 18. Growing up on a council estate, particularly in the north west, such a concept is totally anathema to the culture, customs and precedents that influence your upbringing. And so my sense of otherness was burnishes anew, morphing into chronic shyness and stifling anxiety. Mental ill health robbed me of the chance to attend university, an addled mind telling me I couldn’t integrate with its boozy celebration of extroverted pomposity.
Anxiety is tethered to insecurity, which is masked by pretending to be somebody we are not. I fell into that trap, affecting a bubbly persona of giddy humour and infectious fun, all while dying inside. Alcohol was an essential prop in my disguise. It was a great enabler of the identity crisis that contributed to my mental breakdown.
I never drank alcohol in any significant volume. I often went weeks without visiting a pub, and it wasn’t unusual to see me drinking water or orange in such establishments. Yet 100% of the alcohol that has entered my system did so in hope of attracting acceptance from society. I participated in the beer-fuelled traditions of Britain to conform, not to enjoy the taste or effects. I drank alcohol because such an activity is ubiquitous wherever and whenever our society does anything.
When you are young in this country, everything revolves around alcohol. If you don’t get involved, the alpha masters of community acceptance have decreed that you will be disowned, abandoned and ridiculed. Those alpha masters are usually found propping up the bar, nursing a pint and ignoring their own problems by bullying other people. Let’s get real here.
In search of acceptance, identity and purpose, I explored the extremes of football fandom, embracing casual culture in a cringeworthy mess. Singing on trains. Drinking cans in the street. Spending thousands of pounds on clothes to impress people who actually thought I looked like an imbecile. It was a slippery slope to unfulfilled potential, and I’m glad I changed track.
Alcohol and macho aggression
Alcohol is the only drug you are ridiculed for not taking. There is an apparent correlation between sinking nine pints on a Saturday and being able to call yourself a man. Asking for water in a pub is pathetic, they tell you. Come on, don’t be boring. One won’t hurt.
I have seen so many reluctant drinkers, it is almost comical. The teenager struggling through a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruits. The adult sipping gin and trying not to pull a face as if somebody has stood on their big toe. The squirming outsider who thinks buying seven bottles of Corona will garner respect. My message to you? It doesn’t have to be that way.
When I stopped drinking alcohol amid an individualist awakening, I simply stopped caring what people thought of me. I decided that my own happiness was more important than that of anyone chastising me for not drinking Desperados on a Wednesday night.
Structured solitude and rigorous self-analysis rank among the first steps to recovery from a mental breakdown. Making changes allows you to cross the Rubicon. Cutting out alcohol was the first step to unleashing the real me. It was a harbinger of immense productivity and happiness to come.
I loathe the way alcohol consumption has a negative impact on the lives of other people. Alcohol-instigated domestic violence is a serious problem, and we must do more to eradicate it from our culture. Similarly, the disorderly behaviour, public destruction and needless drain on emergency resources perpetrated by alcohol is a national disgrace. Someone must take a stand and campaign for change.
I grew up
A few years ago, I was emotionally immature. I knew myself, but I was scared to present that person to the world through fear of judgement and mockery. That emotional immaturity fed my anxious insecurity, which in turn authorised my pretending to be somebody else. In essence, I drank alcohol because I was too raw, green and undeveloped psychologically to say no and carve my own path. Eventually, though, I grew up and stopped acting like a sheep. Sometimes, it’s just a question of time.
How I gave up alcohol
Deciding to quit drinking alcohol is very different to actually quitting alcohol. The former is a thought, urge or instinct; the latter requires planning, action and genuine commitment.
By way of a flippant explanation, I simply stopped ordering alcohol in pubs and ceased buying alcohol in shops. In the more nuanced narrative, I informed those closest to me that I no longer drank alcohol, then I answered several recurring questions from every single person whose interest was engaged.
What do you mean?
Like, not even one pint?
You don’t drink at all?
I’m fortunate that alcohol never really appealed to me anyway. I rarely had a craving for beer, and if it disappeared overnight, I wouldn’t be greatly bothered. I didn’t have to crack any dependency or addiction issues, so nullifying the physical compulsion of drinking Heineken in a pub was fairly easy. I just ordered a soft drink or water instead.
By contrast, managing the incredulity of those around me was a draining challenge that took a while to overcome. For sparking sheer panic, drama and hilarity, nothing will ever surpass the insecurity of a beer-sipping human who is informed that, despite sharing the same room, you have chosen not to drink the same fluid as he or she. People just cannot compute that information. It is astounding.
In my formative days as a soft drink connoisseur, I felt compelled to apologise for not thoroughly destroying my fragile self-esteem with Amstel at any given opportunity. That is to say, peer pressure often makes the nascent teetotal feel guilty for their own instinctive preferences. Eventually, though, I stopped giving a fuck. Drinking alcohol seemed stupid to me, as a matter of personal opinion, so I stopped doing it. Simple, really.
Why do people drink alcohol when they don’t really want to?
Nevertheless, so many people still struggle to overcome the hurdle of peer pressure. Alcoholism is a very nuanced, very different subject entirely, but I’m keen to explore the motivating factors of the reluctant casual drinker who is able to reject the substance but who is cajoled into nullifying those instincts by society.
Certainly, a lot of people drink alcohol to drown their problems, hoping to find salvation at the bottom of a bottle. There is an escapist quality to the state of being drunk that provides a break, even if momentarily, from the mundane grind of everyday banality. I can definitely associate with that pursuit of freedom and that desperate lunge for breathing room, away from the morass of corporate responsibility. Yet in the long term, relying on alcohol to positively moderate one’s mood and quell one’s pain serves only to exacerbate those very problems innately. The more we drink alcohol to rebel against the world and our perceived position within it, the more bitter and helpless we become.
Now, I’m not here to preach about the ills of imbibing. I’m not about to spawn a Prohibition movement like a modern Andrew Volstead. I have experienced great times while drinking alcohol. The pubs. The awaydays. The celebrations and the laughs. I have some fantastic memories.
If you can tolerate alcohol, if you can handle it, then fair enough, be my guest. If you can participate in a casual drink without it having a direct, causal, negative impact on the lives of other people or indeed on your own health, crack on. I cannot. It’s just not for me. So, I stopped. Like so many people want to do deep down.
An introduction to teetotalism
In the millennial age, abstinence is cool, trendy and deeply aligned with the loud, rebellious broadcasting of self. The number of vegans in the UK has more than quadrupled since 2014. The number of smokers has declined by two million since 2011. More people are celibate, and less people eat gluten. It seems we all avoid something for some reason, often to improve our health and increase our chances of living longer.
As the internet helps us reach new frontiers in research, development and the dispensing of information, we are generally shunning things that are bad for us and gravitating towards things that are good. For me, that means swapping the trappings of working class refreshment for teetotalism, a movement that is gaining popularity if not necessarily widespread acceptance.
I have only empirical evidence to substantiate such a claim, but I believe teetotalism languishes behind its abstinence cousins such as veganism and vegetarianism in terms of exposure, appreciation and tolerance. I want to change that, and with ceaseless determination, I will.
A year without alcohol
Any supposed correlation between increasing levels of intoxication and soaring rates of enjoyment is utter garbage. I have proved that this year, which has been the greatest of my life.
I have been to a dozen concerts sober, mixing with the rowdiest crowds watching Pete Doherty, Liam Gallagher, Gerry Cinnamon, the Courteeners and other chaotic live acts.
I have followed Tranmere Rovers around the country sober, seeing them gain promotion at Wembley with a last-gasp winner and experiencing the boozy terrace culture of football in this land.
I have been welcomed into a Polish family sober, frequently visiting a nation that ranks as the fifth-largest consumer of alcohol per capita on planet earth.
I have moved to the Baltic Triangle sober, residing one hundred yards from Camp & Furnace, an events space that throbs with hedonistic exuberance every night.
I have visited Dublin and enjoyed the Guinness Storehouse tour sober.
I have even launched a book sober, managing to celebrate without a three-day bender that erodes what profit such a venture may generate.
The benefits of quitting alcohol
In essence, I have streamlined my existence, living more meaningfully, efficiently and healthily. The prolonged hangovers have gone, as has the lingering cloudiness of mind that stifled my creativity and zapped my energy. I have the time, space and psychological equipoise to lead a fulfilling life. That wasn’t previously possible.
I will probably never drink alcohol again. As a 24-year old lad from Merseyside, that places me in an overwhelming minority, but I’m not fazed by such categorisations anymore. My health and productivity is more important.
Again, I’m keen to reiterate that abstaining or indulging in the consumption of alcohol is entirely a matter of preference tethered to contextual caveats. However, I would say this to anyone struggling through a period of mental ill health: alcohol may seem like a clutch to confide in, but it is not. The long-term effects are depressive, not uplifting. It will only make you feel worse.
Feel free to draw your own conclusions and make your own decisions regarding alcohol, but everyone reading this article, absolutely everyone, can benefit from a period of structured solitude, self-analysis and honest decision-making in their lives. You might be surprised by what you find.
I don’t think I’m better than anyone because I choose to forego alcohol. I just think I’m me. And in a world of people pretending to be something they are not, that’s a precious gift. It’s a gift I will never squander because it took so long to arrive.
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