I wrote the below piece for Dry July 2017. I previously added a 2018 update and now an epilogue at the end with a ‘four years later’ update for 2021.
I am one of an extremely small group in Australia: I’m a recruiter who doesn’t drink alcohol. I know, right? So I thought that the start of Dry July would be a good time to share my story.
I wasn’t always a non-drinker. Quite the opposite in fact. Growing up in chilly, boring Canberra back in the day (soz Canberra, I do love you) there wasn’t a whole lot to do…
Anyone who works in a B2B sales industry can relate to the high levels of stress associated with the continuous boom/bust cycles. Alcohol becomes a steady companion, either through social and networking events, or as a tonic after a bad day. I had a series of pretty stressful events on top of an already busy job, including both of my parents being diagnosed with dementia. My initial response was to drink more and eat badly, because poor me, right? Then after watching the decline of my once-extraordinary parents, I became determined to do everything I could to make sure I didn’t end up that way.
I saw a bunch of medical professionals and learned that I had a swag of food intolerances and needed to be on a FODMAPS diet, which is incredibly restricted. Sitting in the specialist’s rooms feeling like I must have walked under a ladder in front of a black cat, I had a light bulb moment. I just needed to stop. Stop all of it. Not tomorrow, but Right Now.
So I did.
So here are my top 10 FAQs for anyone considering giving up drinking for an extended period. And by that I mean three months or more – it takes that long for the full changes to take effect.
- Do you feel amazing now?
I don’t ‘feel amazing’. The number one thing everyone says is ‘Oh you must feel a-MAZ-ing!’. I just feel sober. All the time. Let that sink in for a moment.
- Do you still go out with the same group of friends?
I honestly thought I was at risk of losing all of my friends. I didn’t know whether a) they’d still want to hang out with me, b) we’d have anything to talk about, or c) we’d even like each other. Happily, the answer to all three questions was yes, but my tolerance isn’t boundless. When I’m the only non-drinker and it’s late and everyone around me is well on their way, there are only so many times I can hug my friends, tell them that I love them too, and that I’m certain they will find the man of their dreams one day etc etc… you get the picture. I try not to judge, and when I reach the point of starting to judge, I take myself home.
- How do you let your hair down?
It is possible to still embrace your ‘silliness’. In its purest form, silliness is a quality I value extremely highly. I was so used to using alcohol to fast-track myself to a loss of inhibition, I wondered whether I’d ever do my 80’s dancing to Duran Duran for the entertainment of my friends again. The good news is that it can be done, but it took a good 12-18 months for me to get there. I’m still working on this one.
- Do you feel more alert?
I do have increased mental agility. I feel noticeably sharper, able to take more on, less anxious, and I’m super glad I don’t need to have any more ‘Do I need to apologise to you for anything I said last night?’ conversations.
- Are there any unexpected benefits?
I don’t get sick anymore. This has been an extremely pleasant by-product. I used to get whatever bug was going around and be out of action a couple of times a year. Since I stopped drinking, this has completely stopped. My boss is thrilled to say the least.
- Has it been good for your general health?
I feel ‘clean’ inside. Whenever anyone suggests doing a detox, I can honestly say I don’t need to.
- Have you lost weight?
I’ve lost a lot of weight. 38 kilos to be precise. Now no doubt a good chunk of that can be attributed to my clean eating, but the booze was definitely a contributor of many hidden calories (70 calories per standard spirit) and midnight cheese toasties that weren’t helping. And I haven’t done a shred of exercise.
- I bet you’re saving tons of money.
I have money to do other things. I can eat at great restaurants more often because the price basically halves when you don’t drink. I never pay for taxis or Ubers. I just had a bucket-list holiday in Scandinavia. I’ve been to some brilliant concerts. I cook at home more because I can be bothered (which my husband loves). And I’m still saving more money than I ever have.
- Did you feel sick at the start?
It’s pretty awful. I experienced flu-like symptoms while withdrawing from everything. It took months before my sugar cravings went from being like a zombie who’s just spotted some fresh brains after a week of roaming the streets, to ‘I’d fancy some chocolate right now’. I switched to 70% dark chocolate, and since then have worked my way up to becoming a hard-core 90% aficionado. I don’t have many vices left in my life, but the Lindt 90% is one of them.
- Do you feel awkward when you’re out and someone offers you a drink?
I’m no longer an apologist for being a non-drinker. I used to feel the need to tell everyone who offered me a drink that I couldn’t because I don’t drink at all, and it was a really big deal. Now I just say ‘No thanks, I’m good’. It feels great.
Will I ever drink again? I honestly don’t know. People ask me all the time, and I’ve made my peace with choosing to have a drink at some point in the future if I feel like it. I will no longer view it as a betrayal of a solemn oath, it will just be a thing I choose to do, like eating KFC straight after going to the gym.
For me, giving up alcohol has definitely given me the mental space I needed to deal with everything that’s going on in my life. My mum has passed away and my dad is very sick and we’re still doing 1200km weekend round trips every few weeks, but I’ve also been promoted at work and feel incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity to work on the projects I’m involved in. I hope sharing my story has given you some insights into what you can expect if you decide to jump on the wagon.
My 2018 update
It’s 2018 and I’m still dry. What’s changed from being dry for three years instead of two? A few things that don’t sound that big, but are actually pretty huge for me. Firstly, I’m completely comfortable being a non-drinker. I used to think I’d maybe drink again at some stage, but I don’t think that anymore. I know that I’m someone who, if I have one drink, will really want to have ten drinks, so it’s much easier to have none at all. I’ve made my peace with that. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a good sniff of my friend’s drinks when it’s a great wine or whiskey, and I get involved with cocktail choices for my friends, and I love pouring the drinks at parties – it makes me feel like I’m involved. So I feel like I’ve found my groove.
I find it easier to be around people who are drinking than I did a year ago. I think that’s because I used to try and imagine how people would physically be feeling after two, three, four drinks. I have actually lost the ability to do that now, as I simply can’t remember what it feels like. No longer having any interest in wondering how someone else is feeling allows me to enjoy conversations at face value.
I’ve finally started exercising, and have reintroduced daily meditation. I’ve lost more weight, and am below the stretch goal I set at the start of all this. I have more energy (both mentally and physically), I feel calm and most of all, I have the energy to take on new challenges and do more with my life.
Obviously, this is not just down to alcohol, but my change to a cleaner life wouldn’t be possible if I were still drinking.
Dry July 2021 epilogue: so now it’s six years since I started my Dry July. Am I still dry?
The answer is yes. I haven’t touched a drop. However reading my earlier comments, things have changed further for me:
- I am still very happy to be around people having a drink and enjoy pouring the drinks as my way of being involved. I find ex-drinkers who preach fire and brimstone about the evils of drink incredibly annoying because I’m a believer in free will as long as you’re a consenting adult and doing no harm to others. I no longer have any idea how much is too much though, so if people keep asking me, I’ll keep pouring.
- I have zero desire to go to noisy bars or clubs anymore (see how I used the word ‘noisy’ just now? That’s a clue).
- I’ve maintained my weight loss. Well, mostly. But I blame living through the Great Melbourne Lockdown of 2020 (and the readily available carbs on Uber Eats) for those few extra kilos.
- Honestly, I’m still quite bored by not being able to achieve the chemical alteration that alcohol delivers. Live music and the theatre were my lifesavers to get a bit of genuine delight happening, but Covid has made short shrift of that for the last 18 months. If I’ve disappointed you by not finding my inner joy through some spiritual means all I can do is apologise. I realise others can achieve this, but not this kid.
- I’m now fairly certain that I’ll never drink again. If for no other reason than the cost horrifies me (tongue slightly in cheek – there are obviously more reasons than just the $$). Where I previously wouldn’t bat an eyelid at ‘getting a round in’ on repeat, I watch my friends smashing $20 cocktails in quick succession and can’t help adding up the cost. This year I was able to make a lifelong dream come true, by buying a beach house. It’s extremely unlikely I would have been able to save the deposit had I continued drinking.
- My dad is still alive, with extremely advanced dementia. He will turn 80 this year, which will be 10 years since we first noticed something was wrong. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. He is a great reminder to me of the reason I went down this path in the first place: to avoid ending up like him and mum. I’m so proud of having raised $10,000 in this year’s Dementia Australia Memory Walk & Jog event with a friend.
- Despite the grumbling in the previous points, I absolutely, positively, 100% feel “better”. My heart and organs are in great shape, I’m off a stack of prescription medications, my mental health is mightily improved, and I have the headspace to exercise regularly. In short, I feel as though I’m achieving what I set out to in 2017: giving myself the best chance of a healthy old age with my beloved husband, kids and dog, enjoying our seachange at the beach. So I’d say it has definitely been worthwhile.
I’d love to hear from others who have made similar changes to their lifestyle! Feel free to get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org