As I celebrate one year of being alcohol-free, I wanted to reflect on my reasons for quitting alcohol in case you’re considering giving it up and want some motivation/inspiration. I’ll share my journey with you, including how not drinking has changed me and my life.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, I’ll summarise the benefits of quitting alcohol here:
- Better quality sleep
- Fewer trips to the bathroom in the night
- Improved self-esteem
- Weight loss
- Clearer mind
- Freedom to drive wherever you want, whenever you want
- No hangovers!
- Saves money
- Good for your immune system
- Improves cardiovascular heath
- Reduces risk of cancer
- Better skin
I stopped drinking, without stress or cravings, by reading: The Easy Way For Women To Stop Drinking by Allen Carr.
It really was as simple as that for me. I’ll explain more in the article.
Alcohol has been a big part of my life since I started drinking in my teens. I grew up in a culture where drinking to socialise, celebrate and unwind is the norm so I’ve always associated alcohol with having a good time.
After moving to Portugal, where wine is relatively cheap and very good quality, I gradually got into the habit of drinking half a bottle most days and more on weekends or social occasions. I didn’t consider myself to be an alcoholic but I knew I was drinking more than I should.
I believe there’s a (non-medical) term for this now, i.e. grey area drinking, and many women in midlife fall into this category.
The problem with trying to moderate alcohol consumption
I spent a few years trying to moderate my excessive alcohol consumption, i.e. only having one small glass of wine with dinner or restricting my drinking to the weekends. This would work for a while but sooner or later, at the end of a hard day’s work, my resolve would weaken and I’d find an excuse to drink more. I deserved it, I needed to de-stress, it’s the weekend, etc…
Then I’d hate myself the next morning for failing to stick to my intentions, especially if I’d given myself a hangover. I now know that this willpower method is doomed – we all start the day with a certain amount of willpower but it fades during the day, leaving you vulnerable to the slightest temptation.
Self-loathing is not good for your self-esteem or your wellbeing, as you probably know if you’re still reading this.
No alcohol for 6 weeks
I did an experiment in spring 2020 and took a break from alcohol for 6 weeks to see if I felt any better and yes, it did make a difference, especially to my sleep. However, once the 6 weeks were up, I was straight back into my old drinking habits. Pandemic-related anxiety didn’t help – if anything, I was drinking more than ever before.
The wake up call
As with smoking, those who do it already know that drinking alcohol is not good for the body. No matter how good it tastes or makes you feel, it’s still a poison that interferes with the way your body works, kills off your brain cells and puts uneccesary pressure on your liver. But we do it anyway because, because, because.
My wake up call came when I went to see a doctor about how generally rubbish I was feeling. My perimenopausal symptoms were raging and I was wondering about whether or not HRT would help. She sent me off for a bunch of blood tests and gynae exams, all of which were fine, except the ones related to my liver. A bit of Googling revealed that my liver was not happy at all about the amount of alcohol it was having to process.
I had also attended several expert talks about midlife and the menopause and knew that alcohol was only exacerbating symptoms such as night sweats, brain fog, stress, weight gain, low energy levels etc.. Having recently turned 50, I decided it was time to give my liver and brain cells a break and make a renewed effort to change my relationship with alcohol.
Accidentally quitting drinking for good
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions but by the first week of January 2021 I had bought the book that changed everything for me, The Easy Way For Women To Stop Drinking by Allen Carr.
A friend who had just celebrated her first alcohol-free year had used it and I was finally able to stop wanting to smoke after reading his The Easy Way For Women To Stop Smoking so I thought I would give it a read.
At that point, I was unwilling to ‘give up’ fun things like craft beer festivals, wine tasting and nice meals with friends and wine. I was still just looking for help with drinking in moderation.
As I read through the book, the neurolinguistic programming (NLP) technique which completely removed my desire to smoke cigarettes 14 years ago worked its magic on my thoughts about alcohol. I went from being reluctant to renounce perceived pleasures to feeling confident and happy about life without alcohol.
I took more convincing than I had with smoking. You can’t argue that smoking tastes good but I had become fond of fine wines and port, as well as IPAs and porters. At the end of the day though, as the book emphasises repeatedly, alcohol does nothing for you so I allowed myself to be persuaded that I’m better off without it.
Part of The Easy Way process is to make a ritual out of your final drink. By the end of the book, I didn’t even want my last drink, a glass of Licor Beirão which has always been my favourite Portuguese liqueur. In fact, it tasted so nasty, I couldn’t finish it.
Although I didn’t actually intend to give up alcohol forever, I’ve actually found it much easier than moderating my intake.
So how is life without alcohol?
Willpower doesn’t work for me but reading this book did, and it really has been easy not to drink and enjoy a sober life. I never have experienced withdrawal symptoms when I don’t drink so that wasn’t something I had to deal with but I’m not even interested in drinking now.
My husband still enjoys wine with meals and a glass of beer now and again so we always have alcohol in the house but I haven’t been tempted to drink it. I am relaxed around other drinkers although it felt weird going to dinner at a friend’s house and not getting plastered with her like we normally would have done.
Other things I miss only everso slightly are port wine and cheese and a nice wine pairing with a special meal. My husband has been very supportive, although he misses having a drinking buddy at times. Although I haven’t put any pressure on him about his own drinking, he now drinks less than before.
When we travel or go out for the day, whiling away a couple of hours over a jug of sangria is no longer part of the equation, although I still enjoy hanging out in outdoor cafés and pub gardens. Just not so much as before.
I do find it hard to stay awake past my normal bed time of 10 pm. In the past, fuelled by alcohol, I would stay up talking nonsense until the early hours but now I find myself yawning by 9:30, even in the company of good friends. Drinking caffeine to keep me going is not an option, especially at night, so I try to arrange dinner dates for as early in the evening as possible or meet during the day.
It can be hard, especially in Portugal, to find fun non-alcoholic drinks that aren’t laden with sugar or additives when out and about but I’m resigned to that now. I really enjoy drinking water and there are plenty of interesting alcohol-free drinks I can have at home. Drinking a ginger shot with tonic from a gin balloon glass on a summer afternoon makes for a fun treat, with no hangover.
Benefits of quitting alcohol
- The most obvious benefit for me is the sense of pride and achievement that has replaced the feeling of failure. I am prioritising my health and that feels wonderfully empowering after so many years of pouring poison into my body.
2. My sleep quality has improved. I used to wake up drenched in sweat around 3 am and struggle to get back to sleep. I still get night sweats on occaision, probably hormone or diet-related, but nowhere near as often as when I was drinking.
3. Drinking alcohol disrupts normal brain activity by causing alpha waves to occur during sleep. These waves prevent us from getting the restorative deep sleep that we need for our mental and physical wellbeing.
4. No need to get up in the night. I used to drink a couple of pints of water before bed to try and stave off a hangover and that would also mean getting up for a wee in the early hours, which rarely happens now.
5. No hangovers!!! On an average day, I’d wake up feeling a bit groggy and rough but that would pass once I got moving. After a night of heavy drinking, I would be completely useless the next day and I often had blank patches in my memory of the previous evening. Now I don’t have to waste a day feeling sick and headachy or ashamed of my behaviour.
6. Freedom to do what I want. We live in a small village so going to a restaurant or a friend’s house requires a car. Before I stopped drinking, my husband and I would negotiate who could drink and who had to drive. I even passed up some opportunities to socialise if the drink-drive-fun equation didn’t seem to play out in my favour. Now, because I don’t want to drink, I just need to decide whether I actually want to do the thing.
7. Weight loss. There are tons of calories in alcohol and I’ve shed 9 kilos (20 pounds / 1.5 stone) since I quit drinking, without any effort, except a bit more exercise. I look and feel so much healthier and I have a renewed interest in clothes now that I can actualy fit into things that are flattering and fun to wear.
8. My skin seems to be a bit brighter and I’m definitely less red in the face. Because I’m deep into perimenopause and alcohol causes body tissue inflammation, a sip of red wine used to make my face look like a beetroot! Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it dehydrates your skin and makes it lose elasticity. When you stop drinking, your collagen and skin hydration levels levels return to normal so you look and feel younger.
9. I’ve saved money, approximately €1250, which I intend to spend on a holiday. If you decide to stop drinking, I highly recommend you keep a note of how much you have saved and use that money for something special.
10. My energy levels seem better, although I stopped drinking caffeine around the same time so it’s hard to say which has had the most effect on my energy. I think it’s a cumulative effect of fewer toxins, better sleep, more exercise and my meditation practice. I do still get tired, especially if I haven’t slept well due to stress or overeating, but overall, I feel much brighter than before.
11. It’s also good for my mental health; I can think more clearly and my brain functioning is way better than when I was drinking heavily.
12. As if the above weren’t enough of an incentive, studies have shown that cutting out alcohol reduces my risk of cancer, including breast cancer and liver cancer.
13. My heart is happier, too; alcohol puts uneccessary strain on the cardiovascular system.
Even if you’re not a heavy drinker, the positive side effects of quitting alcohol are a strong incentive for cutting it out of your life. Especially if you’re struggling with sleep, energy levels and stress.
There are many support groups and methods for stopping drinking but why make your life more difficult than it has to be by pitting yourself against your willpower?
I would strongly recommend at least trying The Easy Way For Women To Stop Drinking by Allen Carr to see if that does the trick for you.