With the exception of a slight wobble one miserable Sunday afternoon, I had my last alcoholic drink on Christmas Day 2017. I’d decided to do Dry January and, pickled from the festive excess, started stopping (so to speak) early. Readers may recall that I blogged about enjoying Dry January last year so I expected much the same this year. However, 2018’s sober-fest has brought with it a new friend – the advent of the ‘sobriety’ book. And I can’t get enough of them; they’ve spawned an insatiable thirst – not for booze – but for what I’ve coined ‘quit-lit’, or real-life accounts of (predominantly) womens’ relationships with the ol’ demon drink.
Last January, I read ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace (This Naked Mind), which is a serious, no-holds-barred account of an American lady’s struggle with alcohol and how her life changed immeasurably when she gave up. Reading this came on the back of ‘Alcohol Lied To Me’ by Craig Beck (Alcohol Lied To Me) which again, was a (literally) sobering tale of hitting rock bottom and discovering that happiness isn’t to be found in a beer bottle.
This year though, the tone of sobriety books seems to have changed. Instead of dark, factual accounts of the hooks that alcohol has on us, two recent books strike a different tone – think Bridget Jones goes sober, and you’re not far off. It’s a tone which I found extremely persuasive and, for the first time in ages, I’ve read from cover-to-cover in a matter of hours, as opposed to my usual snatched pages here and there.
The first I devoured is ‘The Sober Diaries’ by Clare Pooley (The Sober Diaries). She’s a woman after my own heart – career-minded, kids, growing sense of ‘what’s it all about?’ as she said goodbye to her 30s. Unlike me though (phew!), wine became her crutch and culminated in her drinking red wine from a mug early in the morning whilst hiding from her kids. Ouch. Wine-o-clock had become round-the-clock.
So, why did this book resonate with me? I reckon I’m fairly typical for women of my age and my walk of life – my 20s were spent wining and dining, drinkies after work with friends, dinner parties, sangria and San Miguel on holidays. Work hard, play hard. And then in my 30s, kids came along so all that stopped and a glass or three of wine at the weekend became a reward for getting through a tough week of juggling work and family life. What I found interesting and what I think this book tapped in to is just how pervasive alcohol is in society and how incredibly addictive it is, having become not just a social necessity when ‘out out’ but the norm in pretty-much every other circumstance – ‘wine o’clock’ or ‘I deserve a drink tonight after the day I’ve had’ or ‘let’s have a cheeky vino’, despite it being a school night.
Clare’s story shone a light on the tiredness, the competitiveness and the treadmill of life as a formerly career-driven mother doing her best to raise her kids and keep the plates spinning. Wine became her treat for making it through the day; starting off as a drink once the kiddy-winks were in bed and then getting earlier and earlier until, as I said, the crunch-point of mug-of-wine-in-the-morning-gate. From then, she tracks her life as she becomes sober, revealing the lows and, thankfully, the glorious highs as she came out the other side.
This isn’t a from-the-gutter-to-riches tale, this is the story of a regular middle-class mother (albeit fairly affluent one assumes; I pictured her wearing co-ordinated Boden shod in gloriously jewelled ballet-pumps) slipping into alcoholism and then finding the wherewithal to claw her way out. It’s not gritty; but highlights the shitty, insidious nature of alcohol and, boy, it certainly made me think about my relationship with booze!
My family aren’t big drinkers. Indeed, my Mum has been tee-total for years so I haven’t got it in my genes. But a previous relationship with someone who loved a drink coupled with a relatively hedonistic lifestyle in my early, childless, career as a solicitor combining that ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra and several fancy holidays a year probably didn’t help a life of abstention. Everything focussed around drink – client events, dinner parties, trips on friends’ boats (yeah, get me…), stressful job, drinks after work on a Friday – the common denominator – wine. It’s just become commonplace in our culture, hasn’t it? I wouldn’t say that I was a booze-hound, but yeah, fessing-up, I probably burnt the candle at both ends for a while back then.
When I had kids my relationship with alcohol changed. I didn’t touch a drop during either pregnancy and then breast-fed both of my babies which naturally limited consumption. I didn’t miss it AT ALL. How strange. But gradually, as the years have passed, wine crept back in and became a familiar friend. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a daily drinker – far from it – but on my Friday to Sunday ‘wine nights’ I likely sank more than the NHS daily allowance (tut tut). And so I have become fascinated by these stories of women who, in many respects were just like me, but who (unlike me) had fallen under the insidious spell of the wine-witch.
The other book that has been hugely influential is Catherine Gray’s ‘The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober’ (The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober). Now this one shows the grittiness AND the shittyness of alcohol. A talented twenty-something magazine journalist with the world at her feet drank in the confidence that alcohol gave her. She was the life and soul, the last woman standing at any social event or work function.
It was FUN! Until it wasn’t…
She became the booze-addled mess waiting for the night-bus home at 2am eating a McDonald’s and knowing that she had to be back at work at 9am. Cue years of denial and self-loathing until she too just simply had enough. The barrel had run dry, literally and metaphorically. And so her book is also an account of the lows of alcohol and her journey to sobriety. It has much more data and research compared to Clare’s, but was equally soul-baring and engaging.
The interesting common factor for both women is that their respective lives are immeasurably better without alcohol. They dance, they socialise, they (shock, horror) have sex – all stone-cold sober. And guess what? They enjoy it all a damn-sight more than when they were drinking! Well, who’da thought?!
And, much as it surprises me to say it, that’s my experience too. I’m happier, sharper, sleeping better. My skin is hydrated. I’m not frazzled or grumpy. I am, quite simply, firing on all cylinders. It’s a wonderfully refreshing feeling!
Whilst I’ve missed my glass of wine on a Friday night, the temporary relaxation and warm glow it would give me isn’t worth prejudicing how properly WELL I feel waking up the next day. I’m sickeningly positive, getting up and jumping on my bike to work and really noticing and enjoying things – the weather (rotten, since I bought my bike!), the daffodils beginning to bloom in the fields, the kids chattering away after school and me taking the time to actually listen. A clarity and calm seems to have settled upon me.
I appreciate that I sound all woo-woo, like some evangelical mindfulness preacher (although I have started meditating too (God, I’ve changed!) – check out the @buddhify app, it’s ace). But, take it from me, someone that loves wine: the feeling from NOT drinking is much more exhilarating than the feeling when you do drink.
So what next? I’m not sure. Dry January is over. I’m not going to have a drink to celebrate though. I might aim for 60 days dry and see how I feel then. What I will do though is continue to read quit-lit (my current page-turner is ‘The Self Care Project’ by Jayne Hardy (The Self Care Project) and to learn, learn, learn facts, research, data, experience of others and apply it to my own life.
So if you’re even the slightest bit curious about alcohol and its impact on you and society, download some quit-lit, make yourself a cuppa and join the growing sober revolution. As Catherine Gray says, “don’t choose happy hour. You deserve bigger than that. Choose a happy-ever-after instead.”