Life has been full of surprises since I quit drinking. But the thing that’s shocked me most about life without alcohol is the fact that I don’t miss it.
I MEAN that: I REALLY don’t miss alcohol. And that was unimaginable not that long ago.
I stopped drinking around eight months ago (at the time of writing). My original intention was to quit for a month, but one month morphed into two, then six and beyond. While I’ve not committed to stopping permanently, I’m currently focussed on stretching it out to a year before reassessing.
The purpose of this particular article isn’t to go back over my story. You can find out more about that elsewhere on this site – in this guide to the benefits of quitting drinking, and this list of quit lit books that helped me along the way.
In this article, I talk about what you learn from life without alcohol. It should be of great interest to anybody feeling “sober curious,” especially those who struggle to imagine how certain things will ever be FUN again – from holidays to social occasions.
If you’re one of those people, I can offer you a huge dose of reassurance: life can be GREAT on the other side.
A Couple of Important Points
Just before we start, there’s something I want to make clear:
When you quit drinking, and start seeing benefits from it, it’s really hard not to come across as sanctimonious and evangelical. In a way I’m saying that as a disclaimer, but I also want to ensure that you understand that I was once equally sanctimonious about being a committed drinker!
I was suspicious of non-drinkers, genuinely believing that they were missing out on fun, pleasure and relaxation. Furthermore, I look back on my hedonistic days fondly. So please don’t think I’m taking any moral high-ground here.
I should also say that quitting alcohol suddenly can be dangerous if you have any level of physical dependence – and that can apply even if you don’t see yourself as a full-blown “alcoholic.” Always seek medical advice if you’re in any doubt.
7 Lessons About Life Without Alcohol
1. You CAN Enjoy All the Same Things
There are SO many things we learn to mark with alcohol, from celebrations to commiserations.
In the early days of quitting alcohol, these things do feel different. But the general rule – for me at least – is that once I’ve done them a couple of times without booze, they feel completely normal, and the association is broken.
Here’s a quick list of some of the things I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing without a drink in recent months:
- Going on a short holiday.
- Eating steak.
- Eating cheese and charcuterie.
- Sitting at a bar by the beach.
- Having Sunday lunch.
- Having a barbecue.
- Meeting up with friends.
- Unwinding when I’ve finished work on a Friday.
- Celebrating all of Christmas and New Year.
- DJing and dancing.
It’s no exaggeration to say that these were all things I once thought would be ruined without drinking.
Some of these things are a little different now. But the most crucial thing to learn about life without alcohol is that the alcohol itself is the ONLY thing you are giving up (and there’s nothing to say that THAT has to be permanent either).
One thing that I found really helpful with this stuff is to view it all though the eyes of my six-year-old son. Does he assume a play-date won’t be worth having because him and his mates can’t have a case of beer? Of course not! Is he any less excited about Christmas because he doesn’t get any pink champagne in the morning? No! Does he look forward to every holiday? Yes!
I’d actually go a step further here. I enjoy many of these things MORE now, in the same pure and child-like way my son does. And I remain surprised by that.
2. Socialising is Fine (But Different) Without Alcohol
At the time of writing this, nobody has a particularly active social life. We’ve only just started coming out of lockdown here in the UK, and many countries still have more restrictions in place than we do.
However, we’ve done several social things with people we would usually drink alcohol with (and plenty of it!)
It came as a big surprise to me that it didn’t bother me AT ALL. I bought alcohol-free beers and craft sodas, and – truly – nothing about the experience felt much different – beyond not having a hangover the next day!
But there are differences, and some are more profound than others…
First off, while I been involved in social events and thoroughly enjoyed them, I know that there are some particularly “boozy” events coming up that I will actively avoid.
To be clear, this still doesn’t feel like missing out. It’s more a question of being more discerning with my time. They’re the kind of events where the “partying” will be more of a priority than the socialising. There are simply other things I’d rather spend my time doing.
Another thing that’s surprised me is that a social “hangover” is a very real thing. Despite not drinking, I still feel drained after a lot of socialising. I always used to blame it on the alcohol!
A useful side-effect of this is that I now feel much more aware of how much socialising I need and want. As a drinker, I’d never want the night to end or the party to stop. Now I’m much more aware of when I’m getting tired or the conversation is running dry.
And that brings me onto the next point:
3. Alcohol Zaps your Self-Confidence
As an anxiety sufferer, alcohol can feel like a miracle cure. Unfortunately it’s one that comes with lots of side effects.
I still second-guess everything I say and every message I send, but at least I now know that I always act with total clarity.
The false confidence alcohol gives you is NOT a miracle cure. It’s temporary confidence that leaves you with far more doubt afterwards.
I read several books about quitting alcohol, and one of them said that “inhibitions are there for a reason.” When you stop drinking, you start to notice the truth in that.
And as I’ve discussed elsewhere, there are physical benefits too. I’ll never tire of people saying I look “slim” and “ten years younger!” There are even some recent photos of me that I can stand looking at!
To paraphrase something else I read along this journey, “sobriety gives you the things that alcohol promised.” In many ways that’s bang on the money.
4. Hobbies are AWESOME!
Life without alcohol can be filled with other great things.
I know there are plenty of drinkers with plenty of hobbies. But I think it’s fair to say that, for many, drinking becomes a hobby – and in some cases people’s only real hobby.
Many people who quit drinking complain of feeling bored. I certainly felt like the evenings were LONG at first, especially as I stopped drinking during lockdown.
But I quickly learned to fill the time, and before I knew it I was filling it with all of those things I’d been banging on about doing for years!
To begin with it was catching up on my book pile. Then, over winter, I did a lot of gaming – more gaming than I’d done since my teenage years! This year I’ve been doing music production and DJ streaming. The latter provides a great example of several of my previous points: socialising sober, with the confidence to get in front of a camera, and doing something I absolutely love and never felt I had time to do.
I often joke to my wife that I wouldn’t have time to drink now. I’m certainly never bored, and only wish I had more time for all of the hobbies I’ve rediscovered. The fact that you have all the money you would have spent on alcohol to throw at these pursuits helps too!
5. Friendships Change, Evolve – and Sometimes End
Earlier in this article, I mentioned how it’s good to know you’re always acting with clarity. That’s particularly relevant when it comes to friendships.
As we begin to ease out of lockdowns, many of us are re-evaluating plenty of things. There’s no shortage of articles on the subject, and much of it is about deciding how much we actually want to get back to the “old normal.” It’s much the same when you give up alcohol.
If I were to sum this up in one sentence, I’d have to admit that I’m way less tolerant now. I’ve learned a huge amount about myself and how I want to spend my time. Going back to the hobbies thing, I’ve also connected with lots of people – old and new – who share my passions and interests. These are people I have more in common with than a knowledge of which bars will still let you in after hours, and an ability to keep drinking in them without falling over.
As I said right at the start, I don’t regret my hedonistic days, but I’m on a different path. I also mentioned self-confidence. The other day I saw a meme that describes this feeling very well: It said “I used to walk into a room and wonder if people liked me. Now I wonder if I like them.”
This isn’t about having a big, dramatic friendship “cull.” It’s just that over time things evolve. That’s a healthy thing, and it doesn’t mean you don’t remain fond of people or care about them.
6. Joy Comes from Everywhere!
In some ways, life without alcohol IS rather predictable and – at times – mundane and based on routine.
But I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve caught myself having a little boogie around the bedroom whilst getting dressed; I love having every last moment of each weekend to do what I want with, without giving any of it up to recovering from a hangover; Music still hits me in my soul – perhaps more than it ever has before.
A phenomenon often discussed among the newly sober is the “pink cloud.” It’s described as a feeling of “euphoria and elation” that comes with stepping away from an addiction. While I believe I personally nipped things in the bud before an unhealthy habit evolved into a full-blown addiction, I’ve certainly experienced this.
When you browse the sobriety forums, many people warn that this feeling is temporary. I’m more of the (also popular) school of thought that it comes and goes. It can pop up at the oddest times too!
I remember a Friday night quite recently when we’d had a decent week, the children were happy, and I was teeth-brushed-and-ready-for-bed by about 10pm. The thought of falling asleep with my book, then waking up to a free weekend with time for hobbies and relaxation may not be very “rock and roll,” but it made me incredibly happy.
7. You Probably WILL Replace Alcohol with Other Things
My wife loves baking, and makes some fabulous cakes.
Back when I used to drink (it still feels weird to say that!) I’d never pay much attention to them. I might have a little taste, but I was getting all my sugar from beer and wine.
Now, if I smell baking, I’m down to the kitchen like a pig hunting truffles! I also eat plenty of crisps and chocolate – something I was never that interested in before.
The thing is, despite this, I’ve still lost over 30lbs on Weight Watchers and Slimming World since quitting drinking – and I’m broadly managing to keep it down despite my new fondness for all things sweet.
Slightly worse is a growing fondness for Diet Coke. I didn’t go near caffeine before (ironically I thought it was bad for my anxiety, but it turns out it was alcohol that made that worse!)
I’m not proud of embracing caffeine and adding Diet Coke to the shopping list every week. I’m going to cut myself some slack and put it in the “lesser of two evils” column. However, I think it’s fair to say that life without alcohol can mean life with some other naughty treats instead…
Reading this back, it’s seems clear to me that I’m very happy with my current life without alcohol – and I hope that comes across.
If you take one thing away from reading this, it’s what I tried to emphasise at the start: ALL of this is a surprise to me. I never thought I’d not only stop drinking but also be so much happier as a result.
I don’t deny that I sometimes think about having A drink at some point. Only this weekend I saw people drinking some interesting looking cocktails in a new bar in my town, and thought that I’d like to try one one day. In time I might, but only once I have more time under my belt and total confidence that one would only mean one.
The good news is that I don’t feel deprived by that decision – again, a place I didn’t think I’d ever arrive at.
- Read my previous article on the benefits of quitting drinking.
- Check out Alcohol Explained, THE book I credit with enabling me to stop.