Giving up the booze

Published in Shetland Life magazine, Nov 2018

I decided to call time on booze in December last year (2017). I considered myself a fairly average social drinker (by Shetland standards) but I habitually exceeded guidelines and felt it had become an expensive, unproductive and ingrained routine. And I’d become bored of boozy me – a cheerful lumbering buffoon. It was part of my self-identity, as it is with many Shetlanders. Alcohol is a celebrated part of our culture and so normalised that the idea of abstaining for no specific reason can seem suspiciously odd.

Some folk who have given up drink describe hitting rock bottom as their point of clarity. My clarity came through a gradual, logical evaluation. The cons simply outweighed the pros. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a many a dram assisted hoot over the years and likely will again, but I felt it was time for a change. I was curious as to what life would be like without booze (spoiler alert. It’s splendid).

So I made a plan, did some preparation and committed myself.

The first couple of months were a challenge. Not because I had a compulsion to drink but it was such a part of my routine that I had to ‘create my new normal’. Weekends became weekly holidays. Two full healthy days off to fill with whatever I pleased. What should I do with all the time? All the things I’d previously wished I had more time to do. Morning walks, visiting friends and relatives, reading, studying, music. Yaas!

The health benefits were almost immediate. I felt physically ‘better’ than I thought was possible, I slept like a bag of paets and best of all, I could think more clearly. It was like having a hazy hesitation removed from my thought process. I was more positive about everything. I lost weight, which turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing as none of my breeks would fit.

I lost interest in going out to pubs full of shouty folk and loud music, and noticed drinking had often been a veil to otherwise intolerable situations. It would have been easy to become a hermit but weekend socialising was fine once I got my head around being amongst drunk people. They’re just a bit sillier and more repetitive than normal. Being able to bail out and drive home was liberating. I do miss some of my drinking buddies though.

I enjoyed New Year, the Folk Festival, Up Helly-Aa and SMUHA more sober than boozed up, and there’s a whole world of cups of tea and fancies in the halls that I had no idea existed.

I became aware of how pervasive alcohol is. Advertising, people holding up glasses in photos, news stories which downplay the health consequences that are readily shared on social media, drink available in almost every shop. Booze is everywhere!

But what surprised me most was that no-one at any point has tried to persuade me to drink. Quite the opposite. When folk realised I was drinking coke in the pub they were generally curious and supportive, and conversation often turned to how they’d considered cutting back or quitting themselves.

So if you’re thinking of readjusting your boozing then New Year is a natural break point. Here’s what I did this time last year. I hope you find some of it useful.

I kept a pre/post quit journal

It was through journaling I noticed the pattern of how low alcohol was making me feel, and that had helped me decide to stop. After a few weekends ‘aff it’ the differences in how positive my entries were was remarkable. Reading back over a couple of the awful hangover episodes reminded me of the consequences and reinforced my decision.

I armed myself with statistics about my drinking

I figured out how much I drank over an average week, added in extras such as taxis, post-pub grub etc and noted the financial cost, time I’d spent and calories I’d consumed. Then I multiplied it by a year and added in a few extras (holidays, festivals etc). The annual totals were savage. I checked my figures many times to be sure. Several thousand pounds blown, weeks lost and numerous stones in weight taken aboard.

I read books, blogs and articles

I read a lot of research about the health consequences and articles by folk who had stopped. This helped immensely. By reading other people’s perspectives it helped shift my own mindset.

I spoke to folk about booze

It’s a subject folk don’t tend to talk about beyond how much they drank on a night out or how hungover they were the next day. But people seemed happy and often relieved to have sober conversations about drinking as almost everyone is affected by alcohol in some way. I found it to be a very reflective process.

I gave away the contents of my drinks cupboard

…just in case!

I set manageable targets

I decided on a few milestones and reviewed how I felt at each. I started with 1 weekend, which became a fortnight, a month, then 6 months. Hitting each target give me a sense of achievement and it felt like progress.

I planned ahead

I mapped out what I was going to do for the first few sober weekends to avoid any temptation of falling back into the old routine.

I tracked my savings

Each Sunday I moved the money I’d have spent in the pub or off license into a savings account. It was satisfying to see a numeric reward building up.

#1 – I did it for positive reasons

I didn’t think of it as giving something up or associate it with feelings of failure or guilt. I thought of it as gaining time, money and health.