My thoughts on being teetotal, before I saw the light.

I wrote this about a year and a half ago, when I first gave up alcohol. I knew that I couldn’t drink anymore because of the destructive and dangerous effect it was having on me, but I wasn’t happy about it. Reading this, I remember just how much I was dreading spending the rest of my life without booze.

I’m so happy that the feelings I write about here didn’t last all that long. There is a lot of writing here, and a lot of it I still stand by – how society in general has a lot to answer for in terms of making it very hard to even contemplate becoming teetotal, for instance. But the negativity I felt back then about ditching alcohol is long gone; these days I couldn’t be happier that I don’t (and will never again) touch booze.

May 2011

A counsellor whom I visited for a while in the months that followed my acrimonious and emotionally devastating divorce, once said to me that he thought there was no truth in my belief that ordinary life (that being daily, routine tasks that we all undertake such as going to work, supermarket shopping and cleaning the bathroom) was a bit dull. The point that I was trying to make was that my excessive drinking and (by then, long abandoned) hedonistic days of raving had (or still did in the case of alcohol consumption) provided a longed for and indeed psychiatrically beneficial respite from the daily grind, and that life sans such escapist indulgences seemed, well, a bit dull. The point that my therapist was attempting to convey was that if a person’s life is sufficiently fulfilled, the need to derive pleasures from artificial means such as drugs and booze is simply eradicated.

A nice thought and one which, eight years on, I am still striving to prove true in my search for self-fulfilment and happiness. But a thought nonetheless which stirs a niggling doubt in the back of my sober mind – that once a person has exposed herself to such highs and freedom from self-consciousness and inhibitions, it becomes very difficult to ever go back.

Human beings have always sought relaxation from the stresses of life, the source of that relaxation stemming from a wide variety of legal, illegal, morally acceptable and socially frowned upon substances as remedies for a little escapism. The need then, to flee from everyday life is not a new phenomenon, despite the moral panic that has escalated in recent years regarding alcohol abuse and ‘booze Britain.’

During the Gin Crisis of the eighteenth century (as depicted in Hogarth’s painting of the same name) it was thought that on average, Londoners were imbibing roughly a pint of gin every week, an amount that sounds shocking to me – and I have drunk a fair old amount of alcohol in my time. Drugs too, are not a twentieth century invention and it is believed that mind-altering substances have been taken since the days of the Stone Age. Drug paraphernalia was discovered a few years ago on the Caribbean island of Carriacou, which dates back to somewhere between 100 and 400 BC. Drugs consumed such a long time ago most likely were not taken for the recreational purposes that people take them for today – rather they were more likely to have been used to actuate spiritual, trance-like states of mind. But still, the need to temporarily adjourn from the norm has been with humankind for thousands of years.

In the twenty-first century we are subject to contradictory social values, not least in the arena of drug and alcohol abuse. The hypocritical nature of the media and government when dealing with the issue of (in particular) alcohol is noticeable all around us. I became teetotal in April 2011 and living without booze has brought the double standards and contradictions home in a stark way. Chavs are bemoaned for their frequent imbibing of alcopops, whilst middle class dinner party goers are forgiven for their excessive consumption of Merlot, Barolo and Bordeaux. Politicians are quick to berate the youth of England for their delinquent, alcohol-driven behaviour witnessed each weekend on the nation’s city streets, and yet the government’s Responsibility Deal, introduced in the summer of 2010 in an effort to tackle the country’s growing drinking problem, appears to have been reduced to little more than a series of half-baked undertakings.

Supermarkets have been instructed to label 80% of bottles and cans containing alcohol with details of their alcoholic content by 2013, and the advertisement of alcoholic products within 100 metres of schools has been banned. But issues such as inappropriate marketing, curbing licensing hours and introducing a price per unit method costing structure (thought by many in the health sector to have the potential to impose a real impact on alleviating the alcohol problem, and highlighted in a report by the University of Sheffield which was published in the Lancet medical journal) were thrown off the agenda and never even discussed.

The fact that several key members of the drinks industry make up the group is notable, and even more notable is the fact that the Royal College of Physicians, Alcohol Concern, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, the British Medical Association, the British Liver Trust and the British Association for the Study of the Liver all expressed an inability to support the Responsibility Deal due to their belief that the compromised agenda of the group would do nothing to help stem the growing tide of alcohol-related illnesses and premature deaths in the UK.

Alcohol is ubiquitous. With ad buffers on the TV (Come Dine With Me), in-your-face promotional offers for cheap beer and wine in supermarket aisles, TV programmes and films that feature alcohol being knocked back like water, and which often normalise and celebrate getting drunk, it is almost impossible not to think that everyone is out there getting pissed on a regular basis, and that it is completely ok.

Drinking is so revered in our culture that I, as a non-drinker, have become an oddity for not partaking in it. I have been expelled from a club, a club that I took completely for granted when I drank alcohol. If you are square, the school swot all grown up, a quiet sort who does not feel the need to show off at parties, you were never invited to join.

But if a hedonistic streak rules your social persuasions and you are usually found amongst the loud, cigarette-smoking, steadily-becoming-drunker-and-drunker brigade in the back garden of the house party, then yes, you are most definitely in the club. Of course, temporary exclusion is an option; pregnancy, a course of antibiotics, major illness – these are all bone fide reasons for fleetingly bowing out of the club. Giving up alcohol because you are not in control of it, because it has affected an unshakeable grip on you, because you never want to allow a single drop of it near your lips ever again for fear of it killing you – these are reasons that are tantamount to a lifelong exclusion.

Can I say, hand on heart that I am happy to be relegated to membership of the squares’ club, hangin’ with the fuddy duddies? Stuck in the corner with the grey-haired and the ankle biters, sipping a mineral water whilst sneaking frequent peeks at my watch to find out how long I must wait before I can politely leave? No, I can’t. It still doesn’t feel like me, to be cast out from the mouthy drunks who dance wildly, and laugh too loudly at the Best Man’s rubbish speech, and who huddle outside smoking and discussing some gossip that seems far more significant than it ever does the next day.

I spent all of my adult life (and most of the transitional years between childhood and full maturity too) as a fully paid up member of that group, amounting to two thirds of my life. Leaving that significant element of my being behind is taking some major re-acclimatization.

For the most part, I have taken the easy way out since I made the choice to become teetotal, hence my growing fancy with Come Dine with Me and other variations of meaningless televisual distraction – staying at home sober is definitely preferable to going out and staying sober, although I hope it won’t always be that way. I have found it much harder to say goodbye to the old me than I ever imagined, and equally difficult to become acquainted with the personality left behind in her absence.

When engaged in activities that never involved drinking copious amounts of booze (i.e. spending time with my daughter in the park, meeting friends for coffee, going to the cinema – although I have to admit that the last one was usually sandwiched between a couple of pre-film beverages and a skinful afterwards), the issue of losing my membership to the erstwhile beloved drinkers’ club does not rear its ugly head. That’s my safety zone.

I heard a lyric on the radio the other day that has stuck in my mind; Bruce Springsteen’s Better Days, in which he sings ‘But it’s a sad man my friend who’s livin’ in his own skin, and can’t stand the company.’ What came first – hating my own company and drinking to obliterate it, or drinking until I hated the person it turned me in to? The booze that is sold to us through advertising and the media is not a substance I recognise; happy images of laughing friends sharing a bottle of wine over nibbles.

Alcohol has disappointed me and left me with something of a sense of being cheated, mis-sold. It has taken many years to realise it, but alcohol is not for me and it does nothing for me other than turn me against myself. It robs me of my self, and in becoming sober, I have discovered that my self, well, she’s not that bad after all. It has taken a few weeks but I am beginning to see that the years I spent drinking was time spent trying to run away from myself. I hated myself and of course the vicious circle of drinking, self-loathing, drinking, self-loathing, only serves to exacerbate this.

When I first embarked upon this new, sober chapter in my life, I took it for granted that the key to all my problems in life lay with alcohol – after years of abusing the stuff, it made sense to herd all the negativity I had experienced in to one box, label it ‘Booze’ and close the lid on it. I began to do some research on the subject, mainly by searching the internet for alcohol dependency, how to give up drinking, female alcoholism and recovery from addiction. My search criteria screamed out ‘Help!’ to anyone who could guide me out of the mire that I had spent so long floundering in.

In addition to the various websites and books I scoured, I talked honestly and frankly to friends who I knew had their own addiction issues, and gradually I began to piece together a picture of the alcohol-influenced world that we all inhabit. After giving up drinking in April 2011, it soon became apparent to me that I needed to garner a fuller understanding of alcohol, why it has been so attractive to me, why it retains such a hold on me, as though it were a particularly desirable but destructive lover who I just cannot leave behind.

I cannot bear the thought of spending the remainder of my time on earth with booze lurking around my thoughts, a tormenting presence that is constantly propositioning me and which I have to turn away from, yearning and desperately craving its magic but never allowing myself to give in. And so I decided to start writing – to construct a convincing and lasting argument for myself and anyone else out there who has seen their souls ravaged by the demon drink, pertaining to why a life without alcohol can be fulfilling and happy and not at all boring, and why in the end, going teetotal is the best choice to make for those who are unfortunate enough to be saddled with the misguided belief that one drink is never enough.

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28 thoughts on “My thoughts on being teetotal, before I saw the light.

  1. Alexander says:

    youre comment; “It has taken many years to realise it, but alcohol is not for me and it does nothing for me other than turn me against myself. It robs me of my self. Thats so true and me also. It never was for me I just didn’t wanna be singled out of the crowd and be alone and labeled a straight edge or square. I agree that either in youre country of Britain and especially here in the U.S. also they complain about all the irr responsibility of todays youth and the deaths, immorality, and unexpected pregancies, and problems that stem from it but yet its so advertised and our the worlds society has become saturated with such an importance to drink. I realized that I had to stand up speak my voice and be myself and If people don’t like that than oh well I’m happy with me. For the first time its invigorating to be sober and to see the world with a councious mind not in a drunken stuper. Thank you so much for sharing youre stories as I can relate in general and Its comforting to meet others as myself:)

    • Hi and thanks so much for your comment. It is great, and very reassuring, when you realise that you are now looking at the world and seeing it for what it really is, instead of through the fog of booze. I spent years not truly understanding myself or the world, because I never gave myself a chance, never got to know myself properly.
      It is great to hear from you, as you sound such an optimistic and inspirational person. It’s always brilliant to find other people out there who have walked the same path – our website launches on Monday, a social networking site for women who have struggled with binge drinking. Hope you can take a look and join up – it will be the perfect place for meeting other women like us who have finally seen the light!! Thanks again, Lucy x

  2. Gary Miles says:

    Fantastic article. Thankyou for putting into words many of my recent experiences. I am three months without drinking and am struggling to come to terms with my decimated social life. Good luck with your website. I would love to join but I have a problem. I am a man!

    • Hi – thank you. Well done for getting through those early months, I found the journey of self-discovery to be pretty intense when I first gave up drinking and actually began to deal with who I really am. It gets easier on the social front too, and please join our website!! We did aim it at women just because we’re women, but we already have loads of men who have joined so get on board! There are discussions about social life etc on our chat room and forum so you might get some tips. And I would recommend (yet again!!) Jason Vale’s book, ‘How to kick the drink…Easily!’ because it changed how I perceived going out as a teetotaler completely, making it actually enjoyable! Good luck, and thank for getting in touch. Lucy

  3. Traveller says:

    “Alcohol has disappointed me and left me with something of a sense of being cheated, mis-sold. It has taken many years to realise it, but alcohol is not for me and it does nothing for me other than turn me against myself. It robs me of my self, and in becoming sober, I have discovered that my self, well, she’s not that bad after all”.

    Brilliant said!

    Even if no addiction I think unwanted situations while drunk is also a strong indicator for alcohol problems.

    I think what a sober alcoholic said about the ability to be alone with yourself was a very good point.

    Dinner and movie. Possible with other sober friends. Beats a drink all the time!

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  5. Daniel says:

    Thank you for sharing your ramblings. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts during my morning commute (a commute not nearly a bad as when I am standing in a fog after polishing off a bottle if red the night before). The truth is that I’m not ready to give up alcohol but I know I have to. It would be a lot easier if I hated a glass of wine as much as I do smoking but the fact is its pleasurable, in small measures. But I’m not about moderation and I never have been so for me it’s all or nothing and I have to kick the habit all together. I have stopped and started but I am ready to make a concerted effort and that starts in small stages with the first being to stop drinking in the house. But that leaves the door wide open so Of course I’m arranging more social get togethers as an excuse. I’ve been invite out by a group of old friends this Friday and this is a group that are synonymous with drinking and heavy nights. Thinking towards a future of sobriety I couldn’t imagine meeting up with these friends and trying to abstain. First they wouldn’t understand it, secondly they will rib me for it all night and thirdly how will feel a part of it when I’m the only sober one. The only conclusion is to stay away but then what Is the point? If i do go no doubt I will have two bottles of wine (too myself) a few sambucas and I’ll be rolling in at 5am. Then i will be in trouble with my wife, feel shit about myself and lose my rag over the silliest of things because I’m feeling delicate. How is that ok?

    I’ve just started on this road and I’ll certainly be using your writings as a source of inspiration and support. Thank you.

    • Hi Daniel, thank you for your comment. I’m glad my ramblings were keeping you occupied on your commute! I really didn’t want to give up drinking for such a long time, despite the fact that it kept getting me into trouble. I was in denial and terrified of living without my crutch. I thought I would be nothing without alcohol.
      What a lovely place to find myself in now, 2 years after giving up alcohol, being able to feel amazing, happy and content, with no depression or anxiety or self-hatred. Everything good in my life today has come from the decision I made to stop drinking, but God was it hard to admit to myself that me and alcohol were only ever going to run into trouble together.
      Sounds like you have already worked that bit out – now you need some motivation and encouragement to see that living without alcohol is BRILLIANT!! And in no way would you be missing out – quite the opposite in fact.
      Have you read the book reviews on my website, http://www.soberistas.com? There is a great book on there called ‘Kick the Drink…Easily!’ by Jason Vale and it really helped open my eyes and stay focused on staying sober. I wish you all the best, thanks for your comment and keep in touch won’t you – I’d love to know how you are getting on. Take care, Lucy

  6. I’m really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see
    a great blog like this one today.

    • Hi, thank you – the layout is a customised blog layout from WordPress. Thanks so much for your comments about my blog – I’m so pleased you are enjoying reading it 🙂

  7. Ed says:

    Thanks for this very honest view of the first stage of quitting. I am glad you have ‘seen the light’ now. I quit 5 months ago – initially to lower my blood pressure for an operation. I wish I could have seen the bright future that was waiting for me! I have reclaimed my brain chemistry and feel like I’ve had one or two drinks all the time (confident, mellow but utterly capable). In society, we talk about ‘taking drugs’. In truth, they take you – or you give complete control of your feel-good receptors to a poisonous substance. I do not hanker after alcohol. Like most drug addicts, I couldn’t see how I could have fun without it(!!) How sad that I gave away my happiness to something that kept taking more and more away from me.

    Please, if anyone is reading this and struggling with the concept of life without alcohol, imagine life without broken glass in your foot. Sure, the foot won’t feel better immediately – but it’s going to get a whole lot better when the glass is removed. For me it keeps getting better than I could ever have imagined.

    I do not normally share my feelings but, without wanting to sound evangelical, I do want to share the extremely good news that life is so much better without alcohol. If I were to give any advice, it would be to stay kind to yourself. I did some really bad things while under the influence. We can’t change the past – but the future is ours for the taking.

    • Thank you for this comment – what a great analogy, the broken glass in your foot. I am so pleased that you have left this comment and I am sure it will provide many others with the motivation they need to take that first step. Life is unbelievably better isn’t it once you escape the awful alcohol trap, and it does sometimes make you feel a little evangelical! I often wish I could let drinkers see what they are missing out on, but I guess everyone has to find their own way in their own time.
      So pleased for you that you have found your place. Well done xx

  8. I’m also a short distance away from my last boozy nights, scarcely weeks, but I’ve found out that dignity is the missing element that never showed up, regardless of all my attempts to change my life. I quit tobacco some three years ago, after dozens of attempts, and thought that booze would follow suit. Back then I had a good argument to keep it away from me, to train for a marathon. However, after the event the cravings for ‘enjoying’ the odd boozy night resurfaced. The problem is that it wasn’t every now and then, but often that I fell prey to the yearning for the old days. I started to feel psychologically dependent on booze as my personal way of being rebellious in a society that I didn’t want to belong to. After that youthful bout I guess that the initial naughtiness was replaced more and more by a plain, never acknowledged, submission to my own fear of living unaided. It also felt as if the value of reality, which had held true during my infancy and adolescence, had slowly dropped and lost its appeal unless I could ‘spice it up’ with booze or drugs. But recently I was startled to discover that the only thing that I never took in account was self-respect. This is a society that glorifies our whoring off to fear, and promotes addiction as the best way to cure the resulting pain for having sold off our dreams so cheap to booze and tobacco corporations. I think that it’s definitely possible to live without the constant craving for booze, and eventually get rid of the perpetual reminder that we were once part of it all. Hopefully one day it will stop being so unbearably annoying in our consciousness. If anything, to know that we’ve been capable of taking the reins of our lives (and prove ourselves right against all odds) should be a strong enough argument to dispel any regrets. Like Ed and the rest, I also agree that life is immensely better without the guiltiness, hang-overs, lack of energy etc, that were our companions for so long. Thanks for your amazing website!

  9. hollyb says:

    Your entries are brilliantly written and I completely identify with all you say. Thank you! I now feel truly inspired.

  10. arians says:

    great article. i’m going to read a lot more from you. my story is that i stopped social drinking since autumn, 2013 and it kinda made a lot of good changes in my life. one thing i noticed that time slowed down for me and I started to do a lot of things I like. I feel so full of life and people get inspired by it; however, despite all the positive things I have some free time and on that free time I feel very bored and alone in this quest. How did you handle or are handling this?

    • robert hillson says:

      I am about to embark on sobriety for the last time and recognize your words. Perhaps the transitional stage which I suspect is different depending on how many years were spent drinking is something to consider. As you say life slows down. The desiring machine in our mind is not being fed, (a reference to alcohol association from within our culture) and so perhaps this is why so many people speak of filling the void.

      Thank you for writing the post it has allowed me to answer some of my own questions in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

  11. andrew bott says:

    i gave up alcohol for nearly 4 years and then started again about 5 years ago not sure why but I’m seriously thinking of going tee total again its starting to take over my life again so its time to stop so thanks for story

  12. Thank you for your blog, I’ve been searching the net all over for days, searching for that sign of help. I managed to go two months as a bet last year, then since that pint and the packet of fags to go with.. The spiral has started. I’ve got to the point where I’ve made myself ill because of it and now I’m at home suffering, so is my relationship because I’ve become weak / cut off from what I care about. You’ve just made me want to be sober and never touch a drink again, even with the extra comments from everyone, so thank you for that 🙂

  13. Maggie says:

    THANK YOU!! you have put into words exactly how I have felt for years. I found your writing doing searches of how to give up alcohol for good. I’m 35 and sick of drinking, today I’ve decided the tug of war is over and i’m going teetotal. Thank you so much for writing this..it had made me feel strong and I am ready to face this!

    • Hi there, thanks for your comment and I’m really glad this has helped. Once you start looking you’ll find loads of people out there who are in exactly the same boat – life’s too short to spend it in a mental tug-of-war, you are doing exactly the right thing. Go for it! Lucy x

  14. I loved this post, and it spoke volumes to me. I have long suffered from drinking to escape who I am, until it turned me into someone I hated. I have now been t-total for 2 months, which isn’t long at all, but I used to easily drink a bottle of wine a day. You are an inspiration x

  15. Paul.Parsons says:

    Having just started my commitment to go tea total its reassuring others have the same concerns about the damage we do by drinking.I find your post very helpful for me my drinking was just a habit that coincided with time of day 8oclock time for a drink and would consume 2litres of cider before the end of the night since stopping I have not missed it at all and wondered why I did it for the last 40odd yrs .There are not any negatives I have lost weight saved cash not only from the cost of booze but from taxis ,I have been more sociable and enjoyed talking to people I will not drink alcohol again and thankful that I stopped

  16. Andy says:

    Thank you for this. Your words are the most realistic that I have read in my recent decision to become teetotal and they have enhanced my determination to become teetotal. When drunk, I love being drunk and when most people realise that they have reached their limit, I challenge that thought and drink stronger drinks and because I start drinking faster, downing drinks in one (for an example) I obviously get drunker, I’m 41 and not 18 but still act like I’m 18. I think that drunk me is fun me but if that really was the case then why am I embarrassed by drunk me….and I know drunk me is an embarrassment.

    I have no control and that is why I have decided to become teetotal, but don’t think I drink all of the time.

    So, thanks for your words as they have been most helpful.

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