Clearheaded. Day after day, without interruption, free from fog and confusion: this is my experience of living without alcohol. I think straight because mind-altering substances of any kind no longer hamper my thoughts. I just think. Clearly. When I drank, I spent so much of my time simply treading water, waiting, drifting, as I looked forward to feeling well again, or to drinking some more. I wished my life away, dragged down by the physical and mental weight of hangovers. So yes, this is what it is to be alcohol-free – clearheaded. You are able to exist as you are, unencumbered by any negativity brought about by poisoning your mind and body with ethanol. It’s freedom.
Love. If you’re addicted to something, it prevents you from loving anything else or anyone fully. How can you give your heart completely to another human being when a proportion of it already belongs to a substance? Answer: you can’t. I cherry-picked my relationships as a drinker, based on whether a potential boyfriend demonstrated a tolerance for my proclivity for heavy alcohol consumption. Specifically, he had to be a heavy drinker too, which, of course, nicely disguised my own shortcomings in this area. But since I became alcohol-free, I’ve got my head around what love really is. And I know that I never had it when I drank; I had nothing that resembled love at all.
Appreciation. When you’re running from yourself, either drunk or with an almighty hangover, and you hate every part of what you are, inside and out, there’s no room to notice the world around you. I internalised everything when I drank, I turned in on myself and expended all my energy thinking about me, and the terrible things I did, and the current mess I’d landed myself in, and the bad hand that life had seemingly dealt me. I rarely took in a beautiful sunset, or the sound of a bird chirruping on a branch, or the friendly smile of a passing stranger. I was locked inside my own dark world, and I had neither the inclination nor the headspace to absorb my surroundings. Without alcohol, I appreciate, and I see, and I care.
Remould. You’re never fixed. As a human, you possess an immense ability to rework yourself. All you need to do is to start putting into practise new habits and small changes to how you lead your day-to-day life. When you stare into the mirror and hate what is looking back, just remember that it doesn’t need to end there. It’s never end game. There is always tomorrow. For years, I suffered from depression, anxiety and panic attacks –nowadays, I’m fine. I removed the alcohol and the rest took care of itself. It is always possible to remould.
Instinctive. One of the best things about being a non-drinker for me is that I now completely trust my instincts. I rely on my gut feelings to help me navigate my way through life, and I’ve not yet been let down by this as a strategy. When I drank, I often had my head in the clouds – life was part reality, part fantasy, and I found it difficult to separate the two. It’s a different story now. My feet are planted firmly on the ground, I don’t take any shit off anyone, and I know when I’ve taken a wrong turn and redirect myself back to where I want to be. Life seems easy now, but in the old days it was a constant challenge and I regularly felt out of my depth.
True to yourself. It sounds like a cliché, but I found myself when I stopped drinking. I was lost as a drinker, had no idea of who I was or what I wanted out of my life. Or of what I was capable of. Or of the sort of people I wanted to spend time with. I flipped from this idea to that, sporadically focusing on various projects that never got finished. And then, with spectacular ease, my vision of the person I was and what life was about, and how I should spend my time on earth, all magically became apparent. It didn’t happen overnight but within a few months of becoming a non-drinker, there it was – clarification of me, and of my life.
You. You matter. I matter. We all matter. Our happiness counts. We deserve to live a life that is true to who we are, and one in which we fulfil our potential. Self-compassion can be impossible to exercise when we are frequently filled with self-hatred, when we turn away from our own reflection and can’t sleep at night because we can’t stand what we have become… and yet, self-esteem can and does return when you stop doing things when you’re pissed that you later bitterly regret. And when you have a bit of self-esteem, you don’t want to damage yourself quite so much. Your dignity begins to emerge again from wherever it’s been hiding, swallowed up by oceans of wine. You come back to the fore. You start to matter again.