Lessons I've learnt from a year of not drinking

Well, that's it. I did it. I've officially gone an entire year without touching alcohol. I'll tell you what, it was an illuminating process.


I made the decision in 2021 that I would go without alcohol for the year. This was prompted by my experience of lock down, where my drinking had radically reduced and I was surprised that I didn't seem to miss it. You can read about all the reasons I decided to give this a go here.


My drinking has naturally dwindled over the years, as my lifestyle has shifted, so this wasn't going to be a dramatic change for me. But having that extra restriction really made a difference to my mental state. I learnt a lot more about myself, so I thought I would share my key lessons below.


Drinking no longer fits with my lifestyle


Like many students, my time at university was filled with drinking. I would consume often excessive amounts of alcohol 2-3 times a week on nights out. This was my normal and I had a whale of a time.


My drinking continued into my 20's, although it was becoming less frequent, I still enjoyed a night out. Most of my drinking was restricted to social occasions, so natural as my socialising changed, so did my drinking.


Now that I am approaching 30 (this year, eeek!), I no longer want late nights out. In fact, I rarely want to go out in the evening at all, much preferring a cosy night in with my partner. When I do see friends, we go for lovely walks, grab a coffee from a favoured café or just spend time in each other's homes. This is by far my preferred way of socialising and drinking no longer has a part to play.



I don't care about fitting in


Lets face it, this one really wasn't much of a shock. I regularly shun society's expectations, as I have embraced veganism, minimalism and tiny living to name a few (read more about my alternative life decisions here).


However, stopping drinking did take some getting used to. I was still holding on to that fun-loving, early 20's version of myself. Where I was uber confident in social situations. I didn't want that image to become tainted.


However, as the months rolled on, this became easier. I am far more confident now and don't need that boost from alcohol. I have worked hard to accept the person I really am, not a fantasy self. I am pleased that, after some reflection, I rather like this no-drinking me.


I'm less anxious in social situations


This one may seem a bit of a contradiction. Alcohol is meant to make you feel more relaxed after all. However, over recent years, I have started to dread social settings when alcohol was involved. I would suffer from anxiety for days leading up to these occasions. Trying to make a decision on whether I should drink or not was a nightmare.


Then if I did drink, living in the rural Highlands, the logistics of getting home was a bit of a nightmare. I hated the fact that I couldn't leave when I wanted to. It made me feel trapped. I would also dread the hangover that would inevitably ruin the following day. When drinking was taken off the table, I felt so much more relaxed. It was a burden I hadn't even noticed I was holding.



Saying no is easier than it sounds


The peer pressure when it comes to alcohol is so ingrained in our society. I've experienced it my whole life. I've even participated with it, seeing it all as a bit of 'banter' and part of having a good time.


Although I am used to saying no, having been vegan for 4 years, I think that refusing alcohol has an extra pressure, as you worry that you will instantly be labelled as a 'let-down' or 'party-pooper'.


However, I actually found that not drinking at all was far easier to maintain than not drinking too much. It also seemed easier for people to accept. Occasionally, if I felt self-conscious, I would give the typical lame and not always true excuses of having an early morning or being the designated driver. Over time, as I grew more confident, I started to feel comfortable in just saying no. No excuse or explanation needed.


A big part of this is surrounding myself with the right people. My real friends either, conveniently, don't drink themselves, or, more importantly, completely respect my decision not to drink. I am so grateful for this.


Drinking no longer aligns with my values


I think this was the real reason that I decided to give up drinking in 2021. My intuition was whispering to me that this no longer felt right. So I listened.


One of my core values is to look after myself health, be it physical or mental, so that I can thoroughly enjoy life and be better prepared in more challenging times. I really enjoy feeding myself nourishing plant based foods and keep an active lifestyle, with plenty of down-time to keep me balanced. I regularly get up between 5-6am, to ensure I put aside time that is just for me, before my day begins. Drinking went against all of this.


There were other issues that started to bug me. It was an awful waste of money, compared to what I now spent on soft drinks. As someone who has chosen a career in wildlife conservation (which typically doesn't earn much), and recently gone part time, this was another financial burden that I just didn't need.


I also wasn't sure that I liked drinking me. I've never been a bad drunk, but I would inevitably have less control when drinking. I hated the thought of saying something I'd regret, or worse, saying something unkind or inconsiderate. It just wasn't worth the risk.

Will I drink again?


My dry year of 2021 has reinforced that I can live quite happily without alcohol. Occasionally, I would find myself wistfully reminiscing about wild nights out where I could really let my hair down. However, I know myself well enough now that it is fine to reminisce but, if the occasion actually arose, I wouldn't enjoy it. Its just not me anymore.


All in all, I know it is very unlikely that I will drink again. I've decided to give myself grace and not make this a full ban, but I will need a very good reason to drink now. In all honesty, I very much doubt that reason will ever come along. I've turned my back on alcohol and I've never felt so content.