I just happened to stop drinking alcohol
New Years Eve of 2019. Me, my fiancé and a mutual friend was playing the board game Mansions of Madness on our kitchen table.
It's a new tradition we've started since we left Stockholm for small town life - a more minimalist New Year. Just us two and maybe a couple friends, board games, beer and delivery pizza. No need to dress up. No need to even go outside. Maybe we venture out around midnight, but nowadays barely even that. Fireworks and hordes of drunk people are a bit overrated.
So we're at the table, drinking craft beers, and having a good time. It's nearing 12am. Time to open the bubblies. I've never tolerated champagne that well. It goes straight to my head, makes me tired and dizzy. But on New Year's, you toast with champagne. It's one of those unchallenged traditions.
On New Year's Day, I woke up and I wasn't hung over. But I was...just bored with the whole thing. This alcohol thing. My habitual, albeit very moderate, drinking.
You see, I've always prided myself on my healthy relationship with alcohol. We don't have alcoholism in the family, and for the most part, adults around me have enjoyed alcohol in a responsible and socially acceptable way.
Even though I like the taste of beer and wine, I don't like it enough to down more than maybe 2-3 glasses in an evening. I could never binge drink like I've seen college friends do.
Besides, I'm a control freak and emetophobic. Drinking myself to a blackout, or even to the point of nausea is out of the question.
With that said, I'm by no means a health nut. I've had my fair share of "episodes". In some tragicomic way, the worst ones have been either while home alone, or in a family setting.
On a crayfish party at my family's summer house many years ago, I got so drunk I could barely stand. (Swedish snaps will do that to an 18-year-old.) This was in the midst of neighbors, their small kids, AND my mom.
I fell asleep, bare-assed, in a guest house I forgot to close the door to. Woke up the next morning, feeling like a roadside cadaver. With the whole right side of my body covered in mosquito bites.
But I've never consciously intended to get really drunk. I've preferred "tipsy". And over the years, I'd noticed myself craving that feeling more often. Not just on the weekends but on weekday evenings as well. Having a beer with dinner. Cozying up with a glass of wine on the couch.
It felt like a harmless and well-deserved treat. I was living very healthily overall: never a smoker, cooking high quality vegan meals and exercising regularly. Surely a little glass of wine on a Wednesday night wasn't a big deal?
The fact that I was so worried about my drinking behavior not being okay was a hint that maybe it wasn't so okay. Not for me, anyways. But it's hard to convince yourself you have a problem when you drink less than most people you know, and never get actually drunk, never "lose control".
Back to New Year's Day 2019. I became curious, and got googling. What did science actually say about alcohol consumption, even in tiny or moderate amounts? Huh. "Not good in any amount at all", according to new studies. Right. So this thing about red wine being good for your heart and reversing aging, that was bogus? Mhm, okay.
In my research, I stumbled upon a blog called Hip Sobriety, written by Holly Whitaker. She wrote, very honestly and inspiring, about her journey away from food-, cigarette- and alcohol addiction. I binge read this blog for days. Then I read some of the books she recommended in her posts, starting with "This Naked Mind" by Annie Grace. The book everyone claimed could magically remove your desire to ever drink alcohol again.
Okay. Challenge accepted.
I read the book, and lo and behold. I gradually went from careful optimism, to eager approval, to a calm certainty that yes - I would probably never want to drink again.
Alcohol is a poison that does absolutely nothing good for our bodies. This is the cold, hard fact. But Annie laid it out in such a non-judgmental, non-absolutist way that it never felt threatening. It felt like a casual but irresistible invitation.
The point isn't to never get to drink ever again, but to never have to. And after finishing the book, I indeed neither had to or wanted to drink alcohol.
It wasn't a big decision, I simply stopped. And I made sure to leave the door open if I ever felt like having a taste again. Because that would be totally okay. I wasn't going to deprive myself of anything.
Months went by. My fiancé got inspired and tagged along on my alcohol-free experiment. Liquor bottles and beer cans were gathering dust in the cupboards. Weekends came and went. I still didn't crave a drink. I was almost disappointed in how easy it was. This wasn't a challenge! Didn't I miss wine even a liiiiiittle bit?
Nope. I fucking loved being sober.
Since I never was a big drinker, I didn't notice as many changes in my health or appearance as others had reported. I probably ate less junk food. Alcohol has often triggered binge eating episodes for me. But my skin, eyes, digestion and energy levels were about the same as before.
But psychologically, I felt like a brand new person.
I've never liked myself while intoxicated. I'm not funnier, wittier or more social. I don't break out of my introvert shell. I don't get excited and energetic. I don't forget my troubles and fears. I certainly don't become more creative.
When I take that first glass of wine on a Friday afternoon, I'm essentially checking out of my life. I'm severely limiting my leisure options, since I won't be alert enough for video games, focused enough for reading, or sober enough for driving somewhere.
That leaves me with... Netflix. Which is all my drowsy, wine-soaked self can manage anyways. Binge-watching "The World's Most Extraordinary Homes" and falling asleep at 10.30pm.
My biggest reward for quitting alcohol is actual, high-quality leisure time.
Instead of planning what to drink on the weekend, I'm planning what to do, what to read, what to create. I practice piano. I do some gardening. I work on a knitting project or sew myself a shirt. I go on bird watching walks.
I'm awake, present and able to make the most out of my free time.
My fiancé, who works a 9-5 job and has a more active social life than me, tells me about his various "first time sober" situations. First sober afterwork with colleagues. First sober business trip. First sober house party or pub night.
The conclusion for all of them? Grab a non-alcoholic beer and cover the label with your hand. Because if anyone finds out you're not drinking, they will make a thing out of something that's not a thing.
Very much like being vegan. "Yes, I'm vegan. No, I don't want to talk about it or discuss climate change or convert anyone to my lifestyle. Let me just enjoy my falafel in peace KAY THANKS BYE."
Yes: It's entirely possible to enjoy a night out without booze. Although my fiancé willingly admitted that it's not as fun hanging out with drunk people when you're not drunk yourself. Turns out, drunk people are only fun to other drunk people. Bummer.
I haven't found a single situation where I couldn't replace the drink with something non-alcoholic and equally delicious.
We always keep our favorite brand of non-alcoholic beer at home. For weekends or special occasions, we sometimes buy a bottle of Nosecco (non-alcoholic prosecco) or blueberry juice.
At midsummer, we toasted with homemade ginger shots instead of snaps. It gave the same burning sensation and blushy cheeks, without the grogginess.
There have been two instances where I've given in to curiosity and had a drink.
The first one was at a birthday cruise trip with my family. We were all gathered in the piano bar and a glass of red wine actually made sense to me. Would be a shame not to challenge my sobriety even once. I wanted to see what it would taste like now, after 6 months without.
The first few mouthfuls were delicious, as usual. Red wine is the only alcoholic drink I've struggled to find worthy alternatives to. All the non-alcoholic ones I've tried have tasted like watered-down grape juice, either too sweet or too sour. So admittedly, I had missed the taste of real wine.
But then came the drowsiness, the burning cheeks, the swollen fingers, the blurry vision and the spluttering speech. The feeling of disorientation, of not really being present, not having the energy to join the conversation.
When the glass was empty, all I wanted was to sober up again.
My second glass this year was in early September, the day I got my driver's license.
I don't know why. I wasn't really in the mood for alcohol. I just wanted to celebrate. We'd been gifted a bottle of champagne earlier, and this felt like a sufficiently special occasion to open it.
The wine tasted like sparkling wines do. I drank it dutifully. But instead of that relaxed feeling I remembered getting from wine, I became sweaty and tired. I just wanted to go to bed. I had ruined a perfectly great evening, where a glass of apple cider would have worked just as well.
I don't miss alcohol. I really, honestly don't.
As Annie Grace says in "This Naked Mind": Everything that alcohol promises you is a lie. And that's true. All it took was calling the bluff a few times. Allowing myself to drink and asking myself: is it as tasty as I thought? Do I really enjoy this feeling? Am I getting what I wanted from this?
I've believed that alcohol relaxes me. But really, it just numbs me in an uncomfortable way.
I've thought that I like that warm and tingly feeling of being tipsy. But I've found that I prefer being awake, alert and present in the moment.
I've thought that I love the taste of red wine and couldn't possibly live without it. Especially not with pasta dishes! But I just needed to challenge that belief two times to learn that it's not true anymore.
The spell is broken. I can't even watch people drink wine on tv without feeling a little nauseous.
If at any time I get the idea to drink alcohol, it doesn't last long. Because wouldn't I prefer to experience this moment sober? Yes I would.
Why ruin a nice Friday evening, family gathering or holiday celebration by inebriating myself? That makes no sense anymore. And yet was such a given before.
Funny how you can change your whole experience about something that easily.
I calculated that I'm saving around 6000-8000kr (about $600-$800) a year by not buying alcoholic drinks.
Money that I can now put to use in better ways.
Like buying expensive luxury vegan ice cream.