It seems there’s something to this ‘no drinking’ business…
All across the world, drinking goes hand in hand with the way most people socialize. It’s the ‘meet’ in our social sandwich; we arrange to ‘meet’ our friends, ‘meet’ up after work and ‘meet’ guys in bars.
Most days, making plans tends to get as adventurous as this:
“Where shall we meet?”
“At the bar?”
“Okay, let’s go to the pub.”
I firmly believe lots of people would like to cut back on how much they drink – for their health as well as their sanity – but they simply can’t imagine doing it without losing friends or severely sabotaging their social life.
As human beings, we all like to feel as though we belong. Aptly named research paper Drinking To Belong, by Dr Peter Seaman and Dr Theresa Ikegwuonu of the University of Glasgow, states “alcohol has found a monopoly position in facilitating group belonging, and forging and maintaining friendship groups in young adulthood”. So if you do want to cut back, have a booze break or give up entirely, it’s natural to worry about how it will affect your social life.
The truth is, quitting booze doesn’t ruin your social life, but it certainly changes it, because it changes you.
I started drinking in my late teens and it really took off at university. The student bar served cheap beer, so that was where we all met and socialized. Once we’d graduated, the student bar was swapped for a local pub, and with every move I made thereafter, I found a new local. I knew the staff, they knew my tipple, and my friends and I had a fave table that made meeting up slick, easy and comfortable… until it got boring.
My hangovers got worse as I got older, and I was sick of the cycle of waking up feeling like rubbish, swearing I’d have a few days off, then falling into a glass of wine at the end of a crazy-busy day to unwind. Buying wine on the way home as a means of helping me de-stress after work quickly turned into a dangerous dependency.
After I left an incredibly stressful job, I prioritized quitting drinking. I didn’t want something having a hold over me, and I didn’t want to be spending money on something I no longer enjoyed. Over time, alcohol can take a serious toll on your health; it interferes with the way your brain works, damages your heart, liver and pancreas, and can increase your chances of getting certain types of cancer (mouth, throat, liver and oesophagus, in particular). Oh, and it messes with your immune system. All of this knowledge left me questioning whether it was really worth it.
To me, drinking was very much a security blanket, and getting a handle on my emotions without it was without a doubt the hardest thing about quitting. Learning to ride out emotional waves and tell yourself they’ll pass is incredibly challenging when you’ve leaned on alcohol as a crutch and used it as armor to face social situations.
As much as you worry about what your friends will think or how you’ll socialize, all of that falls into place. You find new, more fun things to do that don’t involve a hangover the next morning (walks along the beach, picnics, movie fests). Friends who were just drinking buddies fall away – and good riddance!
I realized I’d spent a lot of money doing a lot of damage to my body – and for what? A lifestyle that didn’t even make me happy. Swapping city-slicking for a simple beach life was the magic piece of my jigsaw I hadn’t seen before. It all came together for me, and I’m happier than I could ever have imagined. I wake up and watch the sun rise, and go to bed with no regrets. Forget jewellery, shoes or expensive trips abroad – sobriety is absolutely the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself.
Images via tumblr.com and narcity.com.
Comment: What’s the longest you’ve been without a drink?