Lessons from 3 months without booze

Filed under posts • Tagged: Alcohol free, Sober, Mental health, Health

Earlier this year I read Catherine Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober and decided to stop drinking for 3 months: a Sober Spring.

It seemed to arrive at the perfect time for me, as I’d become fed up (again) with drinking, hangovers, and the effect of both on my anxiety.

Well… the 3 months have gone quickly and smoothly! Here I want to talk about my biggest lessons, and how shit-faced I got the day it all finished.

I couldn’t drink AF (Alcohol-Free) beer… at first. All I wanted was that kick in the throat and sweet numbing that alcohol delivers so well. But as the weeks passed, and I came to some peace about not drinking, it all began to taste better and better.

Eventually, I became fully converted and pushed these drinks under other peoples noses, baffled as to why they were not as impressed as I was. I didn’t realise at first, but my senses and perceptions were shifting. After 100+ days without alcohol, it’s difficult for me to recall how exactly an alcoholic beer would be different from an AF one.

My favourite AF beers are:

It took a month or so to stop thinking about drinking. A dry January or Sober October is a great challenge, but I agree with Catherine that abstaining for 3 months roots out a lot more of the patterns, and leaves you a more changed person. This makes sense, as most new habits take 60-90 days to truly bed down. 3 months is long enough that you stop emotionally clinging on to the thought of that first drink because, boy, is it a long way off.

After the first few weeks, I eventually lost interest. To my surprise, instead of feeling like I was on a timed challenge I just started feeling like someone who didn’t drink, period.

My drinking options have expanded, not contracted. Rather than just grabbing a pint, I’ve ended up discovering loads of other fizzy, sweet, fermented and pungent beverages to quench my newly recognised diversity of tastes. Alongside the classic non-alcoholic drinks like sparkling water, tonics and lemonade there are now literally endless AF options: drydrinker.com currently has 141 different alcohol-free drinks for sale, from craft beer to prosecco.

Being sans pint has also made me more discerning about what I actually liked about drinking beer or wine, besides the alcohol. For that fermented punch, I love cold kombucha. On hot days, cold AF beers really hit the spot. When I want something sweet minus the 10 tsps of sugar, I reach for Fiery Ginger Beer. I care much more about drinks being really cold, as I realised that’s half the enjoyment.

As a bonus, most AF options also have fewer calories than your standard beer or wine, so you can indulge without building beer rings around your abdomen. For example, a recent favourite of mine—Rocktails, a kind of pre-mixed sober G&T equivalent—come in at about 38 calories a bottle.

I slept like a dog and woke up feeling like a princess. Relentless, predictable happiness. Each morning.

I learned more about what I value. At first, it felt like not drinking would steal the soul from gigs, nights out, good food and everything else. But I’ve been to gigs, eaten meals out and seen plenty of friends. And it’s still great. Yes, it’s hard at first, and there are awkward bits that you’d usually blank out by gulping down your pint. But going through those things has shown me what I really value in them, and that it’s independent of getting drunk.

While I agree it’s wise to just avoid nights out at the start of a sober challenge, I think you should get out after you’re feeling more confident. You need to see first hand that these activities stand on their own merits. That you can still be there, sober, without looking like a lemon.

It seems obvious, but when you haven’t done any of those things without alcohol in 15 years, it’s a revelation. Think about it: you’ve likely never taken an extended break from drinking since you first started paying strangers to buy you Blackthorn from Tesco Express. Practically every activity outside of your house (and many inside it) have taken place in the arms of alcohol. You may have never done some of these things without a drink in hand. That’s why its hard, and also why it’s a wake up when you realise you can still do it all: that you still love live music and that you can still ass around with your friends.

The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is an insidious lie. Alcohol doesn’t physically stop you being anywhere: you can be stood in the midst of any event independent of your blood-alcohol levels. You’ll remember it better and you can just drive home when your buddy starts telling you that same story for the third time.

Three months on, it all feels easier. If I want to see a band or friends it’s actually much easier to organise: I don’t need to factor in taxis, hangovers, beer money etc. I don’t need to feel like I’ve been shit out of a sewage pipe the morning after.

Less anxiety. My anxiety continues to improve, and these last few months have been particularly peachy. It’s hard to attribute this solely to alcohol, but I feel sure it played a big role. That alone makes it worthwhile for me.

With each month that passed, the culture surrounding alcohol became more surreal. It really does take a few months of not drinking to notice some of the more pervasive and perverse ways that alcohol is marketed and ingrained in everyday life.

Sun = alcohol, football = alcohol, friends = alcohol, life = alcohol. It’s not some conspiracy, but it is a deeply-entrenched narrative about the place of alcohol in our lives that ignores and distorts some very uncomfortable facts about cultivating such a dependency.

I don’t have any issue with people drinking. But when you don’t drink for that long, it does all start to get weird, and I think it’s worthwhile to exit the booze bubble for an extended period and see it from the outside.

I’m better at looking after myself. Not being able to just reach for wine means you get better at recognising and catering for your needs.

I’ve been insanely productive. I trained for and ran my first ultramarathon, wrote a slew of articles and started building my own fitness tracker in Rails/Vue.js, all in the midst of my primary responsibility as CTO of OpenSit. I feel like I’m in the best creative streak of my life, and it continues to intensify. There is something powerful in not breaking that flow with weekend KOs.

I know, it all sounds annoyingly upbeat and happy. But you want to know if I got rat-assed at midnight the day the challenge was over and if there’s any YouTube footage available.

I have to disappoint you.

The challenge finished 21st June, and I’ve not drunk since. I actually celebrated finishing the last day with another AF beer.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Dan Bartlett 🏃🏼‍♂️ (@dan_s_b)

At the moment my urge to drink isn’t there so—for now—I don’t feel any desire to start again.

I think it’s pretty likely I’ll drink again, but having a 3-month break has really reset my expectations and ideas about drinking and how it affects me, and I’m grateful and happier for it.

If a sober break is something that calls to you, check out Catherine’s tips for a sober summer!

—Dan Bartlett
6 Jun 2018

Pssst! want some dedicated support in your goals?

When I'm not writing, I work 1-on-1 with people as a coach. If you want the space and accountability to make real, lasting change in life, work or waking up, book in a free discovery call and I'll explain how I can help 💪

hello substack

All my new writings are published on Substack. I cover anything from awakening to burnout; meditation to the meaning crisis. Please drop your email below to subscribe: