What I Learned from a Year Without Drinking

When I was sober for a few days, I came to a meeting in a church hall, “trembling like a goddamn dog,” according to Sean, sat in a plastic chair and really listened to what people had to say. I didn’t come out with the belief that some divine entity had an interest in whether I had a cocktail or not; what I clung to was the understanding that I can’t have just one drink.

Sean offered to be my sponsor – that is, someone who had been there and bought the T-shirt with alcohol abuse, and who could give me advice on how to get through life without a drink. I started visiting him once a week in his barge, just to talk about life and how to live it. He helped me a lot, although he always insisted that I was the one to help him.

Navigate through social events

The first year I counted the days and complained to Sean about it. “All this counting just seems like another way to become obsessed with alcohol,” I’d say, eager to just move on with my life. He advised me that I could do what I liked, it is my life after all, but that if I wanted his advice, counting days the first year might help, then counting months, and one day I could just count the years , as he did. He had been sober for 16 years and had his sober date tattooed on his arm. “I can’t drink anymore,” he joked, waving his tattoo, “because I’d have to get that damn thing removed.”

l avoided most social gatherings for that first year. Sumin and I like to keep to ourselves anyway, and I’m past the endless weddings of my early 30s. I drank as a teenager because I was shy, so drinking became a cure for anxiety for the next 20 years. Now, at 38 and a year sober, I find that my anxiety is pretty much gone. It seems the drink was healing and causing it at the same time. And because I’m a bit older now, I care much less about what strangers think of me: I’m much more comfortable in my own skin.

That’s from what Sean taught me too, that I’m not the star of the show and no one is overly focused on what I’m up to, they’re just trying to get through the day. He urged me not to expect anything and to accept everything and take life by the day. He taught me the importance of gratitude – I have much to be thankful for when I think about it: loving family, I’m still alive, full head of hair. He told me not to catastrophize everything: that’s a work in progress – I still freak out when I think I’m going to miss bin day.

The benefits of a sober life

Going to the doctor is really fun these days. I sit down to get my blood test results, and instead of looking at me like she’s going to tell me she just ran over my cat, the doctor says my results are fine. Then I look surprised and she says: “Yes, remove the poison and everything will heal itself, funny that!” I drive off and think how lucky I am that I didn’t do too much permanent damage.

Ah yes, driving. It’s fun to drive, always. I don’t need my own breathalyzer anymore. I drive back late at night from restaurants where there is no £50 wine on the bill. My sobriety app tells me I’ve saved £7,000 in the past year just by drinking at home.

When I go to restaurants, I notice how much the drinking culture has changed. I’m lucky to be sober at a time when p—– just isn’t cool anymore, and all non-alcoholic beers taste like beer instead of rusty water. However, the non-alcoholic spirits are a bit too composty and petroleum-like for me, like real spirits. Now I go to pubs and don’t really think about alcohol. I could go back to the all inclusive holiday resort and booze wouldn’t really cross my mind. The obsession is gone.


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