I am writing this approaching my first sober Christmas. There was a time when being sober at this time of year would have felt like a punishment. That so much of the fun and magic of Christmas wouldn’t be there without mulled wine, glass after glass of bubbles and many boozy nights out.
Today I know I am going to have a magical Christmas with my children, family and friends and I’ll remember each moment and have memories to last a lifetime. I don’t feel like I am missing out on the party by not joining in with drinking alcohol.
What I will be missing out on is hangovers, anxiety, exhaustion and stress.
Getting to the point I am at now hasn’t been easy. I decided to stop drinking in March 2018 after my stress and anxiety had reached an all-time high. I have suffered with anxiety for most of my life with it hitting its peak following a difficult marriage and subsequent divorce along with raising two young children largely on my own.
Drinking had always been a release for me since I first discovered it as a teenager. Most weekends were spent binge drinking until my children came along in 2012 and 2014. The breakup with their dad in 2015 meant that, once more, I had weekend time on my own and I used it to go out drinking with friends.
The alcohol began creeping into more of my life as my stress levels increased as I tried to juggle life as a single mum with two children, along with running my own business. I would regularly reach for a bottle of wine after a long day just to numb the loneliness and attempt to ease the stress I felt. What was once reserved for weekends became a daily occurrence and when I stopped drinking in March 2018, I couldn’t remember the last day I hadn’t had any alcohol.
Unsurprisingly, the effects of the constant drinking were having a knock-on effect on my life. My mental health was at an all time low. I constantly felt stressed, anxious and physically unwell. I rarely had a good night’s sleep and would wake up stressed and exhausted.
The effects on those around me were noticeable. I had no patience with my children, who were often the ones who bore the brunt of my short temper. The shame and guilt I felt when I would shout once again because I was hungover became too much to bear.
My boyfriend and I would argue constantly because I would pick fights over silly, small things because I couldn’t even deal with the smallest of issues as all my energy and focus was on just getting through the day and on to the next glass of wine in the evening.
I was truly stuck in a vicious cycle of drinking to feel better and winding up feeling worse.
I was aware of how much I was drinking and every day I would promise myself that I wouldn’t buy more wine, but by the time the afternoon rolled round, my resolve would weaken, and I would buy a bottle, telling myself “just 1 glass.” It was never just the one glass.
I debated stopping drinking for months with home truths such as ‘I love drunk Megan’ and ‘I feel like an alcoholic around you’ really hitting a nerve. However the real turning point and catalyst was the morning after my friend’s 30th birthday party when I was lying in bed, too hungover to move, that I came across Catherine Gray’s Unexpected Joy of Being Sober on Instagram. She was running a 90-day stop drinking challenge called “Sober Spring”. I decided to join in and the group I was paired with were so amazing and supportive. We have a Whatsapp group chat and give each other advice and encouragement. This support along with the support from friends and family really helped me to keep going in the early days.
The benefits from stopping drinking were almost instant. After a few weeks initial detox when I was exhausted, and my emotions were all over the place, things really started to even out. My anxiety has really eased, and I am so much better at navigating difficult situations.
I have much more energy and mental clarity and I am calmer and more focused. To say that every aspect of my life has improved from stopping drinking is no exaggeration.
All my personal relationships have improved and grown. I regularly save money and I have never felt or looked happier and healthier!
I know there must be so many people who, like I was, are just about coping with life, holding down jobs and families but struggling to deal with the effect of alcohol on their life.
So whether you want to pluck up the courage and try ‘Dry January’, ‘Sober Spring’ or seek help from the likes of help4addiction, who can put you into a local rehab, I can promise you that life only begins once you stop drinking.
Megan writes about her experience of sobriety at soberstory.co.uk