I have had the pleasure of knowing Seana for many years now. She is funny, has a zest for life and is an excellent writer. Seana was one of the fabulous supporters of my crowdfunding campaign for Adapt Relax. In our conversations about the drink, Seana shared with me how she has chosen to go permanently alcohol free as she found her life is better without alcohol.
Seana kindly agreed to share her story with readers of Planning With Kids, so I am thrilled to be able to publish her stopping drinking story here.
Seana includes some great resources if you think you would like to give being alcohol free a go. Febfast is also just around the corner which is a fundraising based challenge where you give up alcohol, sugar or another vice to support disadvantaged youth in Australia.
Thank you Seana for sharing your story, it is one I know will be so helpful to many. You can find mores posts on stories from amazing mums here.
Are you one of the growing number of people who are having a break from drinking alcohol, or planning one? Perhaps you have heard that many people these days are choosing not to drink and you’ve become – and I love this term – ‘sober curious’.
Australians are generally drinking less, with figures back to those reported 50 years ago. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics in 2018 indicated that 23% of us never drink; 23% drink one day a month or less; and only 6% drink every day, with 11% drinking 5-6 days a week and 11% drinking 3-4 days a week.
Of course, the mothers amongst us have generally had long periods of not drinking, when pregnant and breastfeeding. Some of us might never have gone back to it. I wish I could say that was my own story, but it is not.
My drinking patterns
During my pregnancies – I have two older boys, now grown up, and twins who are 14 – it was not a problem to stop drinking. Nor was it when breastfeeding. I had learned very quickly with my first son that active children and hangovers do not mix, so there were many years during which I did not drink much at all.
Indeed, I was never drinking heavily for long periods. I would tend to tipple away with the odd binge drinking session. At the time, Australian guidelines said that 14 units of alcohol a week were the limit to reduce the risks of harm. I always aimed to stick within that limit which sometimes took a big effort. On some occasions, I would drink heaps and consequently make myself very ill physically, then add to that by beating myself up mentally, especially during the alcohol-induced 4am wake-ups.
Then I would stop for a week or two, thinking that I could change and that my alcohol intake could stay at a moderate level. But my body and brain are just not like that. Inevitably my alcohol consumption would creep up and cravings would start. By 5pm I would be physically feeling the urge to pour a glass of wine as I cooked dinner.
My cunning methods to keep my drinking down to a dull roar included generally not drinking during the week, though I would often look for mid-week social activities so that I would have an excuse. Also I rarely kept wine in the house – on the odd occasions when I did buy a case on special I would drink much more.
The mental battle
For me, the mental torture and self-restraint from drinking as much as I really wanted to were absolutely exhausting, as well as something that eroded my self-esteem and mental health.
The cognitive dissonance really did my head in! I wanted to be healthy and I wanted my kids to have good role models. I went to the gym and started ocean swimming. We ate well most of the time. So, if these were my aims, why was I drinking three or four wines a few nights a week? I could tell it really impacted my sleep, and I knew that there is absolutely no safe level of alcohol. Also, my patience was so much less with my four noisy, active, wearying, gorgeous children.
In 2013, after drinking too much on Boxing Day and then being mean to my husband, I did stop for a whole year. That was hard. I went to AA meetings which I enjoyed and found helpful, whilst feeling that AA was not really where I belonged.
After 365 days off I had a glass of red, certain that I would now be a moderate drinker enjoying a glass of wine a couple of times a week, never more than two.
Wrong! Within weeks I was back to my cycles of drinking and then not drinking, of beating myself up when I did drink and then white-knuckling through many afternoons when I really craved alcohol but would stop myself from buying a bottle.
Change in mindset
I had stopped smoking at 28 and always said it was the hardest thing I ever did. But I knew from that experience that changing my feelings and beliefs could happen. Where once I had felt that not smoking was a loss, I had shifted to being truly grateful that I no longer smoked and knowing I never would again. It had taken effort and help but that mental shift had taken place. How to achieve that with alcohol?
14 months ago I had a huge mental shift, realising that if I never, ever were to drink again, my life would be much better. And I wanted it to be better. I had been the alcohol equivalent of a yo-yo dieter for about 25 years, stopping for a while and then starting again.
When my mental shift occurred, I finally, finally realised that it would be best if I broke up with alcohol forever. I could look an uncomfortable fact straight in the eye and not look away. Some people can moderate their drinking and are comfortable with how much they drink; some people can’t moderate their drinking and I am in that group. That’s just a fact of life and I can fight it and suffer or embrace it and be free.
A friend of mine had stopped drinking after a medical issue and I would quiz her on how she did it and how she felt. For over a year I would just be amazed and would often feel that I could never manage that. But the mental shift did come. The urge to feel well and to be healthy finally, finally overcame the need for alcohol. I think that I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired.
There were many things that converged to make late November 2019 the time that my mental switch occurred. I was stressed and drinking too much and feeling quite unwell. I decided initially to stop for 28 days and I joined an online program to support this. Daily emails came and there were written exercises to do.
Meanwhile my sober friend had shown me the drinks she was enjoying: alcohol-free beers and spirits mixed with tonic. And they were delicious. I also bought some books written by people whose stories I could 100% relate to, the best being The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley.
Over that first month I listened to many podcasts too and again heard stories of grey area drinkers like myself who had decided that enough was enough and they would call a halt to drinking forever.
And that was it … in that month off, the change came and by its end I had made the decision to join the ranks of the permanently sober. This has not been without struggle but I have never felt alone. I read and read, I joined online groups of like-minded ex-drinkers and I stocked up on alcohol-free alternatives.
The relief, the relief! 14 months later, I am still sure that never drinking alcohol ever again is definitely the right path for me. Finally!
Finding my tribe and doing a lot of sober socialising has been crucial. There are so many things that I thought alcohol provided, like the instant relax from a glass of wine whilst cooking dinner. A no-alcohol beer or a no-alcohol Aperol Spritz does the trick just as well. I thought that alcohol had made meeting my friends fun, but it was the friends themselves I loved and enjoyed seeing.
I have learned that peoples’ questioning of sobriety is all about unease with their own drinking and that is their business, not mine. I also learned that all you need is a drink in your hand to feel more at ease socially – it doesn’t need to have alcohol in it.
I realised early on that I do need rewards and treats in my life, especially on days when domestic drudgery is getting me down. I have learned how to make some interesting mocktails which are pretty and taste great. I have listed three of my go-to drink recipes at the end.
My hangover-free life
So that is my story … I am a person who cannot moderate with alcohol and I am better off without it. Whilst I don’t think the term ‘alcoholic’ is very useful for anyone, I can fully embrace the fact that I had an alcohol problem. I certainly did. I do not have that problem any longer.
Not drinking also comes with the bonus that my cancer risk has been reduced. Did you know that even one drink daily – well under the 10 unit limit – increases your cancer risk by 10%?
My life is hangover-free and guilt-free and I feel so much better mentally. I am more confident – I know I can go out a few nights a week and wake up feeling good next morning. I am much, much better at dealing with my teenagers – far more patient and calm under fire.
Most people can drink wisely but if you, like me, are not one of them then I can highly recommend taking a break. Hello Sunday Morning is a terrific Australian website with a useful app called Daybreak.
If you are concerned about your own drinking and feel you might have a serious problem then your GP is the first port of call. Smart Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous are places which embody the saying ‘the opposite of addiction is connection’. If you are worried about a friend or family member’s drinking then do check out the resources on the Al-Anon website.
Have you benefited from taking a break from drinking or from completely stopping? It would be great to hear from you in the comments section. Best wishes and cheers to healthy living!
Alcohol free drink recipes
Spiced Mulled Red Non Alcoholic Wine
- 1 bottle alcohol free red wine
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 4 cloves
- 2 oranges, sliced
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 75 grams brown sugar (optional)
- Pour the alcohol-free red wine and then all other ingredients into a large saucepan.
- Warm up until simmering very gently, let simmer for 6-8 minutes.
- Leave to cool a little in pan, you don’t want to burn yourself when pouring or drinking.
- Serve in heatproof glasses or in mugs.
- Sit by a cosy fire and enjoy.
Cranberry Lime Soda
- 20 ml fresh lime juice
- 40 ml passionfruit (canned or fresh)
- 200 ml cranberry juice
- soda water
- Muddle the lime juice and passionfruit together in a large glass. Fill with ice then pour over the cranberry juice.
- Top with soda, as much as you like.
Angostura Bitters & Friends aka Lemon, Lime + Soda
- 250 ml lemonade (I use a low sugar version)
- 30 ml lime juice
- 4 – 5 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Mix all ingredients in a tall glass with ice.
- Garnish with lemon and lime slices.
- Sit back and relax.