by Alex Hyndman Hill
A friend was raving about how good he felt after taking a break from the booze. He’d just completed a challenge where he had to go for 75 days with no alcohol, exercise twice a day and stick to a diet. He looked amazing. With our wedding on the horizon I decided to give it a shot.
It was just what I needed. Emotionally I was all over the place, verging on bridezilla and freaking out about covid and restrictions and all that 2021 stuff. I knew deep down that alcohol wasn’t helping. No matter how much I tried to moderate or justify the amount I was drinking, it was wreaking havoc on me physically and mentally.
I did it. I completed the 75 day challenge and now haven’t had a drink for eight months. Surprisingly, (mostly to me) I now have no intention of ever drinking again. Yes, it sounds extreme but when I evaluate what I’ve gained - and lost - from cutting alcohol out of my life, it makes it impossible for me to even consider going back to boozing.
The first thing I noticed was my skin. Actually, a friend of mine noticed first - at the hairdressers, she stared at me in the mirror. “What have you had done?” she asked. Now, I’m never shy about discussing treatments and enhancements so it wasn’t an out of the ordinary question. My answer shocked her though. “I’ve stopped drinking,” I told her. “No!, Don’t tell me that your skin looks like that just from giving up alcohol?”
I felt slightly awkward explaining something we both already knew. Drinking, especially for women in their forties like us, really does show up on our faces. We’ve all read the studies, we know the damage it does but none of us really want to believe it. “You look so much younger!” She enthused. I felt it, I could see the difference. My face had even changed shape. My skin was brighter and my eyes were clearer. I just looked better.
It wasn’t just my skin that was changing. My waistline was also shrinking. My clothes started fitting differently, the number on the scales started going down and some people I hadn’t seen in a while didn’t recognise me. When I cut out alcohol I didn’t seem to be getting the same cravings I had before. I started wanting to eat more sweet things but the hangover food was no longer on the menu. My wedding dress was almost falling off me by the time our wedding came around and on honeymoon I felt confident in a bikini for the first time ever.
It’s not all been easy. The first few months were really tough. I’d used alcohol for years to help wind down and deal with stress. I would drink with friends at lunch, while getting dinner ready and when the kids had gone to bed. Every occasion was marked with drinking, every children’s birthday party, every work event and more often than not every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Breaking that habit is hard. I found myself in tears at one of the first lunches I went to sober. All the other Mums were drinking and I felt excluded. It was like I’d gone to lunch with mean girls, except they weren’t being mean. I was being mean to myself. I convinced myself I was never fun in the first place and the only reason they liked me was because I got drunk with them. I hated all the feelings that were rising to the surface without alcohol and I hated the idea that I would have to deal with them instead of drinking to drown the thoughts out.
While some of my friends asked a lot of questions at the start and tried to convince me to drink, others were really supportive. I eventually found I was most comfortable around the ones who didn’t make a big deal or even notice if I was drinking or not. I think maybe some people think if you aren’t drinking you will be judging anything they do or say. In reality it means I’m just ready to go home to bed before everyone else.
I sleep so much better now, but the first few months I had some crazy vivid dreams. Apparently this is normal and all down to chemical imbalances in the brain caused by too much alcohol and the brain trying to fix itself. I wake up a lot earlier now too and find it easier to get going in the morning than if I’d had a few wines the night before. My kids have noticed that I’m much less grumpy in the morning too.
For me replacing wine or cocktails with something that feels like alcohol has helped a lot. I ordered non-alcoholic Champagne for our wedding so I always felt like I had a glass to toast with. I’ve loved trying some of the new drinks on the market that are either alcohol removed or alcohol free. They help me feel like I’m not missing out without feeling awful in the morning. I’ve realised it’s something a lot more people are considering. There are tons of celebrities talking openly about not drinking now and it’s no longer just the ones who’ve ended up in rehab. It’s becoming more of a health choice. When I started sharing my story a lot of friends reached out and asked me for advice to help them give up too. I’m so happy I can help because honestly, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.