Guest blog: Thinking to go alcohol-free in 2023?
Girl and Tonic founder Laurie McAllister shares her top tips on how to make the most of going alcohol-free, from visualisation to free meetups.
As I see it, there are two ways you can view the decision to go alcohol-free:
- You have to stop drinking; your fun has stopped and life as you know it is over. You are now destined for a boring life devoid of alcohol.
- You have made an empowering choice to stop drinking; you are ready to embrace the next chapter of your life without the hindrance that is booze and are excited to see and do everything life has in store for you.
Five and a half years ago, I chose number two.
Whether you’re contemplating going alcohol-free for health reasons, looking to save some money, hit rock bottom, don’t like the effect alcohol has on you, or have noticed you sleep better without those two pints after work – we’re united by our decision to stop drinking.
It may sound like semantics, but choosing to stop drinking feels very different to having to stop drinking. Sort of like when, as a child, your parents let you decide whether you want to go swimming, rather than being told you had to go. Choice feels empowering, being forced - less so.
Stopping drinking can be the greatest choice you ever make and the biggest gift you ever give yourself. Imagine a life with no hangovers, more time, a bit more money and much better-quality sleep, what does this version of you want to do in the mornings, after work and at the weekends?
Visualise an alcohol-free life
For me, visualisation was a really helpful tool that supported my alcohol-free journey. Before you dismiss it as “new-age woo woo” - I’ve been a cynic too so I get the temptation – know that many high-performing athletes often use visualisation to help them win. If it’s good enough to win races, surely, it’s worth a try?
So, how do you visualise? The great thing about this is that it's relatively easy to do, costs no money and can be done anywhere. As you’re just beginning, start by writing your visualisation down. You can do this in a notebook, or on the free notes app on your phone. Think about how you want your sober life to look like and write down a couple of points, it doesn’t need to be extensive – it’s just a prompt for your imagination if you find yourself going off track. Mine looked a bit like this:
- Wake up early
- Full of joy
- Great friendships where I am present
- Time for yoga
- Money to spend on things I enjoy
No doubt, what you want from your sober life looks different – so take a few minutes to think about it and write it down. Next, close your eyes and imagine your alcohol-free life. Start by imagining waking up in the morning and go from there, what are you enjoying? What does your life look like? Visualise good feelings and getting to spend more time doing what you enjoy, if your mind goes off track – refer back to your list and start imagining again. The best way to visualise is to imagine yourself acting the way you would act if your goal had already been achieved; so, see yourself as a happy, alcohol-free person and explore that reality in as much detail as possible.
If you find it easier to work from images, rather than your imagination, you can also create a vision board. You can do this physically, pulling images from magazines, or online using an app like Pinterest. Simply select images that represent how you’d like your alcohol-free life to be and spend time looking at them – using the images to prompt your imagination to see yourself as a happy, alcohol-free person navigating the world.
I have created vision boards for every year of my life since stopping drinking in 2016, some years I look at them a lot and others I create and forget – but it’s a great way to set out your intention of what you want your life to look like moving forward.
Visualisation also helps you to begin to create a new identity away from drinking. I’ll only speak for myself, but when I was drinking a lot, drinking a lot became my identity. I was a bit of a party girl, and so my relationships reflected this. I’d meet friends for drinks, we’d go out to eat and drink bottles of wine or arrange to meet for cocktails or a bottomless brunch. You name it, there were almost always drinks involved.
How to build a sober network
One of the challenges many people face, and perhaps the biggest block in my quest for sobriety before I finally stopped drinking (after 18 months of trying to quit), is how to make sober friends. Our friendships massively influence our identity, and so building a sober support network can be a key part of helping you thrive in your new sober life. The most alone I ever felt was when I was beginning to question my drinking – I felt isolated from my friends and family who all seemed to be able to drink “normally”. I wasn’t sure what a good time looked like without my good friend gin and tonic and I didn’t really know anyone who lived alcohol-free.
Times have changed a lot, and now alcohol-free living and sobriety are talked about much more freely. It might not feel like it when you look at your close circle, but there are millions of people living alcohol-free in the UK – you just need to know where to look for them.
The turning point
Building a sober support network of like-minded people was my turning point – it was a key factor in helping my not drinking stick. And I want to encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try and meet some sober people. Author Johann Hari once said that the opposite of addiction is connection. If only it was that simple, many factors impact how much we drink, and why we’re drinking. But it did provide food for thought and made me realise the importance of community and having supportive people around you.
In the last five and a half years, I’ve met a lot of new people – lots of them sober or sober curious. Some have become great friends, and some I’ve just had a nourishing chat with before we’ve moved on with our lives. Choosing to go alcohol-free gives you common ground and connecting with people who have shared experiences can give you the boost to keep moving forward alcohol-free.
Below are just a couple of ways that you can meet sober people. A quick Google will bring you lots more options, but I hope this is a helpful place to start.
There are thousands of sober Instagram accounts to choose from. Here are some of my favourite UK-based accounts.
Sober meetups and events
Meetups are a great way to meet like-minded people. There are loads across the UK, although there tends to be more in major cities like London and Manchester so you may find you need to travel or meet remotely. You can also search by area e.g. Glasgow.
Sober events can be great, but don’t feel you need to only stick to sober events to meet new people where alcohol is not front and centre of the activity. In the summer, I started paddle boarding and it was a great way to meet people who are keen to spend an evening out on the water instead of on the wine. There are lots of fun things to do in the winter too, from cooking clubs to local community meetups.
Before I went sober, I was so scared of what life without alcohol would look like. But I’ve learnt, over time, that choosing not to drink becomes second nature – and making sober friends gets easier too. You will find your stride. It just might take a few awkward visualisations and stilted conversations first.
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