Two and a half years ago I gave up drinking alcohol. I am not talking about doing a health kick or trying a ‘dry’ month – I am talking cold turkey, out of my system, soda water instead of champagne sober. The decision was a hard one, but a forced one. I have a rare, incurable liver condition called autoimmune sclerosing cholangitis. Put simply, it means that my bile ducts aren’t quite up to scratch and have trouble breaking down toxins – namely alcohol, so it had to go.

This may seem like it’s not a huge feat as people give up alcohol all the time right? Well, I will be the first to admit that it’s actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. Suddenly, every time someone said let’s go to the pub I sighed inwardly, and slowly but surely I started to notice a change in the way people treated me.

Having said that, there are also some good things which came out of it. Here are, in my opinion, the top 10 things which happen when you give up alcohol.

1) You grow a thick skin.

I tried several times to give up drinking before finally being successful, and it was the same thing which held me back each time – insecurity. What would people think if I didn’t drink? Would I have to pretend to be on antibiotics or continuously doing a health kick? Would people think that I was no fun anymore? Looking back, these fears seem rather mundane, but at the time I was worried what people would think and how I would socialise. Living in a society such as ours, where drinking is seen to be as normal as breathing, you do get treated differently when you don’t follow the crowd. So you have to learn to get tough and push through.

2) Relationships break down.

Although this may not be something which happens to everyone, it happened very quickly to me. I lost a boyfriend (in hindsight, no bad thing) and countless friends due to not drinking. Slowly, the invitations to nights out and people’s parties stopped appearing and I was told more than once that I wasn’t as fun as I used to be. Now, I have learnt that it wasn’t worth having those people in my life, but at the time it was something I hadn’t experienced before, so it was quite shocking to learn that alcohol played such a huge role in those relationships.

3) You save so much money.

The average person (myself included) can save over £200 a month just by not drinking in London. So that’s what I did and 12 months and £2,400 later and I paid for an entire holiday in the Caribbean, and return flights to both Australia and Kenya – and I still had a little bit left over!

4) You have a lot of energy.

Suddenly, Sunday morning’s become times where your productivity levels soar and you end up cleaning the entire flat before anyone has surfaced. Your days seem longer, and you don’t have a hangover to hold you back. This was a particular milestone for me, as one of the symptoms of my condition is fatigue.

5) You get better at small talk.

There is nothing more challenging than trying to engage in conversation with someone who has had one too many and with the concept of Dutch Courage no longer at your disposal, you turn to small talk pretty quickly. This can be challenging at networking events and parties where you don’t know anyone, but it’s a question of practice and you will get there in the end – trust me!

6) Dating is SO hard.

The staple date nowadays is a matching on an app, arranging a time to meet and going to a pub. Suddenly you are faced with that awkward conversation with someone you don’t know about why you don’t drink and to add insult to injury, you have to do it whilst under the pressure of it being the first date. It’s terrible, and unfortunately, not everyone is that understanding. I have had dates laugh at the fact that I don’t drink, become unnecessarily awkward and I’ve even had someone shrug and get me an alcoholic drink anyway.

7) Not drinking isn’t lonely.

I’ve put this one in here as I recently came across an article which talked about why being a teetotaller is lonely and how you should just give up. Well, it isn’t lonely and I personally find it fulfilling. It means that I talk and bond with my friends over coffee rather than wine and experiences rather than nights out. For every friend who I may have lost due to not drinking, I’ve made another who is cool with not drinking. In addition to this, you would be hard pressed to find a place which doesn’t serve something non-alcoholic anymore.

8) Being healthy gets easy!

When you stop drinking you, of course, become naturally healthier. You will lose weight and you will start to feel healthier in general. Alcohol affects a lot more of your body than you initially may think, and since stopping I’ve noticed a difference in my hair, skin, nails, weight and teeth.

9) You gain confidence over time.

I’m often asked where my confidence and assurance of who I am comes from, and while it’s not directly related to going sober, it has a lot to do with it.  While it didn’t happen overnight, when I stopped drinking, I learnt a lot of hard truths about myself. I had the time to actually focus on me for once, and do the things that I wanted to do. I took a leap of faith and quit my job to go travelling, I took up new hobbies and met new people. Confidence comes from knowing who you are and living the life you want to, and it takes a while to get there, but its worth it.

10) Alcohol isn’t everything.

I’ve realised I’m perfectly capable of going out to the dingiest and darkest clubs and dancing the night away with just water. I know there are lots of people out there who say ‘I need alcohol in me to dance’ or you can’t visit that place ‘unless you are smashed’ but honestly, I bet they haven’t even tried. There are so many places in London to explore, and if nightclubs become unbearable then why not try a jazz bar instead?

That said, I do miss it. I miss going down to the pub with some friends and having a bottle of wine and a gossip, I miss being crazy from time to time and I miss not having small talk when you first meet someone. But those are all things you get over. England has a big binge drinking culture and there are those who can’t think about a life without alcohol, but not drinking forces you to go against the status quo and look beyond the way we are socialised. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

*image from pexels.com