As I knew all too well, the early – and noisy – wake-up call of my two sons, now aged nine and six, was punishing after a night knocking back red wine with a friend.
Approaching my 40s, it didn’t have to be a huge binge to take the shine off the next day. Even after two large glasses of wine, I was beginning to find that I’d wake up less able to cope with the usual tirade of questions and energy. A hangover gave way to a blurry day of lacklustre parenting, strong coffees and constantly wishing for bath time.
Then, last August, we went on holiday to Scotland. As we trooped off to the supermarket to stock our self-catered cottage with groceries, I simply forgot to buy any wine. Back in the cottage, I made a mental note to pick up a bottle the next day – I was on holiday, so I fully expected to drink – and that evening I had tonic water.
As our holiday progressed, I found myself sticking to tonic, or peppermint tea in the evenings. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss the alcohol at all. Even more surprisingly, when we got home to Newcastle, I didn’t automatically resume re-stocking the fridge with wine. Instead, I topped up the tonic cans and tried not to think too hard about what this meant for my relationship with booze.
My bedtime routine improved almost immediately: I was going to bed earlier and sleeping more soundly. I enjoyed waking up without a dry tongue – or a feeling of dread that I’d said something stupid while under the influence. Without bottles of wine lined up in the fridge, there wasn’t a temptation to “just have a glass”.
On reflection, my relationship with alcohol had simply become a habit. In the old days I would be aware of an open bottle of wine in the fridge and often associated winding down of an evening with nursing a glass of wine. Now that I was sleeping better and feeling more rested, I could form new ones. I began the Couch to 5k programme: something I wouldn’t have considered while enjoying week-night wine. Once the benefits of a lifestyle minus booze kicked in – feeling more energised and generally happier – there was even less of a temptation to drink.
I was convinced that cutting back on booze would alienate me from my friends but, whether they were cost-cutting or being mindful of a busy morning the next day, most were either trying mocktails for themselves or just having one alcoholic drink. On bigger occasions, people barely even noticed I wasn’t drinking.
Part of achieving a more measured relationship with drinking is, I’m sure, down to spontaneity. I didn’t plan to go sober whilst on holiday. Had I been telling myself to quit booze, I think I’d have felt punished and been impatiently waiting for an end date and a signal to start drinking again. But once I started down the road of not drinking, I was very careful not to give myself a finish line and instead just enjoyed the feeling that sobriety, albeit temporary, delivered.
Four months on from pressing pause on drinking, I pay more attention to what I drink and when – this means I still enjoy booze, but I don’t exceed my limits and I don’t end up regretting my drinking decisions. I’ll have a large glass of red wine with a steak dinner or share a bottle of prosecco with friends and really savour those drinks. Mostly, I don’t miss it, though a bigger test might be a hen weekend or a wedding – occasions when plenty of us usually let our hair down.
I turned 40 in December but instead of saying yes to celebratory fizz at every turn, I was a lot more considered. I was offered plenty of drinks at my own birthday party, held in a bar, but said yes to just three and spent the rest of the night drinking slimline tonic water. Previously, I would have guzzled wine all night, talked nonsense and felt dreadful the morning after. This New Year’s, there will be fewer drinks, but a lot more energy as we go into 2023.