From one month alcohol free to a sober life on the other side of the world

Louise Rowlinson | January 2019 | 7 minutes

My name is Louise and I'm a sober blogger who decided to stop drinking back in September 2013. I also happen to be a public health nurse.

I completed Dry January in 2012 and in 2013, even extended it to three months that year, before going back to drinking. But then, just over six months later, I decided to stop drinking for good. It’s definitely not the only way forward after Dry January, but it was right for me.

I'd been struggling to manage my drinking for a long time. I'd grown up in a heavy drinking family and continued that lifestyle when I grew up and moved out. Training and working as a nurse we had a 'work hard, play hard' mentality so my drinking slowly but surely increased. It would peak in periods of stress and grief and then subside and I would think it wasn't that bad again. Along came boyfriends, marriage and kids and it was only after the birth of my second child that I noticed that I was finding it more difficult to not drink than drink.

I started to moderate in 2010 as I'd signed up for the London Marathon in 2011 and hoped that the training would help me manage my intake. I thought if I tried diligently to get it back under control, enforcing all kinds of rules to try to limit how much and how often I drank, then I didn’t have a problem. And it worked - until it didn't. By reducing how much I drank my tolerance lessened which was a good thing. But I then drank more when I did drink, with disastrous social results.

...I was beginning to prefer the times of not drinking to drinking.

And I was beginning to prefer the times of not drinking to drinking. Ok, the first few days and weeks of habit-breaking and change were really hard, but I knew how to manage that by initially avoiding alcohol and then later developing coping skills to manage those situations where alcohol was unavoidable.

For me a trigger time and environment was getting home from work. So I worked actively to avoid the time or the environment by doing something else, like going for a run or doing the food shopping then. Or if I was at home I'd have an alcohol-free drink to hand instead. If I was really struggling I would simply have a bath and go to bed early. Sober treats were really important as I felt that reward for this change was vital. For me this involved chocolate, herbal teas, and other gifts of self-care.

At social occasions where others were drinking I would take my own alcohol-free drinks. I tended to find the first 10 minutes the most difficult. I would quite often disappear to the toilet and use my phone as a distraction or go play with my kids while everyone got their drinks, took their first sips and settled. Once that moment had passed it got easier.

If I knew I was going into a potentially trigger-inducing, drink-heavy environment I would ensure I had a sober treat lined up for after the event to think about if I was struggling. For example, at six weeks I was invited to a friend’s 40th birthday party in a pub in Soho with a free bar. I didn't want to not be there for them so drove to the event, drank tonic water (so it looked like a G&T and avoided too many questions) and then on leaving went for coffee and cake at one of the Italian coffee shops in Soho so that I didn't feel like I'd been deprived. If you go out on a Friday night have something nice lined up for Saturday morning when you'd usually be recovering – for me that's a run but for you it might be a massage.

We also saved up all the money that we weren't spending on alcohol and when we got to three years sober we used it to book a one-month family holiday to Australia to visit family - and that led to us moving here in January 2018. Who knew that Dry January would lead to a sober life on the other side of the world?

Who knew that Dry January would lead to a sober life on the other side of the world?

You can find Louise's blog, A Hangover Free Life, here, and you can find her on Twitter @hangovrfreelife.