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

Louise Rowlinson | January 2019 | 8 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.

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

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?

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