Gemma's story: my dry year

March 2017 | 10 minutes

Hi Everyone, my name is Gemma and I went Sober for the whole of 2016 for Alcohol Change UK.

As much as I’d love to say that this came about purely through wanting to do a good deed, I wouldn't entirely be telling the truth. I have lived with the knowledge that there is alcoholism within my family for just over two and a half years now, and I say “lived with the knowledge” because alcoholism has been in my family for far longer, however like many other people in a similar situation, I was both completely unaware that there was a problem and there was probably some level of denial as well. Christmas is one of my least favourite times of year because it seems to have become the norm for people to drink to excess “because it's Christmas”. And so, after another unpleasant festive period in 2015 I was looking back over my year to find I couldn't think of many things I had done to make myself proud. I decided I was going to give up alcohol for the whole of 2016 so that I could do something good and prove to my family that you don’t need alcohol to be happy or have fun. I had decided to give up alcohol for the full year rather than doing Dry January because I'm not an overly big drinker and wanted to set myself a real challenge.


So on 28 December 2015 I set up a fundraising page and shared my challenge on all of my social media pages, eagerly awaiting the responses I knew were coming. Within a few minutes I had a couple of texts saying something along the lines of “have you lost your mind?” or “are you insane?” from some friends who clearly thought I'd had a mental breakdown. However on the whole, as I found throughout the whole year, the majority of responses had a theme of support and wishing me luck for what was often described as what was going to be a “long year”.

Throughout the year I was asked about not drinking very regularly, particularly about whether or not I found it difficult. The honest answer to this question is no, the reason being that I learnt very early on in the year that I could have just as good a time without it and the best part being that I could remember it all the next day! Before doing this, I was one of those people who said things like “this is going to be a lot better with a drink” or “a bit of Dutch courage and it’ll be fine” (which is definitely not a healthy way of thinking, I will be the first to admit) but by forcing myself to have exactly the social life as before, I found that I actually didn't need or want alcohol at all.

The only struggle I found throughout the whole year was some people's reaction to me not drinking. While overall I had great support for what I was doing, there will always be people that don’t understand and so of course I was called boring on more occasions than I would care to remember. One occasion which has really stuck in my mind was on one Friday night when I had someone approach me and say “you know, it is amazing that you are out right now when you’re sober” and while I'm sure their intentions were good, what this showed me is what is so fundamentally wrong with our drinking culture that someone thinks people who are sober must be confined to their homes on a Friday night, which is particularly worrying given the fact that this was only at 10.30pm. So I'd like to add here, to anyone who doesn’t drink for whatever reason, there is absolutely nothing boring about being able to hold your own without the comfort of alcohol and it says more about a person calling you it, than it does about you. I had one of my best years alcohol free and it was largely down to just that fact alone.

When I originally set up my fundraising page, my target was £200 because I really didn't know how people would respond to my challenge. Alcohol and the drinking culture in the UK is a subject that I have found most people haven't given much consideration so I wasn't sure if anyone would be particularly impressed or care for that matter. Ignoring my thoughts of being unsure about how people would react, I tried to publicise my challenge to my friends and colleagues as much as possible. I work for EY in one of the bigger offices and so decided to take the plunge and send office-wide emails about my challenge and about Alcohol Change UK as a charity and the work that they do, in a bid to raise awareness and a bit of money as well. I was really overwhelmed by the response I received throughout the year, not only from colleagues I work closely with but also from people who I had never met in different departments who took the time to wish me luck and acknowledge what a great cause it is. It showed that a lot more people care about this cause than I realised and meant that my £200 was met by the 2nd of January.

These emails also lead me to find out about the fund matching that EY offer; through their charity the EY Foundation, they will match fundraising up to £500 each year for individuals who are taking part in a challenge for charity. As a result of this, and through the continuous generosity of my friends, family, colleagues and anyone else who wanted to show their support, I was able to raise £3,382.50 for my Sober for 2016 year, and for that I can't thank everyone enough.

When I finished my year I did have my first drink to close off my challenge, however at that point I was very much of the mindset that I could take it or leave it. It is nice to have the option, however now that I do; my choice is to leave it. I would recommend this challenge and Dry January to anyone and everyone because it's an opportunity to prove to yourself that alcohol is not a necessity and that the awareness you can raise, can help challenge our very backwards drinking culture.