Sunday life: in which i give up booze for February

Posted on January 31st, 2010

This week I happily and surely go sober.

NWA_ATTITUDE

You see, I’m the ambassador for FebFast, an initiative that invites Australians to go sober in February and raise money for a bunch of substance abuse charities.

If you want to join my FebFast team go to this link…here! The password is detoxme. We’re currently the leading team, so you might as well back a winner. My MasterChef crew have joined, as have a bunch of writer/magazine/actor mates. Stay tuned in February. They’ll be sharing their sober thoughts here.

It started when I attended this charity cocktail event.  It was a thoroughly ra-ra affair with much champagne flowing to keep conversation loose and women vertical (without the numbing effect of booze, I swear, we couldn’t stand as long as we do in heels). However, I wasn’t drinking.

When you don’t drink you confuse people. They want to know what’s wrong with you. It’s like you affront them with your soda and lime. This particular night a woman drilled me about my sobriety. It’s for health reasons, I said. Which is mostly true; I initially quit due to illness but kind of kept going (more on this in a moment). “Oh,” sighed the woman into her mojito. “I wish I was sick, too, so I’d have to give it up. I’m too scared to otherwise.”

An odd thing to say? Not really. I get it. Booze has flowed viscously through these veins for years. I was a binge drinker as a teenager and in my 20s I rolled with a wine crowd, travelling the world doing vertical tastings in Cognac at 10 in the morning. In my early 30s, working in magazines, red wine was the carrot that lured me to the end of my 13-hour day.  I told myself I drank two glasses a night, which is healthy, right? Thing is, my two glasses often constituted half a bottle, which is four standard drinks. That’s what alcohol does. It creeps up and deludes. I didn’t have a problem, mind! Oh no! I just would never – not in a million turns of the earth – have given it up. I was too scared to.

"The Patch of Sobriety" herself at said ra-ra cocktail party

"The Patch of Sobriety" herself at said ra-ra cocktail party

Anyway, word got around the party and I was written up in the press as, “a patch of sobriety” “in the sea of silliness“, which prompted the organisers of FebFast to invite me to be their ambassador. This entails coaxing you lot to join me in not drinking for 28 days (starting tomorrow), to raise money for charity*. And to show how facing your fear of sobriety makes life better.

When I started recruiting friends for FebFast I told them they’d lose their liver bulges (alcohol deposits a tube of fat just under our ribs and jaw lines), that a glass of wine has the same caloric content as a sausage roll, which meant they could eat more haloumi (hoorah!). And with the money they saved they could go to Greece. And eat even more haloumi. Yet I was met with overwhelming resistance.

Why? Sure alcohol is addictive. But for most of us this ain’t the issue. What really scares us is the idea of being at a party or a dinner with just our sober selves to rely on – nothing to cling to, no external distraction to steer the vibe. Or of heading home after work with no salve to look forward to, no treat for a day that hurt. It feels like free-fall.

This is what it boils down to, doesn’t it? We find it so difficult to sit with emotional discomfort – whether it’s loneliness or franticness or boredom.  So we grasp at external stimuli to take us away from this dis-ease. In many ways we’ve lost the ability to just stand still and solid at social gatherings and enjoy a conversation for what it is (and exit when it turns dull). We want more. Equally we’ve forgotten how to nurture ourselves at the end of a rough day. We want to be taken away from ourselves.

As I say I was forced to quit booze. Although, as regular readers of this column know, I don’t like quitting things. I do things instead to create new habits. So I turned the experience into an experiment in standing still and solid at social gatherings. I had to really ground myself to do this. I became conscious of how I spoke and listened. And I started meeting great people, I had more energy (because I wasn’t flitting away from myself) and I didn’t get as bored (because I was present and didn’t linger longer than appropriate because I was too drunk to go home). Equally, at home at night I created new treats for myself, such as turning off my computer and reading fiction, where once I’d pour a wine and plough through emails.

And a funny thing happened. Once I could drink again, I found I didn’t really want to. The experiment with myself was far more fun.

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  • Tania

    I’ve joined your febfast group as so much of what you have written rings true for me! I had to give up alcohol for medical reasons and it was hard at first but now I don’t miss it. I’ll probably drink alcohol again sometime but I don’t need to anymore which is quite liberating indeed.

    [Reply]

    Sarah

    Sarah Reply:

    which just illustrates how much of a habit it really is….once you start it suddenly is very easy. Everyone I’m speaking to comments on how much more energy they have at night

    [Reply]

  • Kath

    I’m a FebFaster too! Your articles rings true – bizarre how having a glass of wine while churning through emails makes us think we are relaxing? I’m really looking forward to this month of alcohol and making some longer term habit changes to how I live my life, and what I think “relaxing” means.

    [Reply]

    Sarah

    Sarah Reply:

    that’s what this is about…being conscious of why we do what we do. With a sober head, it becomes clearer, too!

    [Reply]

  • http://abundancehighway.com Suzie Cheel

    Hi Sarah,

    Was looking for a team to join and voila here you are. I am a LOA I just love that a glass of wine has the calories as a sausage roll- well that does make you think.

    I will now go and join you team and I have found the #febfast

    in gratitude

    Suzie

    [Reply]

    Sarah

    Sarah Reply:

    Yay…! Very glad. BTW, what do LOA stand for?

    [Reply]

  • Camille

    As a non-drinker, people are always fascinated about why I don’t drink and always ask why. As an outgoing person they generally assume I’ve had a couple of Dutch courage warm ups first. I have about four reasons (don’t like it, my parents don’t drink and were good role models, don’t need it to have fun and don’t like losing control) and I usually get a 50-50 response. I get told that I obviously haven’t tried everything or that I should drink vodka because you can’t taste it (ah yes, you can if you don’t drink and haven’t trained your tastebuds to ignore it).

    I also get so many comments from others along the lines of “I wish I was like you and didn’t need to drink.” What they don’t realise it that not drinking is a conscious choice that I’ve made in my life and if they wanted, they could make that choice too. Unfortunately it’s just become a normal part of life to drink alcohol and we aren’t getting the chance to make that choice.

    So whilst I won’t be signing up for FebuFast, I wish everyone giving it a go all the very best. In the meantime, I’ll lay off the Coca-Colas for February!

    [Reply]

  • Riko

    I really like your article in The Age, today (31/1/10) thus I go straight to your blog. Your article is very inspiring and I am recommending this article to friends.

    [Reply]

  • rosio

    Well, this is it. I am joining in. May push the husband 2 join in
    Does it hurt? hope not.
    I know I need to do it. I don’t drink during the week but would really like not to have that glass or glasses on the weekend or whem I am stressed out

    Any words of wisdom will be appreciated

    Rosio

    [Reply]

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  • http://abundancehighway.com Suzie Cheel

    Hi Sarah,
    LOA- Law of Attraction. I meant to say I am a LOA coach and facilitator.

    [Reply]

  • Sophie

    Your article couldn’t have come at a better time. Neither could FebFast. Thanks.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.febfastfundraising.com.au/team_serenity Kate Gibson

    Hi Sarah,

    Loved reading your story.

    I’ve signed up to do FebFast with my own little team/household.

    I’m hoping this month will be the first month in the rest of my new life.

    Good on your doing such an awesome job.

    Team Serenity.
    x

    [Reply]

    Sarah

    Sarah Reply:

    Hoorah to all of you who’ve joined up. Febfast has tripled the number of people involved this year. I love this. More people getting into a headspace where they can reflect on why they reach for a drink…

    [Reply]

  • Jan-Maree

    Hi Sarah,
    I was sent this link by a friend, we are in Melbourne. I love your article. I have not heard of this “FebFast”until now and I applaud you. It scares me the amount of young people I see binge drinking in their teens and 20′s. I also did this until my late 30′s. I am now mid 50′s and am still cleaning up the wreakage from my past drinking life, the damage is not always obvious when we are drinking, it can cause long term problems. Isn’t it funny how some people are frightened or don’t trust you if you don’t drink alcohol…what does it say about them.
    Whilst I won’t be signing up for FebFast, I wish everyone giving it a go all the very best. I will give up Chocolate for February x J-M
    My fun blog – A Creative Life.

    [Reply]

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  • Heidi

    fascinating.
    i gave up drinking alcohol about two weeks ago now. for good (altho i forgive my friends & husband for not believing as it has been a very short time so far!). I used to binge drink a lot but not for years. I realised that drinking causes me suffering. Even just those couple of beers/wines can do it. Not at the time of course. And i think it’s simply the suffering resulting from trying to distract myself emotionally, its the same suffering i get if i’ve stayed up late surfing blogs. I have tried for years to cut my drinking to levels where it won’t cause that suffering but i still get the enjoyment & the feeling of fitting in – e.g. just a small glass of wine with dinner, just one beer at party, but then i realised that is actually much easier to just go cold turkey. for a long time i’ve had a ‘no drugs’ policy. not that i am ever offered any with my lifestyle as it is these days but i know that if i was in a situation where they were offered if i didn’t have my policy i might just say yes without thinking thru the consequences & whether that is really what i want to do (like when the hairdresser asked me if i wanted foils the other day – yes it looks good but i can’t afford 2hrs at the hairdresser!). the thing is with booze it is enjoyable so even when i had a ‘two drinks max’ policy i would sometimes go over it.
    it’s been interesting to see when i’ve been most tempted to drink. parties haven’t been a problem (altho to be honest i have been more bored than usual, will have to use yr tips for staying present, always mean to do that but i find it so difficult to remember when with a group of people) but yesterday when i accepted job offer i was so tempted to get a beer out of the fridge – i want to drink when i’m tired, excited, stressed, on holiday, when it’s really hot, if i’ve worked really hard, if i’m eating certain food or with certain people or in certain settings, the list of triggers goes on. but it’s working, that particular suffering (my teacher) is gone. and it feels so good to have that certainty – never again.
    i am drinking more sugary soft drinks tho so i don’t know if i’m any better off from a physical health perspective!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.livingsavvy.com.au jo-living savvy

    Sarah, last year on the ABC RadioNational program Lfematters they had an insightful and informative talk on women and drinking. I connected with the stories being shared and it took me back to several years ago where my one glass of night turned into two or more but the thing that freaked me out is that I could go to dinner and polish off a bottle with seemingly little impact …that was a wake up call to me that things needed to change that and for the best part of 4 years being pregnant or breastfeeding….gave me the opportunity to change the pattern.

    Worth a listen – http://www.abc.net.au/rn/lifematters/stories/2009/2688627.htm

    [Reply]

    Sarah

    Sarah Reply:

    Jo, thanks for the link. Very auspicious…Life Matters is my dream radio program. xx

    [Reply]

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  • Robyn

    I read your article last Sunday and for some reason it just really hit home. I have wanted to cut back (or out) for such a long time and now I have joined Feb Fast and feel very committed. The time is now right for me and I feeling very positive about it. Thanks Sarah!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.storiesthatsellguide.com/blog Casey Hibbard

    Hi Sarah,

    Wow, what a great story about your break from drinking. As a woman, I get really tired of the nosy, “Are you pregnant?” questions whenever I don’t drink. Please people, don’t ask this!

    [Reply]

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