I am someone that has always loved alcohol. I loved it at parties, I loved it for relaxing and I loved it for destressing. But as I got older and into my early forties, the effects of the alcohol became more and more apparent. Even drinking what I deemed a small amount would make me wake in the night at 3am sweating and anxious, and I would feel groggy and horrible the next day. My anxiety increased as my perimenopausal symptoms developed and alcohol only seemed to exacerbate that. I also found it took longer to recover from drinking, and would feel a hangover and also the lowness for several days afterwards. I now know that we cease to produce the enzyme that breaks down alcohol as we get older, so therefore we are processing it for longer. Much as I had loved alcohol, the negative effects started to feel like it wasn't worth it anymore.
The first thing I noticed when I gave up was the energy boost. We don't realise how time consuming drinking is and how much time and energy it takes out of our lives during recovery. But now I had more energy and it felt great. I also noticed how much more positive I felt. Another thing I've learnt since giving up is that alcohol whilst it does release dopamine on first consumption, it also releases cortisol the stress hormone and it reduces your ability to produce as much serotonin if used frequently. So suddenly my body was flooded with a lot more serotonin and a lot less cortisol. No wonder I felt much happier and more positive.
Stopping drinking alcohol also made me feel a lot less irritable. Anyone in the throes of perimenopause will know that irritability and anger are big symptoms, and to be honest alcohol was something I was using to cope with them. Alcohol calmed me down and gave me an outlet right? Wrong, I was actually in a cycle of irritability - the alcohol was both soothing it and causing it. Without it I am so much less irritable which makes a huge difference to my family and my children. Now if I'm irritable, I know that there is mostly a reason for it rather than it being irrational.
Better sleep is another huge benefit from removing alcohol. I have deep heavy dreamy slumbers now from which I don't wake several times a night sweating and stressing. Alcohol whilst helping us to get off to sleep, actually inhibits our sleeping pattern so that we don't go into deeper cycles and are locked in the shallower sleep cycles that leave us feeling like we've been awake all night. The sleep without alcohol is quite simply wonderful. It's so restorative and has a positive influence on my day - more energy, less irritability and less sugar cravings.
A lot of people want to know if losing weight is a side effect of giving up alcohol, but that's something that is unique to the person and it's not something that interests me. However the improvement in bloating is so much better. Alcohol used to leave me feeling very bloated and extended in the upper abdomen, and now I'm completely unaffected and so that feels so much more comfortable.
I will also say that waking up without a hangover never ever gets tired. Saturday and Sunday mornings are a revelation. I never wake up feeling queasy, shaky and headachy. I never spend the day trying to do as little as possible and hangover eating. Instead I feel clear and positive every single day. There is a huge amount to be said for that.
Clarity is something that really comes into its own when you go alcohol free. Perimenopause can make you feel like you have brain fog, but removing alcohol gives you a new crisp and fresher thinking process. It's something that is hard to describe but every non drinker will resonate with. You feel like you can think clearly and know your own mind better. That is useful because if you've been using alcohol to numb out difficult emotions, then you will need a strong mind to work your way through going alcohol free.
I'm not saying that giving up drinking is easy as its so engrained in our society as our way of having a good time, of celebrating and of rewarding ourselves. But I have actually realised I can do all those things without the alcohol and have also reaped all the benefits of more energy, a more positive attitude, less irritability, better sleep, no bloating, clarity and not one sweaty debilitating hangover!!
My top tips for giving up are:
1. Try it for a month first - I did Sober October for Macmillan Cancer Research as raising money for charity meant I couldn't cave! Don't promise yourself anything further, but just see how you find it and notice any benefits to how you feel.
2. Listen and read - there are a wealth of intelligent and inspiring women that you can resonate with who have written books and host sober podcasts. Podcasts I recommend are Sober Awkward and Sassy Sober Mum. Books or "Quit Lit" as it gets called, I enjoyed The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray and Blackout by Sarah Ebola.
3. Embrace non alcoholic drinks - We are blessed now with the sheer range of options, and there are many delicious alcohol free spirits, fizzes and beers. I would keep the rituals you enjoyed before with alcohol like the Friday night after work drink, but replace it with your favourite non alcoholic version.
4. Try new things - this is the perfect opportunity to use that new energy and positivity to try something different. You will have more time on your hands and you will want to feel challenged so go for it. I have tried paddleboarding and surfing, and now go cold water swimming as a hobby. I never would have done those things before!
5. Have fun - enjoy yourself at parties, dance sober because really honestly no one is watching and no one cares, and if you're not having fun, leave! Don't force yourself to stay if you are not enjoying yourself, it's not worth it - and it's certainly not worth a hangover to get through it!