Giving up booze and gaining happiness

Kate is a Reiki teacher, Kundalini Yoga teacher, writer and founder of the Connection Experiment which is an online course to tell the truth, gain happiness and form community and belonging. After living in Amsterdam for 8 years, she moved back to the UK and settled in North Manchester. She kindly agreed to tell The Alternative her story of giving up drinking and how it has changed her life.

Give us a little insight into your life before you gave up alcohol.

I had a bit of a delayed reaction to drinking - not doing the usual 16 year old drinking cider in the park and trying to hide it from parents. I started at 18 (Taboo and lemonade) but didn’t really enjoy it and suppose I was always a bit scared of getting paralytic, so would sneak in secret colas on a night out so I would always be in control. But I liked the confidence it gave me and enjoyed the dancing and laughing of a night out, so it was generally quite a positive experience.

I would say that my relationship with booze changed in my late 20’s and the run up to my 30th birthday where I was using it more as a numbing tool. I was unhappily single, having panic attacks, was in debt and working in corporate jobs that I detested with a lot of blokes who I would try and match pint for pint to join in with their banter; to get some sort of inkling of belonging. They were never ‘my people’ and I was doing it to fit in. It was a very sad time for me but the binge drinking on a Friday night would help me forget how unhappy I was. It would start out as a good laugh during the first few drinks but the drunker I got during the evening the more I spiralled out of control. I took stupid risks, had one night stands and usually ended up as Drunk Crying Girl in the toilets. Those nights would always end badly resulting in horrible hangovers and the fear from memory loss of what I’d done the night before, with real self-loathing increasing the unhappiness even more.

It was only when I moved to Amsterdam, where the drinking culture was nothing like the UK that I cut down to a couple of glasses of wine a month (if that) and didn’t miss it one bit. Over there, most people will have a couple of beers then stop, so during that time the only occasions I would get drunk was when I was back the UK for weddings or Christmas which would again end in tears or arguments. Overall it was very rare that I would drink and I found that the more I investigated the Spritual side of me, practising self love and acceptance and trying not to be so mean to myself, the more I also didn’t want to ‘poison’ my body. Rather ridiculously, on my return back to the UK 8 years later, despite not having missed drinking in any way it started to creep back in again.

How would you describe your social life at this time?

Back in the UK I didn’t really know many people and was hanging around with new friends who were big drinkers. I was still hardly drinking and spending a lot of evenings on my own but about once a month I would have a blow out and stay up partying with colleagues - mostly people younger than me for whom a good night out was getting so drunk you couldn’t remember what had happened the night before… and I would join in just because I was secretly lonely. It was a mixed time as I was genuinely also much happier with myself, but had just resigned myself to never being in a relationship again (I was 42 and never been married/had kids) so I would just have sex with unavailable men every now and then to get some male attention and connection, albeit fake. Taking the crumbs if you like and using booze to justify my ‘bad’ behaviour.

Was there ever any any correlation between alcohol and your mental, physical or financial health?

God yeh. In my earlier days I would always be first to the bar after work (buying love/people pleasing/wanting to be seen as generous) despite having huge debts and working with people who were on triple my salary. My physical and mental wellbeing were probably affected the most in the hangovers. I developed the term ‘Suicide Tuesday’ which was the worst day emotionally when I would feel so depleted from the booze and late nights of the weekend and would also be beating myself up about my behaviour. I was very sad, lonely and lost. Plus I would often feel disgusted with myself from ending up with short term connections with men who didn't care about me, so all the self development work I was doing on loving myself would be pointless and I would be back to the drawing board.

Was there a pivotal moment that made you say 'Right, I'm going to stop now'?

Yes. New Year’s Eve/Day 2017. I was happily together for about a year with my current partner but whenever we drank together, anything past the 3 drink mark would end up in a huge row. I guess there’s a reason its called the ‘demon drink’ as I would often feel possessed and would be screaming like a banshee in rage during arguments. On that particular New Year’s Eve we’d had a great night out dancing together then around about 11.30 as the booze kicked in, old insecurities surfaced and it ended in a big row. We were so separate and disconnected at midnight as the fireworks went off that I decided in the morning to give up mainly to just avoid the conflict and shame after these bouts of anger, frustration and shouting.  It was initially just for the year but I am so much happier that I have extended it and doubt I will ever drink again.

Were you met with any resistance from those closest to you?

A bit. If we were out at a function where I would be offered a drink and would refuse by explaining ‘I’d given up for a year’. People would then try and persuade me to have one drink or tell me I was boring. So after a few months I started to tell people ‘I don’t drink’ and people tend not to be so bothered, although they do like to tell me how ‘good’ I am and that they could never do it!

What benefits have you experienced?

I feel happier in myself and my relationship is much stronger despite us not being able to do some things together, like go to the pub! My fella sometimes drinks but we agree to stay away from each other on those nights so there’s no conflict. Generally it has been positive and I have organised a sober dance event or some movement meditation evenings so I can still get my dancing fix. A lot of people in my new circle of friends don’t drink anyway so it hasn’t been difficult on the whole.

Have there been any negatives?

It can be lonely if you’re out with people drinking. Around about 10pm when the booze is kicking in for them, there’s a real disconnect and I feel out of the gang but its very rare that I would even be around people drinking these days anyway. I also miss a lovely crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc with my bezzie on a Sunday afternoon in the summer but that was so rare that its not a biggie. The other downside is my other numbing tactics were ramped up so after a sober night out I would binge eat on toast or sugar or crisps.

Have you learnt anything about yourself or others during this change?

That I’m really judgemental of drinkers! Now I hate the smell of booze, I judge their shoutiness, their brash confidence and I wince if I hear a drunken argument. I just see a lot of sadness in drunk people. I may be totally projecting as that’s how I felt so it’s probably just painful to see how I also used to be when I was pissed. I’ve also learned that I like the simple life and stay in a lot more. I am also less insecure, paranoid and find it easier to be happy now.

Has this encouraged you to make other life changes?

I’ve given up sugar and meat this year, initially as New Years resolutions but more to try and avoid the numbing I used to do through emotional eating.  To be honest giving up chocolate has been ten times more difficult than the booze, as sugar was always my drug of choice. The meat doesn’t bother me as I would hardly eat it anyway.

Would you do anything differently?

No. I could say I wish I’d given up earlier but I really believe in timing for these things. I’m so grateful to all of the lessons and experiences (especially the negative ones) I had with the booze as it has helped me forgive all of my self destruction and tactics to block love for myself. It highlighted the unlovable bits in me that I try to bring compassion to now.

Do you have any advice for someone reading this who is thinking about doing the same?

I would never give advice as its different for everyone. Perhaps booze just makes you a bit giddy and only enhances your night out. But I suppose if like me, you recognise yourself in the same destructive cycle of ‘I’m unhappy with myself so I’ll have a drink to numb these feelings, which makes me do/feel/say things that make me MORE unhappy with myself which leads me back to escape in drinking’ then I would encourage anyone to take an honest look at their relationship with booze.  But it shouldn’t be about giving up alcohol - its about giving up numbing your feelings and stopping being mean to yourself in whatever form you choose to do that.

As humans we are programmed to be fearful of happiness because we want to protect ourselves from it ending. We are so uncomfortable feeling fear, sadness, loneliness, unhappiness, frustration, anger etc; so we choose a ‘lazy’ tactic to avoid feeling those things. Or try to replace them with a temporary hit of happiness which sometimes works if its ‘just a couple’ but often ends up amplifying the initial stuffed down emotion when your guard is down.

We have so many ways to do that and I guess the booze/sugar/sex/shopping/working (insert your particular numbing strategy) is always going to be the easier distraction to avoid being kind to ourselves. Why is it so hard to be nice to ourselves? So my advice, rather than necessarily going teetotal (although it helps!) would be to try to hold off and just sit for a minute longer...just one minute and work out what you’re ACTUALLY feeling in that moment just before you reach for the drink/piece of cake/social media. Like really sit with the reasons why you’re trying to distract or escape or hide and see what’s there and just be a bit more gentle to the boredom or the loneliness or the self doubt or the sadness and sit with it. And give it some attention rather than continuing to look for love in the wrong places or at the bottom of a bottle.

Kate’s first book ‘What Love Told Me’ will be available from Amazon on 22nd April. Find out more about Kate here: Katey Roberts Holistic