Written by Maria McGrath – a marketing professional with a love of writing and continuous personal development. From Tipperary, now sunning herself on a year abroad in Australia and enjoying the opportunity to make healthy lifestyle changes.
I’m going to burst your bubble. Alcohol is not good for your mental health. You know this, I know this. And yet in a world where dry January is accepted as very common and totally admirable, do we ever stop to question why we don’t spend more of our lives not waking up hungover on a Sunday morning? ‘Dry January’ doesn’t have to belong to the confines of January, or even to the confines of a balance act to yourself after a period of overindulgence. You don’t have to wait until next January to look after yourself!
I’d like to introduce you to the revolutionary idea that is you may choose to not drink alcohol any day, in any month, for any reason. And I’m going to help you wrap your head around this possibility with the ten things I realised when I took 28 days off from drinking alcohol, which have now stretched into 8 months of being alcohol free!
Spend it on things that actually make you happy… Like novelty handbags or that ridiculous jacket! I would even settle for a healthy meal that will sustain you for hours rather than a greasy hangover takeaway on Sunday evening that makes you feel even worse.
No black hole Sundays
Speaking of Sundays, they don’t have to disappear into a black hole when you remove alcohol from the equation! Everyone is different but for me a Saturday night session meant Sundays were often spent bed bound, feeling sorry for myself, eating junk food and being totally useless. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
The things we tell ourselves
I often get “I’m not as extroverted as you, I need a drink to be able to socialise”. From being sober in pubs and dancefloors, it’s time I revealed a truth to you all. You are still the same person! You just forget the boring parts of the night when you are drinking.
I recall a time working as a photographer for a Fresher’s event at Uni. When I left at the messy hour of midnight, I came across a young very drunk man helplessly trying to convince a taxi driver to take him home even though he had lost his money. The taxi driver was in an impossible position, leave this vulnerable person to fend for themselves or forego a piece of his income for the night. I elected to cover the young man’s journey home as part of my trip.
I’m using this guy as an example knowing very well there are a few dozen times where I have been equally as vulnerable. It’s a sure fire way of looking after your safety by removing the risks.
Please don’t stop the music
People who do dry January baton down the hatches and don’t leave their house for a month, except maybe to do a hike to satisfy their Instagram account. Which is great, I’m all for hiking! But I want to suggest something, you don’t have to limit yourself!
I go dancing until 3am whenever I want to and you can too! If dancing is something you actually enjoy, you will still enjoy it! If talking nonsense with your friend is something you enjoy, you will still be able to do that too!
Substitute, substitute, substitute!
Go to the cocktail bar with your friends, ask the barman for their finest mocktail! You won’t feel like you are missing out.
What actually matters?
Is it so terrifying to realise that you COULD swap a couple of the nights out socialising for something that might actually feed your soul? That book you’ve been wanting to read, that dance you’ve been wanting to teach yourself from YouTube, that recipe you’ve been wanting to try – all worthwhile activities if they make you feel good!
Do you know how nice is it to hear “good on you for not drinking” rather than “I heard what you did last night”? Not that I want to add to your fear or anything but you’d be surprised how nice it is to feel like others see you as seriously trustworthy and mature because of your lifestyle choice.
Everyone wants to know why and for how long. Some are curious because they’d like to do it themselves and others want to explain to you why they couldn’t possibly go alcohol free. And their reasons are probably related to the 8 previous points I have listed. I find it to be a good opportunity to reinforce your own goals and so my 28 days has stretched into a plan to stay off alcohol for one year!
Most importantly, your health and wellbeing
It is empowering to say to the peer pressures of this world that actually you will put your mental and physical health first and you do not like how alcohol can make you feel.
I don’t see not drinking alcohol as a sacrifice, I see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and to look after yourself. The Sunday night fear is not pleasant but more than that it is quite frankly detrimental to anyone coping with anxiety or any other mental health struggles. So make that lifestyle change to look after yourself now!
Check out my budding Instagram account @mocktailsnotcocktails to follow my journey some more!
If you have been affected by anything in this post, Askaboutalcohol.ie can help with resources, and point you in the direction of local supports.