Despite having spent much of the past year without access to pubs and bars, a survey by Drinkaware found that almost a quarter of us are drinking more since lockdown began – and that figure goes up to a third for those who have been furloughed due to the pandemic or have a child under the age of 18.
Whilst my monthly intake has definitely gone in the other direction (no games nights with mates or holidays to entice me), I’m definitely more likely than ever to reach for a glass of red or a budget cocktail in a can once I’ve put the kids to bed.
But what if lockdown has had the opposite effect on you? And actually, you used it as a turning point in tackling your relationship with booze?
We spoke to Sarah, 39, a neonatal nurse from Suffolk and a mum-of-two who started her sobriety journey at the end in 2019, only to have the pandemic throw her off course.
This is her story…
“When lockdown was announced I had already been sober for three and a half months. I went into shielding due to the severity of my asthma and I had to work from home. As a nurse, that’s pretty tricky. I felt awful for not being at work, knowing my colleagues were all there through this deadly virus. And then the first Clap For Carers happened and I just stood on my doorstep and cried. I felt like a fraud when all my neighbours were waving and clapping at me as they knew what I did for a living. I went back inside and opened a can of beer, and then another one. It was then that I figured I drank to cope with emotions and I had some work to do on myself.”
“In the sober community, only continuous sobriety counts, so I’ve been “officially” sober since 29th March 2020, which is 388 days.”
“Sobriety is a funny thing. People who know I don’t drink often wonder if I’m an alcoholic and that’s difficult. Our society looks at drinking in a very black and white way: you’re either an alcoholic or you have a normal relationship with alcohol. There’s something called a grey area with drinking, for people who drink most nights of the week or binge-drink and can function as normal for daily life, but it still has an impact. For me, the biggest impact was on my mental health.”
“I had post-natal depression after my first baby was born. Having not drunk throughout pregnancy (the NHS advises to avoid drinking any alcohol while pregnant), I really got involved in that ‘mummy needs a drink’ narrative once she was born. As a mum you get your kids to bed and you need a reward, and it became a standard to get the baby to bed and have a glass of wine, which quickly turned into a bottle of wine.”
“It was crazy because I was taking anti-depressants, I’d had CBT, I was practicing mindfulness and I was still feeling miserable and anxious. Then I had a miscarriage whilst on holiday in France and I got really drunk and realised I was using wine to deal with all my feelings. So I thought, why not just try not drinking. And honestly? It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
“I’d done Dry January and Sober October before so I was confident that I had the ability to complete 30 days sober, but I knew that I needed to do more. I started reading ‘Quit Lit’ (a self-help book genre focused on reducing or giving up alcohol), including a book called ‘This Naked Mind’, and re-educated myself about alcohol – what it is and what it does to your body and your mental health. I carried on reading around the subject and educating myself, and then I joined a private Facebook group run by someone who had blogged about her sober journey. I related to her: we were a similar age, she’d talk about drinking to blackout and how she had always been a party girl and it helped me realise it was time for a change.”
“I’m still a member now. It’s just an open space – mostly women – who support each other. I joined at the start of lockdown, and we did a 100-day challenge where you were held accountable to post every single day, think about why you wanted to quit drinking and dig a bit deeper into your relationship with alcohol. It’s also where I discovered Jojo Bailey – a life and sobriety coach.”
“I knew I wasn’t depressed and didn’t need that kind of therapy but also knew that I had more potential and that alcohol had limited what I was doing. I had no motivation and low-self esteem and procrastination was my middle name. I never got anything done and I used to give myself a hard time for it.”
“Since I’ve been sober and working with my life coach, I’ve learned to speak nicely to myself and it’s been a real change for me. I’ve had an academic article published in an international nursing journal, I take french classes one evening a week and I’ve set up an Airbnb in my garden. I’m well and I’m happy and a lot of the anxiety I used to carry around in my stomach and think was normal is not there anymore and I’ve never been more content – it has absolutely transformed my life.”
“There have of course been challenges. My husband still drinks, and he has said ‘I really miss my drinking buddy’, especially during lockdown. Usually, we’d share a bottle of wine, play a board game, chat shit or watch a film and that whole part of our life has gone. I prefer to go to bed at 9.30 pm, and I’ve realised that sleep is amazing. Honestly, I’ve never slept so well.”
“My husband does realise what I’ve gained and that I’m much happier and more stable. There aren’t the same highs but then there aren’t the lows and that’s huge for me. It’s been a challenge in our relationship but I think he is really proud of me because he can see the difference it has made to my mental wellbeing and my physical health. Life is not a drama anymore, and I can cope with things so much better than I ever could before.”
“There are also moments where I have FOMO (fear of missing out) and I do wish I could drink like a ‘normal’ person – whatever that is – and just have one or two drinks. But I know that right now, that’s not something I can do and so sobriety is the better option. Sometimes that does mean I miss out on a fun night here or there.”
“A friend asked me: ‘Why tell people? You’ve got a life and what if you want to get a new job and people know you drink?’, but I’ve been quite candid with my work colleagues about the fact I don’t drink, and with my family too. One reason is that there’s so much shame around drinking – especially drinking too much – and I am sure so many more people do it than ever ‘fess up. I just think that if I can help someone else by talking about it then that’s great. If one person identifies with it and says ‘Hey, I’m not an alcoholic, but I’m not living my full potential and alcohol is hindering me’ and I can let them know that there are ways to get out of that cycle and people to help them do it, then brilliant.”
“There’s a huge community on social media which has been a wonderful resource for me including Sober Girl Society (@sobergirlsociety). I think it’s important to share and not be ashamed – at the end of the day, it’s an addictive substance. When you tell people you don’t drink, they’ll immediately tell you how much they do drink and it really shines a light on other people’s habits. Most people drink more than they want and would love to cut down but don’t know how to. Drinking is so ingrained in our culture and we very much glamourise alcohol, especially with women. You have to swim against the tide- it’s the only drug you have to justify not taking.”
“Previously, I’ve been guilty of looking at people who don’t drink like they’re boring, but I’m more fun than I’ve ever been before and I’m not spending the entire next day feeling miserable and hungover.”
You can follow Sarah’s sobriety journey on Instagram at @once_wine.