Back in November, just as most sensible people were gearing up for the Christmas onslaught of office parties, lunchtime mulled wine, and endless oh-go-on-then prosecco, I decided to stop drinking.
I did 30 completely dry days to start with. Then gave myself a bit of leeway for a couple of parties and work events, but with new rules – no more than three drinks, no consecutive days of drinking, and no drinking to wind down or de-stress.
Sort of to my surprise, it stuck. I found that a lot of the time I didn’t want to drink anyway. Not really. What I wanted was to relax. To have a bath. To not be at work. But because it’s easier to gulp down a gin and tonic the second you get in from the office rather than carve out proper time for yourself that’s what becomes a reflex.
Now, it’s hard to talk about not drinking without it taking on a moralistic edge. There is no one more puritanical and evangelical than the newly thin or the newly sober (I’m thinking Dry January types here, rather than long-term recovering addicts). For the record, I don’t think there’s anything ethically or spiritually wrong with a glass of wine. Saying no to one doesn’t make you a superior person (But, crucially, it doesn’t make you a worse person, either – I’ll get to that).
This isn’t a make-over story. Or a recommendation for you to do the same. I don’t have any great dramatic reinvention to share with you about how going sober-ish has done miraculous things to my bank balance/skin/weight. Nor was my drinking a problem before,* I drank in what I think is probably a fairly typical way for women my age – a few glasses of wine a couple of nights a week and then a big(ish) night of drinking with friends every so often.
But. Drinking wasn’t making me happy. And while I’m under no illusions that anyone ever found true happiness at the bottom of a bottle of pinot grigio, the Lady Petrol had never made me actively unhappy before either. However, with each miscarriage, the less sweet that first sip of a G&T became. I could feel it souring; curdling with my knotty emotions.
Increasingly, alcohol was tangled up in my head with the losses. Another glass of wine was just a reminder that I was not only not pregnant, but also no longer trying to become pregnant. For the first time in a long time I didn’t need to consider what I was drinking. And it only made me miserable.
Around the same time as all this was percolating in my mind, I happened to stumble upon this great essay by Kristi Coulter, which sears into the heart of why and how women drink. How we’ve embedded prosecco into our personalities. How we use booze to cover up the things that are structurally, politically, endemically wrong with our lives. I won’t be able to do it justice here, and it is well worth reading in full, but this was the line that stuck with me:
Anyway, I stopped. There’s no shortage of advice around at the moment on living sober, so I won’t go into the how too much. But I did find Rosamund Dean’s book Mindful Drinking helpful and relatable – and I say this as a very sceptical so-and-so who has received non-stop emails from PRs about mindfulness since 2013. Likewise, Helen Foster has a handy little book called Quit Alcohol (For A Month) full of practical tips. The best bits of advice from both, for me, were these: 1) find a signature soft drink you like to stave off peer pressure and awkward moments of indecision where your willpower may falter, and 2) drink it out of a fancy glass – this helps in a pub, as people don’t comment on it like they would with a conspicuous pint of lime and soda, and it helps at home by making it feel more akin to the ritual glass of wind-down wine.
I’ve now done weddings and Christmas day and parties sober. I didn’t have a hangover on Jan 1st. I’ve danced sober. I’ve been sociable. I don’t feel more bored or more boring. (Not that I was exactly a lion-tamer before).
I simply feel a bit better. Not so much physically – I definitely don’t bounce out of bed in the morning. But there is a little more space inside my head. More time for running and writing and thinking. No crushing hungover anxiety, which with everything else miscarriage-related swirling around, I would find paralyzing.
I realise that deliberately not drinking might sound like the last thing you would expect an abruptly not-pregnant person to find solace in.
You might think a really great glass of wine would be the one big, fat consolation prize after a miscarriage. But, deep down, giving up drinking while pregnant always felt like a very small price to pay for a baby to me. And if you know someone who is going through a loss, I beg you, do not try to help by saying ‘hey, at least we can get drunk now!’ They may reach this conclusion themselves, which is fair enough. I felt like that initially. I found the wine. The wine found me.
But please don’t assume. It might not make them feel better, it might just make them want to cry. Because ultimately a glass of wine won’t bring your baby back. And life afterwards has to be more than just a consolation prize.
*On this point, my husband may disagree, as the last time we went out properly I obliterated his Uber rating by exploding a bag of crisps all over the back seat and (he says, I don’t remember) heckled the driver as to the best route home.