I have a happy announcement to make – and it’s a big, personal one. On December 8, 2021 I celebrated one full year free of alcohol. My second sober holiday season was approaching, and I was so looking forward to enjoying it fully, with my mind sharp and all my senses alive.
For much of my adult life I was a party-ready good time girl who could always be relied on to say yes to another round. I was not a morose or surly drinker, I was jolly and expressive and affectionate. Alcohol made me feel euphoric and expansive, feelings that I loved and chased.
Those who know me well know that privately I was struggling with this for a long time; that I was often regretful the next day; that I knew that alcohol was stealing my vitality and making me anxious, and that I had tried many times to curb my consumption. Although my drinking never looked catastrophic it was becoming steadily heavier as the years passed, especially once Covid came along and gave everyone the perfect excuse to indulge in any creature comforts that we could lay our hands on, as we weren’t allowed to lay our hands on other humans outside of our bubble. And mine was a bubble of one.
My wine and Netflix routine became a monotonous Groundhog Day, evenings blurring into each other, and too many mornings full of regret. There was no hiding from it anymore, no dressing it up as “social drinking”.
Stepping into sobriety
Once I decided to really give sobriety a serious effort, the isolation of lockdown became my saving grace. There were no restaurants, dinner parties, or birthday celebrations to present triggers or provide excuses. My world had narrowed to the private, personal spaces that I inhabit; my home. My body. My mind. And I wanted to make these spaces as harmonious and pleasurable as possible.
This meant baths, of course, and lots of tea, and scented candles, and yoga and meditation – all the cliched elements of “self care”. It also meant intentionally and liberally gifting myself alcohol-free luxuries: the luxury of waking up to a clean kitchen in the morning, of spending a ridiculous amount of time on a gua sha facial, of elaborate and decadent home-cooked meals, of many, many long hikes in the hills behind my house, and of evenings spent stretching and massaging my limbs, reveling in the renewed wholesomeness of my body. It meant feeling my feelings and writing about them. It meant listening to podcasts and joining support group apps.
And it meant reading books — a lot of them. (A partial list is below.) Bedside tables are a bit like medicine cabinets; their contents can provide a keyhole glimpse into personal matters that we might prefer to keep private out of propriety, shyness, or even shame. The stack of books on my bedside table could tell a lot of tales. And just like medicine, books – and the authors who write them – have helped me to heal and thrive in so many ways beyond giving up drinking.
Books expand my sense of what’s possible. They prompt me to reflect on the changes I want to invite into my life and how I want to show up in the world, even when there is no other person around to bear witness to it. The books in the list below walked me through the experience of reconsidering the role alcohol played in my life and loosening my grip on it, or its grip on me.
I quit gradually and mindfully, leaning on a range of supports once I had determined that AA was not a good fit for me. I had many week-long sober stints in 2020, punctuated by spells of drinking that grew less appealing as the months passed. I did not beat myself up if I had a drink, I just noticed what I liked and did not like about the experience, what it cost me emotionally and physically, and whether I felt the trade-off was worth it. Eventually I concluded that it is not.
I took my last drink on December 8, 2020. It was just a few glasses of red wine on an ordinary Tuesday evening. No special occasion, no dramatic rock-bottom crash. Just a day on which I drank alcohol, followed by a day on which I didn’t. And then another, and another.
Since that day, I have:
- Celebrated Christmas and New Year
- Gone on vacation to Hawaii
- Visited my daughter in London
- Enjoyed dinner parties with my closest friends
- And celebrated my fiftieth birthday!
…all without drinking. And while there was a time I wouldn’t have dreamed of excluding alcohol from these experiences, I am happy to report that they were better sober.
I am also happy to report that I still love dancing and talking late into the night! Only now I’m a much better conversation partner.
In September I met with the wonderful author and alcohol-free advocate Annie Grace to tell my story on her podcast, This Naked Mind. The episode went live in October but I’m sharing it here now to mark my official coming-out as a sober person. If you’re curious to know more about what this journey was like for me, please watch it (or listen to it wherever you get your podcasts), especially if you are grappling with your own relationship to alcohol.
My “quit lit” list
As I mentioned, books are a really big deal for me, and not just because I’m a publisher. (In fact, my love of books is why I’m a publisher!) Here are some of the titles that guided me through this crazy experience and gave me a glimpse of the beautiful life on the other side of wine.
- This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness and Change Your Life, by Annie Grace
- Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol, by Holly Whitaker
- Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, by Russell Brand
- We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, by Laura McKowan
- The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober: Discovering a Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, Alcohol-Free Life, by Catherine Gray
- Drunk Mom: A Memoir, by Jowita Bydlowska
- A Happier Hour, by Rebecca Weller
- Dry: A Memoir, By Augusten Burroughs
- Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, by Ann Dowsett-Johnston
- Nothing Good Can Come From This: Essays, by Kristi Coulter
- The Sober Lush: A Hedonist’s Guide to Living a Decadent, Adventurous, Soulful Life–Alcohol Free, by Amanda Eyre Ward and Jardine Libaire