My name is Lauren, and it has been 125 days since my last drink.
This sobriety, however significant, was not intentional. I did not wake up after a hard night on the negronis swearing to never drink again. This was not a Dry July challenge with a clear beginning and end. This – now four months with nothing harder than a Schweppes No Sugar Tonic Water – was a slow change, in fact, so slow and subtle that it took me two months to realise I’d gone eight weekends without booze.
If you had met me this time last year you would have met a champion drinker. Indeed, a friend once told me, “You’re a good drinker,” which, being the type-A people pleaser I am, I took as a compliment and badge of honour, though I’m not really sure if it was intended that way.
Nevertheless, I was a good drinker. I was the first to suggest a bottle of champagne, whether in times of celebration or sadness. I loved red wine, I loved white wine. I loved negronis and martinis. I loved beer. I could totally go for a whisky at the end of a great night out. I did not discriminate, I was an equal opportunity drinker. During last year’s COVID lockdown, while other people were perfecting their sourdough and crochet, I joined a natural wine subscription service. How cultured, I thought.
I was the first to suggest a bottle of champagne, whether in times of celebration or sadness.
But even as those six bottles arrived each month, something was changing. For years now I have read every first-person column about giving up alcohol, intrigued by this decision and wondering exactly how one made it – and stuck to it.
Right before lockdown, I read about mindful drinking on this very website and definitely, absolutely very much thought about perhaps – one day – giving it a go and drinking less.
Back then, I could not fathom complete sobriety. I certainly liked the idea of cutting down. I imagined a future Lauren, pure, wise and sensible, like a chic Parisian woman with a capsule wardrobe who is able to simply stop drinking after one glass of champagne, or Gwyneth Paltrow with her single weekly cigarette.
A seed had been planted. But it took some time before I stopped altogether. Before Christmas, I went away with a group of friends and our combined 26 children. I took a picture of our wine fridge – packed with around 40 bottles of truly excellent booze – and posted it to Instagram, asking if it would be enough for three nights and close to thirty children. No was the resounding reply. We didn’t make it through all the wine. But we got close.
But something changed. I started running. A lot. As the sweat poured out of me and I began to feel, for the first time, runner’s high (yes, it’s real, and it’s spectacular), I wanted to run every morning, for 13 and 14 and 15 kilometres. And so I stopped drinking when I wanted to run, which turned out to be quite a lot of the time.
Next came work events. I am the fashion editor for a major national newspaper; there is almost always a glass of champagne in my line of sight.
But at the start of 2021, I made a decision: no more day drinking. Lunches that began with cocktails and ended with reds were out. I wanted to be able to go back to the office and work, rather than count down the clock.
And it was surprisingly easy to say no. I discovered that I was not Gwyneth Paltrow, I could not stop at one. But what I was good at was saying no altogether. I continued to meet publicists for lunch, I kept going to work events. But I could walk back to my office clear-headed and ready to finish my work for the day. I could go home to my family and make dinner.
And then it simply snowballed. I stopped thinking about having a gin and tonic at 5pm (or, if I am more honest, 4pm) on a Friday. I stopped mentally adding a wine to dinner plans. I went out with friends and did not drink.
And… nothing happened. I had fun. I had great conversations. And I woke up the next morning, able to run and lift weights and eat a breakfast that was not comprised of bacon and eggs. I knew that moderation was trickier for me than simply abstaining. And so, I abstain. My Catholic high school teachers would be so very proud.
I am no paragon of virtue; far from it. And if you had told me last year that I’d be able to last four months – and counting – off the sauce, I would have been very, very confused. Perhaps you had mistaken me for someone else.
I’m not sure exactly what clicked into place this year – Caitlin Moran, in her last book, More Than A Woman, wrote about simply having had her lifetime fill of alcohol by the time she reached her 40s. I’m younger than that but certainly, I’ve had my fair share. Maybe I too have hit my limit. It’s not to say I won’t drink again – perhaps I will.
But I truly can say, hand on heart, that I do not miss it.
I do not miss waking up with a foggy head, I do not miss wondering exactly what I said after four glasses of semillon. I do not miss feeling simultaneously bloated and ravenous. But I also don’t miss the great bits about drinking – the buzz of the first few sips of champagne, the loosening of inhibitions, the bourgeois hobby of matching food to wine. I cannot say exactly why. But I suspect it has something to do with the fact that for me, the benefits of drinking never really outweighed the positives.
It just took about 18 years for me to realise.