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2 years without alcohol - what's been easy and what's been tough?



Cairo, new year's eve 2023/24: Cheers to 2 years sober!


On New Years' eve 2023/24, we stood on the balcony of our hotel room in Cairo. With the Nile as our backdrop and our three kids as witnesses, my husband Francesco and I toasted to two years of sobriety. The sweet, fizzy grape juice didn't taste nearly as good as the multiple glasses of champagne we had downed before midnight 2 years earlier at Chi's new year's party in Kuala Lumpur. We had decided to do Dry January. 31 days with no booze.



Our very last boozy party: New Year's Eve at Chi's house 2021/2022


Having failed miserably and caved in after 11 days the previous year, this time, the goal was to detox completely from too many stay-at-home Covid bottles of wine and a recent holiday where we had started ordering Aperol Spritz at 11 am. Yes, I know - it sounds like we were alcoholics - we were not. But I will cover the relationship we had with alcohol in a post very soon.


Our reward for doing Dry January would be an all-inclusive holiday starting on the 1st of February 2022. A drink-as-much-as-you-can holiday seemed like the perfect way to end 31 days of no-booze misery.


Fast forward to our 2 years sober celebration on the balcony in Cairo. How could we stand there and never have gone back to drinking after our pledge to be dry for just 31 days?


Two weeks into Dry January, we started reaping the benefits of being alcohol-free. Our sleep improved tremendously and so did our overall feeling of wellbeing. We tracked our milestones and got awarded virtual trophies on the Sobriety Counter app - and on a weekend trip away, we started listening to alcohol-free podcasts in the car. We learnt that, apparently, it was completely possible to have a fulfilling life without alcohol. Wow.


On 31 January 2022, the day before leaving for our all-inclusive holiday, we took the decision to keep going. We felt good so we'd be silly to go back to drinking just now. Our new goal: dry until July.



Said all-inclusive holiday at Club Med Cherating


But, has it all been plain sailing? Of course not.


Let's start with the challenging parts:


Social pressure:


The first thing I did when moving to Beijing late 2015 was to set up a wine o'clock club with other expat women from our apartment complex. The concept was simple. Every Friday at 5 pm we'd take turns on hosting and each bring a bottle of bubbles or wine to share. Those were really fun and happy times! I did the exact same thing when we moved to Malaysia and quickly founded the Kuala Lumpur version of the wine o'clock gang. While my wine o'clock friends were incredibly supportive when I stopped drinking, everyone knew me as someone who associated hanging out and partying with alcohol. Over the past two years we've been to quite a few gatherings where people have questioned our decision. "Live a little". And the one argument we have heard over and over again "It's all about moderation". Thankfully, episodes of downright sober shaming have been rare - but when it occasionally happens, I've learnt that people who sober shame are usually just afraid of addressing their own relationship with alcohol.



Wine o'clock gang Beijing

Wine o'clock Kuala Lumpur



Finding good alcohol-free alternatives


Shelves at European supermarkets are now pretty well-stocked with fun alcohol-free alternatives - but when it comes to the selection at restaurants and bars, there's a long way to go (and it's worse in Asia). There will often be one or two alcohol-free beers (think Heiniken 0) and a couple of mocktails on the menu - (think sweet virgin mojitos and Shirley Temples). In an ideal, inclusive world, which I am DREAMING about, there would at least be one good quality bottle of alcohol-free bubbles, some alcohol-free craft beers and a range of creative, elaborate alcohol-free cocktails. Why? Because we all DESERVE a delicious drink. We DESERVE a pretty glass and beautiful garnish. We DESERVE to feel that we're part of the party. And if you think we're content with soft drinks, remember that, as Janey Lee Grace says: We're not 12!!!!



Accepting that your social life might never be the same


Let's tell it as it is: Our date nights have become shorter and shorter. We no longer share a bottle of red wine and sit at the table for hours. We're quite often the first to leave the party. I've written about it before; how I tried so hard in the beginning to prove that I could be just as fun and dance until the early hours completely sober. I would refuse to leave early even if I wanted to - just to prove a point. So, yes, accepting that your social life (in the dining and partying departments) might change forever is difficult in the beginning (give it a month or two!) but once you discover the JOMO (Joy of Missing Out ), it feels incredibly liberating to sneak out and let your friends enjoy their boozy night while you feel like a winner regardless. Knowing that you'll wake up hangover-free and get the best out of every single day.



Tea before bed...ahhh


And what about the easy part of quitting the booze?


Understanding why we're doing it


As mentioned, it took only 1-2 weeks to notice the improvements in our health after going alcohol free. Thanks to that feeling of overall wellbeing, the increased alcohol awareness, great podcasts and the final de-bunking of the myth by the World Health Organization in March 2023: NO amount of alcohol is good for you! - we have no doubt that this was the right decision. The science is there. Alcohol is destructive to the brain and is linked to multiple types of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease and the list goes on. Then there is the mental perspective. Strip it back to basics. No more reaching for the wine after a stressful day, no more numbing your feelings. Sit with them instead. And start connecting. Making meaningful connections and having meaningful conversations is so much easier when alcohol is not in the picture. As Sasha so beautifully put it in his Drunk on Life testimonial:


I’ve sat with colleagues over their beers and watched their standard units stack up. Night after night. I’m pretty sure they would freak out if they did the math. I go to (a lot of) functions and watch the conversation quality dive – it’s consistent. Let me graph it for you on the back of a napkin.


Sober life has given me so much more time and energy for sports .Here on the podium of my first ever triathlon -Desaru coast September 2022.


Losing the craving


I was surprised how quickly the craving for alcohol disappeared. Having been used to drinking several times a week, I had no withdrawal symptoms and I was pretty content with a cup of tea instead of a glass of red wine in front of the TV. Speaking of wine, I do get the occasional craving for a glass of red wine. Simply because I used to love the taste and sadly, there are no decent alcohol-free red wines on the market. But, in general, I don't crave alcohol. And certainly not to the extent that I'd have some. Another fun fact is that the mere smell of alcohol can almost knock me out now :-)


Having people drink in front of me


I often get asked "do you mind if I have a drink?". The answer will always be no. I'm just happy that we can enjoy a lovely moment together - each with our own drink. There it is again: Keep the ritual, change the ingredients. But thank you for asking if I mind, anyway.



Having my partner on board


Having had my husband Francesco on board, has been priceless - and I would say instrumental to me staying sober! While I don't want to discourage others from going dry even if their partner keeps drinking, I am not sure I would have been able to go beyond 1 February 2022 had it not been for him. I know people who have soldiered on and embraced sober life with very little support from their partners (you know who you are <3), but if you and your partner are able to openly talk about the role that alcohol plays in our lives, and can accept each others' choices, you're already half way there.





Friends, would I be sitting here, writing this blog without your support? No chance in hell! Whether you've followed in my footsteps, insisted on keeping alcohol in your life, tried sober, gone sober curious or shaken your head - but still read - what I've had to say over these past two years, I thank you. For together we have contributed to the discussion about alcohol.


I also want to thank Carol, Alex, Sasha and Glen who have shared their sober - or sober curious journeys in 4 beautiful testimonials. I would love to post more of these, so do reach out if you'd like to share your story.


Finally, a special thanks to Celine from Lava Beijing who designed the amazing Drunk on Life logo - and to Ling who encouraged me to do alcohol-free events, helped me organize them and has been a huge support throughout.


Lots of love to all my friends and followers.

I remain drunk on life


Lise









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