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'There were people I struggled to be around.' Everything I learned when I went a year without alcohol.

A friend once said to me, “When I pour myself a glass of wine, I feel as though I’m reaching for relief.”

In that moment, I loved her openness, and I could totally relate. In my teens, I’d binge drink as a way of escaping my self-loathing, and although I didn’t realise it at the time, I too was reaching for relief.

This self-sabotaging habit lasted into my early twenties. I was an all-or-nothing drinker, and the alcohol combined with a lack of self-love was a totally toxic mix. My drinking exacerbated my self-loathing, and I’d project this feeling onto those around me.

Drinking for relief was a habit I needed to change.

In 2017, I decided to go 365 days without an alcoholic drink. Over the previous decade, I’d been a more conscious drinker, though the memory of how I used to abuse alcohol made me curious to see how I could manage my feelings and emotions without it.

Watch: What happens to your body after one year without alcohol. Post continues after video.

Video by Mamamia

I wanted to know that no matter what challenges arose, I had the power within me to navigate them without reaching for relief by having a drink.

I had also been experiencing digestion issues and my menstrual cycle was all over the place, so I wanted to see if eliminating alcohol could also help improve my physical wellbeing.

One of the most notable discoveries I made during my alcohol-free year was the way others responded to my goal, and this was something that really surprised me. I received so many strong reactions and comments.

Some simply asked, ‘Why?’ Others said I was crazy, or that they could never do it. Some said it was the only way they could have fun with their friends or partner, or that they wouldn’t survive without their nightly wine.

However, the one that I heard the most was, ‘I could do that, I just choose not to.’ This intrigued me, because until you have to say ‘no’ whenever you’re offered an alcoholic drink, you don’t realise just how ingrained drinking is in our culture.

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Before this challenge, I didn’t really think I drank that much, but once I stopped, I realised just how many times a month I had the opportunity to drink. I was so surprised!

So what did I learn? I learnt that I can absolutely manage going to events, weddings, baby showers, dinners, social catch-ups and holidays (including a trip to New York) without alcohol and still have a wonderful time.

I never once regretted anything I said or second-guessed my behaviour or myself. My confidence was at an all-time high.

I expected to have more energy without alcohol and I absolutely did. I woke up with energy each morning, and the added bonus of not having a hangover ever was the best!

My health was flourishing, and my skin was the best it had ever been. My digestion improved, however, my menstrual cycle stayed the same (it’s still a work in progress).

I especially loved not having to parent with a hangover. Parenting can be challenging at the best of times, but parenting the morning after a few drinks is even more of a challenge.

That hungover feeling of low energy and little patience was a thing of the past and it felt great.

Not having to worry about being tired or grumpy with my children because I’d had one too many wines or broken sleep (due to alcohol in my system) made everything easier. It was a wellbeing win-win!

Listen: How should you talk to your teens about alcohol? Post continues below. 

My emotional wellbeing soared during this time and was the biggest shift that occurred.

My stress levels decreased and I handled challenging situations with much more grace and ease. There were a couple of people in my life that I struggled to be around. In the past, I would’ve had a drink to help cope with their energy; however, I found it so much better when I wasn’t drinking around them.

I was more grounded and confident in myself. I didn’t get drawn into petty arguments or say something unkind; I maintained my integrity instead. I showed up as my best self.

I learnt that my best and truest friends and family members accepted and loved me regardless of whether I chose to drink or not.

They’d cheer me on and be happy that I was making good choices for me. During my alcohol-free year, I felt amazing, though some people in my life found it hard.

I was recently told that ‘I like you more when you drink’ and ‘you were a pain that year!’ (Ouch, thanks so much, guys!).

Regardless of those comments, one thing I learnt for sure is that surrounding myself with people who love and support me unconditionally outshines any negativity from others regarding my choices. I want to be around those who want me to be my best self and see me thrive.

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I also noticed that my clarity and intuition were at an all-time high. I loved the amazing deep sleep that I had each night. I had vivid dreams and insights. In fact, one example of this was a premonition I received a week before my uncle Peter passed away. I knew his time on this earth was up. I was so certain that I woke up and phoned my dad (his brother) straight away to tell him about the dream I’d had. I urged him to call Peter.

Dad said that he’d be calling him the next day for his birthday. I was happy with that, but I knew from my dad’s reaction that he didn’t think much of it.

One week after the dream, my whole family were away in Port Douglas celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday, when dad received the call that Peter had a heart attack, he died in hospital days later.

Over the past two years, I’ve learnt that what matters most is the intention behind why I choose to do something. I know the difference between healthy and unhealthy habits; what helps keep me at my best.

My feelings and emotions used to make me feel uncomfortable, and I’d push them away or pretend they didn’t exist. I blocked out my emotions by choosing to have a drink. I don’t do this anymore.

My alcohol-free year helped consolidate my self-love journey. It also gave me the space to set bigger dreams and goals.

It was during this time that I committed to writing and publishing my wellbeing book for mums, which will be available later this year.

For me, investing in an alcohol-free year was life-changing. The clarity and confidence I gained from my experience was empowering. In fact, after writing this article, I’m reminded of just how good it was and may do it again soon.

You’re stronger than you know and you deserve the best. You’re in charge of you and how you live your precious life. You get to choose. So why not set yourself a personal challenge and give an alcohol-free year a try? You don’t really have anything to lose and the self-discovery benefits are huge!

If the thought of an entire year feels unachievable, commit to a shorter period of time such as three months.

This will give you a snapshot of life without alcohol and even in that short time you’ll learn so much about yourself. I can promise you one thing, it will be enlightening.

Feature Image: Getty.

If you are worried about how much you are drinking, help is available. Call Alcoholics Anonymous on 1300 222 222 for advice and support.

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