This week, supermodel Bella Hadid shared on her Instagram that she is 10 months sober. 'I'm so proud of anyone pushing through dry July,' she wrote. 'With Kin (Kin Euphorics, the non-alcoholic beverage brand she co-founded) and lots of self-love, I am almost 10 months no alcohol!'
My body has spent the last 20 years trying to tell me that it does not like alcohol. Booze has ruined my sleep, created aches, pains and random bruising, and sometimes it stopped my favourite clothes from fitting. But when I quit last year, I did it for my brain. I describe myself as ‘emotionally allergic’ to booze. Whether I’d had two bottles or two glasses, the morning after the night before was unbearable. I’d feel very tired and really, really sad.
Quitting was hard, but I had high hopes for what my alcohol-free life would look and feel like. I wanted prizes and rewards, and I was excited about improved sleep, better skin and – whisper it – weight loss. My relationship with my body is complicated. When I stopped drinking, I’d already worked very hard on accepting it on its own terms, while trying to love food and respect it: eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full. On a good day, that was achievable. On a bad day, I’d find myself locked in a cycle of bingeing and starving, unable to respond appropriately to my body’s hunger cues. Drinking inevitably led to bad days. I felt guilty for even considering the idea of weight loss but, after a lifetime of disordered eating, it was hard to shake off. In the past I’d engaged in dangerous behaviour, limiting my food intake in order to feel that I could drink more. (Not that it worked – my weight gain always coincided with periods of heavy drinking.)
I’d given up alcohol before for limited periods and I was always delighted to get to the end of Dry January or Sober October and find that my clothes were a little less tight. However, when I decided that I was going to quit for good, I decided I needed to put weight loss out of my mind. Going alcohol free was a significant change and I knew it was going to be stressful. I wasn’t going to worry about restricting anything else and make the rest of my life any harder than it needed to be.
Weirdly, this made me more relaxed around food than I’ve ever been. If I fancied a Magnum, I’d have one. Because I wasn’t restricting myself or feeling obsessive, I didn’t feel as though I was constantly fighting the urge to eat the whole box. If I was stuck at a train station at lunchtime, I wasn’t overthinking my sandwich choices. However, I was able to get through my first awkward sober parties and events by promising myself a Pret chocolate chip cookie for the journey home.
Living without alcohol has made me so much more aware of how it feels to live in my body. Before I got sober, I often felt a little sad and slow, even if I hadn’t been drinking the night before. Alcohol made me feel great, briefly, but it was as though it was overcharging my soul’s battery. After half a glass of wine, I felt as though I was running at 100% – but I’d be stuck at a maximum of 60% for the rest of the time.
I still have plenty of difficult days, but it’s much easier to work out where those feelings live. I can experience them without feeling overwhelmed by them. Sometimes I’ll have a very negative thought about my body. However, now that I’m sober, I’m able to notice the negativity and gently examine the thought before I start to spiral.
Ultimately, living without alcohol has allowed me to treat myself with more kindness. In the past, I’d be ashamed of my hangovers and force myself to work my way through them. Now, it’s easier to notice and acknowledge it when my body needs to rest. A few weeks ago, I got home from a work trip feeling drained. If I’d been drinking,
I’d have blamed the inevitable wine, then blamed myself. Sober, it didn’t cross my mind to feel bad. (Instead, I put my pyjamas on and made myself waffles for dinner.) Now that alcohol isn’t in my life, I’m so much better at listening to my brain and my body and cultivating their relationship. I like myself much more, inside and out.