Drinking or not drinking does not define me (anymore). Dry January & Beyond: from surviving to thriving is my personal account of what sobriety means to me and how it changed my life.
For the 5th year in a row now I am taking Dry January into the rest of the year. Apart from a few glasses of rose on my last recent girls holiday to Majorca (where like every so often I was wondering if I might actually be missing out on something), I don’t drink.
According to a YouGov poll, about 3million people in the UK embark on a journey of sobriety during the month of January. My journey too started in January, on the 1st to be precise in 2014. 4 months prior to that I had completed radio and chemotherapy. Before then I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous lump and my lymph nodes in my left breast and armpit. By the time I started sobriety I was at an all-time low. I was riddled with anxiety. The fear that my cancer could return made me feel ill. I was scared not being able to see my three beautiful daughters walk through the gates on their first day of school.
I was going to try everything possible to improve my health to see my girls grow up. Giving up alcohol seemed a small price to pay.
Luckily it was then that I found the strength to take control in my own recovery process and journey back to health. Alongside many dietary changes I came across numerous alcohol and cancer-risk related articles. When I read that a 2009 study found that drinking even a few alcoholic beverages per week (three to four drinks) increased the risk of breast cancer coming back, I knew immediately what I needed to do.
In the past I brushed off warnings like “Women who drink two or more drinks a day have a 20% higher risk of dying of cancer”. But my fear gave me enormous strength and I was ready to face the truth. I was going to try everything possible to improve my health to see my girls grow up. Giving up alcohol seemed a small price to pay.
I didn’t realise then that by giving up alcohol I was also giving up a part of my ‘old-me’.
As an Austrian I used to love a schnapps or two (or 5). Dancing on tables suited my outgoing personality and that off-button seemed to have missed my genetic make-up in the making of me. A late night turned into an early morning, my hangovers turned into several days of recovery. But I didn’t mind, I was having fun. And regardless of all the statistics, I never thought it could affect me personally. Until I found that lump.
So here I was, sober new Dani. Always being sober is an interesting experience. Sitting next to the sober guest at someone’s dinner party is an interesting experience too and not one you would strive for. Let’s face it, who wants to get wasted knowing that the person next to you will remember everything you say the next day? And my gorgeous husband was missing the good old Dani from times to times too. Initially I felt like I could never totally relax. That I couldn’t let my hair down and feel carefree. Today I know that the carefreeness was taken from me way before I had my last drink.
Not drinking changed some of my friendships.
For the first few months my sobriety was discussed a many of times. People showing interest, asking how long it would last. One friend offered to wait until February to arrange for a night out. As if to say ‘why bother meeting up in January whilst I was off the booze’. Yes, not drinking did change some relationships a little. But today I know that a true friend spends time with me for who I am and not for all the fun and frivolous antics I get up to when riding high on wine.
I will never forget the moment when I kissed my little girls good bye having realised I survived for long enough to make a pack lunch for them.
The time I decided to stop drinking coincided with us moving to our first house in a totally new area for me. The time came that I did saw my eldest daughter start school and a couple of years later I watched my twin girls walk through the school gates too. I will never forget the moment when I kissed my little girls good bye having realised I survived for long enough to make them a pack lunch. Meeting other mums and a whole group of new people without joining in having a drink at the pub was weird. I often wondered why people asked me to come out with them, having been convinced that I was so boring!
But I was so wrong. Today I know I am way more outspoken sober than most people when drunk. Being sober meant being in touch with myself and that made me be honest and real. I didn’t flush down my emotions with glasses of rose, I spoke about what was difficult and what was not. And I was utterly lucky to have met a bunch of women that thought that was totally ok. These beautiful friends of mine can put away a drink or 10 :-), they are wild and fabulous and wonderfully spirited girls. (Girls you know who you are!) I still wonder sometimes why they would want me there on a night out. But then I trust the process and I remember that being me is enough!
As I am writing this I am a few days shy of having reached 5 years in remission. I’m one of the lucky ones. And I have worked so hard at optimising my health in the best way I can. Having gone through my 5th January without alcohol I am more excited than ever to extend my sobriety into the rest of the year and beyond.
Initially I gave up booze to increase my risk of surviving cancer. Today I decide not to drink as I know its the best way for me to fully thrive.
Watch out for my next post about my favourite non-alcoholic drinks!
With love to you all,