12 Things I've Learned After 12 Years Sober

Twelve Januarys ago, I woke up with my last epic hangover. There was nothing special about this particular hangover – just the usual dread, nausea, thirst and sick, sick head – but something inside me snapped that morning. I had a flash of insight. I’d stop drinking. After two decades of epic hangovers, I’d had enough.

I used to be a brilliant drinker – I never threw up, threw punches, fell down, or went home. I could drink large men under the table, do shots like Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sure, I’d black out, but who wants to remember everything anyway? And so what that my fingertips were tingly, my kidneys achey, my face blotchy, my friends frowny – it was all in the name of fun, wasn’t it?

Except it wasn’t. Fun, I mean. It had been for years, but then it wasn’t. Like a relationship gone sour that you are too scared to leave, I needed to break up with booze. And like ending anything toxic, it felt terrifying at first, then liberating, until it became the new normal. An ongoing, wondrous, joyful normal, of which I have yet to become bored.

You’re not annoying anymore

When you’re too drinky, what you believe to be hilarious, charming, fascinating and daredevil is actually repetitive, inappropriate, annoying and – worst of all – boring.

Get past the three magic drinks of bonhomie and you’re in Drunkland, the dullest neighbourhood of all. You become the Seven Dwarves of Drunk – Slurry, Dopey, Angry, Sobby, Stumbly, Irritating and Trouble. After my final exit from Drunkland, people wanted to hang out again. Interesting people, whose lives extended beyond the bar stool. Life went from black and white to colour. My social life, unhindered by boozing, went into orbit.

You will age backwards

Skin type ‘dehydrated smoker’? No more. Your liver’s tears of relief will hydrate your face and make it glowy, as your eyes regain their sparkle.

Looking in the mirror will no longer make you scream, and there will be no more hungover dry-heaving into your handbag. You’ll feel light as a Victoria sponge. You will awaken naturally, rather than coming to with a jolt of horror as you try to piece together where you are and who owns those curtains. You will look younger as you age, without needles or scalpels.

You’ll reconnect with your body

Running, base jumping, knitting, whatever.

Your body is no longer merely the thing that carries you to the pub so that you can render yourself insensible with tequila – a strange reconnection occurs between your head and the rest of you.

In the years since my last hangover, I quit smoking, got hooked on hot yoga, went vegan and rediscovered sex – and if that all sounds more sanctimonious than a vat of Goop, I don’t care. I love it.

There'll be sex, sex and more sex

No more beer goggles means less regret. No more drunk texting means no more drunk dramas, just glorious, vivid, sensual, memorable encounters with people you have chosen because you feel a connection and attraction, not collapsed into bed with because you can’t remember why.

Relationships are built on solid foundations of mutual affection, rather than clingy co-dependency. You may initially be wary of sex without a hit or two of Dutch courage, but soon the idea of dulling your senses before intimacy becomes as pointless as eating junk food before going to a fabulous restaurant – why would anyone want to do that?

You'll be productive

Need to move house? End a marriage? Write a book? Have a baby? Change career? Remove booze from your life – time-consuming, cash-consuming, energy-consuming booze – and you’ll get it all done by Tuesday lunchtime.

You'll have tons of fresh energy, vision and drive, and a lot more actual hours in the day. You’ll become so productive it may frighten you into fantasising about getting drunk again, or it may inspire you to retrain as a shaman and open a swimming club for human mermaids. I actually know someone who did this.

Coffee will be important

Coffee shops become the pub. The bigger your reliance on booze, the stronger your new coffee habit will be. Wine snobbery will be replaced with coffee pedantry – you’ll know your Grumpy Mule from your Monsooned Malabar, and the only shakes you’ll ever get will be from espresso.

These days when I have a banging headache, it’s from caffeine withdrawal. Easily remedied, as coffee transforms life from blurry to flurry. Stuff continues to get done, at a cracking pace. Bish bosh.

Not everyone will get it

"What do you mean you don’t drink? God that’s so boring. Really? Not even one? Are you an alcoholic or something? Go on, have a small one. A glass of wine won’t kill you. Seriously, you actually want a coffee? Are you kidding me? What a party pooper. No, I mean, good for you, but all the same, it’s a bit lame, isn’t it? What about your birthday? Christmas? Weddings? Parties? Jeez, remind me not to invite you on a night out. You’d be a right wet blanket. I mean, how can you have fun without a drink? How do you relax? Next you’ll be saying sex is better sober. Yeah right."

Your friendship group may shift

Pub mates live in the pub, so when you stop spending so much time there, they fade. Harder to shift are the offended old friends who don’t want to look at their own drinking, and therefore regard you as judging them when you say "Can I have a fizzy water please". Relax. Genuine friends will adjust. Also, you’ll make loads of new ones when you’re out base jumping or at Stitch 'n' Bitch.

You will be rich beyond your wildest dreams

Or just less skint, because you won’t have spent it all on a massive night out that lasts from Thursday to Sunday so that you’re penniless by Tuesday and there’s always too much month left at the end of your money. No more.

Without making the slightest effort, you’ll be quids in. Which is great, because you may find yourself going a bit spendy-spendy in the initial post-alcohol period. Nature abhors a vacuum, and you need to get your dopamine hits from somewhere new – it might be shopping. But at least you’ll have something tangible to show for it, other than the most expensive cirrhosis in town.

You go a bit spiritual

A bit spiritual can mean anything between just feeling your feelings and going full Russell Brand.

Alcohol is ideal for maintaining emotional numbness, and as we are encouraged to drink on virtually every emotion – happiness, sadness, boredom, celebration, commiseration – we can go through life not having any idea what a feeling actually feels like.

Remove the alcohol and watch yourself defrost in front of your very eyes. This emotional thaw may result in being besieged with existential curiosity – why am I here, what is my purpose, is reincarnation a thing, what is infinity? etc. Try not to irritate people with your quest for meaning.

You stop being ruled by fear

Yes, you. You, the fearless dancer of 3am tables, the vodka-fuelled daredevil, the uninhibited party animal who’d do anything for a laugh, who’d shimmy up lampposts for the hell of it.

What’s it like to be fearless without a vat of booze coursing through your veins? What’s it like to walk into a room of strangers and feel at ease, without a barrel of wine propping you up? What does a first date feel like without a stiff drink first? Terrifying is how it feels. And then amazing. And then entirely normal. Keep your nerve.

Most people couldn’t care less what you do

You’ll have all the excuses to hand – driving, pregnancy, antibiotics – until you realise that people don’t care.

Generally, people are too self-interested to notice what other people are up to, so long as it doesn’t negatively impact on them.

The people who do care tend to be the ones who have been on the wrong end of your annoying drunkenness, your filthy hangovers, your boring stories – these people will notice that you no longer drink, and they definitely will care. They’ll be your biggest cheerleaders.

If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, visit Alcohol Concern or contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1100 for free, confidential advice