Angela Taylor lives with her husband on a small farm in Feilding and works in rural insurance. Seven years ago, she stopped drinking and says that, while it wasn’t anything dramatic that made her give up, her life has changed dramatically since she did. She spoke to Shepherdess about life without alcohol.
I marked seven years without alcohol at the end of April. I gave up just before my 30th birthday. I stopped drinking alcohol because I reached a point where I thought, “This is enough.” I’d had enough slow mornings, and enough anxiety-ridden Mondays worrying about what I might have done on the weekend and didn’t remember the detail.
I decided I would stop drinking for 30 days and see what that looked like. The first two weeks were hard. My routine was that I’d get home from work and make myself a gin and tonic. When I got home from work that first day, I thought, “What do I do?” It was so much a part of my daily ritual, and breaking that habit was one of the hardest things. So I ended up getting fancy tea and making a ritual out of tea instead. That was really helpful.
I was listening to lots of podcasts about sobriety. They were all international – I knew no one here who had stopped drinking apart from serious alcoholics, so I had no point of reference locally. I’d listen to those at a time that I’d normally be drinking, so I was consciously sitting down and relaxing, but without the alcohol. The first Friday at the pub, I noticed that my friends really struggled with me being sober, more so than I did. Maybe I wasn’t as crazy, wasn’t as loud, wasn’t as argumentative. They weren’t used to it.
I still find some people who don’t know me well do struggle to loosen up with me if they know I’m not drinking, and one thing I learnt early on was that no one wants to be reminded of what happened the night before. So if you are sober and do remember, don’t remind people! Another thing I learnt is that as long as you have a drink of some kind in your hand, no one really cares. In fact, most people don’t realise I’m not drinking. What makes people feel uncomfortable is if you don’t have a drink at all. I guess it’s because people feel the need to be hospitable, especially if they are hosting, and an empty glass or hand makes them feel like a bad host.
I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in those early weeks, and made myself go to the pub, made myself recreate those times that usually involved alcohol. So the only change in my life was the lack of the substance, not the lack of the experiences. I was able to unpack really easily how little alcohol was adding to my life.
After I’d done those first 30 days, I was feeling really good, so I thought I’d make it three months. I was feeling really great, and I started to lose weight. Fast forward a year and I had lost seventeen kilos. Then I was too vain to go back! I also felt so clear-headed. You know when you’ve got a photograph and you turn up the contrast or the saturation levels? That’s what I feel I’ve done by removing alcohol from my life. Alcohol creates that kind of sepia, washed-out filter for me, and I decided that I loved life so much that I didn’t want to do anything that would dull it down. I’ve worked hard for my life, so why would I make it any less than its full potential?
The thing that annoyed me at that time was that if I went out to dinner and didn’t want alcohol, the only options were soft drinks from a gun or crappy orange juice. I am a pretty assertive person by nature, so I ask, reasonably, for what I want – I don’t mind too much if the bartender looks quizzically at me if I ask for my sparkling water in a champagne flute. But I can understand that for a lot of people it would be really challenging. You do get a lot of judgement for not drinking. Maybe less so for women, but then I do remember going to a work function when I was a few months in, and I was comfortable with it and knew I was going to do it for at least a year, and a woman said to me, looking me up and down, “Are you pregnant?” That really frustrated me. There are so many other reasons to not drink alcohol.
I have found so many positives of not drinking. There is a different sense of calmness. I have a very busy life, but the reality is that I would not be able to have this hugely busy, full life if I was drinking. Going out to dinner is super easy, and not a big deal, because I just drive us there and drive us back. And if I need to go out and grab something late at night, it’s no big deal. There’s more usable time. And absolutely the next day there is more usable time. You’re not wasting time going over what might have happened the night before. You’re not worrying, and you have clear headspace. Of course there are also positives in terms of appearance. You’re not constantly poisoning your body. It’s a lot easier to lose weight and keep it off.
In terms of friendships, I am probably attracted to different people now. I haven’t lost any friends, but I’m no longer as close to some friends because the thing we had in common was going out drinking. But I guess that drift apart happens naturally in life anyway.
I don’t think I would have got my current job if I hadn’t given up alcohol. Sobriety makes me a better thinker and in my line of work, it’s all about thinking. And if I hadn’t gotten this job, I wouldn’t have judged the regionals finals of the Young Farmer competition, and if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have met my now-husband. So it almost feels like this gift I gave myself – giving up alcohol – led to all these abundantly positive things in my life.
I also think the mental wellbeing aspect cannot be undersold. It is so well known that alcohol is a depressant and anxiety-driving substance. And I have been through periods where I’ve had severe anxiety. Being free of alcohol doesn’t necessarily free you of everything else – life still happens, bad stuff still happens, anxiety still happens – but you’re not disadvantaging yourself further, so you’re actually giving your body and mind and your spirit support to deal with those challenges; giving yourself the best chance of overcoming them.
I am wary of sounding like I’m on my high horse, but my advice would be that if you are thinking of cutting out alcohol, just try it. The cost of cutting it out is not high at all. There are a multitude of alcohol-free options in supermarkets even in provincial New Zealand now. There are so many alcohol-free wines these days, and they’ve come a long way in terms of taste. Remember that you don’t have to lose the experience around drinking; you can be quite deliberate about keeping everything about the ritual apart from the alcohol.
This is it for me. There is absolutely nothing – and I can say this without a doubt – that would make me go back to drinking alcohol. There is nothing alcohol can give me. And I value my life too much to not see it in full colour.
MORE: Struggling with addiction or know someone who is? Contact the Alcohol Drug Helpline at 0800 787 797 or text 8681 for support around alcohol and drugs, a free and confidential chat with a trained counsellor, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This story was written by Tessa King and photographed by Tess Charles for Shepherdess magazine. Shepherdess magazine was started around a kitchen table on a dairy and beef farm in the Horowhenua. We continue to come to you from this kitchen table, and from many other farms, home offices and lounges across provincial Aotearoa. The magazine is here to connect, empower and inspire women across rural New Zealand, by offering a place to tell stories of our rural communities. Find out more about Shepherdess here shepherdess.co.nz