100 days alcohol-free! But how will I celebrate?! A party-lover’s toolkit for sober success
Today I am celebrating being alcohol-free for 100 days.
In the grand scheme of things this is not a big deal. To anybody who has ever been pregnant or seriously ill or who doesn’t really drink, three months off the sauce is not a big deal. But to somebody who classes Happy Hour as a hobby and drinking a bottomless brunch ‘dry’ as a major win, who always takes a spare to BYO, who tests as an ‘Entertainer’ personality type, who lives for Fridays and who once snuck a hip flask of gin into a ‘sober’ 6am rave, this is actually rather a big deal.
But the biggest deal of all is that I don’t want to celebrate 100 days AF with a drink!
True, I’m still a bit unsure exactly how to celebrate without booze (three months isn’t enough to undo 25+ years worth of conditioning) but I do know that I won’t be running to the pub tonight.
And it’s not because I’m worried that one drink will turn into seven will turn into waking-up-tomorrow-with-three-club-wristbands-four-new-best-friends-and-seven-Uber-receipts, but actually because, being frank (and I promise this is the only preachy part of this piece) I don’t want to celebrate all that hard work (including staying sober over Xmas and New Year) by pouring poison into my body.
I’ve given up booze for a month here and there plenty of times before, but I spent most of that time hiding in the house or boring everyone senseless about how boring life was, and pining for Day 31 and the chance to have fun again, even planning booze-fuelled ‘retox’ parties to celebrate all that soberness (I’m LOLing at myself right now, so it’s OK if you are shaking your head).
This time, though, it’s different. I’m different. Giving my body, mind and spirit a proper break from booze has allowed me to really look at how big a part of my life it is. At how I use alcohol, and the real reasons I love to drink. To discover whether - as Sober Curious author Ruby Warrington asks - I drink to have ‘more fun or less pain’? And if I have been using drink to lessen pain (hint: most of us do) the not drinking and, as a result not being hungover for three months, has given me the space to look at the reasons behind the pain rather than trying to bury it under another mountain of margaritas.
I love the term ‘Sober Curious’ because it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about staying sober moving forward. Like it’s an ongoing project of self-enquiry rather than an AA-style ’I’m Sober Now Forever!’ statement (and life sentence). I feel like the last three months have been an experiment in a) whether I’m strong enough to keep saying 'no’ and b) whether I’m strong enough to deal with what comes after the saying ’no’. The answer, I now know, is ‘yes, you bloody are Toni Jones’, which makes me a) feel like a f@cking rock star and b) know that you can do it too.
In his brilliant book on addiction, Recovery, Russell Brand says that the only way to know how it feels not to drink/smoke/get high is not to do it. And he’s right! And as the world embarks on another Dry January I really really really want as many of you as possible to try a 100-day/three-month reset (and only partly because I need more sober party friends). It’s not always fun. Or easy. But it’s empowering and enlightening, definitely game-changing and probably the kindest thing you will ever do for yourself.
Incase you’re considering it (please consider it!) here are some strategies that could help….
MY SOBER CURIOUS TOOLKIT
GET - AND STAY - INSPIRED
Get inspired by working out your ‘why’ - create a cheat sheet of reasons you don’t want to be drinking, of how your life will be better without hangovers, of how your life won't change if you don’t make some changes (and why that’s not cool), of the people who will benefit from you being booze-free, of the ways you have already made yourself proud in your life (Shahroo Izadi’s book The Kindness Method is a great place to start). And then use whatever you need to stay inspired and motivated.
I love the growing movement towards celebrating the positives of a sober life vs focusing on the demons of alcoholism. So search out experts, podcasts, blogs and books in this area and educate yourself as to why you think drinking is so fun when the evidence probably tells you (time and time again) that it’s not. Kick the Drink…Easily! by Jason Vale, This Naked Mind by Annie Grace, Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington, The 28 Day Alcohol-Free Challenge by Ruari Fairbairns and Andy Ramage, and The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis will all start to shift your mindset from one of deprivation to celebration. I also love Russell Brand's Recovery and The Inner Fix by Addicted Daughter duo Persia Lawson and Joey Bradford NB most of these authors also create newsletters and/or online programmes and communities that deliver daily doses of inspiration.
Instagram is also a brilliant source of sober #inspo - and a great way to get a quick motivational fix e.g. on your way to a party/dinner/work event where you know the booze will be flowing/the company tedious. I love TheSoberGlow, @RubyWarrington, Off.The.Rocks , @HipSobriety @BreneBrown and @laurievmcallister (A Girl & Tonic).
2. FIND YOUR TRIBE
Start hanging out more with people who drink less, and who enjoy doing things that don’t involve the pub (pregnant women, super healthy people and children will become your new best friends at parties).
Fitness is an obvious - and highly effective - place to start.
And author and Addiction Specialist Shahroo points out that all habits, good or bad, serve us in some way (or at least did at one time). So work out what you get from booze (relaxation, release, sociability, fun, escape, silliness?) and then work out some ways to get that fix in another way with your favourite people or some hot new friends e.g. I’ve realised that dance music and being around people is hugely important to my wellbeing so if I’m not getting it on the floor of a nightclub I need to get my fix through spinning (Boom and Psycle are my favourites), dance class (AYB or Frame) or regular kitchen discos with my mates.
And if you can’t find sober events that speak to you, do NOT use this as an excuse to go back to propping up the bar where you think you belong, LOOK HARDER or stop waiting for an invite to the party and create your own (for instance, I’m throwing a Sober Curious Supper Club at the end of the month at booze-free bar Redemption, bringing together my own tribe of cool cats who may or may not be drinking after January).
3. FIND YOUR DRINK
Fizzy water is pretty dull. Fizzy water all night is boring enough to drive you to drink. Find something sexy that you love to drink, possibly something that promises a little booze-free buzz of some kind, and/or seek out places that offer more exciting options (shout out to Redemption, Old Compton Brasserie and Holborn Dining Rooms for their zero-proof drink menus). And always BYO to house parties/dinners.
Some of my favourite booze-free serves:
Three Spirit - an uplifting plant-based blend perfect as an end-of-dinner drink with espresso
Purdeys in a champagne flute - looks like standard fizz so you won’t feel too different
CBD Botanical Tea - an anti-anxiety drink that feels rather naughty (it’s actually not)
Booze-free beer - Becks Blue and San Miguel 0.0 are my favourites
Coffee - any which way (TOP TIP: do NOT try and give up coffee at the same time as booze).
4. CELEBRATE YOUR WINS
All of them, however small. Because for all the FOMO you experience your life WILL start getting better in a myriad of ways that deserve to be recognised (and this hack applies to life generally, btw).
The productive mornings after, the sober firsts, the compliments on your skin, the amazing sleep, the money saved (my December Uber bill was 450% down year-on-year). Acknowledge them, celebrate them with a little victory dance and record them. Write. Them. Down. (Marie Forleo would call this your personal ‘Hype File’) because this will become your go-to list if/when you find yourself faltering and need a quick reminder of why not drinking rocks.
…that if you are the kind of person who loves a drink and a party, some things will be less fun. For a while, anyway. Free drinks night at London Cocktail Week was tough (free drinks people!) and New Year’s Eve was tougher. Of course it was. It’s the biggest celebration of the year and for me has always been a booze-soaked one with some of my favourite booze-soaked people. Said booze-soaked people were totally supportive but I still felt left out as they got louder and sillier as we got to midnight and beyond. But do I wish I’d stayed at home? Hell no! It was still a wonderful night. And this time I actually remembered ALL of it. I expected and then leant into the discomfort that comes with being the only sober person in the room for eight hours straight, took loads of pictures of them dancing around the kitchen like idiots, and then made sure I was extra shiny and loud and peppy at breakfast/Bloody Mary time the next day.
My advice on the feeling of ‘not having as much fun’ is to identify your major triggers (Friday nights in the pub, big parties, wine o’clock with a certain friend) and avoid these kind of situations as much as possible at the start, slowly introducing them back into your life when you have some practise at being the sober one, to be always armed with your ‘why’, to give yourself mini pep talks as often as possible - read the books/blogs/instagram accounts and your 'Hype File’ - and to remind yourself that being sober is a choice you are making, for your future self. And one that you will never EVER regret the morning after.