After being off the wagon for more than 12 months, the hardest thing is not staying sober, it's explaining to everybody why I stopped drinking.
It has been a little more than a year now since I came home from a moderately amusing company Christmas do, realising I shouldn't have had so many beers. I was not alarmingly wasted, but my intake was sufficient to make me feel crappy the next morning, and extraordinarily tired, since inebriated sleep is simply not that restful.
A throwaway Facebook post along the lines of "Only the first of many Christmas parties done, and I am already feeling like I've had enough" triggered a friend mine to comment, "It's time to embrace sobriety". I know he had given up alcohol a while ago, in a full-on, cold-turkey fashion, so it was not a matter of pot calling the kettle black.
Whilst drinking was never a problem in the sense that it was interfering with my life, or that I was ever drinking excessively, I took his advice and decided I wouldn't drink anymore. The first thing to know when you stop drinking is that you need a really, really good reason to do so — at least in front of the hosts of parties where you binge on sparkling water. You had better be prepared to stand your ground.
And this is where the problem lies. I am not a recovering alcoholic by any means, I simply don't want to drink anymore. It feels that the former would be more acceptable because you have a good reason, and you are not just a party-pooper. My usual explanation nowadays is that because of work, family, and life circumstances, I never get enough sleep, and if I drink on top of this, the little sleep I get is bad, and hence I am not having this.
The good thing is, that in most cases (and this is different now than it was 10 or 15 years ago), it's perfectly OK not to drink. When I was single and going out in London numerous nights a week, it would have been tough to take this stance, whereas with a more settled, responsible family life, people don't usually expect you to go off the rails. This makes things easier, and maybe I am lucky that the idea only came to me in my current situation, where a lot less willpower is required.
The bottom line is, after 13 months, where — if I counted correctly — I had two beers and one glass of wine in total: I am actually enjoying it. I can be the designated driver to each party, I wake up in the morning without a hangover, and I am not missing those extra calories. I don't mind everybody else drinking around me any more than people mind me not drinking. And I have no intention of starting to drink again.
This all may change when I finally get to a stage in my life where I get enough sleep again, but I suspect that at that point, I'll be even less inclined to sacrifice that good sleep for a good hangover.