When I drank, I scoffed at people who exercised. ‘The gym’ was not a place I wanted to be or associated myself with. I thought people who ran ‘for pleasure’ were insufferable. I wanted to surround myself with fellow drinking, smoking, fitness-hating enablers who only moved their body at 5am on the empty dancefloor.
I also had very inconsistent eating behaviours; I’d always struggled a little bit when it came to food. I had an unhealthy relationship with my body and so either ate too much or too little, and rarely ate regular meals. I’ve been vegetarian for much of my life, but when drunk or hungover it wasn’t unusual to catch me tucking into a bucket of fried chicken, which didn’t make me feel good, either.
When I was first introduced to the sober community, I was a bit overwhelmed by how healthy and fit everyone seemed to be. Like wow, people are running marathons and eating completely wholefood diets. Can I do that? Do I want to do that? How do these people do it? I had a lot of questions.
I tried not to focus on it too much, especially in the beginning. My single and only goal was not to drink alcohol, and I managed it… just about. In the first month, I smoked an enormous number of cigarettes every day and took even more naps, but I tried (and eventually succeeded) in giving up smoking and having a more reasonable number of naps. (I still firmly believe a good nap can solve anything, but five naps a day just wasn’t sustainable).
It wasn’t until I started to feel better that I even considered other aspects of my health. I’d always liked yoga, I'd just never committed to the practise in my drinking days. When I stopped drinking, I had a lot more time for it, and between yoga and long walks, I found my stress levels lowered and I felt mentally clear.
I also began eating a little bit better. I stopped ordering buckets of fried chicken (for the most part) and started having meals at semi-regular intervals. But I wasn’t, and am still not, perfect (whatever that means!).
These days, I spend some of the money I’ve saved by not drinking or smoking on a gym that has a pool (and even a sauna!). I love to swim, and because of my dodgy joints and particularly dodgy ankle, I’m not supposed to run or do high-impact sports, so it seemed like a good compromise. I do gentle yoga most days, and I enjoy a little walk. Now I move my body in a way that suits me and my circumstances, and I most certainly feel better on days I move my body, even if I move in a gentle or minor way.
I’m still vegetarian, and also recently found out I am gluten-intolerant, so I still find eating and diet quite stressful. However, I’m present, aware, and know myself. I also keep a journal of how I’m feeling and what I’m doing so I know what makes me happier and what makes me worse. I try to eat regularly without being obsessive, which works out at least some of the time.
Whilst I suppose I’m a bit ‘fitter’ and ‘healthier’ now, I’m not a fitness fanatic. I’m heavier in weight than when I was drinking, and that’s okay! I believe exercise can help us in many ways, but I haven’t climbed a mountain or ran a marathon – and that’s okay, too.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that whilst I’m no longer repulsed by those who prioritise health and fitness in their lives, I still think it’s okay if that’s not your number one priority.
We are each so unique, so how can we say there's one size that fits all?
I don’t think we can.
What we can do is create space and clarity that allows us to make changes to our lives. We can notice what makes us feel better and shape our lives around this, without alcohol clouding our judgement.
So, if you’re fat, thin, fit, unfit, active or inactive, it is okay.
You don’t have to be the person winning gold medals left right and centre or never eating processed food. If that’s your jam, then that’s amazing! But our differences are what make us beautiful, and we each get to decide what health means to us.
Let us know how your relationships with fitness and food have changed since quitting drinking in the comments! If you're sober-curious, let us know what you think might happen if you had a booze break!