Sober life arrived at my door in January 2019—and I was expecting it.
My final alcoholic drink was enjoyed on the return flight after an epic six-week trip exploring India, Nepal, Oman, and enjoying the last few days of winter sunshine in Dubai. Saying goodbye to hangovers was a long time coming.
My last epic hangover was in December, the weekend before I flew out to start my next chapter of travelling. As I would spend Christmas in the Himalayas, I had jumped on a train to London to visit my sister and her partner. We drank all weekend. Friday night was spent at the O2, where we danced the night away knocking back double gins. Then we started again on the Saturday with rum-infused mulled wine at the Christmas Market in Hyde Park, before all the wine at a bar, followed by gin with dinner, then two-pint beers watching a sweaty gig in Brixton.
The next morning, I sat a shell of a human on the four-hour train trip back to Scotland with no idea how I survived. The heat of the train, the cramped seats, and the hangover belly—I was primed to make a dash for the toilet. I couldn’t concentrate. A downloaded movie played in front of me but I wasn’t watching. I wanted this day to disappear. What a waste.
And that is why I want to share today.
Life is a gift—each and every day (especially the weekends!). I felt that hangover stealing life from me. It was a waste of a good day; I spent it inside my head and waiting for bedtime—when I would hopefully feel better.
That Christmas, when I hiked in Nepal for 10 days, I didn’t drink. I felt amazing. More present, connected, and completely inspired to change my life. I knew I didn’t need alcohol to have fun.
I want to share this with other people, and so here are my top tips to help anyone catch that sober vibe:
Set a target, goal, or an event to keep you focused and motivated in the early days—perhaps as a means to explain your sober journey as you figure it out yourself. It could be linked to a physical activity where you need to be present and fresh to achieve your goal or a challenge, like Sober October or Dry January.
After the trip to Nepal, I flew back to start a new 12-week marathon training programme, where I committed to using the run, partly as an excuse, to not drink. It made it easier to explain to others why I chose to stop when they constantly questioned my decision. After those initial 12 weeks, I knew I had found my path.
Decide what you want to share regarding your why, your reason, to say no to alcohol—and then share it with people. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You need to embrace the journey you are on so others will embrace it alongside you.
Visualise your new life, all the freshness and purpose, and remember your old life—the wasted weekends. This will keep you motivated. I have a number of incredible hangovers I can recall like yesterday, along with how they felt. Sweaty palms, anxious thoughts, upset tummy, and the overriding feeling of wasting my weekend. Then I recall how I feel now—waking up each morning, fresh as a daisy, with a full day ahead of me. Why would I want to waste it?
Align your lifestyle to your future self—someone who doesn’t drink. You will naturally become more aware of your body and mind. You will likely want to spend your weekends out in nature exploring, feeling fresh, or learning a new skill or hobby. Make plans and book events that will promote a sober lifestyle. Your environment supports you and you grow in your environment.
Face any sober challenges head-on. We use alcohol to socialise, connect, and fill any social awkwardness. It is the instant “I can talk to strangers” or “I can do anything” confidence booster. Identify any situation you feel uncomfortable in and arrange to confront this—on your terms. Forward-plan and set an intention of how the experience will be. This isn’t about walking away from people or big parts of your life, it is about living life on your terms—this time, sober. Rather than a big pub-filled night out, you may decide to enjoy a three-course meal with mocktails before you head home at a sensible hour.
The temptation will come, so be ready. Remember your why and make sure you are prepared for it. Role-play what would happen if you had one, two, or multiple drinks. Remember: you don’t want to be that person anymore, cradling the hangover, wishing away the next day or few days.
I faced my biggest challenge 10 months in when I was travelling as part of a group tour to Ethiopia. As everyone gave the waiter their boozy orders, I paused as I could feel it, the little voice in my head whispering, “Just join in, have one drink. Go on—you won’t single yourself out that way.” That reason, your why, needs to be stronger than that little voice in your head.
Not everyone will get your why and may not support you by whispering, “Just have one drink.” Thankfully, in my experience, many people do get it and will become part of your support network. Be open to explaining that you are facing a wobble. On the same trip in Ethiopia, as I felt myself swaying, I explained to those sitting nearby that I hadn’t drank since January. Just like that, a few in the group explained their own sober challenges—they all got it. I felt the struggle drift away as I looked the waiter in the eye and asked for an orange juice. Phew.
Celebrate your wins, as drinking is still ingrained in our culture when and wherever possible. Another version of me would have thought I was a big, sad, boring loser saying no to alcohol. I now chase that feeling when you wake up the next day feeling fresh, fully present, and in control of your day. Go all in, embrace it—feel the smugness of controlling your life on your terms. Celebrate life again! High five each milestone, whether an experience, situation, or a sober birthday milestone.
Enjoy what the sober vibe brings: a new community, new hobbies, and new alcohol-free drinks to try. Don’t hold onto the past or regret the person you were. Life is too short for that. You have a new sober life to explore.
Strip away the alcohol and many people will feel lost—but I felt more alive and way more in control, present, and appreciative. We are our own energy, vibe, and buzz. Prepare for a journey where you unlearn who you were before alcohol became your friend. You are now in full control of your future—what do you want? Decide, then go out and get it.
The Key Takeaways
Find the balance in your life.
I know my life got easier when I worked out what was getting in my way.
This is our only shot at life, and we shouldn't waste it.
If you open your eyes and mind and free yourself, then you can live a joy-filled life without the drama of a hangover.
What is holding you back?
My body cried out for a long time to be listened to. I was having too much fun to listen—until the struggle became greater than the fun. The more we realise we can design and create our own life, the more we fine-tune what that means to us—but we can only do so by slowing down and listening to our body and mind.
Therein lies the answer
Instagram handle: @followyourjoy_ja