Sleep, weight, skin, mental health; giving up drink has changed my life

Have you had your fill of alcohol in the past few weeks? Did you resolve to take a break from drink in 2019? Maybe you’re taking part in Dryanuary — where you give up alcohol for a month? JANE McNAMARA talks to one Cork woman who stayed true to last year’s New Year’s resolution, gave up booze for one year, and has never felt better
Sleep, weight, skin, mental health; giving up drink has changed my life
Laura Murray in the Health and Vitality shop on Cornmarket Street in Cork

LAURA Murray says she had a “typical enough” relationship with alcohol for most of her twenties, in that she would drink just about every weekend.

But gradually, it dawned on her that, both physically and mentally, alcohol wasn’t doing her much good.

So, Laura, who lives in Cork city, decided to quit drink completely. It was a decision that, she says, changed her life for the better.

Her life has improved immeasurably in so many ways, and she believes that she will never drink alcohol again.

Laura, who is 30 and originally from Ennis, was not what you would class as a ‘problem’ drinker, but she drank frequently.

“I think I had a fairly average Irish person’s relationship with alcohol in that I would probably drink every weekend,” she says.

“From the age of 17 to 30 I don’t think I was sober for more than two weeks straight.”

After moving back to Ireland from Australia in 2012, Laura became interested in nutrition and, over the past six years gradually became more and more drawn to a cleaner lifestyle.

“I gave up smoking a couple of years ago and started studying nutrition in the College of Naturopathic Medicine,” she says.

“The cleaner my body felt, the more impact alcohol would have, physically. The hangovers were really bad.”

Aside from the hangovers, Laura wanted to improve her mental health.

“I suffered from anxiety and depression,” she says. “I was hoping that stopping drinking would raise my mood.

“Anxiety-wise, I would have been over-thinking things like leaving the house and going to town.

“Going for a coffee, I would think everyone was looking at me.

Laura Murray before she gave up drink
Laura Murray before she gave up drink

“I wanted to know myself as an adult without alcohol. I didn’t want to have to rely on that social crutch.”

For the first six months off alcohol, Laura, said that she avoided certain social situations.

“I didn’t go near a pub. My relationship with alcohol was such that I felt I needed a drink to go to a bar.

“Then, when it came to me actually going out to the pub, I found that I was much more able for it.

“It was a gradual thing but around the three-month mark I started challenging myself and putting myself in situations that I would have previously found very anxiety-provoking, and those situations weren’t scary anymore.

“In terms of my mental health, the biggest difference is the absence of the fear I felt,” she added.

“When I was drinking, that feeling seemed to carry on beyond the days when I was hungover.

“Now, it is just not a factor in my life at all. I cannot emphasise how much better that feels. I have a lot more time and clarity.

“Things that would have worried me before have no impact now.

“The highs and lows are a lot less, and a lot less sharp. When people are in the cycle of going out every weekend you don’t even have a chance to be sober for an extended period of time, so you don’t know what it’s like without that feeling.

“When I look back at myself, fraught with anxiety and feeling fearful, I feel really sorry for myself.

“I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone and the fact that I was doing it to myself makes it worse.

“My sleep has definitely improved, as has my skin.

“My weight was never really an issue but any extra weight just fell off.” How did others react to her new lifestyle?

“It bothered other people more than it bothered me, I would say.

“It is like there is something wrong with you if you are not drinking.

“People always ask ‘Oh, are you on antibiotics?’ Or say, ‘Oh sure, just have one drink.’” Laura added: “I wouldn’t say that people push it on you, but people expect you to drink.

“I think a good thing to do if you are considering giving up alcohol for a while is to get another hobby.

“I had to seek out other ways of socialising. I go to open mic nights and play guitar, violin and sing. These are in pubs but I have another reason to be there.

“Food, fitness, rest and sleep are so important.

“I think when people prioritise those four things, the difference in how they feel is amazing.

“We need to turn off our brain sometimes. I think people use alcohol to do this but it doesn’t help. It numbs you instead.

“I would say do a month, see how far you can go.” Laura says she really appreciates comedian Russell Brand, whose book Recovery examines his various addictions.

“It is about addiction, not just about alcohol but all sorts,” explains Laura.

“If you have any doubt about your relationship with alcohol, give it up for a while and just see how you feel.

“If you enjoy alcohol and it isn’t affecting your health, good for you! Everyone is different.

“Some people can have one or two drinks, I just wasn’t one of those people. I firmly believe people should do what is best for them.

“People should be kind to themselves. Life can be difficult and sometimes we want a distraction, but knowing that you can manage without a distraction is empowering.

“If you would have told me five years ago that I would be not smoking and not drinking I wouldn’t have believed you.

“For me, personally, I knew deep down that that lifestyle wasn’t how I wanted to be living, but my identity was so caught up in it.

“It took me a long time to let go of that but I wouldn’t go back there again.

“I loved it in some ways, but it was never who I wanted to be. I wasn’t happy in myself.

“Giving up the alcohol has given me confidence. It has given me the ability to do the things I wanted to do but never felt I could.

“What I wanted from not drinking was to feel happier and I do.

“I can’t see myself going back right now, there are just too many benefits.

“The one thing I really miss about alcohol is dancing but there are other ways of doing it.” 

For sober events around Cork look up Sober South on Facebook.

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