Susannah Taylor: Good plans… bad friends?

Last year I did Sober October. By the end of the month, I felt invincible. However, it wasn’t the abstaining from alcohol that was the challenge – it was the reaction from others. People just seemed to make a much bigger deal out of my not drinking than I did.

One friend kept asking when it would be over, another was stunned that I was going out for dinner and wouldn’t have a sip of alcohol – ‘You mean, you’re not going to drink anything tonight?’ he asked. I could understand if I was a hardened boozer, but I don’t drink Monday to Friday and at weekends I only have a few.

Your friends’ reactions to you going sober can be the hardest part of quitting booze. Image: Getty Images

Speaking to friends, I’ve noticed that other people’s reactions to your own wellness decisions are a major factor in sticking to them. Psychotherapist Holli Rubin, who is in charge of personal wellbeing at mental health clinic The Soke, says that in therapy they always discuss other people’s reactions to clients’ decisions because they can be very influential. ‘Your healthy changes can hold up a mirror to other people and make them suddenly think, “Hang on, where does that leave me?” They may feel you’re judging them or be embarrassed if they are drinking alone.’

Wellness decisions can be especially hard in close relationships. For example, if a partnership has been built in the pub or over bottles of wine, then one person quits drinking, it can leave the other unsure of their footing. How should people handle this? ‘You need to find something else you can connect on,’ says Holli. Maybe walk the dog or start going to the gym together. The decision to quit drinking might even give you fresh insight into your relationship. ‘How others manage your change says a lot about who they are and your partnership,’ Holli says.

It’s not just drinking that’s the issue. Personally, having made the decision to get really fit in midlife, I know all too well that you can be the subject of sniping from others. I often got
comments like, ‘Are you mad?’ and ‘Don’t be dull,’ if I said I wanted to get up early to go to yoga. This can be particularly tough if you’ve always been known as the ‘unsporty one’ or the ‘party girl’. People find it hard to accept the change. Another very fit friend says her mother is forever telling people how she remembers her as a very unsporty child. ‘She’s so disdainful of exercise you’d think I was taking drugs or something,’ she says.

The great news is that how others feel is not your problem. If you do get comments or bad vibes about your new healthy habits, Holli has this advice: ‘Take a deep breath before you respond. Remember why it is that you made this decision, and find a way to remind yourself that what you are doing is extremely positive.’

If this month is the start of giving up alcohol for you, here’s a great tale from a friend of mine who’s been sober for three years. ‘Not drinking doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in things. In fact, I deliberately go out of my way to do the things I did when I drank. For example, one night I went to a pantomime and knew my friend was having a party afterwards. I thought to myself, “If I was drunk, I’d gatecrash that party.” So that’s exactly what I did. I went to two parties, had more fun than ever and woke up hangover free. My life is so much better in so many ways since I gave up drinking.’

Need support to give up?

If you are looking to change your relationship with alcohol then check out – an alcohol-habit changing programme with email support, expert habit-breaking tips and wellness coaching. The 28-day challenge is £59 and 90 days is £109.

Just the tonic for easing back

If Sober October is a step too far but you want to reduce your alcohol intake or are trying to lose weight – check out Percival and Co’s botanical-infused tonics. Low in sugar and alcohol (4% ABV), they make for a healthier, lightly alcoholic drink (no mixing required). My favourite is Rose & Juniper Hard Tonic, £28 for 12 x 250ml cans,