Quitting drinking in your 20s (guest post)

Tommy on the beach

This guest post comes from Tommy, a 27-year-old working in communications while training to become a counsellor.

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Last year, I sat in a fancy restaurant in Wellington with a glass of Otago’s finest red in front of me. As I talked with my wife and best friend about the seven course meal we were devouring, another more anxious conversation was going on inside my head.

“You know this is the last drink you are ever going to have, right?”

Earlier that Saturday, in a time of reflection, I decided to quit drinking alcohol. Over the years, I had toyed with the idea of becoming teetotal, but was never able to convince myself to make that decision. I was always enticed by a freshly-poured pint or the tantalising glugging noise of wine being poured.

It is hard to explain why I had a problem with alcohol, because my recycling bin was never bulging full of empties.

In my uni days, I took part in binge-drinking sessions with my mates. But in my 20s, my drinking habits became more respectable and refined. Blowouts were uncommon. Instead, I enjoyed a couple of drinks at the end of most days. I learned to appreciate oaky wines and fancy beers. A few nights each week, I didn’t drink at all. Surely, my drinking habits were normal? Surely, I was okay?

What no one else could see was that alcohol was ruling my life. It ruled my thoughts, decisions and actions. At dinner parties, where everyone else seemed content with just two glasses of wine, I felt like drinking five – even if I didn’t.

At home, it wasn’t uncommon for me to tell my wife I’d only had two beers while cooking dinner, when really I’d had more. Sometimes, I would wake up at 3am with a thumping headache and a bone-dry mouth, because I had drunk too much.

Each time I considered giving up alcohol, I managed to convince myself my relationship with it wasn’t that bad. Alcohol’s power over me was very subtle. Most of the time – because we live in a culture that is soaked in booze – it was camouflaged. Only occasionally would I catch glimpses of it, peering out of the shadows.

Almost every day, I was in a constant tug-of-war, trying to control the voice in my head that told me I needed to drink.

My lowest moments were when I would drink too much (usually at a social or family function).

My wife raised her concerns about my drinking - but I was always convinced  that I didn’t have enough reasons to make any massive changes.

It was when I began to read about the lives of sober people that I had a revelation: I didn’t need a reason to become sober.

Even though I wasn’t drinking a whole bottle of gin each night, I could still decide to quit.

Even if I was only having one drink each night, I could still choose sobriety.

For me, the problem wasn’t exclusively about the volume of my alcohol consumption. The problem was that I relied on it to function. From my teenage years, I used booze to help me relax, ease my anxieties and give my confidence in social settings.

But last year, at the age of 27, I decided that these reasons didn’t hold weight anymore. So, on that Saturday night in October, I finished my glass of red and decided it would be my last.

I knew that my life would be different, but I wanted to taste that new life more than I wanted to taste the latest craft beer. I was tired of waking up feeling foggy and dehydrated, tired of trying to “manage” my drinking, tired of not being honest with myself, and tired of feeling like alcohol was in control of me.

Initially, I didn’t tell anyone I had made this decision. I needed time to come to terms with the idea of a ‘Tommy’ who didn’t drink. I was scared I would morph into a very boring, very serious person.

But I was inspired and encouraged by famous sober people like Billy Connolly, who is still one of the world’s funniest comedians even though he hasn’t touched a drop in years. I am blessed to have a supportive group of friends. When I told them about my decision, they started turning up to dinner parties with sodas instead of shiraz.

My wife, who doesn’t drink often, has been a rock.

It has been four months since I pulled the pin. I have learnt a few tips and tricks to help with my journey. Blogs, podcasts and books on sobriety have been a huge help. Now, when I go to a bar or a social function, I make a plan. In my head, I rehearse my soda and lime order, so that when I am standing in front of shelves heaving with bottles of spirits, the experience is easier.

At 5pm, when I used to pour a drink, I now go running around Wellington’s waterfront. I have filled my social media feed with sober influencers who keep me inspired. Being connected to other sober people through communities like Living Sober is vital.

There have been hard days. Days when I would have loved to reach for a glass of wine to take the edge off. But even on my worst days, I take comfort in knowing that I am no longer controlled by alcohol. I am changing and shaping my life for the better. And, guess what? I’m not boring. In fact, I’m pretty interesting. How many men in their 20s do you know who have decided to get sober?

Sometimes, people don’t understand my decision to quit, because I don’t fit the stereotype of a “problem drinker”. Here’s the best way I can explain it.

When I was drinking, I was walking a dog that was too strong for me. It looked like I was in control, but really, I was being dragged along. Four months ago, I let go of the leash and walked way.

It is the greatest gift I ever gave myself – listening to that voice that told me to stop. My only regret is that I didn't listen sooner.

22 Comments
  1. Starlight 5 months ago

    Tommy, thank you so much for this post. I can so relate to the power alcohol can have over you even though it seems to others that you have it under control. That constant dialogue in your head. It just rules your thoughts constantly. It is so freeing to let all of that go.

  2. SugarBelly 5 months ago

    great photo. I love that you run at the witching hour. Hat off to you. best. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Daisy70 7 months ago

    This is inspiring Tommy. I love the analogy with the dog and the leash. It describes so perfectly my experience with alcohol and the freedom of sobriety. I envy you: you’re so young and a whole life ahead of you, sober. I was a binge drinker for years on weekend, and me too, alcohol was controlling my life. I was thinking about it all the time. And guess what? I’ll be 70 in a few weeks, I’ve been sober for 76 days. So 27? You’re a very bright young man.

  4. Rosieoutlook 7 months ago

    Wow Tommy your post brought a tear to my eye. I was reading your words thinking of my nearly 19 year old son who is just being a ‘normal’ teenage binge drinker. But he has expressed he might have issues with alcohol, as it runs in our family. I have been off wine now for nearly 7 years and love it, like you I didn’t hit rock bottom but knew in my heart there was a battle going on in my head. I am going to get my son to read your post and maybe he will store it in his mind for a day that he too might has had enough of the drinking cycle. Thanks Tommy:)

  5. Byrdie1 8 months ago

    I can really relate to this post, even though I am older. My bin was never full either, but boy was that dog strong….I also quit around the same time you did. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Anditombro 8 months ago

    Well done you are a very intelligent guy to see that your moderate drinking would have almost certainly led to a serious problem. I gave up 8 months ago but am in my 50’s. I wish I had your foresight so many congratulations xxx

  7. dorothyparker 8 months ago

    Really enjoyed your story Tommy.
    You are a smart person to make the call you have.
    I too love your dog walking analogy, it’s so true.
    I do believe pockets of our culture are waking up to the realization that alcohol doesn’t serve us all, and that you don’t have to be an “alcoholic” to kick it to the curb.
    You’re being a positive role model and we need more of them.

  8. Jocord 8 months ago

    What a wonderful story! Walking a dog that was too strong for you. Very apt description. You are a model for others.

  9. Prudence 8 months ago

    Well Tommy, you are what I call a Hero! Leading the way for youth.
    Power to ya! Such wisdom and strength. Smartest move you ever made and your life will be amazing because of this choice, as will the lives of all those who love you, because of you. Respect.

    • Tom1 8 months ago

      Thanks very much for the feedback – it means a lot!

  10. healthysiany 8 months ago

    I loved the dog analogy too @anny. Great post, lots of very similar thoughts to me here.

    • Tom1 8 months ago

      Thanks very much 🙂

  11. citycat 8 months ago

    Awesome post! A good reminder that there doesn’t need to be a “rock-bottom” to kick the carcinogen!

    • Tom1 8 months ago

      Thanks – absolutely not. You can make the call no matter what the consumption. We need to think broader and wider about what constitutes problem drinking.

  12. Crusaderred 8 months ago

    A great post. Like Hellsbells I gave up in my 50’s and it has now been over five years. I was able to put the last bottle down and say that is it. In hindsight 27 would have been a great age to quit. My life has been good, but it would have been so much better minus alcohol. I do try and advise some 20 somethings that I know about the booze. Hopefully the message may get through.

    • Tom1 8 months ago

      Congratulations on five years. Feel free to share the post with young people in your life. Thanks for your encouragement.

  13. Hellsbells 8 months ago

    Lovely post and I remember feeling something like this in my twenties. It took me until my 50s to be able to kick the habit. Love the dog analogy- and dogs that pull ruin most walks. Good to rehome that one!

    • Tom1 8 months ago

      Thanks heaps!

  14. Mari135 8 months ago

    Great post all around. Thanks heaps for sharing!!

    • Tom1 8 months ago

      Thanks for your encouragement!

  15. anny 8 months ago

    This is great! How inspiring! I love the dog analogy. Congrats on figuring this out earlier in life! Keep up the good work!

    • Tom1 8 months ago

      Thanks, Anny. I am glad you found it inspiring. You too!

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