Grace Arthur decided to stop drinking alcohol last Christmas. Here she tells Julia Bryce how she did it and why she would encourage others struggling with their mental health to do the same..
Christmas Eve was the first time an alcoholic drink had passed Grace Arthur’s lips since she decided to take a break from it in December 2019.
A spur of the moment thing to help with her anxiety at the time, Grace’s plan of giving up alcohol for Dry January soon surpassed her expectations, and saw the 25-year-old who lives in Aberdeen, go sober for more than a year.
Having had her last drink on December 20, 2019, Grace has only had alcohol again once, enjoying an Espresso Martini with her sister on Christmas Eve.
Working for Aberdeen Performing Arts as a sales and ticketing manager, Grace says she had only planned to stop drinking alcohol for one month, which in turn ended up seeing her celebrate a year of no-drinking at Christmas.
She said: “For me, it was never meant to be a year to begin with. I had quite bad anxiety at the time and I thought about having a break from it as I didn’t think alcohol was helping so I took a break and tried to do Dry January.
“After the end of January I felt so many benefits so wanted to go a little bit longer. Before I knew it I decided to stick it out and wanted to go the full year. My intention initially was to clear my head, have a break and try and be a bit healthier, and the next thing I knew it had been three or four months and I just thought then, ‘I’m going to do this for the full year’.”
Not a big drinker anyway, Grace said it wasn’t giving up alcohol that was the biggest challenge for her personally, but it was her social life and having to explain her new circumstances which she found the most frustrating task.
“I was never a big drinker before so I think it would be different depending on how often you drink, but I think the hardest thing for me was the social side of it and explaining to people that you weren’t drinking, which is ridiculous,” said Grace.
“It was the biggest challenge saying to people I wasn’t drinking and them then asking why, and feeling like I had to justify it. I was telling people I wasn’t pregnant, I wasn’t on antibiotics, or that I wasn’t super religious and it was almost like I had to go through that whole spiel with everyone.
“The one thing I learned at the end of it was that just saying, ‘no, I’m ok, thank you’, is enough. You don’t need to go into detail with every single person, but you feel like you have to to begin with.”
Friends and family
And while her friends and family have been super supportive throughout her experience, it didn’t start off like that with many of them not believing she would be able to commit.
She added: “It was a real mix. To begin with I think people didn’t believe I’d be able to do it longer than January, and then they suddenly realised I was doing it for the long haul.
“To begin with they weren’t that supportive because I think they thought I wouldn’t want to go out, be fun, or want to do anything with them. I went out with the girls when lockdown was lifted in July and they were drinking all day and it wasn’t difficult at all – I had a great time.
“I did a Zoom hen do with diluting juice. Everyone was asking what each other were drinking and there was wine, prosecco and then I was like, ‘diluted juice’ – they were so confused.”
Now Grace says she would recommend taking a break from alcohol for either a short or long period.
She said: “I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about it or struggling with their mental health, which I think so many people will be just now. It is the perfect time to try it. For me, it got so much easier.”
And with coronavirus restrictions leading to restricted sales of alcohol in hospitality settings, Grace says she enjoyed the non-alcoholic options that started appearing on drinks menus.
“Selfishly, when bars and restaurants weren’t allowed to sell alcohol it actually became ok for me not to drink when I went our for dinner or met up with friends. It made it easier.
“Every time I went out I would just have Diet Coke or lemonade, but then a lot of places started encouraging people to have mocktails and got in all of these non-alcoholic wines and spirits which was amazing as it felt like I wasn’t having to have a child’s drink, that I could have an adult drink with my friends – and could have a glass of wine with a steak.
“To begin with I started on coffees and soft drinks I think because initially I was nervous about asking for non-alcoholic drinks. For me, it wasn’t overly common to ask for mocktails or non-alcoholic drinks in a bar which is so well known for its cocktails.
“Over summer when more and more restrictions came in like the bars closing at 10pm, then 6pm and no alcohol, I started having more adventurous drinks like these different mocktails. It felt much fancier than soft drinks. Unless these places give you the menu or alert you to the fact they have them, you’re a little nervous about asking for them. I just didn’t want a pint of sweet fruit juice so the fancier mocktails were a welcome addition.”
With alcohol-free spirits and beers on the rise as more and more people become aware of their wellbeing and health, Grace also welcomes these new additions and enjoyed finding out about the vast range available.
From celebrities launching their own brands to Scottish drinks brands like Feragaia, one of Scotland’s first non-alcoholic spirits, there’s lots to be discovered.
Grace added: “Spencer Matthews from Made In Chelsea has actually launched his own non-alcoholic spirits range, CleanCo – I had never even looked at stuff like that before now. I started looking into it and it isn’t until you start looking that you realise just how much stuff is out there.
“I think the more aware of it you are, the easier it is to find these things and then notice the different brands in bars. There’s so much on offer, but you just need to know about it.”
Using an app to keep track
One tool Grace downloaded to help her keep track of her progress was an app called Quit That!.
Designed to track the things you are trying to quit, the app can be used for a multitude of things including quitting smoking, or stopping buying takeaway food or chocolate.
Budgeting £6 per day, Grace has saved more than £2,000 since giving up alcohol in December 2019 and says she was motivated by the app.
She added: “There was an app I downloaded called Quit That! which generated roughly how much I was spending a week on alcohol. It tells you how much you saved. Over the festive period last year I would have gone out a lot more, or birthdays and that sort of thing. I probably went out every second weekend, maybe twice a month, and I would have a glass of wine with dinner, although I was never really a big drinker.
“It also tells you how many days and hours you’ve done. For some people that can be really motivating looking and seeing that you’ve not had it for say four or six months. For some people who are spending a lot of money on alcohol, it shows you exactly how much you have saved. The app said I had saved over £2,000. It can be used for everything but was a really good way for me to monitor my alcohol spend.”
Looking back on her achievements over the past year, Grace’s top advice on trying to quit or give up something is just to be honest with the people around you. Having tried to come up with multiple excuses as to why she wasn’t drinking, she says the best thing anyone can do is tell friends and family the truth and not to put yourself under too much pressure.
“I managed a full year. I wasn’t a hermit, didn’t stay in my house for the whole time, I was in environments where people were drinking. I started this mid December last year and went through the whole festive period without drinking and still enjoyed myself,” said Grace.
“Don’t feel you need to justify it to anyone or explain yourself. I came up with so many different scenarios: Should I say I’m on antibiotics? I could say, ‘I’m driving’. No, just say you’re not drinking. I actually think once I was honest and just said to people that I wanted to clear my head, people were much more respectful.
“Do it for as long as you want, whether that’s a couple of weeks or months, just do what works for you.
“I’ll take spells whenever I need it. I’m now in a place where I can see the benefits of not drinking for periods of time. I’m not dead set on being teetotal.
“It is totally fine to take a break from alcohol. I was worried people would think I was needing a break because I was an alcoholic or something. But actually, I was overthinking everything in my own head and I was doing it for me and my own health, rather than anyone else.”