Alcohol can feel intrinsically intertwined with our social lives. I know it definitely does for me. Drinks after work, a date on Friday night, and a big night out to mark the end of the week are all just part of being independent, successful, and enjoying life, right? One journalist and producer Kate Bee thought so until she got sick of waking up with a hangover and the shame she felt about what might have happened the night before. Kate Bee set up The Sober School to help women like herself who wanted to cut out alcohol. New Year's resolutions can bring stress and pressure and, for me, January definitely feels like a month of change. If you're looking to cut down on how much you drink after a very merry festive period, I spoke to Bee, who shared some some hints, tips, and words of support on how to go about making lasting changes.
Growing up, if you had asked me who my role models were, the women on screen that I truly looked up to, I would have told you Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw. The two women embodied everything I wanted in life — they were writers, with a fabulous group of friends around them, the miraculous financial stability of being in journalism and yet still able to afford spacious city centre apartments, and Mark Darcy/ Mr Big at their beck and call. However, alcohol is featured just as much, if not more in both in Bridget Jones' Diary and Sex and the City as any of the work they do. Sharing the same female icons, Bee believed drinking was simply what successful, independent women did. And, working as a journalist and TV producer at the BBC, going out after work was just all part and parcel of her life.
She tells me, “drinking was a very big part of my social life, whether it was drinks after work, cocktails at a party or sharing a bottle of wine on a date, everything I did for fun seemed to include alcohol. I couldn't imagine going out (or having fun) without a glass of something in my hand."
Tired of feeling hungover and worried that she was drinking a little more than would be deemed healthy, Bee felt in need of a support network to help her stop drinking, but the only one available was Alcoholics Anonymous. She attended a couple of meetings, but felt she didn’t really fit in as she had decided to get sober before alcohol had truly negatively affected her life.
I definitely looked as if I was holding it all together (on the outside at least). I spent a long time going back and forth in my own mind as to whether I should quit or not."
She says, “I'd been unhappy with my relationship with alcohol for a long time. I never seemed to have much of an off switch and I never knew how a night out would end. I got very bad hangovers and always regretted it the next day. But the real problem was my drinking at home. Over time I'd begun to drink more and more at home, alone. In fact by the end of my twenties that had become my favourite way to drink."
She explains that because she wasn't sure if her drinking problem was bad enough that she should quit alcohol altogether, she initially found cutting down difficult. "I found quitting very hard to start with. I had lots of failed attempts and I spent a long time not really sure if my drinking was bad enough for me to need to quit." She continues, "It didn't help that I had a fixed idea in my mind of what a problem drinker looked like... and I wasn't it! I was holding down a busy job as a TV producer and journalist and I definitely looked as if I was holding it all together (on the outside at least). I spent a long time going back and forth in my own mind as to whether I should quit or not."
Bee founded The Sober School as a middle ground support network for women looking to give up drinking. On her website it says, “I coach women who want to take a break from booze, but hate the idea of missing out or feeling deprived. I show them how to have fun, relax and be confident without a glass of wine in their hand… and I can help you too. Because stopping drinking doesn’t have to be tough. I can show you how to quit without feeling miserable.” A different way of getting sober, The Sober School offers coaching, guides, and interactive support to those looking to quit drinking. If you want to cut the G&Ts out of your life, even for a short period, this might be the support network you've been looking for.
Bee says she set up the school to help women like her change their relationship to cutting out alcohol by celebrating the positive changes sobriety can bring.
“The Sober School is an online coaching programme that helps women to stop drinking or take a break from booze and feel good about it," she says. "I set it up because I felt there was a real lack of support for women like me. I wasn't a rock bottom alcoholic, but I wasn't exactly a normal drinker either. I was stuck in the grey zone of problem drinking and I found it very hard to find any help that was relevant to me, or inspiring. In fact, everything seemed to make sobriety sound so dull and miserable, like a punishment for bad behaviour! The truth is that sobriety isn't like that at all, it's one one of the best things I've ever done."
Making any big life changes can be really hard, even in January when people are focused on going into 2019 living their best lives. Rather than focusing on just a successful Dry January, Bee wants to support women who are looking to make lasting changes.
She offered a few helpful tips for those trying to cut down on booze this January. "I would say: how long have you been trying to cut down for? If you've genuinely never tried to cut back, then give that a go. But if you've actually been creating lots of rules around your drinking for years and years and nothing's really worked, then now's a good time to try something different. Most of the women who end up on my site have been trying to moderate for years without success. If that sounds like you, I'd strongly recommend taking a proper break from drinking - at least a month, preferably two. Throw yourself into alcohol free living so you can see what it's truly like.
She also recommends seeking out as much inspiration as possible, and emphasising the fun side of giving up alcohol. "Read books, blogs and sober memoirs. Try lots of exciting alcohol free drinks. Do something fun with your free time. Educate yourself about alcohol — do some proper research on this powerful drug. Build your sober toolbox, i.e. find new coping mechanisms and new ways of dealing with the things you've always drunk over in the past. (Plan this in advance so you have a list of suggestions to plough through). Think of yourself as test driving alcohol free living... you want to find out what your normal life feels like without alcohol. You might just surprise yourself!"
Bee knows better than most how tough it can be to cope with other people's reactions to cutting down on alcohol. But she has plenty of suggestions to manage that too. After she stopped drinking Bee says, "some people were weird about it at first. When you stop drinking it makes other people feel self conscious about their own behaviour. It's crazy really, alcohol is the only drug on the planet you have to justify not taking! But over time, people got used to it. I lost a few friends who I can see now weren't really friends at all, they were drinking buddies. I've made my peace with that. In the meantime, I've gained new, proper, friends, and my relationships with some other people in my life have become a lot closer."
There's definitely a certain stigma attached to being the only one at the pub without a drink in your hand. But empowered women empower women and if you are looking for a bit of back up in your New Years resolution to cut down on drinking then I would definitely look at The Sober School.