There was a time when I would have told you the only thing better than drinking was drinking more. It’s been five years since I last let alcohol pass my lips, and the years have been filled with other discoveries. People trying to replace alcohol are looking for escape, calm, company, euphoria, and emotional sustenance — here are places where I find them.
1 Deep conversations with friends
I drank for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important was closeness. I wanted to talk until dawn, tell each other all our secrets, and alcohol gave me a reason to confess and confide. Take away the booze, and what do you have? The same conversations, but now with less slurring and repetition.
2 The outdoors
The exhilaration of nature is one of the most thrilling natural highs we have been given. The ocean, the mountains, the twinkling night sky... Get out there. Be in it.
3 Funny people
My internal world can get a little minor-note, so I need comedians. I listen to stand-up, comedy podcasts, watch HBO specials, read comedy memoirs. Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, Chris Rock, Marc Maron, Tina Fey — these people pull me out of my own head. Laughter is a beautiful way of leaving the dark mind behind for a while.
Sex releases all those feel-good drugs: dopamine, adrenaline, oxytocin. Of course, orgasm is great (I’m pro), but what I recommend more than sprinting to the release is that slow, transcendent sex. The kind where you lose time.
5 Creative endeavours
I don’t care what it is: painting, sewing, wood-whittling, rock sculpture. I once did a latch-hook rug of a tabby. Find something you enjoy doing with your hands, and lean into it. Another powerful escape, but an escape that leads something — you are building, not tearing down.
6 Lose yourself in a book, a movie or a narrative TV show
There is immense comfort in slipping into an imaginary world and staying snuggled up for a while. This is a golden time for storytelling. Take advantage of it.
7 The weird high of helping someone else
It probably sounds insane. I wouldn’t have believed me either. But I get an incredible high from being useful to other people. So much of my life has been self-absorbed and perhaps what I was seeking was release from that mental obsession. When you reach out a hand to someone who needs you, you get it.
8 Doing something that scares you
Karaoke. Dive out of an airplane (which I will never do). Let an artist sketch you naked. Walking onto the plank of your own fears and jumping off reminds you how much is possible, and how much can be tolerated if you only breathe, stay calm and keep moving forward.
9 Find sensual pleasures
Go deep on coffee brews. Become an expert on different kinds of chocolate. Drinkers tend to be sensualists, who want to feel up the universe. There are so many new corners to explore and unpack.
Drinking is fun and cool and hilarious — and it was also demoralising, and eroded my own self-respect. I was so tired of apologising for what I had done, some of which I didn’t even remember. I feel a great rush in holding myself upright now. If I trip in my heels (which I still sometimes do), it’s because I lost my balance, not because I drank it away.
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (Two Roads books, £12.99) is out now and is also available as an ebook