I was reflecting with my husband in the car yesterday on how it’s been over 13 weeks since I stopped drinking alcohol. While there has been a very exciting, yet unexpected, incentive to compel me to continue along the way (more about this in my next blog) I know I would have carried on regardless, due to all the benefits I felt even after just a few days without a drink!
It’s been 13 weeks during which I’ve not even had a sip of an alcoholic beverage, smoked (I quit years ago), taken any drugs – not even a paracetamol, I’ve exercised 4-6 times a week plus done an average of 10,000 steps a day and eaten my usual balanced diet and I found myself asking him “do you think I’m boring now?”
To which he pointed out that my mental health was the most stable it’s ever been, I was still enjoying all the activities I always had, in fact probably more so now, I’d not wasted one precious day to a hangover or in fact a breakdown of anxiety. If you ask me that’s pretty much the opposite of boring.
I guess our peers and in fact society as a whole makes us feel like it’s the fast lifestyle and things that go with it that make us exciting, but to what extent is this actually true and at what cost to our physical and mental health?
Taking away all the chemicals, like alcohol, from your life forces you to be more honest. Honest about the people you’re choosing to spend time with and the things you’re doing, without alcohol to hide behind you seek real conversation and genuine, interesting activities. You can’t fritter away an evening just drinking under the guise that you’re actually doing something. I feel like my eyes have been opened wide and I’m seeing things properly for the first time in years, I’m discovering what I really enjoy doing again. I’m finding out the people that still make me laugh till I have tears in my eyes, without the aid of alcohol.
I’m appreciating food so much more when I go out to dinner, something I was really worried I wouldn’t appreciate as much without wine. Turns out the alcohol often detracts from the food, the focus is on what wine shall we have, a cocktail first, another bottle? You can barely remember the food the next day, but the bill, that’s definitely memorable! I’m also treating myself more with food, without the empty calories from alcohol I can indulge more with the eating on a night out!
I’ve learned a huge amount too, about my own self and mental health. I have come to accept that you can’t have it all, no one can, well certainly not if you suffer with mental health issues! The crazy nights drinking and the serene days just don’t go together. The binge drinking comes with an almighty fall and I spent years and years fiercely trying pretend that it didn’t and you could. But I was lying to myself. I know many will be hoping I’ll say in this blog that I haven’t noticed any difference from giving up drinking, I myself was planning to give it some time and make a decisions on whether it was helping but it really is. To drink again would be foolish; even in a year, a decade, or if I get to 75 years old it would simply make my life so much more challenging. I’d have to fight the anxiety again whereas now it’s barely a nod of acknowledgement that anxiety gives me.
Perhaps you’re pessimistic because you’ve given up for a month before in the past and hated it but I would say this your attitude and mind-set is vital to your experience & sucess! I’d done dry January in the past before with such a negative attitude, I’d felt I was missing out, had no fun, felt bored and miserable etc. but I was going about it in totally the wrong way. We’ve talked before how perception and a positive outlook is so important and it’s the same when quitting the drink. You have to focus on seeing the good from not drinking, this is where the book I mentioned in my kicking the drink post is so amazing, it helps you change your mind set about alcohol. Without doing that I think giving up would have been a really big struggle.
There’s no quick fix when addressing your mental wellbeing, everyone’s different and it’s taken me years of trying (and failing) at different techniques to work out what’s best for me. I know that drinking isn’t one of those things; I’d bet that if you’re someone that drinks a lot due to your anxiety it isn’t helping you either. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to try everything we can to make life better, make ourselves better? We get one life and my mission is to make it as brilliant as possible, if that means going without alcohol then that’s what I will do.
Having said that I don’t feel like I’m going without, I also don’t want it to define me. Not drinking isn’t who I am it’s just one of the hundreds of things that help me to be the best version of myself, and at the end of the day that’s the very best that anyone can be!
The recipe today is for this delicious salad that still feels like a treat for dinner, as it’s full of yummy ingredients like really tender marinated chicken, halloumi & roasted tomatoes. If you’ve not used it before you’ll find the buttermilk with the milk or cream in the supermarket. It’s a great ingredient to have for cooking as it’s low in fat but helps to create this creamy dressing plus it’s amazing for marinating!
The salad would also be delicious with the addition of diced avocado, bacon, sliced mixed peppers or some grains such as quinoa or bulgur wheat but I’ve tried to keep it simple to cut down on the shopping list – feel free to adapt and customise!
Chicken, Tomato & Halloumi Salad with Chive & Buttermilk Dressing.
FOR THE CHICKEN:
650g pack chicken breasts, each halved through the middle (lengthways) to create 2 thinner fillets per breast
2 tbsp piri piri sauce, I used Nandos garlic or medium hot
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
juice ¼ lemon or lime
FOR THE DRESSING:
2 tbsp chopped chives
½ tsp garlic puree or 1 small clove garlic, crushed
juice ¼ lemon or lime
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
100g halloumi cheese, sliced
100g bag of salad, I like to use a mixture of baby leaf and a crunchy mix that contains cabbage and carrot for a range of veg and texture but use whatever is your favourite
250g rainbow cherry tomatoes, halved (Lidl do these for the cheapest)
1 tsp oregano
Combine all the marinade ingredients with some salt and pepper, add the chicken and mix so that everything is evenly coated. Leave at room temperature for 30 mins or cover and chill for longer if you have time. You can even do this overnight.
Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 6. Put the tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking tray lined with parchment. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with oregano and roast for 25 minutes. Set aside once cooked.
To make the dressing put all the ingredients in a container or clean jam jar with some salt and pepper, close the lid and shake to mix until combined. Will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Put all the veg into a salad bowl or divide between plates.
Heat grill to high. Put the chicken on one side of tray lined with lightly oiled foil and the halloumi on the other side. Once the grill is hot cook the chicken and halloumi for 5 minutes on one side and then turn over and cook for 4 minutes more, remove the cheese and return the chicken for a further 5 minutes. It should be nice and caramelised but only just cooked through so it won’t be dry. Check it’s white and cooked through in the middle then set aside to rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Arrange the chicken, halloumi and tomatoes on your veg, then drizzle on your dressing just before serving.