Welcome to The (Not) Drinking Diary Series! I’ll be chatting to people on alcohol and on life; about their sobriety, mindful drinking and/or alcohol free period.
Another instagram friend, Niamh gave up alcohol for health reasons & brings another new perspective to the blog. She is a reiki therapist, meditation teacher and nutrition & health coach based in Dublin.
Niamh specialises in helping people navigate the big changes and transitions in their lives – be it becoming a parent, family break-up, losing a loved one, illness or new career direction. Or just paying attention to that little voice inside that keeps telling you there is something more for you. I found her answers helpful and super inspiring, read on & enjoy!
Name: Niamh Gallagher
Location: Dublin, Ireland
1.What led you to think differently about drinking?
I was thrown into giving up alcohol – completely against my will!
At the grand old age of 30, I began getting bladder infections every time I drank (I know- glamorous!) and it really wasn’t fun.
I couldn’t believe this was happening and kept trying to drink again, hoping I was imagining things…but, no. After even just one drink, I’d come down with that familiar shooting pain and have to get back (again!) to the doctor for antibiotics.
So I had to just stop. Cold turkey. Without any preparation!
While I didn’t make my own decision to give up drinking, the experience of quitting has led me to think (radically!) differently about alcohol.
2.How would you describe your relationship with alcohol now?
I don’t have a relationship with it, really! I never drink. Occasionally I think I’d love to have a glass of wine or a beer on a warm day – old habits die hard. But, really, it doesn’t bother me.
In fact, I kinda love not drinking. It feels really nurturing and respectful of myself and my body. And I’ve come to such a level of peace with myself that I don’t really feel any need anymore to hide myself behind drunkenness. Or to put up a fake alcohol-induced front.
Also, the perverse part of my nature really enjoys the rebellion. Because sobriety is actually a huge rebellion against the norm.
3.What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since your approach to alcohol shifted?
I had to stop drinking at a really inconvenient time – I was about to move from Dublin to London. I had my group of friends in Dublin who knew me and were understanding about my not drinking…but London was a whole other issue!
I found it really hard to integrate into London life when every single opportunity to get to know people and make friends revolved around drinking…a lot! Bonding with work colleagues meant after-work drinks. And every other social occasion centred round getting completely wasted.
And this was HARD for me. I was the suddenly self-conscious, painfully sober person at every party – trying to fake enjoyment of anything that went down after 11pm!
What I realised then is that drink had been masking something about me.
It turns out I’m not really as gregarious and outgoing as it might have seemed – that was just the alcohol. I’m actually an introvert and really sensitive. One of my favourite things to do is to have deep and meaningful conversations – not small talk. Drink had been a nice little way to numb my feelings, slow down my thoughts and help me appear to fit in with the crowd.
With a few drinks down me, I could laugh as loud as anyone, conduct conversations about nothing at all and hook up with guys I would never have wanted to be with when sober. I could fit in with what I thought I was expected to be like.
Without alcohol, I had to face myself. And for quite a while it was painful. And lonely.
4.What lessons have you learnt about life (and yourself) since your relationship with alcohol has changed?
As hard as it was at the time, quitting drinking was ultimately the most liberating thing I have ever done!
It was an incredibly important part of my healing so many things. Because when you can’t drug your pain and your anxieties, then you have to face them.
And then it all comes full circle. Because you have ceased trying to pretend to be anyone other than who you are, you find you don’t even need drink anymore!
I think that, deep down, we’re all just trying to be loved and accepted. Drinking is one of the many tickets in our culture to get us this approval. But it doesn’t heal the deeper wounds – it just masks them.
5. How do you start your day? Do you have a morning routine?
Not really! I know morning routines are all the rage, but I don’t have total control over my mornings now I’m a mother.
I usually wake up about 15 minutes earlier than my daughter and use those few minutes to practice some yogic breathing exercises. (Basically lying in my bed, taking some deep and slow breaths.)
When that period of calm is interrupted by the whirlwind of a child, it’s all systems go to get everyone washed, dressed, fed and out the door on time for school and work.
But I always have breakfast and have a long-standing obsession with porridge with any number of toppings!
6. Do you have any rituals you always make time for?
I (almost!) always make time each evening for connecting back to myself – whether through yoga, meditation, reiki…or just sitting quietly and observing my thoughts and feelings. Even 5-10 minutes of this is helpful after a busy day.
7. What’s your favourite thing to do (hangover free) at the weekend?
I love getting out to food markets and buying lots of goodies. I get to a yoga class. Catch up with friends and family. Or spend some time by the sea or in nature.
8. When it comes to your own personal development, what is one thing that you’re working on or learning right now?
When you’re naturally prone to overthinking and overwhelm like me, then you need to be getting as much downtime in your life as possible – to calm your nervous system. So I’m a bit obsessed with anything that helps me slow down, be still and connect with my own inner wisdom.
So, I love yin yoga. I love meditation and deep relaxation. And reiki healing.
But my most recent obsession is Womb Yoga – I call it feminist yoga! The yoga we all practice has been developed and passed down by men for men. And women’s unique bodies and needs got no attention along the way. Which is a bit tricky now that 90% of every yoga class in the West is full of women!
But we have our own experiences of the world and Womb Yoga is all about working with our bodies and our cycles, rather than pushing through. It feels like coming home.
9. And finally, thinking differently about alcohol can be challenging and isolating, is there any advice you turned to or do you have any words of wisdom for people reading this?
I’d say get all the support you can. Find your people who are on the same journey – whether in real life or online.
The first year of not drinking is the most challenging, but it gets way easier after that.
And also, don’t be scared to do hard things. Giving up drinking in our society is not encouraged. And facing yourself is not encouraged. So it all feels deeply weird and uncomfortable at first.
But please don’t let the fact that it’s hard stop you. It’s in the midst of hard experiences that we learn the most – and become our true selves. At the end of it all, there’s peace and freedom.