The (sober) struggle is real.

Agnieszka Zbieranska
6 min readFeb 16, 2018


Those of you who know me, know that I’m a real challenge freak. I thrive on challenges — the more difficult or quirky, the better.

I won’t list all the semi-crazy things I’ve done, but just believe me when I say – a lack of willpower is unlikely to be my problem. If you frame something as a challenge, I’m bound to do it and enjoy it in the end.

But, halfway through this year’s booze-free February, I must admit that staying away from alcohol in London — or in general — is a real struggle!

Don’t get me wrong — not drinking during the week, sleeping better and feeling more refreshed as a result is great. I haven’t analysed my monthly spending yet, but I’m sure I’ve saved a couple of £ too. I also noticed that in the last two weeks I’ve definitely been less anxious and reactive, more controlled and effective in my meal prepping and exercise planning, and more productive at work and in general. I also managed to survive and enjoy a company night out, a few boozy dinners with friends and even a visit to a super fancy cocktail bar without a drop of alcohol!

But the perk of not drinking that I’ve been looking forward to most — losing weight and slimming down — is definitely not going to happen to me. With my main treat, red wine, ‘taken away’ from me, I eat so much more, mostly of the good stuff, but not only.

Same thing happened when I went vegan in November last year — so much willpower went into meal planning and prepping that very little of it was left to control my various cravings and appetite in general.

And yeah, every frickin’ chapter of The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge book warns readers not to substitute alcohol with vicious sugars or saturated fats (or salts, as a matter of fact…), but these warnings don’t seem to appeal to my under-indulged self.

To be true, life without that occasional glass of wine simply seems dull. Yes, I know — this makes me sound like an alcoholic, but I don’t think I am one, as I’m not struggling on the physical or mental level here. I don’t miss alcohol per se. I’m suffering from a lack of stimulation.

Here me and Drew trying to pretend that ginger beer and lemonade are fine substitutes for beer and wine, respectively… It’s a hard thing to do when your (ginger) beer can is smaller than your portable phone charger.

A dopamine-driven girl that I am, I try and do live an exciting life— I do a lot of sports, meet friends often, have a very stimulating job, collect TimeOut London to be in the loop of all that’s going on in this crazy city (London) and travel whenever I can — but even that doesn’t seem enough to ward off the boredom of the everyday. I’m not sure what I’m expecting from life, to be honest… I’m very much aware that it’s pretty impossible to feel excited, zealous, passionate or joyful every day.

Perhaps my journey toward sobriety is as much about unlearning to drink alcohol on a regular basis, treating it as a pair of crutches in stressful, social and take-your-pick situations, as it is about learning how to find deeper, more lasting zest for life than skin-deep, fleeting tipsiness.

Wow, that was deep!

In any case, this is where I am, halfway through the challenge.

I guess I’m also starting to appreciate that taking this challenge up wasn’t really a form of self-punishment (as I initially viewed it), but rather an ultimate act of self-love; All in all, it’s not only making me healthier, but also much more self-aware. How apt, considering we celebrated the Valentine’s Day not so long ago!

So to finish up on a constructive note, I’d like to share some tips and techniques I adopted in the last 14 days to stay away from alcohol and still feel I wasn’t missing out entirely — hopefully it will serve those of you who (like me) tend to suffer from a severe case of FOMO ;).

  1. DO NOT avoid social situations:
    Why isolate yourself from people, only because you’re not drinking? No point in making yourself even more miserable ;) . Tell your friends about your temporary abstinence —we’re all adults now and it’s really unlikely that anyone is going to nag you to drink with them or ostracise you simply because you’re not drinking. The reverse is more likely — most people will support and admire you, and some might even join you! I was really surprised how many people decided to join me this February without me even trying to convince them, and every time I went out with a ‘drinker’ they bought a non-alcoholic beverage to show their solidarity.
  2. Try various ‘virgin’ cocktails & nonalcoholic drinks:
    I find it SO sad to be drinking sparkling water in a cool bar when everyone enjoys their Mojitos and Pina Coladas… so I found myself drinking their ‘virgin’ versions, finding them surprisingly satisfying. Add to it a pleasant placebo-tipsiness effect associated with the act of drinking a cocktail in a fancy bar, minus the headache, and you’ve got a recipe for a great night out.
    Also, me and my friend discovered that non-alcoholic wine fromWhole Foods Market tastes like Kirsch Royale (Prosecco with Chambord black raspberry liqueur) and makes you feel funky-funky like the real thing. Again, thank Heavens for the placebo effect!
    Side note: the WFM Prisecco is more expensive than decent Rioja, but hey, you cannot put a price tag on health!
  3. Distract yourself and tackle the reason why you’re compelled to drink in the first place.
    I am a hopeless case of a couch-wine-drinker who enjoys a glass of red at the end of the day (or with dinner) at home, so I had an additional habit to silence here.

The truth is, old habits don’t die hard — they don’t die at all. They can only be replaced with new habits.

I found that ‘passive habits’, like reading, aren’t sufficient to ward off that initial craving. It has to be a more ‘active’ replacement that tackles the real reason why I want to reach for a glass of wine, like :
- To satisfy my actual tastebud-level cravings, I’d make tea or grab a sparkling lemonade (e.g. Innocent Orange & Lime, less than 100kcal in 330ml) first thing I enter the flat. It’s not the exact replacement, but sufficient to provide distraction.
- To address a lack of endorphins and/or dopamine (happiness & reward hormones, respectively), I’d exercise in the evening (e.g. do yoga, play tennis, or go for a run or long walk).
- To address boredom and a ‘lack of things to do’, I’d engage in a mentally-challenging task (e.g. unfinished work assignments, side projects, writing a blog post) or do something creative (like drawing, making cards, journaling).
- To battle stress, I’d take a relaxing bath with candles and incense, practice yoga, or meditate — I know, me meditating? The world is ending!

In any case, you get the gist. So, happy not drinking, folks, and hope you have a great month of love — whatever your relationship status is, I think this is a perfect opportunity for all of us to practice some self-love: And what’s a better way to do it than by letting your liver rest a little ;)!

Perhaps celebrate the post V-Day weekend with a glass of heart-pink, guilt-free PriSecco — too much alcohol is bad for your libido anyway!



Agnieszka Zbieranska

Business Psychologist, Life Coach & NLP Practitioner, 200hr Yoga Teacher. A firm believer that we can all be better than ‘ok’, in every area of our lives.