The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober: Drinking and me
I’d like to start this piece by saying this is my personal journey with alcohol, I don’t wish to play down that alcohol addiction can be incredibly serious, and if you feel that alcohol is a problem in your life, please contact your GP or an organisation such as Alcoholic’s Anonymous.
I don’t remember the first time I drank alcohol, I think maybe it was a Hooch at a parents friends barbecue in my early teens, what a way to begin. I don’t remember the first time I got drunk, but it was definitely the summer of my GCSE’s when I was 15. I’d say my heaviest drinking days were between the ages of 17 and 27, seems like a long old time when you write it down like that. But at 6th form and the years after, every Saturday was spent down the indie disco (that’s a story for another day but what a time to be alive), and drinking heavily was just part of the culture. We’d all drink those 50p Apple Sour shots, a double JD and coke, and down the £5 bottles of wine, and as much as we might feel rough the next day, we’d go out and do it all over again, this continued well into my uni years, and then when I had my first few jobs in London. Whilst my friends and I were all moaning about how broke we were, we’d find time to drink ourselves silly at the Boogaloo in Highgate, or Slim Jim’s on Upper Street and if we really couldn’t afford to go out, we’d go round each others dingy London flats with cheap bottles of Procecco and dance around the bluetooth speaker until it was time to go home in the early hours.
From my first encounters with alcohol, I’ve never really been a couple of drinks and leave it kinda person, and what might get brushed off as a funny story the next day when I was younger, soon turned into anxiety inducing 2 day hating myself situations, once I turned 30. To give it context, drinking at home was never really my vice in my 20s, except the house parties, I almost didn’t see the point in having a drink unless getting drunk was the outcome. It was let’s go party and drink everything in sight, spend £60 on an uber home or sit at home with a cup of tea and be in bed by 11pm. I’ve never really been good on the middle ground, or at least that was the story I told myself. And so far my 30s have mainly been spent unlearning stories I’ve told myself, about myself.
In the August after my 30th birthday in May I found out I was pregnant, and giving up alcohol for 9 months seemed like a no brainer, also for me, whilst pregnant I didn’t feel much like partying or drinking - a decaffeinated Yorkshire tea was about my limit. Lots of people talk about their first drink after giving birth, again I couldn’t think of much worse. The sleep deprivation felt a lot like a hangover, and any drink I did have made me want a nap. As June got older I started to get pieces of myself back, but what I didn’t know is that I would never get ‘the old me’ back, but as I know now what a good job that turned out to be. I didn’t really fancy the parties, or the getting drunk. I was quite content wth staying at home, but saying goodbye to my old ways, was to be, and still is a journey. I can probably count on two hands how often I have been ‘old me’ drunk since June was born, and each and every time the hangover had been awful and far outweighed any fun I might’ve had the night before.
When my best friend in Melbourne told me last year she was done with alcohol, I did what any supportive friend would do and got out a bottle of champagne. It wasn’t alcohol we were done with, it was cheap drinks we’d decided, being drunk on sticky dance floors was a thing of the past. But all we’d done is upgrade our poison of choice, and repackaged it as something responsible adults do. As it’s not quite my story to tell, she’s now been sober 9 months and I couldn’t be prouder of her, if you do want to read more about her story she wrote a brilliant piece on Hello Sunday Morning. We met in said indie night’s toilets, and we have been firm friends ever since, and whilst the stories we have could fill a book, and we’ve spent many drunk nights telling each other our secrets, I don’t think anything has been more lovely than speaking the truth to each whilst both sober. Actually telling each other how we feel, and the other one actually listening…groundbreaking.
After I’d had one hangover too many at a hen party in April, and had a whole summer full of more and then the weddings to come after, I wondered how on earth I was going to get through it. My friend in Melbourne recommended I read ‘The Unexpected Joys of Being Sober’ which like most things in life, if you’re looking for answers to something they often present themselves a few times before you actually take notice. I’d seen this book banded around the internet, and it made me really curious. Or sober curious as I’ve learned is a thing, it’s becoming, unsurprisingly a really big movement.
I bought the book, and from the second it arrived I thought it had been written solely for me, and couldn’t put to down. It was so comforting to know that someone else has drank because they feel nervous, bored, and was brilliant to relate to someone else who can’t leave the party at midnight when the pub closes and has parts of an evening that they can’t remember. In the book, Catherine Gray recommends if you want too, giving up alcohol for 90 days is where you should start. You might have done dry January or Sober October, but the benefits really begin after the 4 weeks, as Jim Morrison said, although he definitely wasn’t talking about being sober, you ‘break on through to the other side’. The side of life where a sober hen do isn’t fear inducing but practically welcomed, and after that big wedding you can actually make plans the next day as you know you’ll be fit as a fiddle. I’m not boring, I just had to learn to flex a new muscle, and form new healthier habits.
For me, the book poo-pooed every single reason I’ve given myself, to say I can’t stop drinking (and again, I am not belittling addiction here, Catherine talks about the spectrum and I’d say out of 10 I was probably a 5).
So where am I at now? I managed 2 months and 2 weeks with no alcohol, and found learning about myself and what triggers me really fascinating. Triggered feels like SUCH a millennial word, but I’m embracing it and saying that I learnt quickly what made me want a drink. New social situations where I’d be meeting new people set off a big internal alcohol alarm, and I also missed it when I wanted to switch off instantly from a stressful day parenting or working. In the couple of years after having June I have really appreciated a drink at home, rather than going out. But I’ve never been a glass of wine every night kind of gal and mostly restricted myself to two days a week. It sounds so simple and obvious, but I never really knew what made me want a drink before, and now that I know what does I can make a plan, do something else in those situations, or avoid them entirely if I want. Turns out saying no, is another muscle I have had to learn how to flex. Another big thing I have learnt is that the feeling wears off, for me the internal alcohol alarm is temporary, give it 10 minutes, then 20, then 30 and I see how I feel, I’ve found a way that means I don’t always need to respond to my emotions instantly because they are not always telling the truth.
I’ve now done karaoke sober, and let me tell you it far outweighs doing it drunk, you get more opportunities on the mic (people drinking are constantly going to the bar and loo), you have more breath, can read the words, and *almost* hit all the notes. Every wedding I’ve been too, I’ve been far more focused on the food, actually conversing with people and not looking over their shoulder for when the wine is coming back in my direction, and having a toddler with no hangovers is definitely a better choice.
What made me give up, giving up before the 3 months was finished? I just felt like it, but not like how I felt like it before. I felt in control of that decision, I knew that I could have a couple of drinks and go home / move onto something non alcoholic / say no. Whereas before, I was a bit more of loose cannon, you know those nights where you say you’re not going to drink and then its 3am and you’re thinking DAMN IT, I did it again.
So going forward, that’s what I am going to go, assess the situation, see how I am feeling and see if I want to drink or not. And if I ever feel like I am not in control then I’ll look at it again, but for now that’s the decision that I’m happy with and feel like works for me.
I don’t think I’ve ever had so many DMs on Instagram asking for the name of a book, and as Catherine Gray writes 65% of Brits want to drink less so it’s no surprise since talking to people about it, I’ve found so many people on their own path with alcohol and where it slots into their life, if at all.
I’d recommend reading this list by Clemmie Telford on her giving up alcohol after a podcast recording she did with Sober Girls Society here. Also my friend in Melbourne has started doing sober meet ups over there, if you’re in the area get in touch at the Rise Revolution. there’s also some great sites such as Hello Sunday Morning, The Tempest, an app called ‘I am Sober’ to track it if you wish, and lastly here’s a link to THAT BOOK.
I have been really hesitant on publishing this (read three months hesitant), and alcohol are living in harmony quite nicely. I hope my ramblings have helped you in some way, and as I said at the start this is my story and unique to me, don’t brush those hangovers off as something funny if you feel like you’re not laughing anymore.