NINE MONTHS WITHOUT DRINKING AND WHAT IT TAUGHT ME ABOUT MY RELATIONSHIP WITH ALCOHOL

At the beginning of July I drank myself drunk for the first time in nine months.

By anyone’s standards (aside from those of a Mormon, probably), I’d say I’ve absolutely earned the right to pat myself on the back for such an impressive accomplishment… one that’s made all the more deliriously surprising by the fact that it was a damn near accidental feat.

I initially stopped drinking at the end of September last year because every time I did it, I would vomit. I was in and out of the doctors a lot at the time trying to work out what in the actual hell was so wrong with me that I was being punished for the one thing that I thought I was truly good at. I weighed up my options and landed on the side of not sicking my brains out three mornings a week, I gave up drinking.

I fucked it all off on my sister’s birthday in November, getting absolutely wankered and was so spectacularly sick the next day, and so repeatedly, that I didn’t even have the energy to cry as I watched baby penguins die on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. Christmas Eve arrived and I had a glass of champagne that saw me spending Christmas morning on the porcelain phone to god.

By January I had done three months of no booze and was finally diagnosed with dysmotility and put on a medication that I was assured would do the trick. My doctor gave me the green light to drink again… In fucking January. Just as all of my friends banished the booze and settled into the life I’d grown so bored of.

I decided to wait a bit longer to succumb, until after my marathon was over (yes! I ran a marathon: read about it here!), I began envisaging shots on the finish line. In reality, whilst the medication might have given me the all clear for alcohol, it did not extend the courtesy to 26 mile runs and I spent the evening throwing up all the water I’d drank throughout the day and surprisingly enough, didn’t then fancy much of a bender.

I had a glass of rosé in June and I wasn’t sick (wahoo!), a little mojito on 2nd July for Alex’s birthday and then at my friends wedding a few days later I necked the champagne like it was nobody’s business. I drank a lot of water too, because I’m not a total hooligan (and couldn’t face being sick in a port-a-loo, even though it was fancy as hell) and woke up the next morning without so much of a hangover.

I was back, bitches.

It’s not perfect (I did spend my birthday throwing up having drunk on an empty stomach the night before), but it’s good.

I CAN now drink again.

But as I stood in a characteristically sticky bar on Clapham High Street on Saturday night, watching all my friends do shots of tequila, I was struck by the realisation that I absolutely did not want to join them.

I was, I realised, perfectly happy feeling the final remnants of the pint of cider I’d finished an hour or so earlier leaving my pores as I danced with every ounce of sweat inducing, inhibition-less vigour to a dodgy remix of Born This Way.

I had, I realised, changed.

See, if you’d have told the old me, the one that happily modelled herself on Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous that she’d one day create a life for herself that truly didn’t need alcohol in it, she’d have laughed right in your face, called you a wanker, burped, giggled, swaggered off and then woken up the following morning feeling guilty and anxious, knowing that this was yet another incident to add to the list of “things to overthink for the rest of time”.

Alcohol was always a big part of my identity. Such is the life of a British youth.

Having secretly harboured a distinct lack of confidence, hidden beneath layers of bravado, I relished in the power that alcohol gave me: I liked the arrogance that arrived with the first tequila shot, revelled in the ease with which the bullshit came after a glass of dry white wine and was pretty sure I had identified a direct correlation with my popularity and the time that I spent in the pub.

Drunk Em was a lot more fun than Sober Em. And at a time when I prioritised FUN above all else, it is small wonder that I adored the magic potion which would unlock in me the ability to shake off my inhibitions and be exactly what I’d always wanted to be.

Fun.

Even as drinking became less fun than it had been when it first became legal, as going through the motions on a night that no one could really afford or be arsed with became a bit of an effort, and as the hangovers become longer and their side effects more severe, the association between the me that I thought I was most liked for and the alcohol that enabled the change was something so complex, it is only now with the gift of hindsight that I can begin to dissect it.

After I first began tending to this patch of sobriety, I wrote a blog post about what my accidental sober October taught me about drinking; I commented on the British culture of drinking, of my inability to have fun without booze, and a line that stuck with me, reading it back today, was that we, as a nation, “were never really taught how not to drink”.

Back when I wrote that in November I was clearly still struggling with the idea of not drinking. I was feeling lost at the time, isolated from my friends and unsure what the future of my social life would look like.

We grew up associating booze with fun. Or I did, at any rate.

In my head, I thought that the amount I drank was a direct representation of how fun I was. Hello, you’re talking to the girl that accused another wedding guest of “drinking like a little bitch” before stealing not only the tequila that he’d turned down (prompting my attack in the first place) but the G&T he was slowly sipping at, back in 2016 (the same night I had to be carried through the wedding reception like a dead fucking cow, and shoved in the service lift by my friends, by the way).

But now, having had enough time to cook up a fully formed human in the time I’ve gone without booze, and having not had to spend it all at prenatal classes and being terrified of the ever encroaching inevitability that I was going to have to shove a watermelon sized baby out of my vagina, I’ve been able to dedicate time to getting to know myself and what I really want my relationship with alcohol, going forwards, to look like.

And it isn’t sheepishly posting a relative stranger £12 as compensation for the cocktail I drunkenly ripped from his hands. Nor is it tequila for tequilas sake. Or going to the pub four nights a week ‘cos I don’t know what else to do.

I realise now, nine months into a relatively alcohol free existence, that I might just be the happiest I’ve ever been. And that simply isn’t a coincidence.

I wrote last spring about drinking when you have anxiety. About the hangovers and the sheer magnitude of the misery they brought with them. Of the effect that alcohol had on the days after the fact. Questioning whether the party was worth the pain.

A year later and pretty bloody close to alcohol free, I realise that the anxiety that I was so frequently plagued by is a modicum of it’s former self, barely recognisable as the thing that prevented me from walking my dog, that convinced me that everyone hated me, that saw me cry and break down when confronted with even the simplest of tasks.

I don’t think it’s gone, my anxiety, but it’s not the beast it used to be, and I can recognise the part that alcohol has played in that.

I said in that blog post that I didn’t know what my future would hold: I didn’t know if I would one day get to a point that saw me prioritise my mental health over my love of the London lifestyle which holds alcohol at it’s very core, or if I would keep pushing through, hoping that I’d one day find a way to trust my inhibited self.

I look at the photo I used, and I remember being so fucking plastered at 3 o’ clock in the afternoon and I think: no. I don’t like that and I don’t want that… and not just because I remember spending the next day on a train up to Manchester, rushing to the loo every few minutes to vomit or shit myself, I never was too sure what I was racing for.

I suppose I’m in a similar position to the one I was in back then, having heard compelling evidence from both sides of the bench, but entirely unsure of what my future holds.

The difference this time, though, is the learning that I have done over the last few months and how it will shape my future with alcohol, whatever I decide to do, and that is that even sober, I am fun.

Sure, my tolerance for bullshit is lower and no, I don’t have any inclination to strike up an innocuous conversation with my uber drivers at 3am. Yes I’ve missed out on some bottle and a half deep and meaningfuls, I’ve been less confident in myself when it comes to reciting Beyonce’s Crazy in Love routine and I’ve pissed everyone off a lot when the morning after the night before I’m up with my trainers on and ready for a run: unused to this excess of energy.

But I never became what I thought I’d become: I never became boring.

I was drunkenly told I was boring a lot, by people who, I now realise, have such a reliance on alcohol that they can’t bear to think that there might be someone out there who can live their life contentedly without it, but I never really felt it.

Not once I got into the swing of things anyway: the world kept spinning and I kept dancing and the only major difference came when I whipped out my car keys to take everyone home at the end of the night.

Everyone’d come back to ours for afters and they’d drink whiskey and I’d drink tea and they’d fall down the stairs and I wouldn’t and then they’d wake up in the morning filled to the brim of shame (‘cos when they went down the stairs they took one of the houseplants with them) and I’d wake up… not.

I’m really happy at the moment.

And as things currently stand I have absolutely no interest at all in waking up on a Tuesday morning with even the suggestion of a hangover, I’m far more interested in going to an early gym class and getting my endorphins in.

Who’da thunk it.

Well, me, if not drinking had ever really felt like an option. But it didn’t. I didn’t know an endorphin from an eggplant or serotonin from sapling when I started drinking and as a result, I didn’t know that my mind could possibly derive more happiness from sweat than from sambuka.

When I stopped drinking last year I had etched in my conscience that this was temporary and I’d be back to being fun super soon. I’d look at my friends for forgiveness as I sipped at my Diet Coke whilst they self consciously ordered a beer. I’d spend all my time waiting for the other shoe to drop, for my friends to tire of me and choose to spend time with someone a bit more “fun”.

I never expected for a second to enjoy it. I thought this period of not drinking was something that I had to endure, not something that I could ever enjoy. Society said that sobriety was boring and I listened to it. Until I realised it had said the same thing six times and was beginning to slur it’s words.

There is, as it transpires, a way to be bright and bubbly and fun and fabulous and liked and loved and respected and treasured AND remember it all the next day.

Now that’s not to say that drinking won’t one day make me happy again, but it is to acknowledge, to my great relief, that I am perfectly happy without it.

This is not entirely what I thought my mid-twenties would look like, having grown up drunk on the idea of cocktails with the girls and dry white wine in tucked away, candle lit Italian restaurants (in which I’d NEVER spill tomato sauce down my crisp white shirts), but that’s life for ya: full of surprises.

I have had the time, over the last few months to get to know myself, my true self, without the bravado and the pretending-to-like-beer and the look-how-many-jaeger-bombs-I-can-do-in-an-hour, and to my amazement, I rather like me.

Nearly as much as I like waking up in the morning having not had an argument with Alex that neither of us can remember, spent money that I didn’t have buying drinks for people that I don’t even like and prepared for a day of wallowing in anxiety so acute it rendered me incapable of movement.

Do I sound boring? Am I boring now?

I hope not.

But then again, I haven’t fallen down the stairs in ages, so maybe I am.

Who knows.

Who cares.

For now, I’m learning to do something that I wish I’d known from the off: to listen to my body and to my brain. To trust myself. And to know, that no matter what I choose to do, it can be fun…

Unless I opt for a career change and go into accounting, in which case, there’s no helping me.

Haha JOKING, accountants I love you and your very clever brains.

(If alcohol is something that you feel you do need help with, there IS help out there, please ask for it. You can find more information HERE)

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