I recently stepped away from a relationship that’s been one of the longest and in turns most tempestuous and most comforting of my life… the one with booze.
Here in England we’re known for our binge drinking culture (“what are you up to this weekend?” “Oh I’m off to the pub.”), especially up here in the North where everyone knows we enjoy a few drinks. So, like everyone else I know, I started going out drinking before I hit the legal age of 18 and have kept up that habit ever since.
There’s been the odd dabble with sobriety along the way; three months here, another month there – hell, I even cut out beer and wine completely after finding out I was yeast intolerant a while back. But since booze has been such a big part of my social life and my down time, I’ve always returned to a pint at the rugby, or a cocktail or two with the girls.
You see, booze was how I wound down, how I had fun… apparently. Because actually the monster hangovers, the feelings of anxiety and misery when the booze blues hit and the beer fear when I woke up the next day with hazy memories of the stupid things I’d done while drunk? They were all anything but fun. And definitely not relaxing either if I’m honest.
And those things weren’t just when I binged; my body’s hatred of yeast means that even a couple of drinks would leave me feeling pretty rotten for at least one day afterwards. Yet still I did it.
Why? Because I’d had a bad day and needed to chill out and have fun… because when I worked in sport and came home full of adrenaline after a busy day and a big win so needed to wind down… because I felt uncomfortable on a night out and wanted more confidence… because everyone else was drinking and I didn’t want to be the boring sober one in the corner.
Basically, alcohol was one of my favourite ways to numb when I didn’t want to think or feel.
And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I had an alcohol problem, my relationship with booze was certainly problematic.
I know, that’s a pretty big thing to say. But surely anything you “need” in order to have fun, relax or feel good about yourself makes for a pretty damaging relationship right?
So at the end of last year, after lots of contemplation interspersed with an increasing number of dry nights out, I decided something was going to change. I decided it was time to take responsibility for my own fun, confidence and relaxation… that dependence on the hard stuff was over.
Because after all, as someone who preaches so much about healing the past, embracing the present and creating the life I love, was it really right that I was using alcohol to mask the anxieties I’d carried for so many years; losing those fun moments with the people I care about the most in a slightly fuzzy bubble of tipsiness, and wasting my weekends feeling rotten?
As I write this I’ve been sober for 104 days. In honesty I can’t tell you if that’s a state I’ll stay in forever, as the famous saying goes I’m sticking with it one day at a time, but I can tell you that for right now sobriety is something I’m really enjoying.
Of course there’ve been challenges… I’ve found myself having to re-assess my idea of fun after years of subconsciously linking the two together; I’ve suddenly realised I have some healing to do around the things alcohol had previously covered up for me (who knew how much social anxiety I have, and that when I’m out in a bar I suddenly retreat back to that chubby 13 year old geek I once was?!); and I’ve found it amazing how many people argue with my decision and spend a lot of time and energy defending their own drinking as soon as I explain why I’m ordering blackcurrant and soda rather than cider (for the record I honestly don’t care – this is a personal decision and the choice to drink is yours as much as the choice not to is mine).
Along the way though I’ve also found so many positives; I’ve had more compliments on the state of my hair than I’ve ever had, far less spots and have generally found myself feeling stacks better – both physically and emotionally.
When I am doing something fun I walk away not only remembering it all but savouring those moments with the people I love; and when I’m winding down after a stressful day or a shitty experience it actually feels much more like I’ve put it to bed and dealt with that than it once did.
I’m still working through the details and the challenges – like the fact that I treat myself more with cake than I ever did before (that is definitely the next relationship to challenge) and that there are days I would love a glass of red wine (who knew the non-alcoholic stuff is actually delicious); and I still don’t trust myself not to have the odd stumble when one day I decide I could murder a pint of cider at a rugby game.
But honestly? The life of sobriety is one I’m finding more and more benefits in through every day I stick with it, so maybe just maybe this is one more toxic relationship I can claim my power back from.