adj: 1. not affected by alcohol; not drunk. 2. serious, sensible, and solemn.
Being sober is something I have been planning on writing about for a while but for some reason I have been hesitating. I think it is because talking about alcohol seems to feel like a confessional, I felt too vulnerable and like I was laying myself bare. But I have decided the time has come, what with it being the new year and everything.
First of all I would like to state that this is just my personal account. I do not claim to be an expert on alcohol, alcoholism or addiction. All I know is my experience.
Me, the drinker
My drinking habits were what I would describe as normal for a drinker of my age. Since the age of 18, more or less, I drank alcohol about 2 or 3 times a week. Maybe one pint in the evening with friends during the week or, since living in France, a glass of wine or a pastis. I would then have the weekend binge drink, starting at home with some wine before heading out to bars to drink, dance, drink, talk, drink, flirt, get hammered. On the menu; a few glasses of wine, a few of pints, the odd shot of vodka or tequila, a cocktail.
From these years I have some great memories, some terrible memories, but mostly few memories at all. When I got drunk I got really drunk, often leading to memory loss and, especially as I got older, terrible hangovers. After a 6am bedtime there would be whole Sundays spent in bed and the rough feeling not disappearing until midday on Monday. For a seventh of my life I squirmed and whined inside my flat, feeling foul and low, deep in the post alcohol blues. Even if I hadn’t acted like an idiot the night before I often had a lingering feeling of shame after heavy drinking.
I though about the A word, loaded with connotations. Would I consider myself an alcoholic? No. Did I have a need to drink everyday? No. Did I ever have a need to drink? In some ways, yes. Was I able to control my drinking? No. What is an alcoholic? I couldn’t answer that one.
Deciding to change
Right now it is an anniversary of sorts. I haven’t been drunk for over a year now, since new year’s eve 2012/13. My first day of 2013 was spent in bed until 3pm. I missed the best part of the day and arrived at my Mum’s house in the early dusk ragingly hungover. “I feel so bad” I moaned. “How can I make it go away?” Her advice: stop drinking.
I scoffed at the obvious new year’s resolution. “I’m never drinking again” has passed the lips of everyone who has ever been hungover. But then I found Allen Carr’s ‘Easyway to Control Your Drinking’ on the bookshelf and decided to have a quick look. I started reading that evening and by the time I went to bed I said to myself “Maybe I could try not drinking for a whole year.”
This thought scared me, and whilst I was reading the book I was afraid. It seems ridiculous now but even as just a ‘social drinker’ alcohol was acting as a crutch and I was scared of making a change. Would my friends still want to hang out with me? Would I be any fun without a drink? What would I do without the ice-breaker?
However as I went on I was more and more sure I had to give it a go and, for me, Carr’s method worked. Remove the desire to drink and there will be no struggle, no urge to have ‘just one’, no feelings of being hard done by.
I am so glad I picked up that book and took the plunge into a life without alcohol. No hangovers! No shame! Nice skin!
Finding a new way
I have found myself enjoying social activities even more, even the ones where alcohol is everywhere and celebrated; weddings, Christmas, birthdays. Now when I’m joking around or dancing or having heated debates, I’m totally conscious and completely aware that I am being authentic. In a way it is exhilarating and liberating being in total control whilst at the same time letting go. Losing your fear and inhibitions, finding the courage to enter a party as your sober self is a thrill that alcohol will never give. I might go home earlier now, aware of tomorrow’s responsibilities, but I try to make more of the fun times than I used to.
In my everyday life I am generally happier and more productive. Only a couple of weeks into the new start I noticed my brain felt clearer. I had never previously felt slow-witted but once the cloud of alcohol was removed I was shocked by the difference.
It isn’t always easy though. After a month or two of sobriety I hit a low point, finding it difficult to adjust and probably finally dealing with emotions that had previously been diluted. But that soon passed, thankfully.
And I am just about sick of the ‘alcohol conversation’. Even with a drink in my hand I am sometimes found out to be a non-drinker: a strange, scary specimen of a twenty-something. “What, you don’t drink? Tell me why. I don’t believe you never drink! Are you sure you don’t want one? Come on, just one beer. I’ll get you drinking and having fun. Oh, you’ve stopped drinking? Woah, you must have some crazy stories from when you used to drink then…”
Also, the non-alcoholic options can get a bit monotonous and often sickly. Once, whilst out for Dim Sum, I made the grave error of trying something completely new. Do not ever order salted prune. Sounds exciting, tastes like fermented seawater and looks like the result of dodgy Dim Sum. Do I have to spell it out? At least the reactions of me and my friends gave the waiter a good laugh!
I have found my friends to be a great support, they obviously value my friendship for me and not for my drunken antics. I didn’t get to a point where I thought of going to AA, but I couldn’t have stopped drinking all by myself and I can understand the need to be surrounded by people going through the same thing. I have found myself in a world of sobriety, discovering bloggers like Running on Sober and the mountain of support that is Belle at Tired of Thinking About Drinking.
I feel extremely smug and lucky to have found out a little secret: a life sober doesn’t mean a sober life.