So here’s the thing. I’ve decided to give up booze.
If you know me I’ll give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor and re-read that sentence. Yep, you read it right. I’m quitting drinking alcohol. And no this isn’t a knee jerk ‘never again’ moment, it’s something I’ve given a huge amount of thought to, for a long time.
Bacon or beer?
One of my brothers brilliant drinking anecdotes is that he would rather give up beer than bacon. A curious statement which often had me scratching my head with bemusement. I mean, who could do that? But now I’ve come to realise… perhaps me. And hell, once I did give up bacon for three months so why not try out the alternative?
Before your mind starts wandering down a path of imagining me at wine o’clock slipping a pint of wine into ‘Mummy’s coffee’ mug, I guess I feel the need to set the scene of how I got to this point. For the record, I don’t believe I am an alcoholic. Alcohol dependency, in some form? Maybe.
Do The Maths
I’ve always been a big social drinker. Since the age of fifteen, and hitting my first underage drinking pub with my best friend, I discovered a world of late nights, alcopops, snakebites, shots, archers and lemonade. It lured me in and I spent the next decade living there like there was no tomorrow. All dayers, big nights out, weekenders, festivals, girls holidays abroad, messy boozy rows, shocking hangovers and hilarious stories of drunken antics which fuelled all the more fun.
Amidst all of this I worked hard at my career, obtained a first class degree and could go plenty of days without touching a drop. Your classic binge drinker scenario, laying down the habits of a lifetime. Well, potentially.
By the time I got to thirty, married and trying for a family, I declared myself ‘grown up’, a new sensible version of me. In truth the nights out were still present albeit far FAR less often, as were a new mature type of drinking; glasses of nice wine at dinner, prosecco nights and gin and tonics in the sunshine. The frequency and style of the big boozy nights changed, but alcohol has always been a constant part of my social scene.
The hangovers got worse, and the tolerance to booze with it. Or perhaps I’ve always just been a bit of a lightweight.
It’s not just my mates who will always see me with a glass in hand at a social event. My vast and wonderful family are people with whom I have regularly enjoyed a (much more responsible) drink. A glass of wine with my mother in law, a gin and tonic with my step-Mum, a few lagers with my mum; all of which I’d happily accept and enjoy. The problem lies with the fact that booze is such a solid part of all aspects of my social life, that it’s undoubtedly become a habit rather than a choice. I’m not (nor have I ever) really been mindful of my drinking, and would even go as far as to say I’ve started to feel I don’t enjoy the woozy feeling of a couple of large glasses of wine. But of course, I drink them anyway, because that’s what I do.
So now, at 37, I’m looking back after a busy summer of hen parties, weddings, an all inclusive holiday, and countless bottles of prosecco, wine, gin at family functions and social get togethers, and I’m feeling a change brewing.
I mean, that’s twenty two years of heavy drinking. Of hitting it hard at every eighteenth, twenty first, festival, every hen party, work bash, thirtieth, wedding, and even funeral. Chuck in a few barbeques, parties and Christmas dinners (on repeat Vicar of Dibley style) and I’m starting to realise that I’ve never really tried being me without a glass in my hand to prop me up at social get togethers.
Of course, I’m a hugely confident person at the school gate, I love meeting new people and chatting to them to discover their history, what makes them tick and talk the hind legs off the donkey. I’m a collector of Mum friends and a loony kitchen dancer – all without the prop of booze, so I know I can still be fun Sarah without drinking. In fact, I could probably be more fun sober. I’m never going to stop loving music and dancing, or people and belly laughs, so the future suddenly looks really appealing in a crystal clear way .
I’m also a ridiculously emotional drunk. At the end of a booze fuelled night you are just as likely to find me crying on someone’s shoulder because my goldfish died / someone looked at me the wrong way / it’s Saturday, or worst still sobbing over my deepest most personal sad experiences in life. I know, party killer or what. Alternatively you might be really lucky and have me crying over how much I love everybody and everything.
And so, I think it’s time, to get to know the real me. To learn how to have fun, to enjoy the music and dance around like a total nutter through choice rather than because I’m on planet drunk Sarah. To appreciate the company and exercise my ears instead of my mouth. To not wake up after a night of indulgence (albeit hugely infrequently for the most part these days) with a banging head and a self pitiful load of regret. I’m so over that feeling.
Its not you it’s me
Drinking in moderation is something I can do, and have done for a long time for the most part. We like a glass of wine of an evening, but I rarely drink midweek, have more than a couple of glasses at home, and have already done dry january twice. (Plus I did three pregnancies and breast fed booze free for a total of almost three years) Intermittently however there will always be the times I regret going too far. The times I have (again) been the one to get most drunk at the party. To have unaccounted for bruises and gaps in my memory of what I said to who and a big dose of ‘why’ to boot. It’s usually completely unintended, but like a scratched record the following morning, the words spring to mind “Why do I never learn?”.
The thing is, I actually hate having a rep for being a bit of a boozy bird. I hate bumping into people who know me from my party days, and worse still, if I’ve proven that girls is still me. It’s unfortunately a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy, something to live up to and also, in turn, to never live down. When the Mum hat comes off and the babysitter has relieved me of my mumlife for a few hours, perhaps there is something more to prove and a bigger sense of letting off steam which adds to the problem.
So when I explain to people I have given up booze, and they tell me “You can still have the odd one” I need them to understand that that’s not what I want, because, frankly, I’ve given that route a go for a very long time and it’s not exactly been a huge success. On a rolling cycle of months of moderate drinking, then craving a big night out, then saying ‘never again’. Rinse and repeat.
When they then (as I’ve already discovered) respond by telling me why their alcohol consumption is fine because…X Y Z, I need them to know this is not about you, it’s me. I am happy for you and your ability to moderate, drink responsibly, to be a fun drunk and to not care how you acted. Please, fill your boots and I promise, no judgement. But I am not happy being this person, and in the words of Helen to Alison (The Affair season 4 episode 6) we all have the ability to change the narrative, to turn our life around and live it to be the person we choose to be.
Fuelling this thirst for my sober curiosity I have been researching. Starting off with one of my favourite bloggers who recently did a 100 days no drinking challenge, Island Living 365. Through Emma’s blog I discovered some brilliant books which I have inhaled over the last three weeks; The unexpected Joy of Being Sober (By Catherine Gray) and The Sober Diaries By Claire Pooley.
Both Catherine and Claire’s words hit some nerves. Whilst I haven’t ever reached the point at which either of these two quit drinking, there were definitely some familiar and too close for comfort parts. And what these women lived through is what I would love to be; happy and fun without drinking. Literally being ecstatic in what they discovered in a world without booze. It’s what I want and it’s spurring me on.
In almost perfect timing, this week I caught up on Adrian Chiles documentary ‘Drinkers like me’ on BBC iplayerand again, despite knowing my unit intake is probably, (mostly unless we happen to have a wedding / big night out / weekend with the girls..etc etc) within the advised limits per week, it struck a chord with how much damage I might have done over the years. It also cemented the idea that the reason I drink is also because I have never learnt how to hold my own in a social situation, literally on my own.
Social anxiety. It’s a thing. I have no idea whether I can self diagnose that, but there is definitely something in the fact I feel a nervous twinge if I am going out out, something that I know is often the reason I’m the first at the bar and often have a drink while I’m getting ready “to take the edge off it”. I think it’s probably been there all along, and my super fast downing of drinks to drown out the nerves, has actually been my biggest downfall. Literally, leaving me falling down.
I’m beginning to realise that no one is going to congratulate me for this momentous effort, unlike they would if I had given up smoking (I did that twelve years ago) or weaned myself off heroin (nope, never done that one). I’m far more likely to get a few digs, eye rolls and cynically be offered ‘Come on, just the one’, but it’s not anyone else I’m doing this for. I have no doubt my two beautiful kids and my husband will benefit, but the person I am doing this for is me. My physical health, my mental health, my pride and my dignity. It’s about taking control of the person I want to be and making it happen. YOLO guys, YOLO.
I have no idea whether I can actually do this, but I’m feeling determined and positive. Surprisingly, liberated. I’m looking forward to wearing high heels again without the worry of falling off them. Of heading out without worrying if I’d get home in one piece. To not no longer overshare with anyone willing (or not willing) to listen unless it’s a time or place it’d actually be right to do so.
Forever seems like a really big statement, so I’m saying I’m going for the big 100 days, and then, will make a decision from there. I’m 19 days in and feeling great about it. We (Dad Muddling Through is on this train too, through his own choice – in fact, it was his idea which I slowly warmed to) have survived a booze free bank holiday weekend, a wedding anniversary, a date night. Our weekends have been wine free and fuzzy head free too. We’ve found a few booze free alternatives and are ready and armed to step in should we feel the need to crack open a beer or pour a long drink over a tonic in a pretty glass. The Seedlip guys sent me a bottle of their non alcoholic spirit to try and it was exactly what I needed to make use of the beautiful birthday Copa Gin glasses which I was about to retire. Perfect for that Friday feeling.
One response to this from my sister in law, was that no one can congratulate you for saying you are going to do it. You have to actually do it (which I think is probably a reflection of how alien this is to everyone who knows us). And she is so right.
And I’ve said it out loud now, so I have to see this through. I just hope we can still be friends.