It’s nearly Valentines Day and yet here I am, wishing my Boo-zy and Booze-free Readers a Happy New Year!
This is my first post of 2019 and I am hanging without the hangover, riding those waves without the whiskey; reading that prose without the rosé. (Well, you might be, I’m not).
2019 has thrown her head back, gripped those sheets and squeezed out a new me. I’m wiser. More sensible. Sober as day. I’ve been given the chance to redeem myself; focus on cleansing my hidden chakra. That’s right, you can catch me in a downward dog at 5am, snorting up dried Aloe Vera crumbs through a Tibetan windpipe and chanting to the God of Neroli.
Only fucking with you. But I did complete Dry January without a single drop of gin, or any other spirit for that matter.
Remember Prose for my Brothers? I wrote that while drunk. Some halfwit made a micro-aggressively racist remark in front of me and I got so fucked off I ended up dowsing my liver in the good stuff ’til stars sprawled out before me. I woke up in the morning with smudgey-eyed mascara, 1 half eaten chicken nugget in my bed and a decent piece of writing.
Ghosted. Remember that tragedy? I was nursing the hangover from hell when I wrote that. I’d been drinking Negroni the night before (coincidentally the ghoster’s drink of choice), so when I woke up feeling like my skull had been plummeted with a lamb shank, it only felt right to write about him.
I drank more in 2018 than I probably did my whole life. After my job role changed, (and I suddenly gained access to the free bar), there wasn’t much stopping me. I was like Charlie in an adult Willy Wonka’s brewery; a golden ticket with “2 for 1” stamped across the front. My social life changed. Birthdays, dinners, casual work evenings; boozy-bingey weekend antics. It got to the point where I was drinking four times a week; hangovers were treated with KFC breakfasts and clammy duvet days. I got used to feeling tired, bloated and dehydrated allll the bloody (Mary) time.
Being with people, drunk, allowed me to feel free. Any remaining thoughts of seriousness turned to silliness, and as the night would spiral out and wind down, I would end up slurring to my friends, declaring my love for them and projecting my inner most feelings.
No regrets there, either.
Towards the end of the year though. I did start to feel tired. Not the tired described above, but an on the brink of boredom tired. Bored of limiting myself to the same kind of social scenes. Bored of getting into a cab and suddenly feeling like everything was spinning, a sickness in my throat and stomach, doing everything in my power not to throw up.
I would stumble home, throw my belongings on the floor, guzzle 2 litres of water and wake up in the night desperately needing a piss. I would then just lay in bed, feeling incredibly sick and anxious, wondering if I’d ever get back to sleep again.
That’s not my idea of fun.
Now, before you make hasty assumptions and think “What a sellout, joining the Dry Jan conga line to simply go bat-shit crazy come February 1st”, you’re very mistaken. To clarify, I broke Dry Jan on February 2nd and more importantly, I needed to remember what life was like before I started drinking.
I didn’t drink much during the Christmas period. I was turning down mulled wine offerings and steering clear of the Prosecco. Like I said, I was tired. Dry Jan was the perfect excuse to give myself a lengthy break. I needed it, mentally and physically, more than I’d anticipated.
During the first week of January, three of my closest friends came over for an evening of fun. I cooked dinner, made cocktails (mocktails for me) and pretty much watched my friends get smashed. It was fabulous. We danced, gossiped, debated; hugged, made silly voices over Snapchat filters, walked to the shop to buy wine (I was thrilled to find an alcohol-free blueberry cider), and stayed up until 4am. My friends didn’t care that I was sober and I didn’t care that they were drunk. What I learned? If you have a naturally annoying personality, you can adapt to annoying situations easily!
I began to think of all the things I’d missed out on due to nursing hangovers. Afternoon walks, bike rides, coffee chats, morning yoga; DIY pamper sessions. I realised that being active is a wonderful way to release endorphins whilst keeping fit, something I’d thoroughly neglected, especially on weekends. I found myself cooking more, reading more; calling my friends rather than texting. I was reclaiming balance, which for me, is invaluable.
One thing I really struggled with being constantly sober, was dealing with the heaviness of life. Things in my personal life were truly weighing me down. I started to focus on all the things I couldn’t fix; things out of my control. Specific incidents were pulling me into emotional turmoil and for the first time, I didn’t have the crutch of alcohol to lean on. I couldn’t drink a bottle of wine to forget the pain and spend the rest of my weekend in bed. I had to face things. I had to accept that life is hard: nobody and nothing can save us but ourselves.
I began to meditate, I returned to my roots of journaling and every thought and feeling was transferred on to paper.
I was experiencing life, sober.
During my last week of Dry January, I went out for a team dinner. A few of my coworkers said “You’re almost there now – you may as well have one”. But I declined. I drank virgin Piña-coladas and watched my team dance and smash plates (to be fair, we were at a Greek restaurant).
After the meal, I desperately wanted to go home. I was tired and full, it had been a long day. Still, my coworkers went on to a bar and somehow convinced me to join.
And then the unexpected happened.
Whilst the majority of my peers drank and let go, I sat in the corner with another coworker, and we spoke about our feelings. It was the type of conversation you would only have with a colleague when drunk. We talked of our lives, the highs and lows, and consciously lowered our guards.
This moment, for me, will forever be marked as mind-blowing. Why? Because for years I’d believed the enabling of profound, meaningful moments with “strangers” were based on the consumption of alcohol. Turns out humans who want to connect will find a way to do so, without any form of substance.
We don’t need alcohol to act our inner most desires; to dance, play, talk, kiss, fuck, laugh; cry – everything we wish to do is inside of us, sometimes we simply lack courage.
When I broke my Dry Jan on the 2nd Feb I did it right: with pink gin and vodka shots.I was surrounded by friends, some old, some new and didn’t feel like I was lacking any sort of control.
During my cab journey home I sipped water from a plastic cup and watched West London’s glittering skyline from the back of an Uber. The buildings were still and beautiful. Grenfell stood tall, a harrowing reminder of families lost and displaced; a negligent government with no remorse for its citizens: more vacant than the 24 storey building itself.
And then there was me, rekindling with an intense drunken feeling. A feeling I’d missed so much.
I’m not a person who *needs* to drink (quite honestly, I don’t think anyone is), because I’m already mad as a hatter. In fact, I’ve been asked whether I’m drunk or high on so many sober days I’ve lost count now. Since dry-Jan I’ve been unintentionally drinking less. I went for brunch on Sunday and rather than ordering an Aperol Spritz, I ordered a latte. Why? Because that’s what I felt like drinking. When brunch was over my friend and I went for a drink elsewhere. I ordered a ginger-stemmed Kombucha (good gut health, apparently), and my friend a lemonade. We weren’t thinking about alcohol, but simply continuing the conversation.
Waking up without a hangover is bliss, stealing a strangers spectacles and calling oneself Arthur for the night is also bliss. The physical benefits of not drinking alcohol are immense, but then, so is living on raw broccoli and cauliflower stems.
Whatever makes you happy, I guess.
People drink for different reasons and in Britain, it’s a big part of our culture. So long as we’re not drinking to cope with everyday life and neglecting/forgetting ourselves, I think that’s OK. Dry January helped me conclude that people should live as they choose: with less fear, less judgement and MORE CONVERSATIONS! If you do find yourself feeling low, reach out to a friend before the bottle. A red wine carafe is always better when shared, anyway!