Having a normal drinking problem
This is actually a terrifying post for me to write but I’m writing it with the mindset that if only one person finds value in it, then it’s worth it. I know that this is something that effects friends of mine and I’m writing it because drinking to excess isn’t good for anybody. In the UK, we tend to act as if getting horrendously drunk is a necessary part of life. It’s most apparent when you speak to people who’ve moved here from abroad that we have a ‘normal drinking problem’.
So this post is about my drinking, or more accurately not drinking. Going sober. Teetotal. Alcohol free. Becoming a schloer smasher, mocktail mad un’, ribena wreckhead. I’ll stop or you’ll probably think I’m drunk writing this. I assure you I’m not but you may want to sit down, grab yourself a strong soft drink (think ginger lemonade) and brace yourself for some sobering honesty because this sh*t is not pretty.
Why would I want to stop drinking?
So I quit drinking a few weeks ago (I wrote a post about the process I went through to reach the conclusion that I had to quit here).
I’ve always been the last at the bar, the last on the dance floor, the girl laughing her way through the story the next morning. For a long time, I told myself it was funny. Other people laughed and I thought there was one of me in every group. Maybe there is and maybe they’re okay. But I wasn’t. I have a problem with alcohol.
A normal drinking problem
I’m not a traditional alcoholic, drinking every day without fail or slipping rum into my porridge in the morning. But I haven’t had a healthy relationship with booze. It’s actually called AUD (alcohol use disorder) and it’s pretty common. I know, I know. We all want to have a disorder these days but that’s not what this is about. I actually watched a Ted Talk and discovered AUD and by all measures, I would go as far to say that most 20-somethings have borderline AUD. See if you can relate.
After a bad day, I’d think I needed a glass of wine or a Baileys hot chocolate. You know, just to take the edge off. If it was Friday, or even Thursday (which is so nearly Friday you may as well drink anyway), I’d deserve a drink for making it through the week. On a night out, when I have one drink, it’s a slippery slope and I’ll have another and another until, well, God knows to be honest. The beauty of drunk me is that she’s so unpredictable. You just never know what she’s going to get up to…
My alcohol highlights:.
Standard (stuff virtually every twenty-something has done):
- Spent thousands of pounds on booze on fancy cocktails and bottles of wine. Over the years, that is. Even I can’t drink that much in one night
- Lost days of my life to hangovers and regret.
- Missed countless brunches or shown up hungover as f*ck and bumbled my way through.
- Put wine weight on and then stopped eating so I could drink instead.
Funny (because drunk people can be hilarious – this is what keeps us drinking):
- Murdered Teenage Dirtbag and other classics at karaoke.
- Twerked and done the splits at several work parties.
- Used my boot as a phone.
- Everything in the worrying list until I recognised that it is actually scary, not particularly hilarious
- Drunk to cope with stress and anxiety, to zone out.
- Thrown up on the tube. In my handbag.
- Blacked out more times than I remember.
- Been driven home in a police car. Quoted Hot Fuzz all the way (should be in funny, right?)… to the front lorn of my parents’ house. At 1am. At 22 years old. Before I somersaulted down the stairs and threw up in a Quality Street tin. At Christmas. Not funny to my loving, very concerned parents.
- Slept with people I didn’t want to, and don’t remember.
- Lost things: debit cards, driving licenses, coats, pants (yes, really), and ultimately my dignity.
Let’s get real about my feelings
This made me feel like sh*t. I’d laugh it off and pretend it was normal but alcohol makes me more anxious, makes me regret things and makes me feel guilty. If you can honestly look at your drinking, take away the effect of the people around you and look hard at your own drinking, and then say it doesn’t make you feel those feelings, then you’re doing just fine! If you can’t sit alone with your thoughts about alcohol without feeling discomfort, anxiety or guilt, you may want to get really honest with yourself about that.
This applies to anything external you feel you rely on to numb or fill feelings. It can be food, shopping, crappy relationships, porn, sex, smoking, drugs. I’d say mine started with food when I was a kid, using it as a comfort, and moved onto booze as soon as it became socially acceptable or maybe even a bit before then.
Because we’re a society addicted to relying on external things to soothe our souls, it’s SO normal to have a drink or a smoke to chill out. It’s so normal to have a burger and chips or to buy something you can’t afford – as a treat. If it doesn’t make you feel good though in the long run, it’s not working. That was the conclusion I came to with a few things, alcohol being one of them.
Riding it out
It felt like I was a fly on the walls sometimes. I’m sitting on a bull, in the pen. He’s got a reputation. I know I’m going to end up hurting in the morning. This isn’t my first rodeo. I look small on top of him, out of control. I’m holding the rope with one hand, knowing that’s not going to hold me on for long. In this moment, there’s still time, in theory, to get off. But the crowd is cheering, waiting for me to give my usual performance and time flies when you’re drunk. Soon, the moment’s gone and I think, well f*ck it, I may as well ride it out for as long as possible, right?
I could never really have one drink when everyone was on a mad one and not feel like I wanted 10 more. Probably a good idea for me to avoid heroin, ey?
I read this book a while ago that felt like it was written directly at me. It’s called Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola. I was startled by the honesty and bravery of the author who bared her soul writing that book. She must have been worried what her friends and family would think. She must have fretted about whether she’d ever get hired again but she wrote it anyway, in the hope that it would help others.
Well, Sarah, it helped me. What I learned from that book was what Sarah had learned from her doctor years earlier: that blacking out is not normal. These are gaping holes in your memory induced by drink whereby you still function but your brain does not record any memories of your actions because your blood alcohol level is too high and your brain is in survival mode.
Cheers brain. Letting me wander around making a total tit of myself seems like survival mode to me. Why can’t I just fall asleep like some people?! Anyway, turns out these aren’t normal. You may be sitting there thinking, well f*ck me Eliza, course they’re not. They really don’t sound normal, do they?! Well I’ve always had them, from the first time I drank too much at 14 to now. And the reason I thought it was fine? Friends would also forget half an hour here and there and I thought it happened to everyone. I thought this was a normal alcohol problem. This was a pretty sharp realisation when I realised that it really, really, really does not. So I just stopped.
What has sober Eliza learnt?
- I am fun without alcohol.
- I feel healthier.
- My weekends are so much longer.
- I wasted a sh*t ton of money on booze. Shloer is DELICIOUS and SO CHEAP.
- True friends care more that I’m okay than that I’m drinking with them.
- Some people think I’m weird and that they “could never do it”. Drinking to excess is so normal.
I’ve been on nights out and REMEMBERED EVERYTHING. And driven myself there and back and spent about £6 on each occasion. Compared to £60. And I haven’t lost anything or made any horrendous life choices. I’m no less fun without a drink. Hell, I went to a burlesque night a while back, wore an Ann Summers corset style body and danced on a table.
If I can’t have as much fun sober, I feel like that’s something I need to work on so I’m not a boring old fart, not something I should be trying to compensate for by throwing back G&Ts as if they were the elixir of life.
Pressing reset. Again. And again. And again.
I’ve “taken a break” a few times before. More than a few. I’m actually fine if I’m just having a quiet drink with a friend but if anyone remotely shows an interest in getting silly with it, within minutes, I’m swinging from a pole with a Magic Mike lookalike pouring flaming vodka into my mouth. In my head anyway. Drunk me is horribly impressionable, you see.
Do I want to drink when everyone else does? For a second, yes I do. Do I feel a bit left out? Yes, I do. Do I also know that I won’t stop at one? Yes, I do. I’m a self-confessed disaster when it comes to discipline. The only way things stay in my life is if they become part of my belief system. For example, people always ask me how I “stick to” being vegan. Quite simply, I don’t. When it comes to veganism, I’ve found it easy because it’s not a choice. It’s a total perspective shift and honestly, that’s what this feels like. For now, I’m not ruling out drinking altogether but I am ruling out emotional drinking and excessive, dangerous drinking.
So yes, I will be a mostly sober vegan. Jesus, I don’t think I’ll be leading with that. Hmm what about… a meat-free mocktail lover, a dairy-free designated driver, a tofu gobbling teetotaler? No, I agree. I’ll just keep it quiet. Apart from, you know, writing a public blog about it… Anyway, if it makes me a better friend, a better daughter, a better me, I don’t mind giving up booze and sounding like a d*ck as long as I’m acting a bit less like one.
You may be reading this thinking that I’m WAY oversharing. Probably. Was Sarah Hepola oversharing? Probably. But she helped me so here I am baring my soul. I’m not sure enough people are being honest about how drink makes them feel and when we are honest with ourselves, we feel awful. We don’t know what to do because it’s such a huge part of being a British 20-something that we feel like we just have have to live with it.
- Drive so you commit to not drinking.
- Find a soft drink you like – mine’s water with lemon. Basic.
- Film yourself or take a picture at the end of a sober night and watch it back whenever you need to remember that feeling. It’s euphoric.
- Remember you can always go home. Drunk people won’t remember when you left.
- Go to Zumba. I love a boogie on a night out. That’s what Zumba gives me, just without the hangover!
- Invite other people on non drinking nights. Play games or do something like crazy golf.
- Book things or plan them for weekend mornings. An early Saturday gym session makes you feel like a Goddess.
Have you ever wanted to chat to someone about your drinking? It’s so normalised in our culture to drink all the time that we just embrace feeling awful as a collective and drink straight through it. It can be hard to talk to people without feeling judged. I get that and I’m happy to be your sounding board. Give me a message!