As of January 1st 2016, I will not be drinking alcohol for an entire year. My parents don’t think I can do it.
I’ve been drinking since I was 12 years old as a method of social lubrication. I’ve always been shy and I never had to deal with this issue because somehow alcohol always found its way into my bloodstream. I would steal alcohol from my dad’s whiskey stash, save up pocket money and lunch money for a precious 70cl bottle of Glen’s vodka, or a 2 litre bottle of supermarket branded cider.
Everyone did this, right? I told some new friends about this at university last year, and they looked at me like I was cray-cray. One of them even told me to write a book about it because it sounded so insane.
When I thought about it very recently, alcohol has been the cause or enabler of several serious fuck-ups in my life. I have nerve damage in my left leg just above my left knee, which feels like my leg is encased in wax. I’m pretty sure this was caused by years of binge drinking and when I drink heavily it starts tingling and burning. I lost a best friend because of my out of control drinking at about 18 and a couple more acquaintances around that time, too. I drank so much in freshers it burnt a hole in my stomach lining so I’d be bent double if I even had a sip. (I had to give up drinking for around three or four months at that time). I’ve fallen down a flight of stairs, had infected cuts and cheated on an ex-boyfriend. I vomited all over the living room carpet in second year and my housemates had to clear it up because I could barely speak.
If you know sober me, you’d probably find half of that stuff very much out of character. I’m pretty well behaved and nerdy; just last week at work I got overly worked up about getting in trouble and my friend saved me in her contacts as “nerd.”
I‘ve been told by quite a few people that I’m an annoying drunk, that is, when I get really drunk: I stop listening, get rude or just zone out. However, I’m also pretty sure it is responsible for some great things, like giving me liquid confidence to talk to people I fancy and creating friendships. My first impression is absolutely wank because I’m shrouded in a thick plasma of awkwardness and anxiety, and alcohol allows for some of that to ebb away.
But overall, it’s been a negative influence in my life. I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past and I wonder how much alcohol has had to do with that, be it because of the fact alcohol is a depressant or my shame surrounding idiotic drunken behaviour.
I starting drinking heavily again recently, partly because I was going on Tinder dates, partly because it was Christmas but mostly because I hated my Christmas temp job. To go from four years of education to a retail job is soul crushing, especially when it’s all day every day and at CHRISTMAS (you people are animals!). Eventually, a friend flagged up my behaviour to another friend, and now all three of us aren’t drinking for a year. The solidarity is surely going to be a huge help, but I’m fully aware this experience is going to be the most challenging for me out of all three of us. But I’m doing it, and I think it will be interesting to document how I cope and what I learn from it, if anything.
So, how is the alcohol fast going? It was going absolutely fine until I had to go on a date. I realised I’d never been sober when meeting a potential love interest for the first or second time, and started to get overly nervous. What do you mean, I have to be myself? When I’m overly anxious, all the positive aspects of my personality shrink and I can barely think straight. I stumble over words, jokes go over my head and my mind generally goes blank. “Shit,” I thought, “can I really do this?”
Of course I bloody could. The guy was very chatty and there was literally no awkwardness, but I may have had three coffees within three hours to give me some kind of buzz. Not ideal, but not against the rules. Plus, they were free and refillable, what was I supposed to do?
We ordered the coffees from a bar and it felt strange knowing I wouldn’t be having any of the strong stuff. The urge to throw it all away and order a cider was present, but the thought didn’t really carry any weight. It was a fleeting thirst and one forgotten within an instant (coffee).
If anything, the experience reinforced what I already know: I use stimulants as a way of escapism so that I don’t have to be completely vulnerable in a situation where I am openly being judged on my looks, personality or ideas. Ironically, alcohol has made me far more vulnerable than simply being myself ever could have, and I think coffee is a far safer option comparatively.
But yes, I’m a bit disappointed I couldn’t face doing something scary without binging on a mood altering substance. But hey, baby steps: at least I chose coffee instead of whacking out a gram of speed and running fifty laps around the cinema theatre pretending to be BB-8 – that’s third date territory.
* correction: 1 unit of alcohol is a third of a pint of lager and half a 175ml glass of wine.
– Katherine Hockley