As you may have seen a few weeks ago, I have given up alcohol for an entire year. It’s been a month since I swore sobriety, and I thought I’d share with you how I am getting on.
First and foremost, I have not made a fool of myself for an entire month. I haven’t done anything I deeply regret and I haven’t embarrassed myself in a way I normally would be obsessively ashamed of; be it in a marginally embarrassing Facebook status about my feelings or a full blown vom in the street. This is by far the best result I’ve experienced as I feel more in control and in sync with my personality. I’m not living a Jekyll/Hyde lifestyle and I’m only doing things I really want to do, my decisions not clouded by lowered inhibitions and drunken whim.
My best friend and I are actively discovering London instead of sitting inside my house numbing our brain cells with vodka. We have been to a pretty cool arcade in central London and a screening of Reservoir Dogs at the BFI. Even going to Asda together on a Sunday means we still have the deep chats you normally associate with heavy drinking, except now I can actually remember the information and listen to any advice given. I am becoming more comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings without needing a drink to release it in one big, overwhelming mind-dump.
I’m also able to focus a lot more easily on being healthy. I don’t have hangovers to drag me down and make me crave take-away, and I can’t use feeling sick as an excuse not to do exercise. I’m also cutting out the calories I normally inhale from drinking, so it’s had a real effect on making sure I stick to my path of self-improvement. Perhaps I used alcohol as a way to give up on these endeavours, or at least it presented itself as a major obstacle to my success. Now it’s gone, I feel a lot more positive about sticking with my personal journey and being able to achieve my personal goals; everything seems a little more possible.
So how does one manage when their method of coping is stripped from them? They find alternatives. In the past few weeks I have finished all of Luther, Better Call Saul, Jessica Jones and Master of None. I also binge watched Lord of The Rings, Max and Paddy’s Road To Nowhere and Invader Zim. I’ve had mindless television on in the background during my job hunt and I started Portal 2 on the PS3. In a way I’ve rediscovered some of my old hobbies, and I like that I am spending time on things I enjoy without the worry of liver damage hanging over my head. Plus, Portal 2 makes me feel like a freakin’ genius. On the other hand, I worry that I’m just replacing one blockade with another, never getting to the root cause of why I have to obsessively do something in order to avoid my own nagging anxieties and fears. I guess a lot of this is to do with being newly unemployed, so I already know that I won’t be completely happy until I get back in work. Alcohol won’t help me get a job though, and not having a hangover certainly gives me more time to apply for work.
I’ll be honest; life without alcohol can be pretty boring. Alcohol comes with the added benefits of getting a group together for an evening out and socialising. We’re 23, going to bars and pubs is what we’re expected to do, and the rest of the world hasn’t really given us many inexpensive or moderate alternatives. Going out for dinner is fine, but you’re kind of expected to leave the restaurant after an hour or two whereas you can spend an entire evening in a pub relaxing and bonding with friends. There’s the cinema, but that’s not the most social activity. It’s also hard to be imaginative and suggest alternative things to do when you’re the only one mindful about alcohol. I live in a pretty dead-end town and I’m skint as hell too, so it doesn’t make for the most buzzing of social lives.
Drinking has always been my go-to when I’m feeling bad, and to its credit it usually manages to cheer me up temporarily. Without this crutch, I’ve had to soberly sit out my darkest thoughts and feelings. I’ve had to face my problems head on and it’s not always a pleasant experience. Alcohol is the easy exit for my mind and being alone a lot of the time whilst searching for jobs means I have a lot of time to think. One study suggests that people would rather administer electrical shocks on themselves than sit alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes, and I’m ashamed to say I miss having alcohol to numb those negative feelings. However, I realise that there’s probably been fewer or those since I gave it up, or that the intensity of my bad feelings are not as strong.
Unfortunately, alcohol free doesn’t equal liberty from negative thoughts. I naively assumed that giving up alcohol would mean I suddenly became happier, as though a weight would be lifted and I’d be magically cured of all my problems. Nope, instead I’ve found myself wrangling with overwhelming urges to deal with my insanity in other ways.
In a strange way, the weird mix of highs and lows that are not caused by alcohol have had the most sobering effect. Because I can’t numb my worries, I’ve been able to pinpoint the exact things that are causing me to feel like shit. At the moment my main worry is joblessness and the feeling I’m wasting my potential, especially as I’m reaching my mid-20s and can see people around me forging their careers and settling into happy, independent lives. I have no money, a dwindling group of friends and a long way to go to before I reach a body image with which I am happy.
Where was all this clarity before? It was being drowned in a quadruple vodka and diet coke, my vision too fuzzy to see the damage this avoidance tactic was taking on my mental and physical health.
– Katherine Hockley