Guest Post by Jess Macdonald
“Everybody’s Doing It!”
Drinking is ingrained in our society and Western culture, and it has always been a “goes without saying” part of my life.
Going on holiday? Mimosas in the airport, no matter the time. Christmas day? Crack open the wine and continue all day long until we pass out after the Queen’s speech on the sofa. Birthdays? Let’s get the birthday girl as drunk as possible, shots all around!
It’s difficult to look at your relationship with alcohol when it is absolutely everywhere and is almost seen as a rite of passage. I never drank on my own, and I barely drank during the week, so I couldn’t have had a problem, could I?
I used to be the girl who would scoff at somebody who mentioned they didn’t drink. What a bore!
How can we bond if we’re not sharing our deepest darkest secrets over a bottle of wine?
How can we have fun together and relax on this first date unless it’s arranged in a cocktail bar and I’ve already had a few gins to calm the nerves before meeting you?
If you can down a Jägerbomb quicker than me, then we can be friends. If not, we won’t be swapping numbers.
Change Of Heart
It wasn’t until I started to notice the people who weren’t drinking that I began to ponder whether it was possible for me, and what it would be like.
An old flatmate of mine barely drank. She didn’t like the taste or the effect it had on her.
One night I was heading out to a bar with a group of friends, and I asked her if she’d like to join us. Her response was, “I won’t be drinking though. I don’t mind, but will they?”
She did end up joining us, and she was the life and soul of the party. She was the first one on the dance floor, and probably one of the last ones to leave. She didn’t care that she was sober in a room full of people under the influence, so why should anybody else?
Could it actually be possible to enjoy oneself without alcohol, I wondered?
The Party’s Over
Drinking was fun. Until it wasn’t.
I have had so many incredible experiences and created so many wonderful memories, but many of these were while drinking and not because of drinking.
And the thing is, you don’t hold on to the shitty parts of those memories.
Sure, that was a fantastic holiday where we danced on the bar all night long in Wan Chai, but what about the crippling anxiety the next day? The racing pulse, the dreaded fear of not remembering everything you said and did, or wasting the entire day wrapped around the toilet bowl?
About six months ago, I was sorting out some things in my apartment and having a bit of a spring clean. I found an old journal tucked away and started to flick through.
During my heaviest binge-drinking period, I would get home from a night out, totally inebriated, and let everything out onto the pages of this journal. I wrote suicide notes, I wrote lists about why my life was totally worthless, and repeatedly wrote how I just simply didn’t want to be alive anymore.
Looking back, I realise that at the time I just assumed it was the alcohol talking. Alcohol is a depressant, right? I didn’t really feel that way, it was just drunk me being dramatic.
From the outside, it seemed like I was ‘living my best life’; having great nights out and exciting holidays abroad, when in reality I was extremely unhappy and was drinking to mask that.
When you’re in the midst of it all, it’s easy not to see how shitty things really are. It’s only when I reflect now that I realise, I was not somebody that I liked. If ‘now’ me met ‘then’ me, I would avoid her at all costs.
I recall nights where I would desperately text anyone and everyone in my phone to find SOMEONE to go out drinking with. I didn’t even value the company I was looking for; it was just so I could have somebody to drink with. Sometimes, when I was so broke that I couldn’t afford a night out, then I would try my luck charming random men into buying me drinks.
Did I really think that little of myself? Sadly, yes, it would appear I did.
Alcohol is a depressant, but for me, it only accelerated an already existent depression. I wasn’t happy with my life, and rather than doing something about it, I was drinking myself into a mess every weekend and pretending everything was okay.
The Other Side
It wasn’t until I read Catherine Gray’s “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober”, lent to me by a friend, that I realized I had a choice.
I could either carry on binge drinking every weekend and stumble through a hungover haze every week, and repeat, or I could pull my finger out and make some changes in order to get the life I actually wanted.
At first, I tried to drink in moderation. “Sure, I’ll come to that birthday dinner, but I’ll only have two glasses of wine then switch to water.”
It might be different for you, but this NEVER works for me. I cannot moderate, I’m an all-or-nothing kinda gal. So, I sussed out that the only way to do this was to opt for nothing.
The most exciting part of quitting drinking has been seeing myself flourish, and actually like the person that I am. I mentioned earlier that if I met 23-year-old me now, I wouldn’t be a fan, whereas today, I am more okay than I have ever been with myself.
I’m not perfect, but I’m a heck of a lot more likable than before.
Related Post: How Sobriety Transforms You From The Inside Out
I’ll Be There For You
It’s all too easy to cancel plans because of a hangover, and I have done this more times than I’d like to admit. I started to become totally unreliable, and a bit of a flake.
You could count on me to meet you at a bar on a Friday night, but if you made plans with me early on a weekend morning then the chances were that I would bail.
You wouldn’t even have my wholehearted attention if we did head out together to that bar because for the first hour I’d be so focused on getting drunk and then I’d be too drunk to pay much attention to what you were saying to me.
It makes me sad, now, that I wasn’t someone who could be counted on.
Nowadays, if we make plans then I am guaranteed to be there, and I’ll be there giving you 100% of my focus and attention. (Side note, a quote commonly used in the sober community is “I love feeling 100%, 100% of the time”, and I am all about that).
Busy Making Memories
I mentioned before that I would only remember the good parts of nights out and holidays and experiences.
When you don’t drink, you remember EVERY LITTLE THING. And I bloody love that!
Chances are, there aren’t many embarrassing or regretful things I’ve done anyway, because I am fully coherent and in control of my actions.
The first gig I went to where I didn’t drink was Snow Patrol, one of my all-time favourite bands.
I felt super nervous. Everyone was going to laugh at my sober dancing. What was I going to do with my hands? I always had a beer in one or both of my hands.
It ended up being one of the best nights of my life, and I remember every bit of it.
I danced like a tit, sang my heart out, and went home fully coherent and able to take my make up off and get tucked up into bed, ready for a productive following day.
Once I got over the ‘FOMO’- fear of missing out- of quitting, the reality of everything I had to gain became blindingly obvious.
Hands down, my favourite part of ditching the drink has been becoming someone that I like, respect, and trust. I trust my judgment now more than I ever have, and I value my own opinion.
In the past, I was an extremely insecure person. This, plus alcohol, was the perfect recipe for disaster in relationships and friendships.
Nowadays, I am comfortable enough in my own skin to know that if a relationship doesn’t work out, it’s NOT because I am not good enough.
If a friend has an issue with me, I’m secure enough to hear them out and try to work through it together. Drinking made me play the victim and made me an unreliable and unaccountable person.
Quitting drinking meant that I had to rediscover myself all over again.
Sobriety helped me find out what I liked and disliked, and what kind of person I was. I had myself totally wrong, and it turns out I didn’t really know myself at all.
1. I thought I hated exercise.
I have never once regretted a workout, whereas I have regretted countless things I’ve done or decisions I’ve made when drinking. Working out has been a newfound joy for me, and since quitting the drink and joining the gym I’ve lost nearly 13kg and learnt what AMRAP means. Win.
Related Post: Why Exercise Should Be Part Of Your Sobriety Plan
2. I thought I was an extrovert.
I am so much happier on my own or in the company of a very small number of people I’m close to. I’m shy when I don’t have alcohol to fuel my courage and find certain social situations and small talk painfully awkward. I no longer get FOMO, and instead, now get JOMO (joy of missing out).
3. I believed I was funnier with alcohol in me.
It took me a while to figure this one out, and I didn’t properly laugh for quite a while after ditching the drink. I questioned whether I was any fun to be around, and worried that I was boring.
Nope, it was simply that I was rediscovering what actually made me laugh. Turns out, repetitive conversation and drunken “in-jokes” just aren’t funny to me.
My family makes me laugh like nobody else, and I think they’d say the same about me (I hope!) and we laugh much more over a drink-free lunch than I ever have on a night out.
I now belly laugh until it hurts at things that I genuinely find amusing. I’m also much better at telling jokes when I’m not slurring or repeating myself.
4. I thought the definition of my perfect night was at a bar.
I am much happier doing something active now or going for dinner and actually enjoying the food rather than worrying about when the next drink was coming.
If I’m feeling like a hermit, which I often do no, then the perfect night is spent at home with some sort of crafting project, a good book, or a Netflix binge.
Old me would find that totally dull, but old me was a mess, so she can do one.
My relationships now flourish, and my friendships are stronger than ever. Just as importantly, the relationship I have with myself is rock solid, which is good news, because I’m stuck with myself 24/7!
Related Post: How To Stay Sober When Everyone Is Drinking
I mentioned earlier that I had reached a point in my life where I knew I wasn’t happy and had to do something about it. Since starting this journey, I have stepped outside of my comfort zone more times than I can count.
They say, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, and I feel like I am starting to really live now.
I have quit my very nice, very stable job and am currently packing up my life in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where I have lived for ten years. I am applying for universities in Canada and exploring a freelancing career.
I am scared shitless, but I am also excited.
I have been talking about “scratching an itch” for years, knowing that I wasn’t fully content with everything but never doing anything to change it. It’s okay that I’m scared because that means I’m about to do something really brave.
Quitting drinking was a very large part of finally discovering, and learning to love, who I am as a person.
And frankly, the way I see it, we only get one life and I am not okay with wasting another precious minute of mine nursing an awful hangover!