Last month I was contacted out of the blue by a BBC journalist who had read my post ‘Almost Alcoholic‘. She was writing an article about the same thing and wondered if she could interview me. We chatted on the phone for a while and then I forgot all about it. As a journalist myself I know that not everyone you speak to makes the final edit. Stories often get dropped or overtaken by other news. So it was a bit of a surprise when I woke up on yesterday morning to find lots of emails and comments from people who’d read this:
Tag Archives: alcohol
Just checking in to wish you all a Happy New Year. I hope Christmas was good? I know I wasn’t the only one facing my first sober Christmas and on the whole I’m pleased to report it went pretty well.
There were a few challenges, as I knew there would be. There was some not-drinking awkwardness on Christmas Day when a relative handed me a glass of champagne. As everyone else raised their glasses and took a long sip I thought “Is this some kind of test? Or have they all just forgotten?” It turned out it was the latter. I didn’t want to make a scene and dithered over what to do for ages. In the end I left my glass untouched but no one seemed to notice.
I had a couple of pangs. I guess this was inevitable, especially as Christmas has always been a time that I’ve associated with drinking a lot and being ‘merry’. On Boxing Day I woke up looking forward to another day of eating and drinking, before remembering that I wouldn’t be drinking. Doh. Later we were eating delicious smoked salmon and I could have murdered a glass of white wine to go with the food. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying theirs.
Fortunately those cravings came and went pretty quickly and waking up the next day without a hangover more than made up for them. I tried not to dwell on the wolfie thoughts whenever I did hear them. In fact that is my new way of dealing with Wolfie. I don’t think about what he has to say until the next day. So far I have never woken up following morning and thought ‘gosh I should have listened to that voice telling me I was missing out by not drinking. I really wish I’d had a drink last night….’
It was great to feel ‘present’ around my family, rather than obsessing over where and when the next drink was coming from. I think I ate less and I was definitely less grumpy. All in all, being sober at Christmas was, well, not a big deal really. And I mean that in a good way. For me, alcohol had been such a huge part of the festive period that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like without it. When I tried repeatedly in 2012 to stop drinking one of my big stumbling points had been my birthday and Christmas. I just couldn’t imagine how I could ever have fun or be able to celebrate without alcohol.
I’ve been writing some New Year’s resolutions today and have been rereading last year’s list in the process. I’d totally forgotten about half of them (“be able to do 30 proper press ups by the time I turn 30” – what was I thinking?!) but there’s one I clearly remember writing: “stop drinking home alone”. With hindsight that sounds like a goal made by someone who knew she had a problem but was desperately trying to find a way to carry on drinking. Well, I think I’ve smashed that target. Sure, it took me until April to get round to it, but I had never imagined I’d stop drinking altogether. My alcohol related resolution for this year is to stay sober for the whole of 2014. Bring it on!
They say the average person consumes 7,000 calories on Christmas day. I’m not surprised. One of my favourite things about Christmas (aside from all the presents) is the food. In my family we eat the same thing every single year. It absolutely has to be turkey, with pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, stuffing, gravy, the works. All washed down with lots of red wine, of course. The turkey is followed by Christmas pudding, doused in brandy and served with brandy sauce. By late afternoon everyone will be passed out in a food coma watching crap TV. But as if by magic, a few hours later we’ll find room for cheese and biscuits, Christmas cake and half a tub of Quality Street.
No wonder I can never fit into my skinny jeans come January 1st.
Obviously this year I’ll be skipping the champagne breakfast, buckets of red wine and G&Ts. And that’s fine. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Not at all. To be honest, the combination of all that food and alcohol made me feel unpleasantly drowsy and uncomfortable. By the afternoon I’d have a headache and would start feeling annoyed with everyone.
So I’m actually looking forward to not drinking this year. My question is this: what about the food?
I love Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, but are they off the menu now? I think the pudding probably is. It’s covered in brandy and set alight just before serving, so I don’t think the alcohol is burnt off properly. What about the Christmas cake? Made in November, it is topped up with brandy in late December.
On the other hand, what’s the big deal about consuming alcohol in food? It’s not going to get me drunk. I’d be sick before I got at all tipsy. But will it reignite my taste for alcohol? Until now I have avoided food with alcohol in like the plague. I don’t even buy mouthwash with alcohol in it, just in case.
I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out. My mum always serves the same food on Christmas day – it’s tradition. So I can’t just say “let’s have chocolate cake instead this year”. Anyway, I don’t want to kick up a fuss. It’s taken my family a while to get their heads round the fact that I don’t drink now. But not eating certain foods? I’m not sure they’ll understand that and I’m not sure I want to miss out.
I am writing this on the train home from London because I want to get this happy, sober feeling down on paper. This is a post for all the lurkers, who read my blog and wonder, should I stop drinking? Will it be worth it? Will I ever have fun again? Yes. The answer is yes.
I spent this weekend catching up with two of my oldest friends and I had such a brilliant time. When I first stopped drinking they were surprised but supportive. I don’t think they really understand why I had to stop, but they have always been totally fine about my decision.
Last night we got dressed up and tottered out in our highest heels for drinks at a bar in London Bridge, followed by dinner at the Shard. It is eye-wateringly expensive but I’ve wanted to go there ever since it opened. Even in the dark the view is amazing!
About half way through the meal, it struck me that I was having a brilliant time, sober. Not a brilliant time despite being sober, but because I was sober. A year ago I’d have found an evening like last night to be very frustrating. The 2012 version of me would have knocked back a large glass of wine at the bar, prompting me to crave more. I’d have joined my friends for a cocktail and would have convinced them to order a bottle of wine with the food. All night I’d be trying not to drink too fast. My eyes would be trained on the bottle but I’d be careful not to look bothered. I’d let someone else top the glasses up but when they weren’t looking I’d steal sneaky glances at every glass, to check I hadn’t been short-changed.
I’d find it hard to focus on the conversation or the food because I’d be so consumed by the feeling of not getting enough. It was miserable really. Last night it was so refreshing to not be worrying about all of that. When my friends ordered cocktails, I had a fresh cranberry juice and it tasted delicious. (I noticed they didn’t order any other booze after that, not even a small glass of wine). The food was superb and when the dessert menu came round I ordered a huge chocolate brownie, because fuck it, I can. I felt relaxed and happy.
I went to bed tired and slept like a baby. I woke up this morning feeling great. After catching up on Strictly Come Dancing (compulsory viewing) my friend K convinced me to go with her to a Sunday morning meditation class. I’m not really into that kind of thing but the new, open-minded me decided to give it a go. I found it quite hard to calm my racing brain – this might something I need to practice – but it was an hour well spent.
The 2012 version of me would have made my excuses and left London much earlier this afternoon. I’d need to get home so I could drink properly. Only I wouldn’t actually be able to wait until I got home. Inevitably I’d end up in M&S, buying those miniature bottles of wine and G&Ts in a can. I’d drink them on the train whilst listening to my iPod, hoping no one would notice.
Sad isn’t it? I’m glad I don’t do that anymore. Tonight I am going to buy something nice to eat on my way home, have a bath and then go to bed. I have a lot to do over the next few days, starting with a spin class in the morning. I like this new me.
I still cringe when I think about last year’s work party.
It was at a fairly small bar in town, midweek, and people started gathering around 6.30pm. I turned up ready to start drinking on an empty stomach. I knew the bar served very little in the way of food, but there was no way I was going to eat beforehand. Why would you want to slow the alcohol absorption? I wanted to have a nice time and that meant getting drunk.
I remember buying a round of drinks right at the start. We love buying rounds in the UK. Half way through my first drink, more people arrived and a friend topped up my glass of wine. Then someone I’d bought a drink for got me a drink. Then I started talking to some other people and I must have been gulping my drink because I finished before anyone else was ready to get another round in. Rather than wait for them, I went back to the bar and got a drink for myself. So greedy. I think I moved on to gin and tonics. (Doubles, obviously).
I remember the Secret Santa because I got some awful, ugly scarf as a present, but – as you have no idea who bought it – I had to make a big show of absolutely loving it. After that was over some of the tables in the centre of the bar got pushed aside, the lights dimmed and the music turned up. A few people started dancing, but it was a bit weird because the bar was too small. It was like being at a wedding reception, when everyone stands round watching two people sway awkwardly on the ‘dance floor’, ie a few square metres of laminate flooring at the end of the room.
The next thing I remember is a load of people gate crashing the party. I work in TV for quite a big broadcaster and after a while I realised the gate crashers were actually radio journalists from the building next to ours. I recognised one of them – let’s call him J – as we worked together several years ago. I knew he liked me because he’d told me so on many other drunken occasions in my early twenties. He’s alright looking but unfortunately he’s really boring and has an ego the size of the planet. Oh, and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.
Anyway, all of sudden I think it’s a great idea to dance with him, in front of everyone. Suddenly we’re dancing really close and I’m aware people are watching. But I don’t care because wine is running through my veins and I’m so sexy, right? We start kissing, proper full on cringey snogging, just metres away from my colleagues, bosses, editors, my line manager and just about anyone that matters. Someone takes a photo and threatens to put in on Facebook.
After a while, the people J arrived with announce they’re going. He suggests we go too. Can he walk me back to my flat? Through the drunken haze I think: yes, that is probably a good idea. It’s freezing cold and all the way home J keeps saying “Wow, this is a nice surprise!” By the time we get to mine I’ve started to sober up, but when he asks if he can come in I still say yes. After more kissing and god knows what else, I realise that having sex with J is going to be a very bad idea. I tell him this and he thinks I’m joking. It takes ages to convince him that yes, I do actually want him to get dressed and walk home in the cold at 2am. Eventually he gets the message and leaves, thank goodness.
It took months for people to stop teasing me about The Christmas Party Incident and much longer for me to be able to look my boss in the eye. Journalists have a reputation for being heavy drinkers but it’s a bit of an old cliché now. No one I work with has long boozy lunches or ‘meetings’ with contacts in the pub. So my behaviour stood out and although I laughed off all the banter and jokes, privately I was mortified at being so out of control. I knew I drank too much when home alone, but this time I’d done it in public.
This year’s work Christmas party is going to be different, because a) I don’t drink anymore and b) I’m not going. It clashes with something else and to be honest I’m pleased to get out of it. As it happens, quite a few people can’t make it this year so a group of us have organised something else, a kind of alternative Christmas party night out.
It’s in a few days time and I’m looking forward to it but I also feel nervous too. I’ve been a bit of a hermit recently as sometimes going out just feels like hard work. We’re all meeting at someone’s house first, where I’m sure I’ll be offered a drink. So straightaway it’ll be hard to get a soft drink discretely. I think most people know I haven’t been drinking recently but they might be surprised that I’m still not drinking. They always seem to think it’s just a temporary thing, but maybe that’s my fault for letting them think that in the first place.
Anyway, I’ve bought a new dress and I’m getting my hair cut that day, so hopefully I will feel good and look great… and have a fun, SOBER night out.
I came across this article and blog last night.
It’s good isn’t it? It voices something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I think it was whilst I was at university that I decided that fun= getting drunk. Until then I’d enjoyed getting drunk (and perhaps more so than any of my friends) but drinking hadn’t been the only way to have fun.
Most people rein in their drinking as they get older and acquire more responsibilities like jobs and children etc. (I didn’t cut back but I’m talking about normal drinkers here, or at least what society considers ‘normal’) What I’ve noticed is that even though normal people may start to drink less frequently, they still consider drinking to be the best way of having a good time. Sure, they’ve grown up and moved on from alcopops and shots to fancy wine …but basically they still look forward to consuming a lot of alcohol in one go because that is the best way to have ‘FUN’.
So if binge drinking chardonnay is considered ‘normal’ that must make people like me abnormal, right? It certainly feels that way at times. What’s annoying is that whilst I can have a good night out sober, me not drinking seems to offend other people. If they don’t notice I’m on lemonade then it’s fine, but once they do the spell seems to be broken. Perhaps they’re worried I’m judging them? Looking down on them from my sober high horse?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this past week as I’ve RSVP’d to a few Christmas invites. The festive party season is starting to feel like yet another hurdle to get over when really it should be fun. So I am going to try and come up with a little Christmas party survival plan. Let me know your thoughts and tips…
It’s only October, yet I’ve already had several emails reminding me that Dry January is not that far away: “Thank you for taking part earlier this year … We hope you’ll join us again… only 78 days to go!”
What they don’t know is that I crashed out of Dry January about six days in and spent the rest of January drinking a lot. I’d actually started off quite well and I didn’t even drink on New Year’s Eve, as I didn’t want to start the year drunk or hungover. But six days in something happened – I can’t remember what – and I thought: fuck it. This is too hard. I remember feeling like such a failure because so many other people managed it successfully. For once, Facebook was full of people boasting about teetotal nights in rather than their hangovers. It was the perfect time to stop drinking and I just couldn’t do it.
This January should be different. I hope I’m feeling as good then as I do now. I am secretly looking forward to everyone moaning and whining their way through their month off the booze while I lie back and smugly say “Ha! One month? That is NOTHING, you losers…”
One of the strange things about Dry January is that it’s something people are only expected to do for a month. Once over, it’s totally fine – normal even – to go back to drinking as you were before. The attitude surrounding the whole month is quite different to Stoptober, the NHS stop smoking campaign that’s in full swing at the moment.
Stoptober is all about stopping smoking forever. The theory goes that if you can quit for a month you’re five times more likely to stop for good. Stoptober has had high-profile coverage in newspapers, magazines and on TV. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea because it’s widely accepted that smoking is bad. Smoking is addictive. It’s hard to stop smoking and if you do, well done you. Pat on the back.
And frankly, it is annoying the hell out of me that smokers get so much unwavering support while us boozers get so little. Alcohol is also addictive, it’s also bad for you and if you manage to stop drinking then you deserve a pat on the back too. Or a medal.
Deep down everyone knows alcohol is bad for you – why else bother with a Dry Jan? – but the idea of giving up for good is so scary that most people can’t even contemplate it. The people behind the Dry January campaign don’t even dare to suggest it.
I don’t smoke but lets pretend for a minute that I do, or did. If I’d given up smoking rather than drinking on April 6th this year then I guarantee you all my friends would know about it. They’d have been behind me all the way. If I’d struggled to quit I’d have been able to get plenty of support from my GP or nurse without worrying about what they’d think. I’d be posting about my milestones on Facebook. I would not be writing an anonymous blog because I am too embarrassed to talk about my addiction openly.
It makes me so mad…
This is turning into a ranty, moany post and I didn’t mean it to be. I wanted to tell you about the great weekend I had in London, which ended with a lovely afternoon meeting Belle and Carrie. It was brilliant to meet face to face after all this time. I also meet some other fantastic Team 100 members: FitFatFood and The Secret Place Under the Ivy. Meeting other sober people, who are going through the same thing, is pretty amazing. Meeting sober people who know about the 100 day challenge is really amazing. I felt like saying to everyone “Wow! You look so NORMAL!” but I didn’t, because that would have been weird. Sometimes the sober blogosphere can feel a bit big and anonymous but on Sunday it was just the opposite – it was tea and chat and cinnamon buns. Good times.
On Sunday two pretty huge things happened.
1. I turned 30.
2. I celebrated six months sober.
All on the same day.
It was no coincidence – I decided to stop drinking on the 6th of April for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to get a grip on my drinking before my 30s began. I know six months isn’t long enough to ‘fix’ anything but it’s quite a good start. Secondly, my attempts to quit for good last summer were derailed by my birthday, because I simply could not imagine how I would be able to celebrate without alcohol. It seemed unthinkable. So this year, knowing that my 30th was on the horizon – the kind birthday most people celebrate with champagne – I decided that I’d need several months of sobriety under my belt to survive.
The top line is: I did it. I really fucking did it. And I am so, so proud of myself for that.
I wish I could end this post there and say it was easy peasy, hunky dory and the idea of sinking a glass of wine didn’t cross my mind at all. But… this whole blog is about being honest, so I have to admit it wasn’t all plain sailing.
The worst point was probably on Friday night when I was sat in the bath, worrying about the rest of the weekend. I’d worked hard to plan a fun few days that were as sober friendly as possible but I was still stressing about it. I’d decided that I’d spend Saturday with friends and Sunday (my actual birthday) with family.
My main concern had been what to do with my friends. I knew I couldn’t handle hosting a big party. It would’ve been a hassle to organise and the temptation and pressure to drink would have been too great. Maybe other people would’ve been fine with it but I just knew I wasn’t ready. Still, I wanted to do something that felt special. In the end I invited a small group of close friends to afternoon tea at a very posh hotel (think: finger sandwiches and lots of cakes … it was good). Afterwards we went to see a comedy at a nearby theatre.
Most of the day worked out really well actually and I had a lot of fun. The bit I’d been worrying about was after the show. I’d been hoping to end the night there and slip off home, but somehow I ended up agreeing to meet a couple of people who I know are quite heavy drinkers. To be honest, I’d been avoiding them a bit over the past couple of months. They were fun to drink with but we’re not particularly close friends anymore. They couldn’t make it to the afternoon tea or theatre (or they didn’t want to, who knows). But, they promised they’d be out in town to buy me a drink later. (“You are going out after the show, right? We can meet for a drink? It’s your 30th! We’ll make a night of it!” blah blah blah). I didn’t feel I could say no.
So that’s what I was worrying about on Friday night. It felt like I’d spent the last few months building up to this big weekend, this big test, and at the last minute the pressure was getting to me. I couldn’t remember why I’d bothered. I heard wolfie in my head, reasoning that it was ok to have a drink on your birthday, for crying out loud, it’s what everybody does. I didn’t want to celebrate my 30th birthday with cake and cups of tea – I wanted to get drunk and be reckless and carefree like everyone else. I felt like knocking back a glass of wine and calling it quits.
It’s hard, in those moments, to remember why on earth you don’t drink. There is a part of me that is still seriously pissed off that I can’t drink like a ‘normal’ person. That part of me rears its ugly head every now and then and rocks the boat. It eventually goes away again but it’s hard to remember that at the time.
I have to Belle to thank for instilling in me the benefits of a good nights sleep. Eventually I decided to stop thinking about it and see how I felt it the morning. I painted my nails, watched TV and went to bed. And hey presto, I woke up on Saturday morning feeling lots better. Not fixed, but better. More confident. More aware of what I would lose by drinking. I remembered that it was my birthday and I could do whatever I bloody well liked.
I still thought about it on and off during the day, testing myself. Am I going to drink tonight? No. Maybe. No. Hmmm.
As I said, the rest of the day went off without a hitch. As we were standing outside the theatre, wondering which bar to go to, I thought: I can do this. I remembered there was a nice, quiet bar in a nearby hotel that did fancy cocktails for those who drank and mocktails for me. I text my former drinking buddies and told them where I was heading, making it clear it’d just be a quiet one and they were welcome to come if they fancied it, if not, no bother.
I was half expecting them not to turn up, but they did. And you know what, it was fine. The bar was expensive so no one drank that much. I ordered my cranberry juice before they arrived and it wasn’t commented on. It was a nice few hours actually – we talked and talked and it felt good.
On Sunday I headed off to see my family, a piece of cake in drinking terms. My sobriety did come up briefly and this time I told them a much more accurate version of the truth. It wasn’t something I’d planned, it just seemed the right time. Being more open about it seemed to satisfy my parents, who I think both knew there was a bit more to things than I’d been letting on.
I want to bed quite early on Sunday, absolutely shattered. Happy, but knackered. I opened all my cards and thought I’d share this one with you:
It made me laugh because it’s kind of appropriate and really inappropriate all at the same time. Clearly this relative hasn’t noticed me drinking water at recent family functions…!
I’m not normally a religious person, but on Sunday I found myself cutting all kinds of deals with God.
I hadn’t expected the plane from the Masai Mara to be so tiny. Sure, the one on the way out had been small, but this 12 seater was like a minibus with wings. I can be a nervous flyer and I don’t like turbulence, flying in the rain or being able to see into the cockpit. So of course I got all three:
The plane was operating like a train; it made several stops on the way back to Nairobi. Each time this meant taking off from runways that looked more like narrow gravel roads. I think I held my breath the entire journey and I swore that if I got out if the plane alive I would – in return – never drink again. Ever.
So as I’ve made it home in one piece I guess I’ll have to keep that end if the bargain or who knows what might happen …!
It was a pretty dramatic end to an exciting fortnight in Kenya and an awesome safari.
I did a lot of thinking on holiday, just taking stock of where I am and what I’m doing. It strikes me that drinking put a giant pause button on my life. It’s my 30th birthday next weekend and frankly I still can’t believe it’s really happening because my twenties just slipped by without me noticing. I know everyone feels that way to some extent but I really feel like I wasted a lot of time. That’s what drinking does. It takes you out of the moment but time carries on ticking by. You’re just not present enough to appreciate it.
Many of my peers are now married and having children or they’re in better paid jobs than me. I know you shouldn’t judge other people’s insides by their outsides but I can’t help feeling that I’ve been left behind. Of course I did notice all this when I was drinking, but I ignored it, squashing down uncomfortable feelings with large glasses of wine.
Seen as rich, gorgeous husbands don’t grow on trees – damn – for now I’m going to focus on the one thing I feel I can do something about: my job. Whilst I was away I realised how bored and fed up I am with it. I need something more challenging, more satisfying. So, I’ve made a little plan. A list of things I’m going to do to try and get another job. I might even consider leaving journalism altogether. I’m still working it out.
Most importantly, I am not going to rush into anything. All too often I make rash decisions and I think that is my alcoholic, impulsive, ‘now, now, now’ side. For example, on holiday I got it into my head that I should set up my own business. Why didn’t I think of that before? I wondered. This is how I could earn my millions! But then … slight snag… what kind of business should it be? I actually began to get quite stressed because I couldn’t think of a decent idea. Seriously – I was on holiday, worrying about the fact that I couldn’t produce a multi million pound business idea out of thin air.
So maybe I’m not going to be the next Richard Branson. Who knows, maybe I will struggle to find another job. But at least I’m trying to get where I want to be and not just waiting for something to fall into my lap. You make your own luck.