Tag Archives: socialising

Introducing … The Sober School

Hello there! Long time no see! I’d like to apologise for abandoning my blog without explanation. Have no fear, I didn’t disappear because something bad happened. Quite the opposite. I was busy being sober and happy – drinking tea, eating cake, catching up with old friends, making new friends, going out with my running club, trying new hobbies, starting new jobs and all sorts of other lovely stuff. I’ve been sober for 843 days now and I really am so happy with life. I don’t take my sobriety for granted but it’s pretty much become second nature now. In fact it all became so normal that I felt I didn’t have much to say … until now.

I wanted to let you know about a new project that I’ve been working on. Ever since I got sober I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that there should be more help for people like me. Bright, professional women who know they’re drinking too much but just can’t seem to get out of the alcohol trap. Women who can’t bring themselves to tell their doctor how much they really drink but don’t fancy going to AA. Women who want to lose the booze, but not their social life – who desperately want to stop drinking, but can’t quite work out how to stay stopped.

Whilst the sober blogosphere is great, it’s quite a hidden corner of the internet. It took me a good few years of searching for help before I stumbled across the blogs that made such a difference to me. I wanted to create something more mainstream. I wanted to create the website that I wish had existed when I was trying to stop drinking. Something that talked about alcohol addiction in a relatable way, providing help and advice without being patronising.

So I decided to set up this: thesoberschool.com

It’s a little space online where you can find inspiration to help you stop drinking and achieve wonderful things. I have a new blog over there, plus some help and advice pages. I’m in the middle of training to be coach, because my plan is to create a course that guides sober wannabes through the first few important weeks of their alcohol free life.

There are also quite a few pictures of me on there, so if you want to put a face to a name have a look…

It’s an exciting and nerve wracking time. I’ve done something that once seemed unthinkable – outing myself to the world. I’ve reduced my hours at work and told my employers what I’m doing. I’ve also had to be really honest with friends. Until recently, even those in the know had only heard a sanitised version of my drinking story. There are still a lot of people in my life who don’t know everything yet, but I will tell them in due course.

So far the response has been brilliant. And I really hope it will all make a difference. I try not to sound too much like a preachy reformed drinker, but I really believe something big needs to change in our society. It shouldn’t be this hard to talk about being addicted to alcohol. We have no problem talking about smoking in these terms, do we?

This will be my last post on this blog. So if you want to follow my new blog, please do head on over to thesoberschool.com

I’m also on Facebook  Twitter and Instagram

Phew. That’s all for now.

Lots of love,

Kate
The Sober School Sub Mark 2
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When drinking wine is like eating chocolate biscuits

On Friday I had to interview some people who’d taken part in Dry January. Truth be told, the feature was kind of my idea, but I wasn’t expecting to actually have to do it myself. I wasn’t in the mood for talking to people who were about to celebrate their sober success by getting pissed. So when it was assigned to me, I did what I do best and put it off for as long as possible.

I’ve written before about how weird I think the concept of Dry January is. All other public health campaigns encourage people to make a permanent change to their lives. Stoptober is all about stopping smoking, permanently. Change 4 Life encourages healthy eating, forever. But Dry January? It seems to imply that a month of saintly living is enough to counteract 11 months of boozing it up.

Anyway. On Friday afternoon – after taking a long lunch break, sorting through all my emails and making several cups of tea – I finally got round to picking up the phone. Despite my reluctance, chatting to the Dry January-ers was actually quite interesting.

For starters, their enthusiasm was infectious. They’d all lost weight, saved money and slept better. They’d got lots more done on Sundays. They’d realised that it was possible to socialise without drinking. They’d started to think about how much of their drinking was done out of sheer habit. It was all I could do not to chime in with “Well, wait till you get to 10 months, then you really will feel amazing!” But as I was in the office, surrounded by colleagues who still seem to be largely oblivious to my sobriety, I kept my mouth shut.

I was speaking to one lovely lady, Helen, when something clicked for me. I was listening to her talking about her love of white wine when I realised that her relationship with alcohol was about the same as the one I have with chocolate biscuits.

Helen likes a glass of wine when she gets home from work. It makes her feel better. At first she found not drinking hard, because it had become part of her routine. I love chocolate digestives with a cup of tea in the afternoon. But if I’m on a diet (hello January) I’ll try to cut them out altogether. I found that hard to start with, but got into the swing of things after a while. If Helen has a bad day at work, she might have two glasses of wine to cheer herself up. But she’d never drink enough to get a hangover or be incapable of looking after her children. If I’m having a bad afternoon I might have four biscuits instead of two. But as much as I love them, I’m never going to eat the whole packet because I know that would make me feel ill. And eating biscuits doesn’t actually solve anything.

Crucially, I could see that Helen felt her drinking had become a bad habit, one that she was keen to get on top of. But she wasn’t obsessed by alcohol and it didn’t control her.

My relationship with alcohol was very different. Once I had started drinking I could not control my intake. It didn’t matter what I had to do the next day. Once I’d started, I didn’t really care about the consequences. But no matter how much I drank, I never felt truly satisfied or content. Left to my own devices I would drink until I passed out. After a big binge I’d be ‘good’ for a while, but even then, alcohol would still be playing some tune in the background.

I’ve never had that problem with chocolate biscuits.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a rambling, long-winded kind of way, is that perhaps Dry January is a good thing for people who aren’t problem drinkers, but who have just got into the habit of drinking too much. People who drink wine like I eat chocolate biscuits. I still think some people might misuse it and see it as a wipe-the-slate-clean, magical detox. But there are some good points. And ultimately, anything that promotes sobriety in some shape or another has got to be a good thing, right?

Fake it till you make it

The party invite said:
 
As everyone is busy in the run-up to Christmas I thought I’d invite you all round in the middle of January when there is bugger all else to do. There will be mince pies and mulled wine and possibly some other vaguely Christmas-y stuff.
But mostly there will be booze and dancing. And games for those that like such things.
A couple of people have asked if partners and friends are welcome. Partners are, of course. As to friends, that’s OK too, though only if they are hot and/or interesting. Remember… BRING BOOZE.
 
Things like this still make me feel nervous. Not in a “how will I manage not to drink?” way. It’s more of a “am I going to actually enjoy this?” feeling. I’ve written before about the perils of partying sober. Some nights are good – and some aren’t.
 
One of the things I worry about most is what other people will think about me not drinking. I worry they might think I’m boring. I hate the fact that I worry about what other people think, but I do. I want to be liked. I want to be considered fun. I want to fit in.
 
The writer who sums this feeling up the best is Sacha Z. Scoblic in her brilliant book My Lush Sobriety. She writes:
 
“I still felt viscerally close to the life I led as a drinker. I was also acutely aware of my own feeling toward people who didn’t drink: that they were all totally vanilla, uptight squares who wanted me to treat my body like a temple, take Jesus Christ as my savior and drink Kool-Aid with them at mixers in church basements….”
 
“….So now that I was sober, I blurted out things like, “Don’t worry, I’m still fun!” even though what I was really thinking was: “Don’t even for a minute think I’m vanilla because the truth is I am so hard core I had to quit. I drank so much it was a matter of life and death. I’m like a rock star compared with you. In fact, maybe you should just call me Sid Vicious from now on. You should look at me with a touch of fear and awe because you would quiver to think about the amount of rotgut I’ve ingested over the years. So step off with your preconceived notions, O.K.?”
 
The party was last night.
 
On my way there I decided to try a little experiment. I decided to pretend to be the version of myself that I used to be after a glass or two of wine. You know – when you’ve had just enough to make you confident, chatty and relaxed. When you’re feeling a bit tipsy but aren’t yet slurring and making passes at married men.

Well, it worked. Pretty soon I wasn’t pretending to have a good time, I genuinely was having fun. As other people really did get tipsy, the good-time feeling rubbed off on me. I didn’t hide the fact that I was on soft drinks, but I didn’t stand in the corner radiating shy sobriety either (I have done that in the past). I’d brought with me some nice cordials and soft drinks that I knew I would be happy to drink all night. I was also one of the few people who thought to bring any food and that turned out to be very welcome.

The only thing that would have made the night better would’ve been the presence of some straight men. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many gorgeous but gay men in one room. Big sigh. Anyway as I went to leave my friend Yuan said “hope you get home safely and don’t feel too hungover tomorrow….” He was so surprised when I said I hadn’t been drinking at all.
 
It was – as always – great to wake up without a hangover today. I got up really late and feel as if I’ve had quite a lazy day, but actually I’ve still done a big supermarket shop, two loads of washing, some ironing, tidied the flat, made lasagne and I’ve written this. If I’d woken up with a hangover today I would probably still be in my pyjamas, surrounded by all the clothes I tried on last night but threw on the floor.

Small talk with drunk people

As I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t been going out much recently. But on Friday night I put my new dress on, got my hair done and forced myself out the door.
 
And… it was ok. Not great, not terrible, just alright. 
 
The night started with drinks at someone’s house – a friend from work who I don’t know particularly well. I arrived just as she was pouring glasses of champagne. She pressed one into my hand but without skipping a beat I said, “no thanks, I don’t actually drink”. She looked mortified and was so apologetic it was quite sweet. However, everyone heard this and it meant that straightaway, there was no hiding the fact that I wasn’t drinking.
 
At first I didn’t mind talking about it. People are bound to ask some questions, especially when they know you used to drink.  But my god, some people would not let it go, including a so-called friend of mine who promised to get me “nice and drunk by the end of the night” because “you’ll never meet a man if you’re sober.” 
 
After a while we moved on to a party at the bar of quite a posh hotel. It was lovely there and for a while, all was good. There was chatting and mingling and laughing and I thought “Hmmm…. I can do this.” I like people-watching and I particularly like watching how people drink. It’s interesting who gets drunk quickly. Some knock back the drinks quietly whilst others linger over a glass of wine for hours.
 
I was standing there, minding my own business, when a man I know from work said to me, “Is that orange juice you’re drinking?” (Note to self: next time order a more subtle drink or at least get it in a wine glass). So I gave this guy Graham the usual spiel. (I normally tell people I stopped drinking in April as part of a health kick and I felt so much better I haven’t gone back, blah blah blah. Some people are happy to leave it at that, but others are much more nosy and ask lots of questions.)
 
After I’ve stopped talking Graham says, “Well that is funny, because I seem to remember that this time last year we were at a party where you were so drunk you spent most of the night with your tongue down someone else’s throat.” I groan internally, do my best oh-you’re-so-funny-laugh and say “well that’s another reason why I don’t drink anymore.” At this, Graham pauses, looks around and says, “but isn’t life all about those kind of moments? You’re missing out on so much.”
 
Now, my logical head knows that the best moments in life do NOT happen when you’re drunk, anesthetized and half out of it. But at that moment, in the middle of a busy party, with people hugging and laughing and being a bit merry, it felt true. Was I missing out? The question bugged me all night. 
 
Recently I read an interview with the actor Simon Pegg, who stopped drinking at 40. He said “when I go out with my friends now – and this was a revelation to me – round about 10 o’clock I start looking around me and thinking, ‘Everyone’s an arsehole! When did this happen?'” On Friday night I looked around me and thought exactly the same thing. In fact you could argue some people had been arseholes the entire night. By 11pm they were slurring and repetitive and I knew it was time to go.
    
The original title I gave this post was “Is there a magic formula for a fun, sober night out?” Then I realised that actually I kind of know what makes a good night out for me these days and Friday night just wasn’t it. The real thing I struggle with is how to handle other people’s idea of a good night. I can’t hang out with sober people all the time. But when alcohol is considered by many to be an evening’s entertainment, what is a single, sober girl supposed to do?    

Parties, bars and not drinking

Sometimes a couple of days or maybe a week will pass and I don’t really think about the fact that I no longer drink. It just is what it is. Being sober is part of my life now, part of my routine. I don’t need to walk the long way round the supermarket to avoid the wine aisle. I just walk right through it to get to my fancy cordials and expensive coffee. 

So that all feels fine. But there’s a lot of stuff outside my sober bubble that I’m not so comfortable about. Socialising, whilst sober, is still a biggie for me. Alcohol was a comfort blanket and mood alterer that turned so-so parties into great ones. Wine made me funnier, sexier and more confident. Or so I thought. Now, going out sober is like learning to be ‘me’ all over again.       

On Friday night I went to a work party and last night I met a few friends for drinks before going to a gig. I pick and choose my nights out quite carefully and I went to both because I thought I’d enjoy them – but they turned out to be quite hard work.

The work party was at someone’s house and on paper, it sounded great. It started mid afternoon. There was going to be a BBQ. It was out in the countryside so lots of people had driven there. The hosts had catered for all the sober drivers and there were tons of soft drinks to choose from. I was delighted by this as often the only choice for non drinkers is diet coke or water. 

The main problem on Friday night was, well, me. I felt like I was acting the whole time. I knew everyone there pretty well and in the office I’d have no problem talking to them. But for some reason I felt out of my comfort zone and I struggled to make small talk. The whole time I worried that I wasn’t interesting enough or funny enough. Despite all the sober drivers, there seemed to be quite a few tipsy people and I felt reserved and uptight in comparison. When people drink together they share a certain something; it pulls them together in a way that’s hard to describe. 

Despite feeling uncomfortable I didn’t want to drink; I knew that I would pay a huge price if I joined in. I just felt very self-conscious, as if I was carrying my sobriety around with me, like some precious ornament that needed handling carefully and protecting from the drunk people. Anyway, the real lesson of the night was this: always have an escape plan. I did not make one. I don’t have a car at the moment so I got a lift there with someone else. Not only did we arrive later than I would have liked to but my friend/driver insisted we stay till the bitter end.  

Last night was better, however I was the first to arrive in the bar where I’d agreed to meet my friends. So I had a bit of an awkward wait on my own. When I was drinking I was a) rarely on time and b) I’d have just killed that kind of feeling with a drink. In fact I’d have used it as an opportunity to knock a drink back quickly and get another. Last night I deliberately queued at the busiest side of the bar, thinking I could kill some time waiting to be served. Of course, sod’s law being what is, just at that moment a large group of people moved out of my way and I got served within 30 seconds.  

I ordered a tonic water and watched the bartender like a hawk as she got my slimline tonic, just in case she’d misheard me and was adding a gin as well. A couple of other sober bloggers have been served alcoholic drinks by mistake and this is something I really worry about. If anyone buys me a drink I take the first sip really carefully, just in case. It’s not that I don’t trust my friends – they’re hardly going slip something into my drink! – but you can’t be too careful. Aside from the drink paranoia the rest of last night was ok. I knew I could leave when I wanted to (it was within walking distance to my flat) so the minute my feet started to hurt I was outta there.

I’ve written about sober nights out before and (yawn) I probably will do again. It strikes me that whilst I’ve settled into a fairly comfortable sober routine in my day-to-day life I have not got the hang of going out sober yet. Like I said, I pick my nights out carefully and I always avoid going to things that revolve entirely around booze. I’d thought that Friday and Saturday night would offer lots of other things, like good music and the chance to catch up with people I know. But in the end both nights were pretty booze orientated. Or at least they were in my mind. Perhaps a ‘normal’ person wouldn’t agree?