Operation Quit Drinking
So, just about a hundred days ago, I stopped drinking.
For anyone who knew me around the time that I started this blog, this may come as something of a surprise: this is still the Louise who really thought that “tequila shots are study breaks” was a cute notion, and wrote only a couple of years ago that hangovers made me a real adult. But then, I used to really, really, really love drinking – I bonded with the woman who would become my best friend in the whole world over back-of-the-cupboard white wine and litres of rum; I’d happily sit with a cheap copy of Age of Mythology and a bottle of wine or two to myself.
I think, like many young people, when I started drinking it felt as though I’d found something properly revolutionary. All that angst, all that panic, all those bad thoughts about myself, they dropped out the back of my head as soon as I had three rum and cokes in my system. Here was a substance that made me feel good about myself, and not only was it socially acceptable, it was basically the backbone of the way the social world in my country is built around. I felt as though I’d found a cheat code to life. I got blackout drunk for the first time when I was sixteen, and proceeded to hork up my guts all over my best friend’s parent’s house, and I’d never felt better. I’d found a way out of all the badness that came with my late adolescence, and I couldn’t have been more enamoured.
Cue heading off to university, where frequent binge-drinking is less normalized than it is straight-up encouraged, and my love affair was only just getting started. The honeymoon period with booze kicked in as my anxiety and depression got more intense, alcohol offering a consistent and effective way to switch off from myself for a while. Everyone was getting drunk, those first vestiges of adulthood wrapped up in boozing hard and sharing the camaraderie of the hangover the next day. The simple truth of the matter was that I wouldn’t have any of the friends I do now had it not been for the social lubrication of alcohol, and so I just kept drinking.
And I pretty much did that all the way through the next four years of university, and I was happy with that. I went through periods of such skintitude that I couldn’t afford booze, and comforted myself with the knowledge that the fact I could go without it for a month at a time meant that I didn’t always end up coming back to it. And every time I did, the sheen had worn off a little.
The people close to me were close enough that I didn’t need alcohol to have a good time with them, and I found that when I would set out to have one drink with friends, it would turn into four, five, then to stealing someone else’s vodka and ripping up my jeans and my knees falling of a pavement on the walk home. I woke up with The Fear every morning without fail, slyly texting everyone I had been with to make sure I hadn’t tried to snog their aunt or steal their furniture or something equally unforgivable.
And this went on for the last couple of years – abstaining from booze, then giving in to “just have one”, followed by a night of doing stupid shit I shouldn’t and waking up the next day with a brutal, bile-vomiting hangover convinced that all my friends hated me. It kept going around like that, reocurring. But I never saw a reason to stop it, because I wasn’t an alcoholic. It was just that I could never stop drinking once I started, and that I always, always regretted it when I did. But I didn’t have a problem. I couldn’t have a problem, not when it was so normal to treat alcohol the way I did. Everyone got too drunk and regretted it once in a while. That’s just adulthood.
But, three months ago, me being stupid, ambitious, dumbfuck me, I decided to quit. For the year. For all of 2018. Just to see if I could, to see what would happen if I took drinking out of the equation. It was, like these things always are, a decision made on a whim, with no good reason behind it other than “people will probably congratulate me if I stick to this, and I love me some of that sweet, sweet validation”. So I did.
And I still stand by the notion that I am not nor have ever been an alcoholic – hell, I’m not even sure that my relationship with alcohol was even unusual, given that lots of people I know report feeling similarly about booze. But stopping has been a trip, one that I would recommend to anyone who, like me, just finds that booze never fails to leave them feeling worse (physically and mentally) than they did before.
I think the hardest thing about it has been the effect it had on my social life. It’s not that I don’t still see my friends and enjoy spending time with them, but the world sort of shoves you in the direction of alcohol when it comes to catching up with the people close to you – share a bottle of wine with your best friend, enjoy some beers over the football, get tipsy after a long week at work and bitch your problems out.
I found myself at a party not too long after I quit, clutching a glass of non-alcoholic fizzy juice like the nerd I am, surrounded by people I didn’t know, and found myself lusting for a glass of wine. Nobody knew me, I reasoned, and I could just have a drink and pretend to everyone else around me that I hadn’t touched a drop – and I might well have done that, if someone hadn’t asked me why I wasn’t drinking and I had had to admit to being a boring Sober. Socialising has been so tied up in drinking for me that it seemed weird to be doing it without a drink in hand, but I managed.
And that’s what I found kept happening. I managed. Maybe it was the novelty of doing something new in sobering up, but I found all those situations I’d wound up in alcohol undoing themselves. And it felt good. Different. Fresh. Like my brain wasn’t all clogged up – waking up the next day not in a blind panic, not feeling like my stomach was trying to crawl out of my arsehole.
But, like it always does, the novelty of stopping wears off, just as it did with smoking, and I found myself distinctly aware of the things that I hadn’t even realized I’d just drink to forget. Missing my family, hating my body, relationship unsettlement, problems at work. It’s no secret that booze smooths out the rough edges of life, but it took me by surprise to feel just how spiky they were now that I had to deal with them without it: white-knuckle whirling into the void, empowering and terrifying in equal measure, dealing with my problems head-on and realizing that I’d been using booze to duck from the Bad Stuff for a longer time than I’d care to admit. I didn’t even realize the shit that I’d been successful tamping down with semi-regular binge drinking sessions until I stopped, and now it’s just there, sticking out at funny angles and demanding I take care of it. I guess I might get round to it, now that I’d not spending at least three days a month too hungover to move.
And so, I’m sticking with it. A year without alcohol. Honestly, I’m just taking it a day at a time now, and I can’t see myself gleefully picking up a drink as soon as it clicks over in 2019. It started with no real reason, but now I’m into it I want to see where it lands me at the end of it – probably with a few more raw bits to contend with, but less likely to bombard you with panicked texts after any given night out, so it evens out, huh?
If it’s something you guys are interested in hearing more about, let me know, and I might start the “quit drinking diaries” as I did last year with the “quit smoking” ones. If quitting drinking is something you’re in the process of, have already done, or are thinking about, let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter where I’m always hanging around looking for a way to avoid work. And, as always, if you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon!