100 Days Without Booze: Is Up!
So I had my first proper drink last night in over 100 days; an Australian Shiraz Viognier. To be absolutely honest I wasn’t chomping at the bit for it. I finished my 100 Day Challenge on Monday 26th and I had my first full alcoholic drink on Thursday 29th. And rather than being the elixir of life that I have supposedly deprived myself of for 100 days, it just felt weird. Weird, and a bit wrong. The alcohol felt hot and burning going down my throat, my vision slowly blurred and by the time I had finished my glass of wine my kidneys were spasming in protest, outraged at having to suddenly work after a 3 month holiday. It was a bit much, so I moved on to a pint of American pale ale. But I could barely drink it and kept going to the bar for pints of water. I felt giddy, giggling and clumsy, like a 14 year old having her first drink and making a fool of herself at a grown ups party. I looked around me at a group of parents out on the piss together, clutching their enormous wine glasses like shields against the world, their faces slowly slipping away from them as their bodies succumbed to drink, and I wondered ‘why are we all so reliant on booze?’
The Great Escape
Alcohol provides us with escapism from the humdrum, the routine and repetitiveness of life. Let’s be honest; life is long and can be very boring. Sometimes I wake up and wonder ‘what’s the point of it all?’ ‘What’s the point of me?’ These questions tend to come to me when I am getting up for work in the pitch black winter mornings and sitting in traffic with millions of other bored and frustrated souls. Alcohol gives us an escape from our thoughts, and lets us become shiny and magical for an hour or two. However, during my 100 days sober challenge, I have found so many other experiences that provide me with this feeling of transcendence and purpose; sitting having breakfast with my entire family, standing in a field with the sun coming up, dancing like a lunatic surrounded by friends, staring out of a speeding train, canoodling with Chris, looking at the moon, singing my favourite songs, watching dogs play together, running through the crisp autumn air, holding my baby niece, watching my students killing it on stage, doing yoga and writing this blog. And all of these experiences come without the fall out of an empty pocket and a crushing hangover. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure I will enjoy a mulled wine or possibly three this festive season. But I will be stopping at three. Because if there’s one thing my 100 days sober has made me realise is that, during the twenty odd years where I have been drinking, there have been hundreds of days where I have said to myself ‘this day would be so much better if I wasn’t hungover’ but there hasn’t been a single occasion in the last 100 days where I have said to myself ‘this would be so much better if I was drunk.’ I want to now live my life with a bit more clarity, rather than peering at it constantly through the mist of booze.
I have always been a sociable creature and I believe this is what held me back from taking a break from booze in the past. I simply didn’t believe I would be able to go to the pub, or to a party, or out to dinner without drinking. We are all so indoctrinated with the idea that we cannot be free, witty, talkative and fun without booze. But this is simply not the case! I have had some of the best nights out of my life in the last 100 days; meeting new people, having ridiculous conversations, playing pool, pissing myself laughing, meeting London legends like Mr Bingo, dancing in a glittery gay club, playing dress up in a yurt in Oxfordshire, and watching fireworks in Battersea Park, and all whilst completely sober! We don’t need booze to be fun or interesting. This is something that the younger generation are well aware of. These days a fifth of 16-24 years do not drink it all. There are many reasons for this, but one main factor is the presence of social media and online activity. Teenagers can bare their souls and tell their best mate they love them without downing a bottle of vodka in the park first. When I was a teenager, drinking was my passport to adult life, boys, excitement and fun. Nowadays, teenagers see that as just plain stupid and can’t understand why we spend so much money and drink all this wine only to feel crap the next day.
Sober goals update...
For many years I have had several niggling little problems that I came to believe this summer could be fixed through quitting drinking. I wanted to improve my finances, my behaviour, my memory, my motivation, my energy levels, and, most of all, improve my physical and mental health.
1. Energy levels up - Physically I have had a lot more energy since going off the sauce. As a drama teacher I really need energy and enthusiasm to do my job well, especially this autumn term with the rigorous preparation for our school musical. Last year I attended weekend rehearsals with hangovers and hated it. This year I relished them, put a lot more energy and ideas into the rehearsals, and subsequently had more ownership of the successful final performance. I got a lot more job satisfaction as a result which made me feel good about myself.
2. Slimmer and better skin - Despite not having a huge amount of spare time in the last few weeks, I have found time to go for a run, long walk or do yoga. Many people have commented that I have lost weight and the vain old baggage in me likes that! My 22 year old tutee also said that I ‘barely had any wrinkles’ and looked late 20’s rather than 35. I definitely didn’t get these kind of comments this time last year!
3. No more twitching in public - Before I quit drinking I would frequently get bodily twitches in the middle of the day from being run down and tired. This would sometimes happen whilst I was driving and I got so worried about it I had MRI scans, ECG and blood tests. The results were inconclusive and I was told by the doctor that I was ‘just a bit special.’ However, since quitting drinking I now only twitch briefly when falling asleep, saving me the embarrassment and anxiety of twitching in public.
4. Better mental health - My mental health is on the whole so much better since quitting drinking. I still worry about certain aspects of life, such as money, but who doesn’t? But these thoughts don’t overwhelm me like they used to. I have learnt to be more patient, more resilient, more optimistic and more pragmatic about life’s problems. The important thing is that I am kinder to myself. I don’t regret the past and I don’t beat myself up for not doing things differently in my life. Negative thoughts still turn up at the door, but I can turn them away more easily now rather than letting them come in and put their feet up on the furniture. And I acknowledge feeling gratitude far more frequently than before.
5. Being honest and open - Writing this blog has been incredibly cathartic and healing for me, providing me with a reason to examine my relationship with drinking and summarise my thoughts and lessons each week. I have at times worried about whether I am being too honest about my life online, whether some people might view my musings as self indulgent or egotistical. But I have concluded that if people read my blog and feel that way, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I am doing something to improve my life and my health and I am learning to be more self reflective in the process. And that can only be a good thing.
6. Self examination - I remember distinctly an exercise we had to do on my actor training at drama school eleven years ago. We had to make a sculpture of ourselves but it had to reflect our personalities, strengths and weaknesses rather than our physical appearances. A very luvvey exercise, but the aim was to understand ourselves so that we could play our parts better. When it came to my turn to present my sculpture, I had basically stuck some sweets on a wine bottle and said something pathetic and shallow like ‘I have chosen a wine bottle as my body because I love wine. And the wine is from France because I love France. I have stuck a haribo heart on because I have a big heart...’ My director stared at me, silently stroking his beard in contemplation. Eventually he said ‘but what is inside the bottle? You present to the world this version of yourself that is bubbly and sweet and funny but what is actually going on inside you? The bottle is empty.’ I had no answer for him. I really had no idea what was going on inside me, probably because I was in huge denial about still grieving heavily for my father but I was drinking to stay afloat.
7. Listening to my internal voice - I wasn’t able to be self aware and self reflective then but I am now. At the end of the day I haven’t done anything groundbreaking. I have had a break from booze. People do it all the time. But what I have done is recognised that there was a problem with my relationship to drink, examined this problem and resolved to live differently. I have learnt that it’s not a weakness to admit to having a problem. The real weakness is knowing that there is something wrong but ignoring it and hoping it will go away, whilst this problem festers and rots and affects everybody around you. It’s hard to be honest and ask for help. It can feel shameful, embarrassing, like a failure. But the real failure is to not to do anything about it and let this problem ruin your life. Listen to the voice inside you that tells you something is wrong and act on it.
I was with my dad in France the week before he died of a heart attack. It was a horrible shock for all of us. But over the years I have looked back at that wonderful final week I had with my dad and I truly believe that somehow, deep down, Dad knew something was wrong. Firstly, he gave me relationship advice when my then boyfriend failed to come out to France with me. This was something my dad never did, even if it was a dismissive ‘He sounds like a tosser’. He did add that I could do better. Secondly, after we had watched a film one night he turned to me suddenly and told me that, when he died, he wanted his ashes scattered in his garden under the Albizia tree my sister and her husband gave him. It was so specific and at the time felt maudlin. I told him he didn’t need to think about that just yet and to be quiet. But weeks later, at his funeral, this confided wish was a huge comfort to me. Thirdly, my dad started getting chest pains when walking up a hill. I was walking ahead but heard him complaining to his girlfriend. A warning sign of something more serious. But he never went to a doctor and he died a week later. One of the last things he ever said to me as he dropped me at Rodez airport and put me on a plane back to my unsuitable boyfriend was ‘Don’t drink too much.’
Sometimes shit just happens and sometimes there is no way of knowing something is wrong. But sometimes we get a chance, a warning sign, and we have to listen to our bodies and our hearts and take responsibility for our own health and happiness. I know with absolute certainty that if I had carried on drinking the way I was drinking last year my life would be a lot worse right now. As it is, I have had three of the best, most productive, happy months of my life. I set myself a challenge and I have stuck to it and completed it. For once I am going to blow my own horn and say I did pretty great. I feel like, if I can achieve that sober challenge, what else can I achieve this year? So I am going to continue down this path of looking after myself, living with more clarity, more consciousness and more respect for myself and my body.
I am finally going to listen to my dad’s good advice.