It’s been almost four months since i’ve consumed any alcohol. This is a surprising statement from someone who used to partake in wild drinking games every party, who was often seen dancing on tables to ridiculous trap music whilst my friends would look at me in horror. Upon reflection, the years of my early twenties seemed defined by alcoholic-fuelled events, and the vodka I consumed was always a familiar companion that accompanied me to any party or event to quell my social anxieties. The last year or two has seen a steady decline in my drinking habits, partly due to my age but also because of my focus on health and fitness. Whilst these factors were all influential in my current decision to abstain from alcohol, the single catalyst for me was a night of heavy drinking in early January which lead to a downturn in my mental health. What began as a debilitating hangover has developed into an enduring and stubborn desire to avoid alcohol-consumption and that terrible mental anguish the following days.
My relationship with alcohol has always been varied. I have had some fantastic nights out with friends that presumably would not have been anywhere near as joyous had I not been intoxicated. I’ve also had some truly dreadful nights. Occasions where i’ve drunk too much and said or did things I regretted, and nights where i’ve spent it with my head in the toilet barely able to breathe attempting to hold down the pacific ocean worth of vodka coke-zeros I consumed. Then there’s the nights I don’t even remember, which are the most concerning of all, but were thankfully few and far between. By far the worst part for me was the next day. The impact that alcohol had on my mental health was profound. I recall spending hours upon hours in bed, ruminating about the previous nights events, barely mustering enough energy to grab a glass of water or order a take-away meal on uber eats. This slumber would often last several days, and the effect was insidious on all aspects of my life. I would eat foods that aggravated my already uneasy stomach, and I would sleep in every day because I was excessively tired or mentally clouded. I was unproductive and unmotivated at work, and my gym sessions were often lacklustre or non-existent because, well, what’s the point of it all anyway? These types of thoughts could scatter around my brain for several days, alongside generally self-critical comments that were often baseless and unhelpful. This mental weakness was the perfect breeding ground for diminished self-esteem and a perpetuation of a directionless and apathetic outlook towards my life.
Looking back, I don’t think I was ever truly aware about the extent of these far-reaching impacts. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking alcohol completely that I was able to look at it from an objective viewpoint and gain an insight into it’s effect on my life. Following several months of sobriety, clear-headedness and a focus on self-development, I realise how warped my relationship with alcohol truly was. After analysing the reasons behind why I used to binge-drink, it provided me with the clarity I needed to create space to work on myself. My reasons for drinking alcohol weren’t particularly groundbreaking or novel – I would consume it to mitigate my social anxieties, to enhance my feelings of joy and social connection, and to help me be the unbridled and fun-loving person everyone expected me to be. Beyond this though, it often felt as though it was the most important feature of any event, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself unless there was alcohol involved. If I felt nervous or lacking in confidence, I would turn to alcohol to dissipate my anxieties and remove the awkward social veil I felt I carried around with me. The alcohol ostensibly liberated me from my natural social inhibitions and shyness that precluded any sense of connection with those around me. What was left though was relationships that were made during moments of intoxication and friendships based on an almost altered personality. I never quite knew which version of myself was the correct one – was I the obnoxious smart-arse with a propensity to say relatively controversial comments, or was I the thoughtful, awkward girl who people have described as “quiet”? On this basis, alcohol seemed to perpetuate my lack of understanding of who I was and created a bigger divide between who I was and who I wanted to be.
In contrast, other people I knew with healthier relationships with alcohol would drink because they genuinely enjoyed the taste of it and because they simply enjoyed the act of drinking alcohol with friends. It wasn’t used as a mask to cover inner anxieties and insecurities, and the sole focus of their evenings weren’t to become intoxicated as quickly as possible. More importantly, these people never seemed to have the debilitating hangovers or dreadful mental health implications that I did and therefore could enjoy alcohol without such a significant deterrent weighing on their mind. I think it’s important to make these distinctions between the motive behind drinking alcohol. If we are drinking excessively because we lack confidence, are unhappy with ourselves, or because we feel as though something is missing in our life, then arguably we are drinking for the wrong reasons and this will perpetuate our existing issues. On the other hand, if we are content with ourselves and where we are at in our lives, alcohol consumption can be viewed simply as a way to enhance existing feelings of happiness, rather than filling a void or numbing an unwanted feeling.
All the negative impacts of alcohol aside, another reason why I have maintained my sobriety is because of the positive effects on my life. It’s difficult to say with absolutely certainty that abstaining from alcohol has been the cause of my significant life -improvement, but I would argue it was absolutely a contributory factor. Whilst I certainly still have bad days where I feel drained, mentally-clouded and devoid of inspiration, these days are far less common than they used to be and are much easier to accept and overcome. My mental health is far more consistent, and I haven’t experienced a dreadfully low mood in months. On the most part, I feel energised, happy and purposeful. Instead of trudging through the week and thinking only of the weekend and alcohol I will consume, I am finding joy in as much as I can during the weekdays. My daily walks and gym sessions, the podcasts I listen to, preparing and eating healthy meals, reading books and learning new things about topics I am interested – are things I look forward to every day. The routines and habits I have formed, such as waking up at 5:00am, exercising every day, journalling and mediating, have all provided my life with direction, clarity and enjoyment. If I was still drinking alcohol, it is doubtful that I would have maintained these habits and I would not be in the improved position that I am in today.
I’ve had a lot of fun with alcohol over the years. It has enhanced so many moments in my life and provided me with hilarious tales that still provide me with joy as I remember them. There’s also no doubt that abstaining from alcohol does have its drawbacks. Whether it’s merely a mental construct and not a true reflection of reality or not, it can feel as though you’ve lost connection with those who you used to drink with frequently. Friends may not be as inclined to hang out with you or invite you to social events because they think they are being respectful, but you might feel as though they are just increasing the distance between you and your friendship. It’s important to reach out to your friends and assure them that you do want to be invited to social events, including nights out and festivals, and that you are trying to experience the best of both worlds – the frivolity and freedom of nights out as well as the serenity and clarity of an early Sunday morning. For me, I am definitely not committing to never drinking again, and I haven’t set a goal of how long I want to stay sober for. It’s really as simple as focussing on the behaviours that make me feel the best, both physically and mentally, and becoming aware of what behaviours affect me poorly. At the moment, drinking alcohol does not align with my value of feeling the best that I can every single day. When you strip back the nights out with your friends, the truly enjoyable parts like chatting to your friend as you do your make-up, taking pictures that don’t get as many likes on instagram as you expected, dressing up in clothes your Grandma would be appalled at, eating delicious foods, dancing to your favourite music and laughing with your friends – these are the parts on a night out that remain and can be enjoyed without the need for alcohol.