*TW: alcohol, self-harm*
For those of you who know me in ‘real life’, you’ll know that I decided to stop drinking alcohol several years ago. For some, this is incomprehensible, I am often told that I must be crazy or that I’m boring. But I can honestly say it has been one of the best changes I have ever made towards my mental health recovery.
(This post is not trying to force anyone else into a sober life like mine, but to merely see its advantages and to address the stigma of staying sober).
As wonderful as it all sounds, it hasn’t always been easy. Like most people, I used to love getting drunk. Getting ready with your friends, being tipsy and finding everything hilarious, being so drunk you can’t remember, not having a care in the world, being told the stories the next day, is how I chose to spend my weekends. So, going from party-hardy to party-hardly Jazz has taken some getting used to.
As someone diagnosed with multiple mental health conditions, I have often felt “different” from other people. I would often spend most of my time watching my friends and being envious of their consistency. They could be reckless or spontaneous. Some, would ignore the guidelines of their own medication, advising them not to drink, seemingly with a lack of consequences. But I would feel them all. So, I have had to learn that it is not the same for me. All of my actions have consequences, often with quite a big effect; which is why I strive for positive ones now.
I believe there is a big misconception that when you give up drinking, you have to give up having fun too. When I went to university, the drinking culture was huge. Freshers events, constant nights outs, re-fresher events, societies, this-ball and that-ball… almost everything seemed to centre around drinking. I found it really difficult to make and maintain friends with anyone, often being dropped and ignored once they found out I didn’t drink. But, this is totally untrue, it just…changes… slightly. My former love of clubs became my love for pubs. You can still even join in on some drinking games!
When I turned 21, I was actually really nervous about organising anything, as the only invitations I received were weekend-long nights out. So, I decided to plan a day out, rather than a night no-one would remember, to a zoo. Despite being initially disappointed with the amount of “friends” who didn’t come, I had the best day with people who wanted to make memories with me.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BEING SOBER?
1. You remember EVERYTHING from the nights out… everything… One of my favourite things to do is to remind my friends of all the embarrassing things they did the night before whilst drunk. Their drunken stories will live on forever in my memory *evil laugh*. Please enjoy one of my favourite photos from my trip away with my fiancé… well done Brad x
2. NO HANGOVERS! Can I get a whoop-whoop? Whilst I mock my friends about their awful decisions, I get to wake up refreshed and all my belongings intact too. We often don’t think about how draining drinking is. The hours consuming, the time it takes to recover/ feeling like shit, the dehydration, the headaches, the post-alcohol poo… it sure takes its toll!
3. Everyone relies on your memory to remember their own lives. This one has its pros and cons. You are appointed the responsible “mum” friend. I am certain I am ready for motherhood based on the last few years of looking after my drunk friends.
4. I’m a cheap date. Soft drinks are so much cheaper, I save so much money on nights out in comparison. Who says sugar rushes aren’t just as fun?
5. You can quit other bad habits. I used to be a fairly heavy smoker, which wasn’t helped when I was drinking. Everything feels different when you’re drunk and you often forget about the bigger picture and the future. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t have enough self-control. Nearly 7 months later, I haven’t touched a single cigarette.
6. Medication can do its job properly. It is widely accepted that alcohol influences the effect of medication. I can feel the difference within myself when I drink and when I choose not to. I can maintain control and clearer thinking. I can create boundaries for myself. I can regulate my moods better.
7. You can focus on new hobbies. I have noticed that I have this enhanced productivity, I want to try new things. I have more free time to fill with things that will make me happy or gain new skills. My personal favourite has become taking lots and lots of photos for my scrapbook.
8. You can make real, lifelong friends. Breakfast dates. Shopping trips. Days out. Deep conversations. Endless cups of tea/coffee. Iced coffee dates. Pamper evenings. I have gained many stronger relationships outside of drinking. Your relationships change entirely. I was often drinking to deal with thoughts or feelings about something or someone. There seemed to be an endless stream of people or things going wrong in my life. I was actively avoiding them all, which gave me the illusion I was dealing with the problem. For most of being 17, I cannot remember that year. Fast forward to being 22, all of that has changed. I have attempted to teach myself healthy coping mechanisms, acknowledge my thoughts and feelings as they come to me rather than suppress them. The people I surround myself with, accept me as I am and are encouraging my future.
9. You can remember your life as it happens. Self-love. Personal growth. Self-awareness. It’s so cliché. But I finally know what it means to choose myself and my happiness, and to love myself for exactly who I am – messy parts n’all. At the time, getting drunk was fine. But it often wouldn’t last long for me, leading to harmful behaviours. So whilst I have lost a lot of “friends” in the process of becoming sober I have chosen to put myself first. I found the person I wanted to be, without being influenced by anything other than my own experiences. And this started with the first choice – choosing sober me, regardless of my own or anyone else’s thoughts and feelings. When I was drinking, it seemed like the moments I enjoyed were few and far between. Whilst it’s not all rainbows and sunshine all of the time, I have never felt more myself and more certain of where I am going.