This title is probably a little too optimistic (so far it’s been months), but I’m trying to manifest myself some willpower and you know what they say: go big or go home.
To be honest, it’s not willpower to stay sober that I struggle with, it’s the willpower to go against the ‘norm’ that’s the problem. Sometimes having a drink seems like the easier option when it comes to the disbelieving laughs and the chorus of ‘oh come on, don’t be boring’s that usually accompany a 22 year old’s admission of not drinking.
The truth is, I’ve never had an issue with alcohol per se, but I’ve never had a wholly healthy relationship with the stuff either. As many of us Brits do, I started drinking at an age that was far from the legal age of 18 (sorry Mum and Dad); gulping down anything with a percentage, no matter how much I gagged or my eyes watered. Many nights were spent dancing in a field to the echo of teen rebellion and the tinny speaker of someone’s Blackberry. Many more nights were spent in someone’s spare room passing around a plastic bottle full of whatever we’d found in our parents’ garages. Blaming the next day’s hangover on a sickness bug that was going around school. Those nights were fun, we laughed till we cried, we felt cool, grown-up, and the drunk memories brought us closer together.
But, even in those nights of stolen Malibu and WKD, my body seemed to have a natural aversion to drinking and my nickname quickly became Barfing Brown (I know, teenage creativity at its finest). I know what you’re thinking: lightweight, but it wasn’t the case. I have a vivid memory of my friend telling her Dad that she could drink him under the table and, the truth was, we probably could have. But, despite the copious amount of Smirnoff and Bombay Sapphire we gulped down, there were still some nights when a single glass of wine would have me running for the nearest toilet to throw up. My friend used to keep a bucket ready in her kitchen, specifically for me, for when we got back to hers. I still remember my Dad using nearly a full bottle of Vanish on my blueberry Bacardi Breezer (try saying that after a few bottles) vomit-stained skater skirt.
The nickname soon was replaced by Bawling Brown as my next drunken shortcoming made itself known. Every party, every night out, and even some (wine-fuelled) movie nights started to end in floods of tears.
The two horrible habits reared their ugly heads, hand in hand, for years; only increasing in severity as I aged. Throwing up in a bush at a house party became throwing up on a bouncer in a club (you’ve got to laugh) and a few tears turned into meltdowns and unnerving drunk thoughts. I started to become plagued with ‘hangxiety’ (hangover-anxiety) which quickly progressed to panic attacks that could last several days. The issue was that if alcohol was there then so was I. I loved being a part of the wild stories we would tell the next day, desperate to keep up with some impossible bar of irresponsibility I’d set myself.
As I hit 20, I forced myself to slow down. I succumbed to the inevitable FOMO I’d always been so terrified of and found that, in reality, it wasn’t that bad. In a bid to try and look after myself, I filled my life with happiness that was independent of alcohol; the kind of happiness that was no longer affected by instagram stories of nights outs and romanticising living for the weekend. By this point, I could do a full night out on only RedBull, so I thought things were sorted.
For my 22nd Birthday, I went to bottomless brunch with some friends, as you can guess, I got carried away (in my opinion, you have to have a willpower of steel not to get drunk at bottomless brunch). We were back home by 7pm, pumped full of spirits, stomachs hurting from laughing too much (and being sick- on my part). We watched a film, ate snacks and went to bed. But at 5am, I lay awake, perfectly still, with a heart rate of 120bpm on my Fitbit screen. That was it, for nearly 2 months I was completely overcome with anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I cried almost constantly, re-evaluating every life choice I’d ever made. It was probably coming for a while, but alcohol was the catalyst, I’m sure of it.
I had my last drink on Christmas day (2019). A sip of bucks fizz in an attempt to perk me up after a particularly vicious panic attack that had kept me up long enough to hear Santa come and go.
I haven’t had a panic attack since the late clutches of January. I’m not saying that not drinking has miraculously cured me of anxiety or panic disorder; realistically, I’ve made a lot of changes that have made a positive difference in these last few months. Removing alcohol simply removed the hangxiety which usually spiralled into worse. That bad bought forced me to finally question ‘why am I drinking?’ which was usually answered with ‘so no-one thinks I’m boring’ or ‘so I don’t feel left out’. Realistically, you’re hanging out with the wrong people if they think you’re boring without a drink and you may want to reconsider your company if any of them are pressuring you.
If you want to give up alcohol but feel like you’ll be the odd one out, you’re not alone. The Independent claimed recently that ‘shunning alcohol becomes mainstream among young people as a third are now teetotal’ and a study by University College London found that the proportion of 16-24 year olds in the UK who never drink alcohol has risen from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015. If you’re afraid of what others may think, try to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter, as long as you feel happy with your decision that’s all that matters.
Personally I’ve found that a quick mention of my reason for not drinking is usually enough for my understanding friends to drop the subject, and others remember enough meltdowns on their kitchen floors to smile. If you’re worried you’ll miss it too much, I’ve found that non-alcoholic substitutes such as 0% wine, beer, spirits and tonics can do wonders as a placebo. I’d be happy to do a blogpost on the best and the worst options (in my humble opinion) if anyone would like to read that. My inbox is also open to anyone who wants some (probably rubbish) tips.
And finally, if you have no inclination to give up alcohol but just fancied a read then that’s totally cool as well. Have a beer on me!
Until next time.
You can find more from Girl on Pause at www.girlonpause.com or keep up to date with my attempts to romanticise every-day life on my Instagram: @girlonpause and my new Facebook page ‘Girl on Pause’.