The challenge of giving up alcohol: remembering I don’t need to drink to have fun
When I first stopped drinking, I went through my personal instagram account and deleted every single photo of me with an alcoholic drink in my hand. It was an instinctive thing to do. I could not bear to look at photos of me drinking, looking good and having fun.
I had completely forgotten about the photo deleting episode until last week. I was on holiday with eight of my best friends in the world. We’re all in our twenties, we met at university and bonded over nights out and two for £6 bottles of wine we bought, or borrowed on tic, from the corner shop.
On holiday in Valencia there was wine, and tequila cocktails, and cerveza con limon (my old favourite) and it looked like a lot of fun. I stuck with my diet coke and San Miguel 0.0. These days I find it relatively easy to stay sober and say no to the drinks, but l couldn’t escape thoughts that sobriety sucked. I had a wonderful holiday, but these thoughts made it a difficult one in my head. Sobriety does not suck, nor do I think it does most days, but the thoughts were confrontational and brought to light some beliefs I didn’t realise were still there.
The challenges I faced in the early days of not drinking were telling other people, saying no to the first drink, not buying alcohol on a bad day and staying home instead of going out on night’s where I was close to hitting the *fuck it* button.
The challenge of giving up alcohol these days isn’t the initial no thank you, I’m used to that, it’s the voice in my head that whispers you need to drink to be fun.
Over a year and a half of sobriety under my belt, 627 days as I write this, I thought I was past thinking that alcohol was fun juice and that I was a loser for not drinking it … It turns out that thought was just buried deep in the back of my head, like a pair of old trainers you thought you threw away but are in fact hiding in the back of your wardrobe making everything smell a bit off and hitting you like a tonne of bricks when you delve deep enough.
Positive portrayals of alcohol are everywhere, it is inescapable and a massive challenge of giving up alcohol. Literal billions are spent every year on marketing booze as glamorous and cool, a signifier of affluence – and something we need to have fun and spend money on. AB Inbev and Diageo, two of the world’s biggest alcoholic drinks makers, have reported spending as much of 15% of their annual global sales back into marketing, amounting to $7bn (£5.75bn) and £1.6bn respectively.
And it’s not just straight forward brand advertising, alcohol’s positive portrayal infiltrates every aspect of our culture: Cosmopolitans in Sex and The City, the very expensive whisky they drink in Suits, in real life Moet sponsoring my fave podcast the High Low and Mahiki sponsoring the Henley Royal Regatta. We are told, over and over again, that alcohol is the key to socialising, fitting in and having fun.
That shiny, sexy vibe that I/we associate with drinking is so hard to shake off.
I know it is not my reality, but it still plays like a video in my mind and if I’m not careful (as I haven’t been of late) I start to think that I’m missing out by not drinking. What to do in these situations? I take my friend Catherine Gray’s advice and “dismantle the fantasy and replace it with reality”.
Those drinking photos I deleted from my instagram, the very definition of an instasham. Nights that started well, all dressed up and surrounded by my best friends that would end in an argument, regrettable texts or a blackout not remembering how I got home. Even the quiet nights, catching up with a friend over a couple of glasses of wine left me with crippling anxiety the next day. Sober, I no longer have to power through days at work dosing myself up with anti-anxiety pills and counting down the hours ‘til I could be home sitting in bed alone.
Fun looks different to me these days, and I have gradually learnt to remind myself of that when the voice in my head tells me I need alcohol to have fun. Long walks with the dogs, beach trips, yoga classes, coffee dates, hangover free holidays, cosy meals with friends where I stay present enough to remember our entire conversation and the occasional night out where I drive home whenever I want to and wake up clear headed the next day. I haven’t had a hangover for 628 days and that has equalled many more days of fun than a few drinks could have done, and none of the anxiety or shame that used to come with it.
I don’t need to drink to have fun, and neither do you if you don’t want too. Let’s accept what alcohol marketing doesn’t want us to, we can do it all and have it all sober. But what we want, might look a little different than before.
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