As you may have seen in my 10 Things I’ve Learnt In 2018 post, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to complete Dry January, which is a popular resolution for many every year. While I usually have a ‘dryer’ January every year anyway, I’d never officially completed Dry January, and I realised that I probably hadn’t had a month of drinking since I was about 17 years old.
I’ve never have the healthiest relationship with alcohol, and I think this is what motivated me to complete a whole month off drinking to see if I actually struggled to do it. I had my first couple of alcoholic drinks when I was 12 years old at my dad’s 50th birthday party, and I remember getting that buzz of confidence that I’d always longed for. After that, there were occasions at 13 and 14 when I used to drink with my friends in local parks, with one occasion resulting in my friend’s dad carrying me through my front door as I was too drunk to walk. I even tried to sneak a few cans of Strongbow into school because I was desperate to feel that confidence in class that I was always lacking. It’s easy now in hindsight to realise that I was struggling with anxiety throughout school, however until I had counselling in sixth form, alcohol was my only coping mechanism.
From 15/16, many of us in school were drinking regularly on a Friday night in the park, and it wasn’t until I went to university at 18 that I realised just how young I was when I started drinking. Some people at university were only just starting to get their first taste of going out and drinking, whilst I’d been going to house parties since I was 15 and had been going for nights out in Nottingham with my sister’s ID at 17. University drinking culture of course just helped me to continue using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the social aspect of drinking. I definitely made many bad decisions whilst I was drunk, and my bank account certainly didn’t thank me for the amount I was spending!
After university, I struggled to get a job for a while, and it certainly brought back old negative feelings that I’d experienced before, but with the financial concerns on top of it all. Even when I got my first admin job, I would still look forward to Friday night when I could go out and enjoy myself, and I was definitely in a bad habit of drinking every Friday to Sunday. This was another factor that swayed me to quit by job and go travelling back in 2016/17. I was fed up of the same routine of going to work for not much money, and counting down the days until I could go out at the weekend. It was a bad habit and I needed a change. I was also starting to dislike the person I would become when I was drunk, often making decisions that I’d never make sober and then waking up full of self-loathing the next day. Travelling really did give me the chance to alleviate a lot of the causes of stress I was experiencing, and while I still enjoyed drinking and some nights out while I was away, it just felt like a sociable thing rather than a way to relieve stress.
Nowadays, I think I’m starting to get a healthier relationship with alcohol. I certainly don’t drink as much as I did during my university days, and while I still may have a bit too much than I intend some nights out, I think I’ve gotten better at recognising when I need to tone it down. I also really enjoyed completing Dry January and I didn’t struggle as much as I thought I would. For me, I love making plans that don’t involve drinking, and I only want a drink when plans involve nights out and things (as I really don’t think I’d be able to handle a sober night of dancing in a nightclub!). If anything, it was my friends who seemed more bothered about me not drinking than I was, which just goes to show how our social plans usually revolve around drinking. Instead, we enjoyed doing some other activities like escape rooms, lots of meals out, and going to London to see the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child plays.
I’m really pleased that I found Dry January as easy to complete as I did, and it’s reassured me that I can still be a fun person to spend time with, without having alcohol to help me. I think many people, especially in the UK, don’t recognise that they have a slight dependency on alcohol. We all have a judgmental image in our heads of what we picture an alcoholic to be like, however we don’t realise that many of our friends, relatives and coworkers can also be dependent on alcohol. While I’ve only ever drank on social occasions and never by myself at home, I know many people rely on having a glass of wine in the evenings to unwind. It’s taken me a while to admit to myself that I don’t always have a healthy relationship with alcohol, and it’s okay to recognise that and keep working on it. I don’t know if I could ever go full teetotal, as I will always enjoy drinking at certain occasions and the taste of alcoholic drinks, but I’m determined to get to the point where I have a 100% healthy relationship with booze.