Even in my clear headed contentment, I fall victim to the allure of packaged sophistication that is a glass of red after work or an espresso martini on a Saturday afternoon. Both seem to be romantic symbols of adulthood and reward. If I snap myself with one and post to Facebook, it will surely be an image of elegance and maturity that will attract lots of likes.
Alcohol messaging and advertising has been ringing around my head lately. Each drink means something different. The industry barely has to do any of the work anymore; consumers take the photos and post them with hashtags like #cheekydrinks #thelife #whynot. We’re doing the work of million dollar advertising firms.
During my two year (or was it three year?) Facebook-free stint, a few changes have occurred that are not confined to the continual irritating layout changes from the powers that be. Most notable is the shift from individual status updates to an endless stream of reposts – many of which, it must be said, are informative or amusing, but as a nosey so-and-so I preferred the days of holiday snaps (or any snaps) and ‘What I’ve been up to today’-type musings. Another change I’ve noticed is a marked increase in the celebration of alcohol – again, generally in postcard form: “One prosecco, two prosecco, three prosecco, floor”; “I went shopping for bread and came back with prosecco!” – that kind of thing. I have even read an article featuring middle class mums who enjoy a prosecco whilst socialising their toddlers. Yep, it seems prosecco is certainly popular, although I did also stumble (hic!) across a very amusing and hugely successful blog entitled ‘Hurrah for Gin’.
If you think you know where this is headed, you may be wrong. Prosecco is one of my favourite alcoholic drinks, the other being Hoegaarden, and I always used to love a gin and tonic or three at Christmas. I have no problem whatsoever with any of these posts on Facebook; it’s just that I no longer happen to be in a place (to use a cringey phrase) where I relate to their sentiments.
I was an almost daily drinker for many years. I rarely binged because of my fear of vomiting, but I drank between three and five units of alcohol per evening for a long time. This wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem if I hadn’t hated the feeling of dependency that developed. I’ve never been very good at kidding myself. No matter how many times I resolved that I’d only have a glass a night, or would only drink at the weekends, or would have a dry January every year, I still ended up chugging back that same amount almost every night.
When I did have breaks – and I had many, though they were completely sporadic – I wasted the time by wishing away the days until I could drink again. I told myself I wasn’t, but as I said, I’m no good at kidding myself. When the designated dry spell was up, I never left it just one day longer – I was straight back on the sauce that night. I even tried a dry year once. That was simply too long a spell to wish away the days and months, and I adapted well to an alcohol-free lifestyle until eight months down the line when, to quote a dear friend of mine, “the world dropped out of my bottom” and I hit the Hoegaarden with a vengeance.
Most people would not have regarded me as someone with an ‘alcohol problem’. I didn’t get drunk; I never drank at work; I could function perfectly well without alcohol and my kids were never neglected. I just couldn’t embrace being a daily drinker. I knew I was dependent, and I wanted it to change. I didn’t want to spend evenings either drinking or yearning to; didn’t want to condition my kids to think that daily alcohol consumption was an inevitability of adulthood. But I had no idea what to do about it. How do you change the nature of alcohol, a substance that has no intention of being consumed just occasionally or in tiny amounts?
Then just under a year ago I stumbled across HSM (Hello Sunday Morning) https://www.hellosundaymorning.org, a totally brilliant social networking site with a difference. The idea is you sign up for a three month or 12 month booze-free stint, follow like-minded folks and let them follow you (if you wish), set goals and tick them off once you’ve achieved them, and use the site for moral support when the going gets tough. I don’t know what I’d expected when I signed up for a three month break, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the eloquence, perceptiveness and devastating honesty that radiated from the people I encountered. Some just wanted a healthy break from drink; others knew they would never be able to moderate and were taking life one day at a time. The warmth, empathy, compassion and support were overwhelming. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
And so I finished my three months, and found to my surprise that I didn’t fancy a drink that day. I decided to leave it until the next big family do, which happened to be the christening of my beautiful nieces. After a few sips of chilled dry white, however, an unpleasant sensation seemed to whoosh through my veins. I felt slightly giddy, oddly aware of my pulse, and fuzzy in my head. I left the rest of the glass unfinished.
What had gone wrong? It took me a while – and several more ‘failed’ attempts at drinking – to realise that my experience with HSM had fundamentally reprogrammed me. The sensation I was experiencing was nothing more or less than the normal effect of alcohol: I just didn’t enjoy that sensation any more. It was as though a filter had been removed after twenty-odd years.
This should have been my eureka moment; the turning point that marked my permanent switch to alcohol-free living. Hadn’t my prayers been answered? I’d never again crave alcohol, because I no longer enjoyed it! Gratitude should have been abundant. But human beings are stupid creatures. I continued making attempts to drink, until eventually my body began once more to tolerate alcohol.
Happily, and very luckily, I seem to have achieved what I always wanted: to be able to drink occasionally (probably once a fortnight on average) without pining for it between times. It’s a slightly uneasy, cautious path to tread – I can only tolerate one or two drinks, and can’t drink for more than two consecutive days or the seeds of craving start to take root again – and I don’t enjoy alcohol as much as I used to (unless, again, I persist for more than two consecutive days … you see the catch 22 here!? I’m having my cake and eating it, but it’s a coffee cake).
The biggest plus, by several miles, is having shaken the feeling of dependence. That makes me happy on a daily basis. I like myself more because of it. I like that I can drive anywhere at any time, and I love that even as a naturally shy person I feel no need for alcohol when socialising (OK, I might choose not to socialise sometimes because I’m introverted, but that’s a different matter). I love living life on its own terms rather than applying any kind of filter or rosy glow; it feels honest, somehow. My husband, who used to drink far more than he would have done without me as a drinking buddy, has settled back into his natural quota of roughly two beers a week. The money saved ain’t too shabby either. I do feel removed from ‘the gang’ … but really, is there a gang? How old am I!?
This Christmas, unlike last, I expect I’ll be raising a glass of prosecco to my lovely family and enjoying quaffing it. Just not quite as much as I used to.