“It was July 19th, 2021—a Monday morning, and I didn’t have work until 2 p.m., so I had let loose, once again, the night before. And the night before that. In fact, the whole weekend had been a bender. On Friday afternoon, I had finished work and gone to the pub. I’d intended to be there for a couple of hours, but people I hadn’t seen for months kept joining and leaving only for somebody else to arrive, like post-lockdown speed dating. By the time my partner and I left, we’d been in the beer garden for about six hours. I woke up the next morning to a disgusting burnt smell and felt through my hair looking for any drunken smoking damage. Luckily, on this occasion, I’d burnt something in the kitchen whilst shambling around having not had dinner the previous day. I barely had any memory of getting home. I didn’t want to focus on that though—I set about drinking for the rest of the weekend. That Homer Simpson quote you used to see everywhere—‘Alcohol! The cause of—and solution to—all of life’s problems’—was routine for me.
My first experience with drinking alcohol had been the 4% alcopops I’d been allowed to take to friends’ house parties. From the get-go, I had loved how alcohol made me feel. I was a relatively shy teenager and had devoted a lot of my adolescence to restrictive dieting and Fall Out Boy, so I loved the ease with which I could talk to people when drinking. This progressed to drinking on Friday evenings in parks or fields with friends. A couple of people in my group were old enough to buy alcohol—18 in England—so we’d send off with a list then find somewhere relatively discreet to drink and hang out. Occasionally somebody would have a free house, and we’d go there— inevitably either my friend or I throwing up would signal the end of the night.
Then came university. I went to study in London and figured my love of booze would be an asset—I’d be with like-minded drinkers who would do lectures in the day and shots by night. However, I realized I always wanted to take things that bit further, forever dragging people to the student bar or looking for someone to come out with me. Where my friends were happy with nights in front of the TV, I always wanted to bring a bottle and make it about drinking. By the time I got a weekend job working behind a bar during my second year, I’d started drinking on my own, at work, and at home.
I met my now-husband during a visit home. He was working locally and we distance-dated for my final year of university before I moved back. Alcohol continued to be a problem. On one hand, it was a rite of passage, it was what all of my friends did and a totally normal part of life; on the other, there was my reputation of getting more drunk, the fact that I still wanted to drink more often than anyone I knew and the drinking alone. I went through a period of unemployment when I was 25 in which I lost it a little bit. I kept company with people I knew wouldn’t question my habits, drank to oblivion almost every day, and woke up often not knowing whose house I’d slept in until I opened my eyes. I lied to my boyfriend and my parents, who had recently split up, telling each I was at the other’s houses whilst I was somewhere else entirely in more ways than one.
Thankfully, I got a job before things got any worse. I was still drinking heavily over weekends, but I had a routine and was less of a loose cannon. My boyfriend and I moved out the following year and got engaged. Alcohol, an inability to moderate, and the negative effects on my life loomed large, but I couldn’t and didn’t want to see it changing. When Covid-19 hit the UK in March 2020 and the bars closed, I was more of a home drinker. I turned our spare room into a pub, complete with beer mats, signage, and bar snacks. During the most globally unsettling period of my lifetime, my place of comfort was alcohol and all of the paraphernalia that came with it. I spent the various lockdowns pining for bars and beer gardens with nostalgia akin to looking back on a favorite summer. Predictably, I can’t remember the end of the night when the pubs reopened and we went back out. I know it was full of deep conversations with somebody who now mutually ignores me at work, but apparently, we had an important bond for a few blurred hours.
Two months after this came the night of the burnt hair/food/whatever it was. Mid-July 2021, my last lost weekend. Something in me had begun to change as the world opened up again. In those months were several low points as I tried to force the level of drunk I wanted to be into a fun and socially acceptable package. I was refused service. I lost my wallet. I lost most of a weekend. More importantly, though, I was beginning to lose patience with the whole sh*tty cycle. After a few stints of not drinking for three weeks at a time curtailed by lackluster nights out, I decided to quit for good.
A saying in sober circles is ‘you don’t have to hit rock bottom,’ and although this wasn’t mine, I’d had a couple already and would have had more had I continued. What I had hit was my limit. I realized I wasn’t even enjoying drinking anymore, which was a real turning point. I knew that even if I didn’t end up in an unwanted situation every time I drank, the possibility was always there. For that reason, I discounted trying for moderation—my entire drinking career had been proof that I couldn’t do that, I had never wanted to have one or two drinks in my life. I was 30 years old, had my wedding coming up, and wanted a clean break.
Although I’d finally realized I was flat out bored of the substance I had been relying on for ‘fun,’ I didn’t get there on my own. I told my closest friends and family who were all incredibly supportive—interestingly nobody asked me why I wanted to quit. I’d been tentatively looking at sober pages on Instagram for a couple of months too, learning different terms and playing out how the words felt in my mouth. I’d always been in awe of sober people and had only peeked through my fingers at this mythical section of society. Now, I took my hands away and found a vibrant, diverse community of people with lives like mine, but seemingly all the better for not including booze.
I also downloaded Millie Gooch’s ‘The Sober Girl Society Handbook,’ which was a life-changer. Millie talks about being sober today as a young woman and about being social with it. When I was still drinking, I was sure I’d need to become a hermit to quit. A key moment in the realization that I really could give up came when I stopped waiting to have a free calendar, and started questioning my deep belief that I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do things without alcohol. Why couldn’t I go out and not drink, particularly if drinking wasn’t the sole focus of the occasion? Was I there for the place and/or company, or for the alcohol? Why too, would I not want to spend evenings on the sofa with my fiancé without a substance that could cut short the lives we plan to spend together? By stepping outside the cycle and questioning a few aspects of my drinking, I began to see a pointlessness in it.
By this time, lockdown was fully over, and I had more events in my calendar than I’d had in the preceding year, including my forthcoming postponed wedding in October. My first sober night out—probably since I had turned 18—was in Cardiff to see the band Foals. The first hour was tough—people were out for the first time in months and the shots were flowing. I got hot and tearful at our table, angry that I couldn’t just do the same as everyone else and be part of what had always signaled fun to me, that I’d ruined it for myself. Then I excused myself for the bathroom, took some deep breaths, and considered what would really happen if I was drinking—I would lose the night in a blur of wine, undo the work I had put in so far and be filled with guilt and regret once again the next day. I went back out. By the time the band started playing later that evening, I was hit with such a sense of pride and elation that I actually buzzed. Alcohol could never have given me that feeling, and it kept me dancing through the night. By the time we left—admittedly a little early—I was feeling like I now had the edge on the people I was so jealous of a couple of hours before. Seeing those worse for wear and knowing I would have clear memories and a clear head the next day was new. I literally skipped out. The next morning the elation hit me again—I had done it and enjoyed it, and it had opened a door for future events.
In the months after my first sober venture, I attended a music festival, a wedding reception, my own hen party, and finally my wedding. Just months before the idea of going to anybody’s wedding, let alone my own, and not drinking would have been absolutely ludicrous to me—but I did it. As with the preceding events, there were wobbles and panics, but again that absolute elation—not only had I finally gotten married to my partner of almost 10 years, but I would remember every wonderful moment, and most importantly I was present for my guests, my new husband and myself. I danced until I hurt.
I’ve now been sober for almost six months. I can only speak from my own experience, and for what that’s worth I truly believe that although quitting alcohol isn’t easy, it is so much easier than navigating life either drunk, hungover, or both. If you’re used to going to work on a Monday morning after a weekend on the booze, I’m willing to bet you’ve got grit and determination already. I would urge anyone who is thinking about getting sober to grasp the opportunity your curiosity is offering you. Alcohol is portrayed as coming hand-in-hand with fun, but in reality is a thief of time, health, money, and joy.
Again, I’m no expert by any means, but I have removed alcohol from my life. As of yet, I haven’t needed to seek professional help and didn’t use an established group to quit, but I know these are lifelines for many. From my own experience, I would hugely recommend at least taking a break from alcohol for a while, as that is what showed me how much better I could feel without the pressure of ‘never drinking again’—an idea that can be very daunting.
If your life is being negatively impacted by alcohol, you don’t have to accept it as a social necessity or wait until things get worse. If you’re trying to quit, tell people you trust and make plans that don’t involve booze. If it’s easier early on, don’t plan anything at all—it’s okay if you don’t want to flex your social muscles in your early sobriety, spend the money you used to spend on booze on pajamas. Explore. There is a huge range of alcohol alternatives that can elevate an evening—I spent my wedding day sipping 0% Cava. Join Facebook groups and look to Instagram to get advice and an online community around you. Reach out to me. Don’t do it alone, you are not and don’t have to be. Finally, get excited—there is so much waiting here for you.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ellen Newstead of Wiltshire, UK. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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