The Sober Diaries: Six Months Off The Sauce
© Ru Pearson
I never thought I had a problem with alcohol. Looking back, with almost six months of sobriety brightening my once chronically bleary eyes, I’m wondering if maybe things aren’t so black and white.
Like many other British teenagers, my first “proper” drink was a stolen can of lukewarm cider at a house party. I was thirteen. This first taste paved the way for what I thought was a fairly standard relationship with alcohol. At university, drinking and partying took priority over any actual work for the first two years. When I lived abroad in Germany, I probably drank more beer than water. In lockdown, when I was living with my parents, beer o’clock could not come soon enough and we held weekly, socially-distanced “pop-up-pub” nights with our neighbours over the garden fence. By the time I moved to London at the end of 2020, when alcohol provided the liquid courage I needed to make new friends in a new city, I had already been drinking regularly (and often excessively) for something like eleven years.
8th May 2023 – My last drink. A pint of Guinness at the pool bar. FOMO is settling in.
For years, drinking alcohol was not merely an addition to my social life; it was the centre of it. Even the more wholesome activities with friends, like a picnic in the park or a craft night at home, were made more fun by getting drunk. I never once thought to say “no” because saying no didn’t feel like an option. After all, we’re British… we can find an excuse to drink on any occasion. And how are you supposed to have fun without the warm buzz a few beers give you, anyway?
18th May 2023 – First gig with no booze. Bumped into some people I’ve only ever met while drunk. How do people do this?!
Like everyone else who doesn’t know when to stop, on the mornings of my worst hangovers, when I’d wake up with my phone or my bank card or my house keys missing, I would utter the old adage: “I’m never drinking again.” It’s a funny phrase because when we say it, we know that it’s simply not true. Drinking is so ingrained in our culture that a hangover is just part and parcel of the whole activity. My university friends and I used to make a day of it; we would crawl out of bed towards the local shop to stock up on treats and sit in the living room, wrapped up in blankets, sharing funny stories and pictures from our night on the town. It was practically ceremonious. We do what we must to survive the nausea, “hangxiety,” and splitting headaches (fizzy drinks and toast were always my go-to cure), only to wreck ourselves again the next time we go out. I had never sincerely questioned my relationship with alcohol until earlier this year, but in doing so, I have realised that alcohol was less of a fun friend and more of an enemy.
27th May 2023 – First festival with no booze. Wore my green ball gown. Drank too
many overpriced cans of Fanta.
12th June 2023 – Day trip to Folkestone. Drank ginger beer in the sun. Played mini golf.
If you’d told me six months ago that I’d now be reaching this milestone, I probably would have laughed at you and gleefully ordered the next round of pints. It must be said, however, that there was not a big, disastrous event that finally made me recognise that my relationship with alcohol was ever so slightly toxic. I didn’t ruin my life one night and wake up with a fresh perspective and a pressing need to change my behaviour. Rather, I began to feel a strange affinity with the man who had a pigeon living on his head. Instead of a bird, however, my head had become home to a lingering hangover that plagued my thoughts and reduced my daily capacity on more days in the week than not.
17th June – Saw Arctic Monkeys play the Emirates Stadium. Drank Lucky Saint. Couldn’t taste the difference.
21st July – Weekend in Margate. Arrived at sunset. Drank Peroni 0 on the beach.
So, when my partner had to take antibiotics that meant he couldn’t drink for a week, we thought we’d give it a try together. One week turned into two, and with no strict ideas about how long we’d do it for, the weeks just kept passing by. Before we knew it, we had survived an entire summer of festivals, gigs, and parties without the company of alcohol. When people asked why - and lots of people did - we just brushed it off as an experiment. At first, it felt a little bit like we were missing out. But as time went by, we began to reap the benefits.
15th August – Just over three months alcohol-free. Skin and hair feel healthier. Clothes feel looser.
I can go on a night out now and not wake up feeling like I’m teetering on the verge of death. The next day is not wasted in bed, either, so weekends feel longer and I have time and energy to put into other things I enjoy doing. I have less general anxiety, my skin is brighter, my hair feels softer, my clothes fit me better, and my mood and energy levels are more balanced than ever. I actually remember more of the gigs and festivals I’ve attended, too, which is definitely a plus. Perhaps most importantly, though, I’ve learnt how to enjoy myself without being drunk.
27th August – Sober night at Ridley Road Market Bar. Danced to Northern-Soul. Drank lime & sodas.
Granted, it has been difficult at times. For a couple who once accidentally spent seven hours in a pub making friends with strangers on a hair-of-the-dog Sunday, the very thought of cutting out booze was like a death knell signalling the end of our social lives. When going for drinks is a staple social activity in the city, being the one ordering a Lucky Saint or a soft drink can feel …boring. Being sober when others are not can be tiresome, too. Drunk people tend to repeat themselves, and conversations often go in circles. It’s also harder to feel at ease meeting new people when you have to depend on your sober-self to make an impression. Until now I don’t think I appreciated just how much I leant on alcohol’s inhibition-lowering properties to carry me through a night.
20th September – Four months down. More energy in the mornings. Moods more balanced.
Also, it’s hard to break a habit when reminders of it are everywhere you look. Working in restaurants and bars here in London, I am always surrounded by alcohol. Anytime I’ve started a new job, after-work, and even occasional on-shift drinks (hospitality is a different world, remember) are a given, and any night I had off would be spent spilling beer down myself at a sweaty gig or catching up with friends in a pub. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things. Moderation is key, however, and if you can’t even fathom a world in which you don’t drink, it might be time to make a change.
1st October – Family holiday to Oslo. Sampled some Norwegian 0% beer. Swam in the Fjord.
18th October – 5.5 months. Starting to think I might not ever go back. Feeling good.
At first, it felt like we were the only people in the world who weren’t drinking. But in maintaining our lifestyle, I have found other people doing the exact same thing. Only last weekend I made a new friend at Moth Club, a fellow non-drinker just out to enjoy the music and have a dance. If anything, not drinking while I’m out has forced me to be more confident in myself. Now, when I think about the possibility of drinking again, I wonder if it’s worth it. I don’t think I’ll be sober forever, but I definitely needed this time to reframe my relationship with alcohol and to work on myself. The thought of a hangover is unpleasant, but the thought of going back to the way I was is terrifying. So, for now, it’s still a Lucky Saint for me, cheers!