There was an incident a few years ago, for which the consumption of alcohol was largely to blame for my behaviour. It made me realise that contrary to popular belief (in my head, where all the neural pathways lead to signs that read: ‘You’re brilliant!’) I didn’t become more of a legend the more I drank. I, would you believe it, actually became less of a legend, the more I drank.
After said incident, I cut down my drinking massively. I wasn’t a raging alcoholic, mind. I didn’t wet the bed or sleep with strangers or injure myself much. The only scratches and bruises incurred were due to loving to pretend I was Jack Bauer when I was drunk. Jack Bauer does a lot of forward rolls, which I’d imitate, generally ending up in a hedge. But always with my arms up again in the gun shape, ready to save the world. (It. Was. Hilarious.)
So yes, I wasn’t a raging alcoholic. I was probably just like you, if you are around my age (32 if you check my birth certificate, 23 if you ask my nephew, who consequently just got bumped up in my Will). I relished getting shouty, knocking over a few bottles, saying things brashly to people and regretting it horribly in the morning and forever more, whenever I was doing something completely different and for no apparent reason my brain decided to drop into my consciousness a little flashback to that time when I said that awful thing to that person who used to like me. Why brain, why? I thought we agreed to block these memories out?
By avoidance of detail I don’t want you to think the incident was anything too serious, I just made a girl cry (she was also drunk though so let’s blame her too) by suggesting she didn’t make my friend go and live in her country instead of ours. But I said it in a more drunk and reckless way.
Her tears stayed with me. Instead of unbottling wine, I bottled her tears. For nine whole months I punished myself, never drinking more than three drinks at any one event, in order to cap myself before things got silly.
After those nine months of atonement Gaz and I moved into an old farmhouse. We were having so much fun doing it up – and it did come with its own bar – that I did away with the three drink rule. I’d served my time. Dangerous Unpredictable Kim was back.
But as time rolled by, it wasn’t so much about my behaviour when intoxicated – I’d become paranoid enough about offending anyone that even when drunk I was wary rather than lairy – but about the state of my mind and manner in the days that followed.
I no longer had to get smashed to receive the gift of an almighty hangover. Just a few drinks would do it. Grumpy, hungry, lethargic, unmotivated, my usually sunny disposition positively pissed all over for up to three days.
And I liked my sunny disposition. I wanted to feel optimum more often.
Sobriety was becoming more appealing than the lure of debauchery. I was ready to give up alcohol entirely.
My mother gave up too and we made it into a game, with rules, because “rules help control the fun!” (1990’s Friends quote there for the die-hard fans) We’d give up for 100 days. We’d have one get-out-of-jail-free day, which we agreed would be New Year’s Eve, and if either of us broke and had a drink on any other of the 100 days, we had to buy the other one a present. Rules set, we got to not drinking.
Here are a few things I’ve learned since sobriety became my pal.
One. If you are a 32 year old married woman and you declare that you’ve given up drinking, people don’t really ask questions. I had not predicted this. If I’d given up drinking ten years ago I’d have been met with a barrage of questions, but oh no – give up drinking at 32 and people go quiet while they calculate when you’ll announce that you’re pregnant.
I am absolutely not pregnant. Have I not banged on about this enough? I do not want children. I did not like seeing that smirking look in people’s eyes, because it made me feel like they were thinking: ‘I knew it! She’d come around in the end. Silly old Kim, thinking she didn’t want kids.’
Canny though – if I was pregnant, rather than avoid everyone for 12 weeks or say I’m on antibiotics – just announce I’m off the booze because it makes me turn into a dick. Anyone who actually is pregnant – you can have that one. My gift to you.
Two. Fewer people than I anticipated cajoled me into drinking. Only one person in fact – my husband. I’d imagined scenarios likened to my days at uni when one man was teetotal and we all spent three years shoving B52s in his face. I don’t know what it was about us goading him with the louder, more annoying versions of ourselves that never seemed to work, but for some reason he stuck to his guns.
Maybe my friends are maturing, but everyone respected the decision and no one begged me to drink. Except my husband, on my first night of officially not drinking. But he did not tempt me, the sorcerer.
Three. Alcohol gets a bad rap. I still get hangovers. Oh yes, they’re easy to acquire. All I need is a rich meal and a late night and ka-pow! The next day, I’m groggy, hungry and moany. Alcohol gets all the blame for the symptoms of a hangover but it turns out, and I am a scientific experiment, it is only part of the problem.
Four. Alcohol gets a good rap too. It gets all the credit for that fun little feeling you get when you hook up with your mates for dinner. You know, you have a few drinks, you get talking, have a laugh.
I always thought it was alcohol that bolstered my mood and made me crack great jokes and spill my drink and talk faster and feel really, really happy to be there. No! Not alcohol! I still crack great jokes, spill my drink and talk faster. And I’m even happier to be there because I’m glad I’m not drinking.
(You can get tipsy off the tipsiness of others. This is an actual fact. I read it in the Guardian. You get the tipsy feeling just being around tipsy people. So thank you friends, by way of osmosis I have swum in your tipsiness.)
Five. Without wanting to sound like a wishy washy hippy, I am more in tune with my body. I am aware of feeling sluggish and moody after a late night, rather than just cloudily wading through it without thought. I’m aware of when I’m feeling sprightly and wondrous. Rather than bumbling from one hangover to the next, I’m acutely aware of how I feel all the time.
I was going to give up for 100 days, but 100 days came and went. I’ve lost count now, I think it’s around a gazillion days since I last drank. (It’s 114.) I didn’t even drink on New Year’s Eve, my get-out-of-jail-free card is unused. And I still had fun, every time I went out.
In conclusion, who am I now? I’m not the liability I used to be, but nor do I want to be teetotal. I like rules, but teetotal is too final for me. I don’t want to rule myself out of the odd occasion where a little tipple might be just what I want.
So I guess you’ll find me swimming in the middle lane. No longer a drunken monkey nor willing to become a prohibitionist, I’m going to be one of those, what do you call them, occasional drinkers who never make a fool of themselves? Oh, MOST PEOPLE. That’s right, I’m going to be like most people now. Yeah, sure I’ll have a beer but no thank you, I won’t accept your hangover and you can put a cork in your three day depression.
NB. I have read the next generation down are not even that into drinking. They just don’t get it. What treasures! Go, go go, next generation down! Do something wonderful with your 20s! It took me a decade to figure out what you already know. You young little bastards. No wonder your hair is so shiny.