Just the Tonic – Sober Eighty Challenge
In amongst all my alcohol reading and research (I forgot how much I love books), I have read on a few occasions this notion that alcohol stunts your emotional growth.
“because there is a rule of thumb in psychotherapy, that whatever age you start “using” is the emotional age at which you’re stuck. So, if you first used alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex or whatever it is that you discovered made you instantly “feel better” at age 14, then you will be stuck with the capacity of a 14-year old to deal with difficult emotions.” Charlotte Stapf
Lit. Yaaasss. Psych. [Insert Sarcasm emoji]. FFS, does that mean I have to go through puberty again (late developer)???
So, now I am peeling back the layers of the sober Nicky onion, I have discovered that I’m a peri-menopausal woman with the emotional capacity of a 15-year old! Well, not quite, but there is some truth in it. I have pretty much been drunk since the age of 15. Not 24-7 of course, but I have travelled along that alcoholic roller coaster which involves getting drunk, recovering, drinking some more, recovering a little more and then back to the drinking again. Sometimes vowing never to drink again. Sometimes longer spells between drinking. Sometimes drinking nearly every day (student life gave me the best excuse to drink daily, at any time of day and for peanuts. I was constantly pissed for about a year and a half before I left Uni – another story). Week in, week out. Year by year.
For 26 years.
Not an alcoholic, of course, but I will say that moderation is not a word in my alcohol vocabulary. I have managed dry January several times now (mostly to give my body a break and convince myself I am absolutely not an alcoholic and I don’t have a drinking problem) and I once gave up alcohol for a short period of time after leaving Uni, as I recognised it as a catalyst to the deep depression I was in. I can manage without. I can go days through the week without having a drink (about 3 or 4 as a rule). Just the rest of the time I choose to use it to manage.
On the flip side to periods of sobriety, I have had drinking binges that have thrown me into the other side of oblivion. Catatonic. Nights where I could barely walk and talk. I have fallen over, blacked out, ended up in places I shouldn’t have, put my life at risk with strangers. I have woken with UDI’s, lost my memory (and my purse), made a fool of myself, and felt huge ‘hang your head’ shame. I have been in such an emotional drunk state, I have sat hugging my knees sobbing, deep, gut-wrenching sobs, rocking, feeling helpless, dismayed at the shadow of a person I had become and searching desperately for the person I had left behind.
I have been so hungover that I have been unable to move, or to eat. So hungover that I felt like my face had shrunk and my lips went all weird and tight when I talked. I have lost feeling in my little finger (on several occasions), not been able to hear properly (I have no idea why or how that happened) and suffered the worst anxiety of my entire life.
I think to a certain degree I have been a lot steadier with my consumption as I have got older, but this is in comparison to the above. This might also be a little bit more to do with the fact that we go #outout a lot less. But, on reflection, at an average of 50 units a week on a ‘steady’ week (easier done than you think), I was still drinking too much.
I recognise now that I have used alcohol to self-medicate for many years. Originally, I “used” alcohol to try and be fun and fit in. At 15 I was gawky, gangly tall, flat chested, ginger and shy – all the best qualities for a teenage girl. Alcohol gave me a little confidence boost, made me feel a little wild. It helped me party with the cool kids. I soon learnt that it was also a good way to forget; to numb the pain of a childhood trauma; to erase the emotional scars, to anesthetise the worry and the anxiety, and I’ve been that way ever since. When times are tough, stressful or I have experienced any kind of emotions that I have struggled to get to grips with (and not just the negative ones, there are others I wrestle with too) – alcohol has been my “friend”.
Tough day at work? Hit the bottle.
Feeling a little anxious/insecure/nervous/tired/upset/confused/worried/lonely/depressed? Hit the bottle.
Fight with the boyfriend? Hit several bottles…. You get the picture.
The coping mechanism only works for a while. You can numb the feelings temporarily, living in a little alcohol induced bubble for a while, but the problems don’t disappear, and the emotions are still there when you wake up, only with a foggy mind and a fuzzy head you are even less able to deal with them and they seem ten times worse. It may be a cliché but it’s also a fact.
Some may call my sobriety a bit of a mid-life crisis, as I reassess and try to work it all out. I have been very contemplative since I decided to go sober and I feel that I need to revisit some of the things I used to love doing as a child, to see if they still make me tick and to find out what truly makes my soul happy. Alcohol replaced time (drinking takes away a lot of time) and time that used to be spent doing the things I loved.
It feels a little strange to be facing the world in its true and raw form daily. When you have anesthetised yourself for so long, you forget you were numbing the good parts at the same time too. Sobriety is bringing with it a strange wide-eyed euphoria, a natural high that no drug can provide. I am finding joy and beauty in the smallest of things and my inner childish hippy is thriving. And we’re only on Day 12.
I am a little nervous but excited about this new Chapter in life, as I learn how to live sober.