I’m pleased to say that my dry January of 2019 was a success, not a single drop of alcohol entered my system for the whole month, even when temptation reared its head. I haven’t stayed sober in 2019, having had a few social events where an open bar and want to let loose have taken over.
Having abstained and indulged in alcohol this year I’ve come to realise a few things about myself:
- I drink when I’m anxious, I drink heavily when I’m anxious, as someone with severe anxiety I’m anxious a lot;
- I drink so I have an excuse to act out of character and a bit wilder than usual, alcohol gives people an excuse to let their inhibitions free – say what they like and do what they like all under the guise of ‘sorry, I was drunk;’
- I still have blue days when I’m sober;
- Other people will have a bigger problem with you not drinking, than you have with not being able to drink;
- My social life revolves around beer and wine;
- My nationality influences my relationship with alcohol greatly, and people expectation of it.
Circling back to the top of that list, anxiety, particularly social anxiety is a big problem for me.
Crowds freak me out. People freak me out. Life freaks me out. Since I was a teenager social situations fill me with dread, not because I dislike them but because I am convinced that people don’t actually want me there.
You could probably link this back to an early childhood memory of mine, where I distinctly remember my two closest friends at the time running away from me under the pretence of play, often leaving me in tears on the other side of the playground, feeling rejected and abandoned, having spent a few minutes running after them – my small stature and naturally non-athletic ability rendering me fairly easy to leave behind. This memory has stuck with me throughout my life, and resurfaces when I experience similar moments in my adult life almost two decades later.
As an adult, I realise that social events are necessary if you want to avoid becoming a hermit. Particularly when you live almost 400 kilometres/200+ miles away from home, away from your closest friends and family, away from the comforts, and the routine you had spent years crafting and altering to suit your needs.
However, like most people I’m still marked by the memories of my past, I still fear rejection from my peers so often find myself appearing rather defensive or cold as a means of protecting myself. In order to counteract my anxiety in social situations, I drink – because drinking is a socially acceptable coping mechanism, staring at people awkwardly from the corner, wide eyed, like a deer in the headlights, is not.
Even when you drink until you drunk dial your exes and wake up with hangover that feels like a 4am hotel fire alarm, realising that the pharmacies are shut and wanting nothing more than to crawl up and die, this isn’t considered as odd; when compared to saying that your anxiety is kicking your arse, your fight or flight is having a domestic in your brain, and you’re finding it difficult to breathe.
The month I didn’t drink was hard. I didn’t have a social crutch, and it was noticeable. People noticed I wasn’t drinking, and people questioned it. Part of the reason I chose to do ‘dry January’ was because it was a pre-existing premise, so I thought it would removed at least some of the questioning, but it didn’t. I still found myself explaining that the reason for my choice to not drink was because I wanted to see how it affected my mental health, which made for a very awkward set of conversations, because mental health still carries a very negative stigma which often makes people feel uncomfortable.
Another thing I realised in my month of sobriety was that the blue days didn’t disappear, as I was hoping they would. I hoped that not drinking would be the cure all to my depression, an easy fix if you will. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to depression. It doesn’t go away overnight, and is something that many people struggle with throughout their lives.
I did however realise that drinking when I was blue exasperated my negative thoughts and feelings, turning pale false spring skies into the depths of an inky ocean, the monster within it spiralling in my mind and tormenting me until my emotions leaked out of me like waves crashing against the shore line in the midst of a tempest, toppling unsuspecting (relation)ships and swallowing them whole, with no remnants left behind.
I’ve suspected this correlation for a while but never really addressed it, the fear of being ostracised from the social circles which I’m desperately trying to infiltrate due to my loneliness has blinded me somewhat from this reality. However, following an unexpected visit from a friend last week, a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam, and a string of sunshine days following I have been able to see more clearly, and I hope this clarity will allow me to tackle life’s obstacles head on, from the root. Disregarding the opinion of others, and the societal expectation which I am supposedly meant to adhere to. I live for me and only me, I care for the people around me and who are in my life, but ultimately I take centre stage in my reality.
If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/