This is a new joy. It wasn’t on the #55Joys list, but it is now. I didn’t know it would be a joy. It is. I didn’t know I could do it. I can.
I’m on the train heading back from the brilliant Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. I love a good book festival. I especially love a good crime writers’ book festival. I’ve written crime, historical, literary, all sorts of fiction, and the crime writers (and readers) are among the warmest, most generous, kindest people I’ve ever met in my writing work. They’re also, many of them – many of us – big party people. Lots of writers are. We mostly work alone, we party when we’re together, we often drink when we party. Sometimes we drink when we’re not partying. Sometimes we just drink.
Today, I am heading home without a hangover, with a clear memory of everyone I met and every conversation I had. This has not always been the case. And I’m fine with that. I have loved so many parties and singalongs (the Sound of Music year, Harrogate people!) and deep conversations and silly conversations and all of that. I have loved all of those times and been fine with most of those times (in my case) being alcohol-fuelled.
And … I’m not drinking at the moment. I may never drink again. I have had a drink on five occasions this year. I remember each of them, and had no more than 2 units each time. Astonishingly, as someone who has been drinking since I was about 15 and very heavily on a fairly regular basis since I left home at 17, I’ve just … stopped.
The only time I miss drinking is just before a party, dinner, event, that time when the social anxiety (and general anxiety) I suffer from all the time anyway is especially ramped up and I had become used to dampening that feeling with a glass of wine while getting ready for the event. And a large one on arriving. And another …
Like anyone who has very much enjoyed drinking for decades there have been plenty of times I’ve had an amazing afternoon or evening while not-drinking, but they have been far fewer than the drinking good times. Basically, for about four decades, I have mostly enjoyed large social events with the help of a glass or many glasses of wine. It has never hampered my ability to work or to achieve the things I want to achieve, it has never (as far as I know) caused me any major health problems. And yet …
It was making me tired. It wasn’t actually helping my social anxiety and technically I now know it was probably adding to it. I grew up in a household where alcohol abuse was coupled (often but not always) with violence. My wife barely drinks and we were therefore, often, on different emotional planes when out with others. And I had thought for some time that maybe it was more of a problem than I was allowing – a problem I knew was there and didn’t want to look at.
So I stopped. I didn’t do ‘dry January’ (although it was) because I knew that my inner 14-year-old would immediately rebel and take me straight down to the off-licence to buy the shop. I read Annie Grace’s brilliant This Naked Mind while already not-drinking, and it made it easier to keep not-drinking. I’ve done a couple of 8-week mindfulness courses, as well as therapy, that’s helped too. (Though I’ve never had a drinking/not-drinking conversation in relation to mindfulness or with my therapist.) Running 3 times a week and yoga every day certainly help. I’d been doing those two for a while, but (obviously) exercise is easier without alcohol in my system. I haven’t set a deadline or a limit, because I know my personality doesn’t work that way, and I also know that alcohol consumption (what with it being an addictive drug) doesn’t work that way either. I’m just happy being not-drinking right now – including at the times I always thought I ‘needed’ a drink.
Here’s what hasn’t happened, despite all the people who said it would :
- I haven’t lost any weight (I’m happy with my shape and size right now, but I didn’t anyway)
- my arthritis isn’t any better (pity)
- I’m not sleeping any better (gah)
- my hot flushes haven’t gone (I’ve been menopausal since chemo for my first cancer at 37, maybe I’ll be menopausal forever …)
- drunk people are not boring, boring people are still boring
- parties are not awful without alcohol
And here’s what has happened :
- I’m feeling more. The hard stuff as well as the good stuff. Alcohol is an anaesthetic. Sometimes feeling more is hard. Sometimes it’s amazing. I’m finding the balance worthwhile.
- Shelley and I have had hardly any rows. Gripes, of course, but fewer rows. Like most pissed people I can be a dog with a bone when arguing – it really doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong, sometimes letting it go is the most useful in a specific moment, and I find letting it go easier when I’m sober.
- I’m less inclined to go to events that I don’t really want to attend, because I know I won’t be using alcohol to get me through.
- I’m beginning to get a bit better at saying no.
- people say I look well. I think I do too. Having been very sick a couple of times, being told I ‘look well’ is lovely.
So. I have LOVED drinking and the playing that (often) goes along with it. I may well do so again. Right now I’m loving the playing that goes along with no-drinking. You should totally drink if you want to.
And if you want not to, then perhaps if I – a happy drinker who has been very skilled at drinking all of the wine/champagne/martinis for quite some time – can chose not to, then maybe you can too.
Have a read of This Naked Mind. It’s great.
ps – I’m pretty damn honest on this blog, about cancer and queer and mental health stuff, ticking ‘publish’ on this one feels scary. Our culture is SO fucked up, ambivalent, love/hate, disdain/adore about our relationship with alcohol and that, probably as much as the alcohol itself, is part of what has been problematic for me. Hitting publish anyway…
edited to add, 29.12.19 – stayed not-drinking, still not-drinking
I’m thinking too, life might be more manageable without … Just for a change.
I’ve known, and know, too many people for whom alcohol is a demon necessity. I’m convinced people either have or don’t have an addictive tendency and feel fortunate to be someone who doesn’t. It’s good to read your blog about stepping out of the habit.
I had always assumed, especially given my family propensity to it (and my own reaction to anything addictive) that I have an addictive tendency and there’s nothing I can do about it. This Naked Mind and my own experience suggest that’s not the case – for me – and so maybe it’s not the case for all of us who assume it about ourselves.
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Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
So, too, with/without alcohol.
My husband had to cut his alcohol consumption on health grounds last year, and I wasn’t a big drinker anyway, so didn’t drink in support of him.
It’s just made me realise how badly our society is geared up to non-alcohol drinkers. The range of non alcohol beers/wines/ciders in restaurants is poor, if it exists. Supermarkets are getting better.
All this means now, is that every time we do have a glass of wine together, it’s much more meaningful & special as a shared experience.
Good luck with the next bit of your journey
So. I get that was tricky to post. A while back I tried asking for alcohol free drinks at events and got the “you have a problem” or “you’re making a problem” look back. I didn’t/ don’t unless you consider a variation on the Stella Duffy drinking style problematic. But I did recognise that for anyone who did find being around booze tricky, running the gauntlet of booze laden trays with no dry land in sight at social/work events I get to go to is a massive Obstacle. Whilst my mindfully making this challenge didn’t last long, I do notice that I grab the first one as a softie more often now. For a while in my 30s I stopped drinking. In my 40s I got right back in there. And now at 50 3/4 I think about the not drinking thing quite often. (My friends are possibly gasping in disbelief) And I spotted this blog and knowing Stella had been off the sherbet, I thought I’d see what she had to say (plus she read my blog earlier).
I also put a bottle of cava in to chill.
I am so pleased for you dear friend. And thanks for your openness. As you say talking about boozing or not boozing is a weird emotional minefield.
I fancy a cocktail and I shall toast you and Shelley.
And see you for a drink or a not-drink soon Xxx
thank you Liz. and yes, finding interesting drinks that aren’t alcohol is also a new journey …
enjoy the cocktail. xx
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Thank you for hitting publish, Stella! I love your blog posts, your honesty and vulnerability are what makes them such compelling reading. All of what you said – yes. A x
thank you for saying so, Ann. x
You say it so well. I think it gave me up but much of what you said resonated. Now if I have a glass of the red infuriator or a tumbler of mother’s ruin I can GUARANTEE that neither will be finished. They are usually poured by someone , quite possibly with a problem, who didn’t / wouldn’t hear the first “no thank you” and thinks that non drinkers
Are either alcoholics or bores. Call me an alcoholic bore. I don’t mind. At least I know how and when I got home. And who with. Truth? I loved most of my drinking years and miss them now and again. But not much.
Yes Stella I have started two sentences with and and but. But but but I can do better.
I always enjoy reading your stuff.
Thank you for this. I’m 17 years sober and my life is unrecognisable from what it was. It is my life now and I control it. I am now a good husband, father and teacher. Steady mind, good sleep and less social anxiety. I still struggle with people 3 glasses in to the evening as I’m both jealous and disappointed in myself. I will never go back.
thank you Tai.
thank you Jason, sounds like you’re doing really well.
Thanks for your blog Stella. I understand the anxiety about pressing the publish button – happens to me every time! I love that your yoga and mindfulness practice is making it feel less necessary to use alcohol as a dampener of the more scary emotions. I have found my practice has made my social anxiety lessen too. Along with so many other goodies. I would imagine it is doing your health more good than you realise. Best wishes.
It is the internet, otherwise I would say more on the subject, but thank you for saying much more. I share most of your relationship with alcohol, and more, and appreciate your journey and honesty. And more, I appreciate your wonderful writing.
thank you Constance. very much.
I’ve been quietly considering cutting alcohol almost completely from my life. I’ve done it in short bursts before, a month at a time usually. Every time I do, my mind gets a little quieter and calmer, and I find my day-to-day base level anxiety lowers. A range of things will cause it to spike, but when it lowers, it lowers further and that’s been nice.
What I can’t believe is that choosing to do something that is almost certainly better for my health, mental and physical, my happiness, my relationships, isn’t an easy choice?
If there was any other example of giving up a thing that made me feel that good – say cheese (which by the way, isn’t the case. Cheese is a great thing for me) I’d give it up instantly. ‘Oh, cheese makes me feel that bad? And not having cheese makes me feel so much better? No contest. No more cheese’
But the idea of saying that to others, dealing with the looks, or the potential of people saying I’m boring these days, or more fun when I’m drinking (which I understand probably just reflects more on their need to have me drink to feel better about their own choices but I’m not always feeling that zen) just the whole circus around drinking and not drinking – makes the decision difficult!
It’s strange. The mist and haze that surrounds drinking, particularly for Brits. The stigma of not drinking. Can’t imagine what it’s like for a recovering alcoholic, who maybe doesn’t want to explain every single time…
Anyway. Thank you Stella, for writing this. You’re very brave, and in my opinion, super cool.
ah, thank you. I’ve found it far easier to talk about than I expected. I tend to just say that I stopped because I wanted to, and people accept that as a choice. Most people have been incredibly supportive of my choice not to drink. NO-one has ever given me a hard time, but if they did I think I’d have to walk away from them. The idea of a ‘friend’ not supporting a choice not to ingest what is essentially a poison … well. Luckily it hasn’t happened. Good luck with your choosing, Charlie.
I loved this reflection. Especially the bit about the inner 14 year old. I’m nearly 74 now and my inner teenager is still giving me a piece of his mind. I won’t say what he says, exactly. But he’s adamant when he says it. I like him actually. What this has to do with giving up drinking, I’ve no idea, but I found reading your blog, very moving. Much love…
ah thank you Andy. and yes, I suspect our inner 14yo never leaves us. which is kind of ok too – mine has a voracious appetite for new & different, so she keeps me trying whereas the 56yo me is far less keen on change! xx