Some boozy experiences can seem acceptable in your twenties, not so much in your thirties and beyond. And during the in-between years, as the transition occurs from youth to middle-age, there’s often a grey area, the No Man’s Land of drinking escapades which fall into neither category; the ones that cause an initial sinking feeling but which you somehow manage to convince yourself are not really so bad.
In my late twenties, I had a particularly frightening blackout episode at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Hyde Park, London. Downing Stella Artois in the blazing sun for several hours prior to the gig, by the time the band appeared on stage I was obviously drunk. I fell off my boyfriend’s shoulders and smashed my face on the hard, sun-scorched earth. We argued and I disappeared, losing the entire evening from my memory. I woke up beneath a tree on a small hill in the far reaches of the park, my eyes, upon opening, coming to rest upon two policemen who gazed down at me with a mixture of disdain and concern.
Amongst the throngs of fans pouring out of Hyde Park, I miraculously spotted my boyfriend who had been wandering for hours searching for me. I’d lost my bag, purse and phone and had absolutely no idea what had happened in the time since we were last together.
For weeks I felt heavy with shame and fear, but I was to continue the same pattern of binge drinking, blackouts, self-loathing and unsuccessful efforts at curbing my alcohol consumption for another seven years before finally quitting for good.
The incident that led to me eventually accepting I could not moderate the amount I drank happened just a few feet from my home. After a period of depression due to being unemployed, I was, at the time, deeply mired in a destructive cycle of heavy drinking. My daughter was staying the night with her dad, my ex-husband, and I hit the wine hard as a means of obliterating all that I hated about my life at that point. After walking the dog up the drive for her final toilet trip of the night I collapsed onto the pavement and began vomiting violently while unconscious. Cue the serendipitous passing of a friend who spotted me and called an ambulance. Again I woke up hours later completely devoid of memory, this time in the local A&E department to an unsympathetic nurse and the friend who had found me.
Aged thirty-five, this episode, the last one of God knows how many others like it, shook me to the core and helped me recognise that my life had become dominated by alcohol. I had a very real sense that if I did not stop drinking right then, my entire time on earth would later come to be defined by my drunkenness. I wanted so much more than that for my daughter – and for me. And so I stopped.
What dawned on me quickly was that I wasn’t physically addicted to alcohol and had no withdrawals with which to cope, but ever since my teens, I’d relied on the stuff to boost my confidence, make me feel sexy, have fun and relax in social situations. And without it, I was utterly lost.
It took approximately eighteen months for me to rewire my brain so that I didn’t feel compelled to drink alcohol at every twist and turn; so that I was able to stay in on a Friday night and enjoy my own company without feeling as though I wanted to scratch my skin away; so that I wasn’t overwhelmed with the notion that life would forever be dulled by the notable lack of Chablis and Chardonnay, my erstwhile best friends; so that I could throw myself into living, genuinely and with passion, instead of with senses consistently muted by alcohol.
By the time I emerged from the other side, I was sure of two things: I could be happy – actually, happier – without alcohol featuring in my life whatsoever, and that I wanted to set up a social network website for women like me, the ones who couldn’t quite relate to being ‘an alcoholic’ but who nonetheless had a major emotional dependency on booze. And so, Soberistas.com was born in November 2012.
Within its first year, more than 20,000 people registered with the site and I quit my old job at Sheffield Hallam University in order to run it full time. I deliberately made Soberistas non-prescriptive, non-religious and non-preachy, and avoided the use of words like ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic’ in the written text. These examples of stigmatising and labelling vocabulary had never been helpful to me and I had a hunch they made people feel worse about themselves at the very time when they needed lots of help boosting their self-worth. Positivity and solidarity were what was required, and I set about building the Soberistas community in a way that reflected these values.
Soberistas has now been going for four and a half years, and I have loved every minute of watching it grow from its fledgling beginnings to a worldwide, recognised resource for anyone wanting to free herself (or himself – about 10% of Soberistas are men) from the shackles of an alcohol dependency.
What I’ve learnt about drinking issues and overcoming them is that if you stop focusing on what you’ll be missing out on and instead concentrate on all the ways in which life will improve as a result of letting go of the booze crutch, it is entirely possible to adjust to an alcohol-free existence – and to relish all that brings with it.
The A-Z of binning the booze by Lucy Rocca is available from Amazon