I mentioned back in Summer that as the year has gone on I’ve had to face up to the fact that I’ve used alcohol as a way to drown out the anxious voices. That alcohol both gave me the courage to do things that I wanted to do (dance on tables, throw myself at that cute person I kind of fancy, wear that outfit) and also gave me an ‘out’ if those things didn’t come off well (Oh, how embarrassing? I was SO DRUNK when we got kicked out for dancing on tables; oh HOW embarrassing, did I come on to you? I don’t remember I was SO DRUNK; oh HOW EMBARRASSING can you believe I wore that? I was so drunk when I got dressed…).
But I’ve realised that actually most of the things I’ve done while drunk are things I am perfectly capable of doing sober. I’ve started to wonder whether it’s less that alcohol genuinely lowers our inhibitions, and more that culturally ‘being drunk’ becomes this wonderful catch-all get out of jail free card that can magically wipe away all transgressions. It wasn’t so much that alcohol *made* me do these things, but that if these things went wrong no one would judge me for it because DRUNK. I am not saying that every decision I’ve ever made while drunk was a good one that I would have made sober. Of course not. I have made some fucking dreadful decisions while drunk that I’ve bitterly regretted in the morning – but that’s more to do with alcohol affecting your decision making skills, not your inhibitions.
If we’re really, truly, totally honest with ourselves – how much of That Thing you did was because you were drunk? And how much of That Thing you did was something you wanted to do anyway, but you got drunk so you could do it without really having to deal with the repercussions if That Thing didn’t work out? If you can’t make drunkscuses any more, if That Thing is just A Thing you did – how would that feel?
There’s a lot of research out there that suggests this idea that alcohol lowers our inhibitions isn’t really true, and that’s it’s almost entirely culturally biased. Most experiments suggest that people act drunk when they *THINK* they have been given alcoholic drinks, even when they haven’t. And ‘drunk behaviour’ is a cultural construction. Anthropologist Kate Fox believes that “The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.”
This idea that you can feel drunk while not actually being drunk at all certainly rings true for me. I have found myself this year at various events, stone cold sober, on nothing stronger than 3 soda water with fresh lime and maybe the occasional cheeky soya latte, feeling inexplicably high and full of delight and glee, engaging in such activities as dancing on the bar, having dance offs and twerk offs, interpretive dancing to Bloodhound Gang’s “Bad Touch”, flirting outrageously with people I’ve always hidden my partiality to, wearing all sorts of ridiculous outfits and generally having fun like nobody’s watching. Once you let go of the idea that you need alcohol to do these things, and that you just have to own your own behaviour as being your own, you suddenly realise that actually nothing is stopping you from having fun. There’s been nights out where I’ve actually felt no different than when I have while drunk – the same sort of delirious emotional high. The only difference is my mental decision making equipment is intact and I don’t feel like crap the next day and I have more money left in the bank at the end of the month. Or I can treat myself to a taxi home with the money I haven’t spend on buying everyone else jaegerbombs so I feel less of a shambles about drinking more and more.
It has taken me the better part of the last 11 months of not drinking to tap into this feeling, but now that I have got the hang of it I kind of don’t want to let it go. When people ask me if I am looking forward to having a drink next year, I am actually no longer sure. I’ve achieved what I set out to do, and then some. I have proved to myself I can not only Not Drink, I can also actively enjoy it. I can live a perfectly full and happy life – if not an even fuller one – without alcohol being a significant part of it. Part of me isn’t quite prepared to let that go. As the year draws to a close I am starting to think about what my new relationship with alcohol will be like. I am not sure I want one.
And it’s dawned on me. I like not drinking. I like being able to tap into an emotional high with friends without needing alcohol – by just being happy. I like how gloriously long weekends feel when 50% of them aren’t spent being hungover. And I actually like not being able to make drunkscuses. I like to have to stand on my own two feet and face up to a decision I’ve made, a dance I’ve twerked, a crush I’ve been rebuffed by, and just deal with those feelings head on. I’ve made choices, I’ve dealt with the repercussions. I’ve not shrugged, made a drunkscuse, and made the same bad decisions again a week later.
I’d already decided what my first drink would be. Back in summer, when I started swimming, I made a pact with a group of friends to do the new year’s day swim at the ponds. Apparently they were 3 degrees last year. I’ve kept up the swimming, in all weathers, and so far have managed to swim at a rather brisk 8 degrees. Mulled Wine will be supplied for the new year’s day swimmers – and to me I couldn’t think of a better or more fitting way to celebrate all I’ve learned and achieved in 2014 than for my first drink of 2015 to be that cup of mulled wine. It would represent so much more than the first alcoholic drink in 12 months. And yet, the closer I get to that day, the less important that mulled wine seems.