Just as my last post of my booze-free year was posted appropriately on New Year’s Eve, the first post of my new year is on the anniversary of my first ever post; where I stated my intentions for the year. My list was small, but ambitious.
I wanted to learn to sew, to learn British Sign Language, to write regularly and to see if I could ultimately go a whole year without alcohol. I’ve never stuck with any new year’s resolutions before, let alone four.
When I embarked on this scheme I had no idea where this journey would take me. I hoped perhaps I’d develop some writing skills, learn creativity, deal with a few fears, have fewer hangovers, reset my relationship with drinking so that I could go out and just have one.
As I stood on the bank of the pond at midday on New Year’s day, preparing to get into 4 degree water, replaying my year in my head and reflecting on all that has been in 2014, I was almost overwhelmed with emotion.
It is astounding to me to have reached 2015 and not only managed all four resolutions, but to have developed a self-confidence in both my body and mind that I never knew was possible, to have not only been seen in public in a swimming costume but swum regularly in unheated water. I went to a club in a skintight playsuit. I went to weddings sober. I went for 6 weeks without any sugar at all. I chatted someone up stone cold sober. I’ve said “yes” to things that terrified me, pushed myself and faced uncomfortable home truths head on. I’ve passed my level 1 BSL and am well into Level 2 – although I am finding it hard and still struggle with my putting-things-off habit. I’ve ended a relationship whilst maintaining a friendship. I’ve moved house 3 times. I’ve had surgery that meant I could breathe properly for the first time for as long as I can remember. Menthol is one hell of an intense experience now. And I’ve written publicly about subjects important to me – putting my voice out there in a year where the extent of threats against women with opinions became visible to the public in an unprecedented way. This was perhaps one of the scariest things of all (and I will admit that there are some subjects I’ve stayed away from for fear of reprisal) and at times harder than not drinking.
I’ve explained the appeal of cold water swimming to those who think I am absolutely crazy thus: It’s a rush. A rush of absolute intensity. Even if you’ve been carefully acclimatising all year and having cold showers and regularly getting into cold water (much to the bemusement of my family, when I insisted in going in the sea while visiting over Christmas) it’s still a shock to the system. There’s a brief moment where nothing exists in the world – just you, floating, breathing, moving. You can’t speak or think, you just instinctively move forwards. For someone who’s often struggled with having *too many* thoughts going around in her head, a moment of absolute cold blankness is a moment of ice cold clarity and perfection. Once your senses return to you you then have the challenge of trying to swim that *little* bit further than you did last time. You aren’t competing with anyone else – just you, your own body, and nature. It’s been a revelation – to go from someone who wouldn’t swim in case other people were horrified by the sight of my thighs to posting pictures of myself on the internet in a swimming costume and googling for local swimming lessons.
As I climbed out of the water one of the ladies handed me a small cup of mulled wine. My swimming companions gathered around to witness my first drink. They gave me a little round of applause, and we all had a big hug and a jump around going “GO US! WE DID IT!” then realised we were fucking freezing and should probably, you know, put some clothes on.
The drink was ok. The experience of drinking it paled into comparison next to me swimming in 4 degree water. The mulled wine tasted…ok. It was underwhelming. It made me feel a bit sick. Suddenly giving up alcohol seemed less of an achievement compared to the swimming. My mind went back to a conversation with a friend at the New Year’s Eve party I’d attended where I’d made a comment without really thinking about it about my future not drinking. My friend and I both paused – realising what I’d said. “So, you’ve decided?” she asked. “I didn’t think I had” I replied, “But I guess subconsciously I already have.” I am not going to do another booze free year though. I know what it feels like to be a non drinker through stubborn bloody mindedness and a resolution. Now I want to find out what it means to be a non drinker through choice.
So, looking forward to 2015, what do I want to achieve? It worked for me last year, stating my intention and checking in regularly in public. So let’s give it a go.
- To keep writing weekly, and be braver in discussing issues important to me.
- To explore life as a non drinker. Not because I’m doing a year long experiment, but because I think life might genuinely be better.
- To get swimming lessons so I can swim further and faster and with more confidence – and to keep up the wild and all-year-round swimming
- To save money. I am absolutely hopeless with money – unlike probably anyone else who has ever given up alcohol I am no better off, I just have More Stuff. I have a savings account with £0 in it. By the end of the year I want that to either have an actual balance or to have some holiday photos to show for it.
- To cut out sugar. Again. I’ve not only fallen off the sugar wagon over Christmas – I fell off it into a sugar lake full of sugar fish singing sugar songs about how delicious sugar is. I felt great when I wasn’t eating it compulsively, and it’s terrifying how quickly the habit creeps back in.
- I want to be more active in campaigning; for safer cycling and for safe access to public spaces (and that includes the internet. It’s still a public space, albeit a virtual one.) for women.
- And, my old adversary, my Achilles heel and albatross. That sewing business. My sewing machine phobia is banished so there’s no more excuse. I need to get a sewing machine and just get on with it.
Wish me luck. 2015? Bring it on.