As a child I was brought up to see the adults in my family drinking responsibly. My parents would have a glass of wine with dinner, maybe a beer at the weekend, maybe something sparkling on new years eve. While no-one ever drank in excess, they never made me feel like alcohol was “off-limits”. I remember being allowed some wine with my meal from a relatively young age. I think in contrast to my friends whom alcohol was “banned” I didn’t go off the rails when I finally drank unsupervised. Not at first, at least. I always remember being fascinated with the heavier stuff. My parents had a bottle of Chintzano (something no-one even drinks and probably rightly so because it tasted vile) stashed away in their cupboard. I remember I would sneak swigs out of it (definitely was the sort of thing that needed to be mixed!) and tell my friends afterwards. I remember feeling giddy from the feeling of doing something wrong more so than feeling drunk! Then there were the days of alcopops; cute bottles filled with fruity, sugary, brightly coloured liquid that the companies swore were not aimed at teenagers. Hmmmm. WKD, Bacardi Breezers, Red Square, and many other titles that I would like to forget. I remember being drunk for the first time, wobbling around my friends house aged 13 after too many orange Bacardi Breezers on New Years Eve. Little did I know that would be minor in comparison to the alcohol I would consume and states I would get myself into later in life. In school, finding that one person with the “cool parents’ or older sister who could provide alcohol was like hitting gold.
I feel part of the reason why so many teens drink to the point of passing out is because to us, it feels like we’re in the middle of a draught. I wasn’t sure when I’d have another chance to get my hands on alcohol so I wanted to make sure I took advantage of the opportunity.
(The absence of hangovers also probably helped) I know for a fact that my experience with alcohol in school was incredibly tame in comparison to a lot of my friends. Hearing about someone getting their stomach pumped at the weekend or taken home by the police was pretty normal. Not to mention a whole heap of other things that I just don’t need to go into! From leaving school at 16 up until going to university at 20; alcohol played a huge role in mine and my friends social lives. I remember parties, pub visits and birthdays on the beach. Most of them were filled with home made cocktails, cheep bottles of wine and a large amount of peach shnaps and vodka. (Why was peach shnaps a thing? Was that just me and my friends?) Alcohol was ingrained into British youth culture at the time. With the rise of music festivals, 18-30 holidays and TV programs such as The Inbetweeners and Skins; alcohol (and other substances but thats a whole other kettle of fish) was everywhere. Social media was starting to take off and for the first time we had a real unfiltered look into the lives and weekend habits of others, this I’m presuming added to the obsession we had at the time with getting absolutely shitfaced. A lot of my friends went to university before me so I was around for many freshers weeks and student nights. And of course there were festivals coupled with the fact that most of us at this point were legal to drink. Somewhere in this haze of happy memories, I was starting to realise that alcohol wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. For a start, being 5ft and a size 6 means that I’m a huge lightweight! Also when going out, I was more pre-occupied with having a chat with someone over queuing at a bar and would go many nights on just one or two drinks. I’d had enough embarrassing moments by this point to know that alcohol just wasn’t worth it for me. I’d witnessed a few friends struggle with substance abuse and the feeling had started to creep in that we were just getting too old for this.
There comes a point that drinking like there’s no tomorrow stops being young and idealistic and starts heading towards a far darker place.
My darkest moments took place at university. I was experiencing a lot of undiagnosed anxiety; being a highly sensitive, introverted person (but not yet having this vocabulary or knowledge at the time) around a tonne of extroverted acting students at a drama school was a complete recipe for disaster for me. I drank to fill the awkward silences. I drank because I didn’t know what else to do with my hands, I drank because that meant I wouldn’t have to talk as much, I drank because I felt I needed to be there, like I couldn’t just go home and call it a night, I drank because I didn’t feel like there was an alternative. I’m sure many of you don’t need me to tell you but drinking when you’re not happy on the inside doesn’t usually bring your best self forward. There were nights were I was mean, bitter, jealous, emotional and over-dramatic. I said things I wish I could take back and took low swipes at my friends sore spots. I was mean to another girl over a boy I liked and rude to strangers and people just trying to help. I didn’t like myself when I was drunk. I wasn’t able to just have a good time. I’d often end up saying something I regretted or crying. If I didn’t do something embarrassing, I would shut myself off in my room anytime I felt I was “too drunk” to sleep it off and end up missing the majority of the party anyway. Uni was were I started weening myself off alcohol. It helped that I attended a drama school, on a course with a high workload. We didn’t really have a freshers week, uni was a 30-50 hour week, and the lessons were demanding. It took us all one attempt at doing a Body Conditioning class hungover to realise that this was not going to be your typical university experience. I was glad; the intense nature of the course was part of the reason why I had chosen it but that’s not to say that alcohol didn’t find a way in. It just wasn’t something we could do in the week and our weekends were usually reserved for drama school parties. (my soul hurts as I’m writing that as my brain flashes back to watching a tonne of 1st year actors drunkenly belt out songs from beauty and the beast…. NOT MY SCENE!) (Nothing wrong with that if you like it, but for me; very overwhelming.) After graduating, I had one final embarrassing “I’m drinking to avoid my social awkwardness” encounter and realised that enough was enough. I’d tried to clean up my diet and lifestyle a lot in the years that passed after uni and I was slowly getting more used to the fact that I didn’t like alcohol anymore. When I moved back home I got a 9-5 working for a charity. The people I worked with were amazing but there was a huge pub culture present that I had to learn to navigate. This really put my new lifestyle to the test and was probably one of the most tempting/hardest situations so far! I was new, I wanted to spend time with my co-workers and plus they made it seem so fun! There was a lot of travelling involved and alcohol really helped to spice up the sometimes three-hour commute with your co-workers at the end of a long day.
After a while, I eventually managed to strike a balance between sticking to my gut and not sucking the life out of a party.
I had managed to be around drunk people sober, stay non-judgemental and most of all stay fun. The people around me at this point were not only accepting, they were incredibly supportive too. This is why last year on my birthday I finally decided to go a full year without touching a drop. I was drinking very little at this point but I still drank occasionally. I wanted to cut it out of my life completely as drinking even a tiny bit seemed to negatively affect my health pretty instantly and I was no longer enjoying even just having one drink. Through the hen parties, weddings and family meals I’m proud to say that I made it. Was it as easy as I thought? No, there were still moments I found difficult. Sitting at a table for my friends birthday that was heaving under the weight of more bottles of red wine than plates was hard. I love the taste! Getting through a hen night was surprisingly easy thanks to the company of my also-sober-pregnant friend. Was there a moment where I thought I was going to cave? Yes but ultimately I’m so glad that I didn’t. So: what did I learn? That’s what you wanted to know right? I would say that if you got this far and are eager to know then maybe try it yourself. Try and give up anything for a year and see how it changes you. All I can tell you is how it’s been for me, in no way am I suggesting that the conclusions I came to will be part of your experience. Here goes…. Abstaining from alcohol and “going-out culture” in general has really allowed me to step more into the role of the observer. I’ve been able to look at alcohol (and our social lives for that matter) for what it is and really challenge some of the pre-concieved notions I had around drinking. If I’m honest in my years of “low alcohol” I used to be very judgemental towards people who chose to drink. I couldn’t understand why people would subject their body and mental health to that much of a battering and would roll my eyes anytime I’d have to walk down a bar-lined street at night. Since then my perceptions have changed massively.
I don’t think I’m any better, I certainly don’t think I’m more highly evolved and I really do see and appreciate the place alcohol has in our society to an extent.
Sometimes I feel like there is an air of superiority within the spiritual community. The rhetoric being that people who drink are less spiritually-evolved or “awake”. I believe this steers us into a belief that our experience with one substance will really be the same for others, which isn’t exactly true. I know tonnes of people who can still get lit at the weekend and at meditation class. It’s called balance. It’s called the human experience. It’s called living in western society where alcohol culture is at an all-time high and maybe not knowing how to engage with that while keeping your friends and not living like a hermit. Ultimately I like to reserve judgement towards my friends lifestyle) choices. (Unless of course, someone is causing a direct risk to themselves or others. I don’t believe that we should continue our relationship to alcohol in the same way as it currently is. I don’t believe that drinking should be used as a vice and of course I know I’m not the only one to stare in open-mouthed disbelief at the alcohol fuelled violence that takes place on our streets, or at the way addiction can seep into our family homes, tearing our units apart at the seams. Of course I wish there were more health warnings and that young people with developing minds were made to be aware of the effect drinking can have on our mental health. I wish there were more alternative activities around on Friday nights too. Overall, however, I don’t condemn drinking. I say if you have a healthy relationship to something then go for it. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions which can actually enhance our social dynamics. For that reason I really do see it’s place. The late Psalm Isadora said (quoting from another great herself)
“Anything in this world can be either medicine or poison”
– Psalm Isadora
I might decide to break my fast on my birthday by sipping a gin and elderflower or sparkly cocktail or two but I really don’t see myself ever incorporating alcohol back into my life in any serious way. I do believe that for the majority of us; we would be better off without it, our health would improve and our minds would probably remain a lot sharper. However I realise how difficult is it to navigate society and friendship groups should you distance yourself completely from drinking culture. For some people, this will work but others it may prove difficult. As well as my ups and downs, I have experienced so many funny memories and moments that served to bring my core group of friends closer together when we were younger. I miss that. One day as society evolves and we keep working on ourselves, I think we will be able to lose our inhibitions and deepen our friendships naturally, I think friends will be able to open up about the important stuff without the need for a glass of wine in hand and I think that 2008 holiday Lyndsay would have been able to kiss that boy first without the shot of tequila in her stomach but until then; I say drink if you want to but do it responsibly.