Like many British millennials, the best part of my teenage years were spent in dingy bedrooms and sweaty nightclubs listening to music that my parents didn’t understand and drinking as much cheap alcohol as I could lay my hands on. From the age of 14 right up until I started university in my mid-twenties, most weekends and even some week nights were dedicated to getting drunk. For a fair few years drinking proved a fun and carefree pastime. In fact, nothing will ever compare to the contentment I used to feel on those lazy post-binge days when I’d spend hours snuggled up with my mates in blankets drinking tea, eating dirty pizza, and watching endless crap on TV. The hangovers we endured weren’t pretty, of course. But the sense of comfort and belonging that we found in each other’s company made the pain and the sickness seem completely worthwhile.
With alcohol being such a big part of my life throughout my early adolescence, I can’t help thinking now about why I was so drawn to drinking in the first place. As someone who’s always felt uncomfortable socialising in big groups, maintaining friendships and forging new ones has always been a slightly tricky affair. One of the benefits of drinking alcohol when I was growing up was that it gave me the confidence, albeit fleeting, to talk to people and let loose on the dance floor without feeling self-conscious. Getting drunk was also useful when it came to becoming sexually active, endowing me with the courage to flirt and have sex without feeling embarrassed or ashamed of my body. Meeting friends at the pub after a busy shift at work was something to look forward to, and the ritual of going out on a Friday or Saturday night helped to make the responsibilities of adult life feel a little less difficult and serious.
Thinking about all of the fun times I had and great friends I made throughout my heavy drinking days, it’s easy to look back on my teenage years with fondness and nostalgia. But ignoring the dark times just wouldn’t be honest. And dark times there certainly were.
Immediately springing to mind is the time that I gave myself alcohol poisoning after drinking six cans of Special Brew (more commonly seen in the hands of homeless alcoholics) and spent the whole week afterwards feeling like my insides were being squeezed through a mangle, convinced that I’d eaten a dodgy kebab. Coming in at number one in the regretful memory charts, though, is the night that I drank so much cider that I ended up passed out in the street after leaving my friends at a party and had to be chaperoned to my doorstep by the police. Bragging to my friends the following day about how I’d been sick out of the police car window on the way home proved pretty funny at the time. But looking back I can only cringe with embarrassment at the thought of how inebriated I was.
The ritual of going out on a Friday or Saturday night helped to make the responsibilities of adult life seem a little less difficult and serious.
For years my weekends were spent binging on whatever booze I could afford – from cheap white cider in the early days, to wine and gin more recently – and not without consequence to my mental and physical health. As well as suffering from recurring kidney infections and bouts of depression and anxiety throughout my twenties, in 2012 I was diagnosed with thyroid disease – a common condition that has links to alcohol abuse (Forefront Health), and one that has seriously affected my overall health and self-esteem. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if I would have developed the condition if I’d drank less or abstained from alcohol altogether, but this doesn’t stop me wondering whether it’s something that could have been avoided.
Health issues aside, the other problem that I’m faced with now as someone who’s chosen to cut heavy drinking out of my life as much as possible is alienation from certain social activities and a general feeling of impending doom in most, if not all, social gatherings. I can recall many birthday parties, festivals, and events that I’ve taken great pains to avoid over the last few years, not because I don’t want to spend time with my friends or let my hair down, but because it’s no fun being the only sober person at the party, especially when introversion is involved.
Thinking about my personal experience, it’s easy to understand why so many people continue to go out and get pissed even when they don’t really want to. Drinking alcohol and getting drunk is such a big part of British culture and so vital to so much of our social behaviour that choosing not to do it can make you feel pretty boring, not to mention awkward when faced with making conversation without that all important dose of Dutch courage. In my case, abandoning heavy drinking has led me to lose a large part of my social life. Friday night down the pub springs to mind as one example.
But as much as cutting down on booze has had what often feels like a negative impact on my social life and caused me to feel like an outsider in my own friendship group at times, I have no desire to return to how I used to be. Some of the best experiences of my life have involved either getting drunk or being hungover with people that I love and care deeply about. But useful as alcohol is for breaking down social barriers and helping us get to know each other more intimately, true friends and dedicated lovers will always make an effort to put the hard work in, regardless of any awkwardness that sobriety may bring. For all of the spectacular parties I’ve been to and all of the incredible people I’ve met over the years, feeling safe, physically healthy, and mentally stable is worth far more to me now than any fun night out.
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