After chatting to a friend this week I realised something. I’ve never had sex with someone, for the first time, when sober. As an introvert, alcohol was a refuge. To escape my anxiety and body image issues I retreated to ‘I’m too drunk to care’.
Even now at 35, the thought of sober first time sex is terrifying to me. There are many reasons I’m glad to be married but not having sober sex with new people and my husband’s compulsions around tidying are pretty high on the list.
I was a teen as online porn began to rear its head and soon our heads were filled with hairless, big breasted women who fucking loved being fucked. These were the expectations we faced. We were all disappointed. Boys disappointed that teenage girls didn’t look or act like porn stars, and girls disappointed that they were expected to look and act like porn stars. Alcohol tempered that disappointment and enabled us to perform.
Learning that alcohol really did have the power of ‘fuck it’ was the best (short term) and worst (long term) thing that could have happened to me. It enabled me to participate and engage with my peers but it also created an unfeeling foundation of willingness on which I built years of damaging sexual encounters. By the time it came to progress to further education, alcohol was an integral part of, not only my social life but my ability to interact with others.
Like many, university was where I really learned to drink. I have vivid memories of waiting impatiently at a bar, hating how it felt to be jostled, ordering ten vodka and cokes for a fiver. No need for my friends to extend gratitude, those drinks were all for me. When every party is a beach party or a foam party and the guy you are dating is a fuckboy (long before anyone even knew what a fuckboy was), being drunk is virtually mandatory. Plus, the three people who didn’t drink were ‘right boring bastards’ routinely left out of organised fun. It was government funded, exploratory binge drinking and I exclusively drank to get drunk.
In the years between university and becoming a young mum I didn’t really drink often but when I did it was socially and in copious amounts. When my first husband and I split, being a single mum really changed my relationship with alcohol. At first I didn’t drink much but I drank to fill time, to dull the acute sense of brewing internal chaos and to fill up the lonely spaces with something else. Evenings as a single mum can be tough and the lonelier I got the more alcohol I consumed. It also helped with the tiring world of online dating which seemed to consist mostly of post docs asking me to watch them masturbate. I’m alright thanks, Pal. Doesn’t seem worth my night off even with you offering to get my bus fare. I mean, just imagine being given £1.40 for the bus after watching someone wank. Anyone would need a drink after that.
When I met my second husband (not one of the aforementioned post docs) I still didn’t drink much but it was at this point that my financial situation changed. My husband had a good job and I started my photography business. We moved from wine with flavour fusions, to top tier Tesco wine to independent wine shops. We began to spend a lot of money on alcohol as well as broaden our tastes. I started saying ‘Rioja’ a lot.
Buying expensive wine from shops with fourteen kinds of Scottish craft beer and a man named Ashton who includes passionate, ten minute lectures with each purchase feels like an education. There is something incredibly grown up, responsible even, about drinking a £16 bottle of wine when you know the first name of the vintner. It was like drinking art and art can’t be bad for you.
In fact, my drinking was completely acceptable. It didn’t really stand out among the drinking habits of people around me and it looked great on social media. £16 bottles of wine on the regular, Joni Mitchell playing in the background, writing politically minded liberal posts, making drunken art purchases. I had to be in the running for poster child of ‘Acceptable Middle Class Drinking’.
Saying that, I did once live next to a group of people in their late twenties who got pissed and either sang along to hip hop, shouting the N-word every chance they got or drunk opera-ed along to ‘Nessun Dorma’.
Edinburgh Council Employee — ‘Could you describe to us exactly what the anti-social behaviour was, Mrs. De Garis?’
Me — ‘Well, they were absolutely butchering Nessun Dorma and you know, the good bit, the ‘All’alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!’ bit.
So, maybe they are the poster children for middle class drinking. And drunk white people.
The main reason I relied on drinking at this point was my home life. I am one half of a neurodiverse marriage. I am NT (neurotypical) and my husband is ND (neurodivergent, diagnosed with Aspergers) and although I accept and love him and all his flaws (love him, love his ‘Moneydashboard’), neurodiverse relationships can be really tough. Getting into that is a whole piece of writing in itself, so, for now, I will say that being the wife of a man with Aspergers can be many things, good things and bad things, and one of those things is lonely. I found the evenings particularly difficult, I’m sure he did too. For me this was exacerbated by the fact that I emptied everything I had into our kids, relationship and life and was never emotionally replenished. When I was drunk, I was able to put my basic needs aside. Clearly not a healthy coping mechanism but you can’t be damaged by your needs not being met if you don’t have any needs, amirite?
Ignoring my needs and focussing on the demands of our life was a recipe for disaster, and of course, disaster struck. After the birth of my second daughter postnatal depression hit me hard. I experienced what I would describe as a needs crisis and with nowhere to go with those needs my drinking reached tipping point.
Anxiety made every minute of my life feel like it was stretched to the limit. I wished my day away so I could acceptably buy wine post 5pm. Two bottles of wine from Sainsbury’s. One wouldn’t do because my husband wanted some and I definitely couldn’t make half a bottle work. I drank the first bottle before my husband got home. Opening the second bottle, I finally relaxed as my intrusive thoughts floated off on a sea of Pinot Gris. Little did they know, I planned to drown them.
The realisation that your drinking habit is becoming unmanageable is not always a profound one. You might look at your recycling and think, ‘Well, that’s going to be fucking heavy’ or ‘Maybe I wont take it to the bottle bank that’s directly in front of my house’. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because it’s fine, I’m fine, I’m doing ‘Dry January’ soon.
I never did ‘Dry January’ and I failed at ‘Dry weekend away’ and ‘Dry evening with my family’ and ‘Dry evening after my daughter’s birthday party at a soft play’ and ‘Dry rewatching a Netflix series’.
Cut to 2 years later and I often worried to myself about my drinking and I’d occasionally mention to friends that I needed to find new coping mechanisms. And that’s when I started to hate yoga.
I couldn’t find the time or energy to read a book or moisturise my face never mind take a fucking bikram class. In fact these sorts of suggestions felt deeply unhelpful. I often felt like a failure when people who, smiling and enthusiastic, suggested yoga like it was an easy fix.
Here’s an important PSA. Stop recommending yoga to everyone. You don’t even do yoga.
The reality was that just the thought of expending any kind of energy flattened me, and no wonder. Poor sleep quality meant that I was exhausted all the time and this wasn’t the only chronic health problem I was dealing with. I regularly experienced muscular weakness and pain, bloating, stomach aches, trouble digesting food and heightened allergies. In the end it was my declining physical health that finally pushed me to stop drinking.
I’ve experienced health issues all my life. I’m Hypothyroid, I have pretty bad allergies, my immune system is rubbish and my mental health has been exhaustingly up and down. Trust me, I’m used to not feeling great. In fact, I’m so used to it that once, when I had the Swine Flu and a 39 degree temperature, I still went out on New Year’s Eve (and had a great time!) because I figured it was just a cold. If my health scares me it’s probably something I should be concerned about. So when I began bleeding so heavily during menstruation that I was close to fainting, experiencing extreme weakness and had blood running down my legs ten minutes after changing my tampon and two pads, I got worried.
As I sat trapped in our bathroom I began googling all sorts of potentially awful health issues. A fine way to pass the ten minutes until I bled everywhere but a weak attempt to avoid the fact that I actually had a very good idea why this was happening. In the month before, due to incredibly stressful life circumstances, my drinking had escalated to dizzying new heights. I was drinking most days, two bottles of wine a night. Clearly my body couldn’t cope any more.
So, on the 27th of November 2018 I decided to stop drinking alcohol.
Although I knew this was absolutely the right decision, doubts quickly set in as questions without clear answers clouded my vision of sobriety.
What was I going to do with my evenings? How would I cope with stress? Could my neurodiverse marriage survive sobriety? And most importantly, was I about to join the ranks of ‘right boring bastards’ everywhere?