If this tale began like a made-for-tv movie drama, pitching in at the start with the grisly moment of horror around which the rest of the story will unfold, then it would have to begin with a close up of me in my flat around 2am, having just stumbled from a Halloween party, eating a messy slice of some kind of junk food with one hand, while holding the other hand, covered in blood, carefully away from my food. Also I would be wearing a bird costume. And very drunk.
Ah, the bad old days. This was me last year – and look at me now! Still covered in blood and in my bird costume! (Alright, I’m not either of those things. My hand has recovered. It was a small cut inflicted while cooking drunkenly. I was fairly melodramatic about it, is all.)
It was quite a while after this low point, after many a party I didn’t see the end of, and after some disgracefully unserious behaviour during Alien Wars after a night of free prosecco (slurring sarcastically: ‘OH MY GOD YOU GUYS AN ALIEN’, ruining it for everyone) that I finally reached the conclusion that I needed to stop drinking for a while. Surprisingly, I managed to stick to the promise I made to myself, and I am now approaching The End Point of my 6 months without booze. And my goodness, I’m glad. I’m glad that I’m going to be drinking again, obviously, because whisky. But I’m also so enormously glad that I managed this little trip through the other, stone-cold sober kind of life. Annoyingly, it’s better. (I know, 18-year-old me is disbelieving).
What really prompted me was not the blood-soaked bird costume mayhem, nor the spectacle I made as I lurched merrily across dance-floors here, there and everywhere. Because these things are, frankly, no big deal, and actually, dancing is always fun, especially when done badly. The real issue, which I was loath to admit to myself for some time, was that I was terrible at socialising. All that eye contact and talking coherently, while trying to dampen down my own inner hysteria. If I had a drink in my hand, I was slightly calmer, and could have a shot at all that ‘being social’ stuff everyone is so good at. Without a drink in my hand, it was Nil Point. I couldn’t do it. I ran into the arms of the nearest mojito.
The last time I drank, I was sitting with some people I knew well, all of us hungover from the night before. I was drearily downing pints as we went from one pub to another, without so much as a flicker of enthusiasm. I know not every night is going to be fireworks and sexy parties, but this was just flat, and it wasn’t the fault of anyone else there. I was already getting pretty sick of feeling bogged down by the booze; the sticky hangovers, the cancelled plans, the bleary eyed 2pm wake-up calls. Then there was this night: a nice night. Not a night of feeling panicky about Meeting New People. And yet, I still drank a lot. I wasn’t a whole lot of fun. I finally realised that it was quite possible the booze was not the answer to my intense fear of socialising. It was the problem.
So I gave up. I set myself the goal of 6 months, because facing a life of sobriety wasn’t something I really wanted to do. Actually, what I really wanted was to be able to drink like an adult (by which I mean, a French person) in moderation, because it was fun and good, and if there was no alcohol to hand, I wanted that to be ok, too. My mission commenced.
I’ve already posted about my first discoveries in the land without drink: feeling healthier, sleeping a lot more, decided I was just going to dance sober (to PJ and Duncan). Saturday mornings being a thing. Oh, and that I suddenly had a lot more shoe money in my shoe budget. But to get down to the nitty gritty: the actual looking-people-in-the-eye-and-making-sense bit. The first couple of times I ventured out to a party was like jumping into the sea when you know it’s going to be icy. It was scary, it would hurt, but damn it, I had to do it. I got ready, put on a dress and fluffed myself up and tried out lipstick and took it off again like I usually did, all the while filled with dread. But I had to do it.
By far the most ridiculous thing I’ve found out about myself occurred around this time. I went to the party and guess what? The party was good. As soon as I got talking to people, I was too distracted to remember that I was supposed to be feeling all panicky. I actually forgot. I even forgot that there was any difference between my sober brain and everyone else’s slightly tipsy brain. We were all just enjoying ourselves.
I went to more nights-out and the anxiety sometimes drummed up and sometimes it didn’t. Whatever happened, I just had to get on with it. I like meeting people and hearing what they have to say, and eventually, as each night wore on, that became all there was to it. Other people: way more exciting and fun than what’s going on inside your own brain.
I guess what we can conclude here is that it takes me a really long time to understand the most basic concepts. Like: I’m not actually that afraid of socialising. I’ve thought this over, and I think what it comes down to is that I made a choice at about the age of 15 that I wouldn’t ever do this terrifying socialising malarkey without the magical assistance of alcohol. I thought that if I drank enough, I could obliterate the feelings of shyness. And I just stuck with that. But the decisions we make at the age of 15 are without exception, AWFUL. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing at that age. And that’s fine. That’s what being 15 is all about. At the age of 27, it was time to re-assess this plan, because it wasn’t working anymore. Probably because I’ve grown up (slightly), and I’ve realised that you can’t actually obliterate a feeling; you just have to live alongside it. Once I accepted that I would probably be a nervous wreck when in polite company, it all started to seem like it was ok. Parties are not job interviews. Nobody actually cares. I’ll be the one laughing hysterically at whatever vaguely funny thing you say. And that’s ok.
Rather heart-warmingly, every single person that I discussed my 6-month sobriety with was all curious and interested, and also, many of them were all like ‘but you’re not giving it up FOREVER, right?’ That came from my parents, my doctor, and some good pals. Which makes me think I’m probably not a candidate for rehab anytime soon. All the feelings I had about booze and the need for drastic action, are, really, but a tiny speckle in the context of my life and the world out there beyond my brain. The other discovery I made was that everyone I discussed my mad panicky shyness with responded with ‘so… you’re just like everyone else, then?’ The whole world is wild at heart and weird on top (credit to David Lynch) and everyone, but everyone, kindly let me in on the secret that they feel a bit anxious too. Like I said, it just takes me a really long time to figure things out sometimes.
Lastly: a confession. Me and my mum hatched a plan while we were soaking up the sun on the amber coast of Poland this summer, which was for me to have a sneaky ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ and enjoy a drink, just the one, just to see. So I sat by the riverside in Gdansk under a parasol and enjoyed the buzz of one cold beer. It was supremely lovely. The bird costume may be consigned to the great recycling plant in heaven, but when I start drinking again for realzy, I’m beginning the night with a trip to the rollerdisco. One icy beer in the sunshine and a rollerdisco party: this is the fun I imagine all the French people routinely enjoy. Joie de vivre, and all that.