So far the best thing about 2018 is that Christmas is OVER.
I don’t spend too much time writing about my sobriety anymore. Twenty months is a long time, I try not to dwell on it and I’m not sure how genuinely interested people really are. Trouble with talking or reading about any kind of abstinence is that it draws attention to whatever your ‘habit’ is, most people have one and no they don’t like it.
This Christmas has got me thinking. Having left the hospitality trade I am no longer faced with alcohol every day as I was in my first year and a half so the week surrounding Christmas was a strange yet familiar glimpse back into the window of the past. I am absolutely more sensitive to being around alcohol, drugs and any related behaviour now. Like a sniffer dog my skills are honed to spot the slightest trace.
It’s weird being sober at Christmas. People drink more than usual, there are more drinks, more hangovers, more excuses to go down the pub. It feels alien and is not something I ever did until my first Christmas following my choice to give up drink, drugs and fags in 2016. This oddness is magnified by the fact that simply everyone is drinking all of the time. This brings on the inevitable self debate. Can you not just have ONE GLASS??? A drop of Baileys won’t hurt!! Just one Mulled Wine?!? Come on come to the PUB!!
Ah the pub. The place I spent most of my adult life that now seems so daunting, so difficult yet still seductive. Like a damaging relationship you just can’t let go of because the good bits are so good. It is this internal conversation that makes me leave work in a flash when everyone’s going for a drink, turn down party invitations and be in bed before 11 on New Years Eve and there’s very little anyone else can do about it. To be fair to myself this is only my second time but interestingly I seem to be noticing all new things this year. The hint of Brandy in a Mince Pie, the Bucks Fizz at brunch, the man jogging past trailing that unmistakable stench of alcohol sweat.
All of this can make staying sober, particularly in December, not only much more difficult than the other eleven months but a little more isolating. Mainly because my way of dealing with the onslaught of alcohol is to go home and lock myself in my single bedsit with lots of tea and chocolate. I have opted out of AA and NA on a regular basis as I found the constant focus on looking back at past behaviour, which inevitably means mistakes, unhelpful. I am well aware of the behaviour I do not wish to repeat and do not find competing in a who’s who of ‘I’m the biggest shitebag’ with a circle of strangers particularly positive or life-affirming. Instead I have chosen to work on my own repetitive thought patterns with exercise and meditation, to plunge into my career and write stuff. However one drawback of not attending regular meetings means that I don’t spend a lot of time with other addicts. I’ve also started to notice the other people I do talk to about sobriety want to talk about their sobriety. Not mine.
Being around regular drinkers again presents it’s own challenges if not only the fact that since quitting the bar trade I am not as used to other peoples consumption as I was. Regular drinkers have a habit of pretending or believing that only a really massive amount of alcohol actually affects them possibly due to the fact that they are no longer aware of these changes in themselves. We seem to drink to try and stay sober; bragging about the amount we can drink, pretending we never feel the effects especially after throwing up in the toilet and utterly ripping into our friends (and refusing service at the bar) when they get ‘too drunk’. And that mildly ill, tired feeling on a day to day basis is attributed to work and stress instead of the alcoholic drinks we regularly consume. When you are sober (and by sober I mean for let’s say more than a year) you are painfully aware of every tiny hint of alteration in personality, speech and movement even in people that have maybe had a glass or two.
Yes it affects everyone. Even you. Trust me.
When I think back to my own habits I was never a drinker who sometimes wouldn’t drink unless around my family which is strange behaviour in itself as my family are drinkers. If at a party or a pub or club I would sometimes come across friends who weren’t drinking or were only having one for whatever reason. This was a skill that I fundamentally lacked always having a drink no matter how much worse that drink would make me feel regardless of tiredness, hangover or illness. Similarly this compulsion arose with my weed smoking; possibly my most addictive, dangerous and longest habit of all. I would be full on ill with stomach bug or chest infection and still smoke. It definitely did not make me feel better and I knew it yet I could not stop. If someone offered me pills, powders or magic potions I was in. I couldn’t say no. I remember desperately trying to force cocaine up my lesser blocked nostril on several occasions, I mean how do you say no to a line of coke, right?
It is this behaviour I find most upsetting to watch although I know from experience there is no way of holding up the mirror. We dislike the behaviours and people that remind us of ourselves the most. Watching a glass of wine being poured as soon as the hour becomes ‘acceptable’. Voices slurring, heads bobbing, eyes closing. The added edge that comes with that first cheeky line.
This is something maybe we can only ever see in ourselves and potentially rectify when we are ready. For some this will never happen, for others it will come too late. Then there’s the cocky cunts like myself who managed to stop before something really terrible happened constantly being asked to explain, prove or justify our sober life choice.
It was a level of destructive compulsion and an awareness of it in my own behaviour that drove me to the decision to no longer use drugs or alcohol anymore. For the record I class them as the same having lived through and witnessed the effects of both I can categorically tell you they are equally harmful regardless of what is classified as legal or socially acceptable. Some find it more comfortable to identify their own compulsive behaviour or addiction to only one substance; I’ve met alcoholics that use cocaine but abstain from alcohol and coke heads who claim that alcohol and weed is fine for them. My experience of this is that that behaviour will eventually come back to haunt you no matter what order you give stuff up in but, hey, maybe that’s just me.
Finding my feet in a party, pub or social situation without alcohol or drugs when they are present is still new to me. Yes twenty months is a long time but twenty years is longer. I struggled this Christmas to not take it personally when people were drinking around me, my thought patterns trying to somehow make it bad, blame others for my choices and turn it into their lack of sensitivity. The reality is that I have chosen to make a change to my life and no one owes me anything for that. Not only do I have to work on my own acceptance of that decision but I have to learn to deal with the fact that not everyone has to change with me. People will still drink and smoke and take drugs. It’s my choice not to and that has nothing to do with anyone else. Yes I wish I could take drugs and drink without any negative effects at all, without it changing my personality and behaviour; I didn’t stop because I don’t like them!
Days can pass without a thought entering my head about sobriety then all of a sudden every second is a battle. Often this is to do with the thoughts I allow to dominate my mind and how much energy I give to them. Christmas this year has been a challenge but I’m pleased to say that most of the time I was able to let go of the negative thoughts criticising the people around me (and their habits) and enjoy the many more positive things surrounding me instead.
Sobriety is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving. For me it is a marathon, not a sprint. A river, not a lake. A continuous journey and not a destination.
And it’s fucking amazing waking up without a hangover on Christmas Day.
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com