Just say no. Politely if you find that easier.
I’ve recently quit booze and couldn’t be happier, there have been actual tears of joy. It was all due to reading a book called Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker, which I can’t recommend enough. It was the first time I’d heard about how bad it is for you and just how much our culture tells us it’s a necessary part of life. Previously when I’d had detoxes or pregnancies I felt deprived, like I was missing out and it just wasn’t possible to have fun without it. This book told me that by drinking actually I was missing out on all the real good stuff, that if I needed to be buzzed to get through a situation then maybe I should just avoid that kind of situation.
When I quit 3 months ago the first time I was tested was on a date with my husband. Normally that involved going to lunch with him and wine. This time we went fishing! We found a beautiful spot on the river and, as it was autumn and a bit fresh we built a fire and sat down for a picnic. Panic set in, where is the wine?! And then, without wanting to sound smug, I just decided to enjoy all that was there. I swear I heard birdsong. I got really into tending to the fire, finding the right branches and snapping them. I went swimming. I really took it all in. If I’d had wine I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have been able to be present. I’d probably scroll through my phone or take photos or do all of the above but without really doing them, really feeling the warmth of the fire, the cold of the water, the sound of the birds and the stream. I know I sound irritating but it honestly was a much improved scenario. I tingled with joy. And I didn’t start to feel terrible a couple of hours later and wish the hours away before I could go to sleep. Bonus.
And there have been more and more of these experiences. Little daily things like reading at the end of the night, watching a movie without losing concentration and scrolling social media. Discovering the soft drinks page on menus!! I had no idea there even was one! You already know this probably, but I didn’t. The people I’ve told have been really supportive and wonderful. No one’s asked how much I was drinking before but perhaps they wondered. It was a few glasses a few nights a week, and then with lunch some weekends if we were out. Enough for me to feel tired and in this yuck cycle of not really wanting it but thinking I should because that’s how I relax at the end of the day and it’s something to look forward to except then my sleep’s all over the place and the next morning I’ll think I won’t drink tonight but then at the end of the day well that’s how I relax and it’s something to look forward to etc etc.
I rarely go out at night anymore because of my kids but when I did go out I’d have a few drinks and then increasingly I’d have this feeling of, is that it? Like, isn’t this supposed to make me have more fun, be more fun? And it had just stopped doing that.
When I lived in Mallorca a Scottish guy we knew bought me and my friends a round of tequila shots at the bar. Behind the bar was a French girl called Alex. The Scottish guy bought her a shot too and we all just necked the shots, except Alex, she just took a sip. The Scottish guy was outraged, “I’ve bought you a tequila!” he said. “You’ve got to down it!” Alex just gave a little laugh and said, “Fuck you. I sip it.” In her wonderful French accent. And I was blown away. I didn’t know you could sip tequila but more importantly I didn’t know you could do what you want. It was a real revelation. Because I’ve always been a people pleaser and it had never occurred to me to question whether I wanted that shot of tequila nor whether I could drink it how I please. From then on my friends would often say to me, be more like Alex, say Fuck you. I sip it.
It’s something I fully intend on teaching my daughters. I’ll just have to wait until I’m allowed to say fuck in front of them because the fuck part is really important. There should be a bit of a fuck off when someone tells you how to drink your drink, or do anything you don’t want to do.
This whole quitting alcohol thing has got me thinking about myself and who I am, why I do the things I do. Habits. And a memory popped up of going to a ritzy event with my parents when I was about 14. I had a nice dress and I even wore a bit of make-up. I remember my parents saying I looked like a young woman for the first time and it was exciting. We went to the ballroom where a few celebrities were milling about and my parents got talking to one actor from a show we all watched. I guess he was about 50, and clearly wasted. He put his arm around me and pulled me close to him as my parents were talking to him and I just remember the smell of booze on his breath and how he looked at me and feeling so uncomfortable, so terrified, so wanting the ground to swallow me whole. And I think my parents (they’re lovely by the way) picked up on that but they couldn’t stop it because… because why? Because he was off the telly and they didn’t want to be rude and better not to make a fuss.
Or there was the time when we were on holiday in Italy when I was 15 and I was walking ahead of my parents and a group of Italian boys started catcalling me. My dad walked over to them and I thought, oh my god, he’s going to tell them off. But instead he asked how much they wanted for me. As in, he was willing to sell me. Which sounds barbaric but I know what he was getting at, he wanted to diffuse the situation and make a joke and probably for them to like him. But what I wanted, needed, was for him to come to me rather than them, and hold my hand, because I was scared.
And then a last example because it’s kind of relevant to where I’m going with this, was when I was modelling as a child and at this one shoot, in the photograph I had to pretend I was about to take a bite out of a juicy peach. And I was starving and the lights were hot and I suddenly fainted. But rather than saying “that’s a wrap” when I came round I had to go again with the ‘about to take a bite out of the delicious juicy peach’ pose because they’d nearly got the shot. And I guess what I took away from that was, you have to do things you don’t want to do as a girl and what’s more, you’ve got to smile while you’re doing them.
I read an article recently on empaths and although the word makes me want to vomit I realised I am one. Sorry. It’s awful isn’t it, ooh look at me caring so much, feeling your feelings. God, shut up. But anyway that’s how it goes with me. I burst into tears when someone wins on Who Wants to be a Millionaire because I’m just so happy for them. I can’t watch the news because the suffering makes me feel sick, I can’t shake it, there’s just a big cloud over my mood because these awful things are happening to people. I was watching Bluey with my daughters last night and there was an act of goodwill and lo and behold I start blubbing. My 2 year old looked at me and started rubbing me on the back in a, there there you little nutter, kind of way.
And then this morning my 5 year old said “Sorry mummy, you’re hugging me too tight.” And it was just a wonderful moment as a mother because I’ve always told her to say no when she doesn’t like something and despite her being a sensitive kid who wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings, she told me she didn’t like it. Bloody clap emojis everywhere for her.
So anyway, I’m trying to get the balance right with my girls. Because yes of course I want them to be polite and kind and care about others, but I want them to care about themselves first.
So I’m not going to drink anymore because it’s no good for me, but if it isn’t an issue for you then all power to you. And to Alex, wherever you are in the world, I salute you and your wise words, Fuck you. I sip it.