One of the hardest things about giving up drinking is going to social events that revolve around alcohol. In retrospect, joining a load of Glaswegians to watch an Old Firm game just months after quitting was probably a bad idea. Nearly two years down the line I am still often shocked at how people behave when hammered, and never quite far away enough from it not to be able to imagine how the evening might seem from their perspective. The gap between the two (perception and reality) is nevertheless bigger than I ever bargained for when I stopped.
No time of year is this starker than at Christmas. Previous Christmases were an emotional and physical rollercoaster, spent sinking into gallons of booze, and plumbing the depths of hangovers. Some years, I would spend the day itself on the family sofa, ill and unable to move, while one year I recall doing the shopping on Christmas Eve while pausing to throw up on the pavement.
The euphoria of each party and night/day out was invariably followed by horrible, visceral attacks of loneliness. As a teenager and a young woman, I invariably was in a relationship with someone but we would spend the few days of Christmas itself with our respective families. The drunken texts and phone calls would take on a maudlin, then finally accusing, aggressive quality. Everything to do with drinking comes back to this enormous hole that must be filled at all costs, and sometimes the mistaken belief that the fulfilment lies in another person.
It was strange this Christmas Eve to be in a pub, full of shouting, staggering people, and to hear a woman in the adjacent toilet cubicle to mine having the same sort of conversation. “If you don’t want my company, you can just piss off,” she said, in that wasted voice which is both howlingly self-pitying yet somehow devoid of emotion at the same time. I recognised it instantly, and was torn between condemnation and the admission that I was every bit as bad as that in my glory days.
There is a belief among drunks, and to some extent, pervasive throughout our booze-fuelled culture, that what happens when under the influence is always excusable. Eaten your flatmate’s last chocolate when you came in from the pub? Had a liason with a married colleague at the Christmas party? Sent a self-pitying, abusive text? All is forgotten and forgiven, washed away by the landlord at the end of the night, if it was done in drink.
All this made me think with a sudden shame that the events in my life which were not so happy were often not, as I had believed, down to bad luck or any other issue, but largely created by alcohol. Those desperate Christmases, which I fled to another continent to escape, could all have been avoided.
A number of times at Christmas parties this year, I’ve had one drink just to fit in with the proceedings, but what started out as a difficult task ended up being much easier to stick to when I saw the behaviour of others. I know that might sound sanctimonious but I think it’s just the truth. I don’t know if it gets any easier not to drink when all around you are getting stuck in with abandon, but this reminder of my own Christmas past has definitely reinforced the decision.