Day 29? That hardly seems possible. Tomorrow I will get my ONE MONTH NoMo chip – and again, in case I haven’t said it enough already, sobriety trackers are a fantastic thing and NoMo is a fantastic sobriety tracker – and I get to bask in the well-earned glow of a whole month un-drunk, un-hungover and un-low-key-self-loathing. (Usually I would run a mile at such smugness, but this weekend I’m actually pretty damn chuffed and wearing my sober happiness like a “nevertheless, she persisted” t-shirt. Fear not: normal levels of self-doubt and over-thinking will resume after the weekend.)
I’ve done sober months before…kinda. I mean, I’ve signed up to Dry January and Sober October…but I’ve always, always caved. Nothing makes me understand the phrase “dry drunk” than week three of a supposed sobriety month, where I’ve been white-knuckling through every day with the thought of drinking ever-present, counting down the days to the next time I’m “allowed” to drink and shunning social engagements like a passive-aggressive hermit. And every single time, on the weekend before the month elapsed, I have self-justified drinking again via a series of calculations that make this meme guy look rational and balanced.
What’s different this time? Well this time I’ve committed to a year. And that commitment means that drinking is, as an option, simply off the table. It seems to need far less mental energy. Am I drinking this month? No. Am I drinking next month? Also no. So rather than cursing the universe and clinging onto the hope of the next permissible drink like someone hanging onto a cliff-edge by their fingernails, I actually have to get on with my life and do stuff…just not the drinking part of stuff.
Instead of desperately counting down days, I’m counting upwards. I’m climbing away from my last drink, and, for now, I really like the way that feels.
It’s a bright, sunny bank holiday in the UK – a three day weekend, woohoo! – and yesterday B. and I went out for brunch at one of our favourite cafes. We were planning our time: some work needs to get done, we both need to blog, we’ve got some reading time, some walking in the sunshine time, gym, a swim… B. suddenly smiled and looked at me and said “you know, before…we’d have been drinking right now. We’d have ordered a celebratory bottle of cold white wine, and we’d have sacked off the going-to-the-gym plan. We’d have taken more wine home with us, watched crap on telly, woken up the next day feeling absolutely awful, given up on the prospect of exercising then too, because we were hungover, and then by 3pm we’d have convinced ourselves we needed hair of the dog… We would have wasted this weekend.”
And he’s absolutely right – we would have done. The combination of rare good weather and a three-day weekend seems to do crazy things to the UK. In this we are not alone – I have rarely seen a nation take to the notion of national holiday drinking the way the Aussies do, for example, and the Kiwis tended to view the long Easter weekend as an extended “how many Tuis can you sink by sundown” challenge – but we certainly seem to approach the time-off-plus-sunshine equation as an extended excuse for an alco-frenzy. You only need to look at the national supermarket TV adverts over the last few days, where the “big 4” have been relentlessly competing to offer the biggest bang for your bank holiday booze buck.
After the hard-sell, of course, comes the faux-outrage from the usual suspects.
I’m not going to link to the Sun, because I’m not evil, nor to the Daily Mail, because I’m not a self-hating psychopath who enjoys being told that all women are too fat, too slutty, too ugly and ugh, look, a female celebrity in clothes, let’s see how much we hate her today… but a cursory glance at the search results for “Bank holiday drinking” reveals the same story. Every single bank holiday, the Mail’s frothing hate-mongers are poised in gleeful anticipation in a series of northern towns and cities, cameras at the ready to capture photos of drunk people falling over, headline writers clutching their pearls and bemoaning the state of things, and text which can usually be boiled down to “look, we’ve found a chubby girl at 2am who’s fallen off her high heels and spilt her chips, what WOULD Princess Diana have thought?”
But look at this article from the Metro, from the last bank holiday weekend, promoting pile-em-high deals on alcohol which has been discounted by the leading supermarkets for the coming long weekend. Or look at this one, from the Mirror, with the headline “Sainsbury’s are bringing back their most popular wine deal – just in time for the bank holiday weekend”. Or this one, from the website Secret London, which posts a “listicle”-style piece in a tone which implies a universal understanding that everyone, but everyone, spends the whole weekend being faintly rueful about the fact that they will spend every second of it getting compulsorily leathered.
It’s a strange kind of doublethink, isn’t it? And it’s an insatiable, self-fulfilling drive which simultaneously fills column inches and keeps the checkouts ringing.
“QUICK, BUY ALCOHOL AND DRINK AS MUCH OF IT AS POSSIBLE!”
“OMG EVERYONE GOT VERY DRUNK, WHO COULD POSSIBLY HAVE FORESEEN THIS”
“HARDWORKING MUMS? IT’S ROSÉ TIME!”
“MIDDLE CLASS DRINKING: BRITAIN’S SECRET STRUGGLE”
“BARGAIN BOOZE FOR YOUR BANK HOLIDAY BBQ!”
“BRITAIN’S SHAME: WHY UK IS THE DRUNK MAN OF EUROPE.”
The supermarkets win. The advertisers win. The feigned-horror journalists win. Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch win. Do you know who doesn’t win? The girl we saw on the last bank holiday weekend, just a few paces from our front door, who was sobbing as she vomited what seemed to be pure gin onto the pavement at around 5pm, as her friends held her hair and tried to soothe her.
We were still drinking far too much ourselves, back then. But even we felt a pang of remorse. We went inside, almost certainly to open another bottle of wine ourselves, and I remember B. and I saying that the poor kid had basically just been doing what she had been told to do – she had embraced the sun with her best sundress, her mates, and a huge, huge helping of booze. And I’d bet you any money in the world that when she woke up the next day, with a pounding head and overcome by that awful, seedy, shameful feeling of having thrown her guts up in public, she would have felt that it was her fault. That somehow she had let herself down.
I’m glad to be sober today. I feel like I’ve escaped a trap. We are going for a walk in the sunshine, and later for a swim. A month ago, I would have felt anxious about not drinking this weekend: I’d have been full of the fear of missing out on the fun. Now…now I feel as though I’ve been manipulated into having someone else’s version of fun for far too long, and the more I think about exactly how I’ve been told that there is something compulsory about drinking on weekends like this, that it’s normal, that it’s what everyone does…and exactly who has been making very good money out of my drinking…and who has been judging me for doing it…and who has been encouraging me to think that it’s me, and not the prevailing culture, who has the problem…
Well that part is starting to make me really quite angry. I’m not going to let that feeling ruin my long weekend, but I am going to hold onto it, the next time I start to feel mournful about “not being allowed to drink.”
Getting pissed isn’t rebelling against the man, you know. Getting bloody sober…that may well be the baddest-ass thing you can do.