I’m sat in front of my dressing table staring at my face. My eyes are big and watery, only one with mascara on, the other bare. My partner comes into the room to check on my progress asking how long it will be until I’m ready and I smile weakly and tell him it won’t be long. He leaves with a worried look and I continue staring into the mirror.
We are meant to be going out tonight. A social occasion where the drinks will be flowing and there are going to be people there I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see them because the last time we all interacted I got completely out of my mind wasted and made a scene. I haven’t seen them since and I know tonight won’t be any different. I can feel a pit in the hollow of my stomach that is a warning I’ve felt before and completely ignored.
I don’t want to go.
I’m not a good person.
I don’t want to go.
They won’t want me there.
Nobody ever wants me there.
I will ruin the night for everyone.
I feel ugly and awkward. My arms are too long and my hair won’t sit how I want it to. I can feel tears forming but I blink hard to keep them at bay. I know exactly what will happen. That pit is there for a reason and I know I shouldn’t go tonight, I know that if I drink it’s going to end badly because I feel bad, everything inside of my body is screaming at me not to do this. I want to take this dress off, and wipe my face clean and get into my pyjamas and cry and watch a film and not talk to anyone.
I ignore it.
Instead I put mascara on my second eye and allow my stomach to churn away.
I am quiet on the walk, my partner is animated trying to help my mood and I try and fake it to cover how I’m feeling.
When we arrive the group are sat shouting over the bar music at each other and smiling, drinks on the table and an air of the night having got off to a good start. They spy us coming in and wave us over. I can feel their eyes on me. I imagine what they are thinking. “Oh not her again”. “Why is she here?” I try and make myself look small, apologetic for existing.
My partner asks what I want and I order a Stella Artois with blackcurrant. My usual poison. The only way I am going to get through this is to not be present; I need to get drunk right now. I can’t stand my own thoughts and I don’t know how I am going to talk to these people, my friends.
I drink half my pint quickly and start to feel the warmth gradually wash the negative monologue away. When my partner is distracted I excuse myself to go to the toilet but instead I got to the bar and order a secret shot of Sambuca to hurry the process along. I’m too aware of myself and my thoughts still. It won’t be ok until I am drunk.
When I return I am well oiled. I have loud conversations, I gesticulate wildly and I am the biggest participator in any debates. I am sparkling. Look at me go. Eyes are on me and I have an acid tongue and quick wit. My social inhibitions stripped and a new version of myself born out of a shot glass.
I keep making secret trips to the bar to keep clarity at bay. And gradually I slip away from myself and become consumed in a black hole. There are vague flickers throughout.
Flicker; I’m crying. Flicker; I am on the floor and my knees are bloodied. Flicker; I am screaming at a friend. Flicker; I am telling secrets to strangers. Then I disappears into the darkness.
When I awake it’s with a jolt of pain and a dry mouth. I am on the spare room floor fully clothed and I have no idea how I got here. The contents of my handbag are all over the floor and my breath is fire.
My partner comes into the room with a look in his eyes. I have seen it before. I start to sob as he asks me what I remember which isn’t very much. He won’t say it but I know he is disappointed in me.
I wish I hadn’t gone out. I knew it was a mistake. The warning signs were all there I just don’t know how to listen to them. I should be able to go out and socialise with friends without doing this. Why don’t other people end up like this? What is wrong with me?
A small voice inside of me says “You need to stop drinking…you know you do” and I shake my head thinking “but why should I?”
..What is wrong with me?
Once upon a time I was a young girl with horrific social anxiety who just did not fit in. I didn’t fit in with peers at school, I was raised a Jehovah ’s Witness from a young age but I didn’t fit in with the other kids there either. Most of my time was spent in quiet, in my purple bedroom, reading books, writing in my journal, drawing pictures and carving out a world made from my imagination. I liked being alone in my own company. People weren’t my friends. I didn’t know how to have friends. I was the weird kid. I was the girl who didn’t have a Dad, I wore my hair in a side pony tail, had bushy eyebrows and I didn’t know how to talk to people.
Eventually after years of being home schooled my need for social companionship arose and I asked my Mum if I could go back into school. I did and it was hard, and I was still classed as an ‘odd’ girl but there was a desire in me to have friends. I did make friends eventually and I would do what most people do in their early teens and adjust and sculpt my personality so that I would be more ‘appealing’ to my peers. Not too drastically but I would lie or cover up certain aspects of my past in order to avoid awkward questions or to scare people away. I felt that some elements of my upbringing were shameful or unpleasant. So I hid them.
It wasn’t long before I started to lead a double life. A Jehovah’s Witness girl should be chaste, modest, not succumb to excesses of any kind. I was torn between my love of my parents and their wishes for me to remain within the religion and my own need to stretch myself out, to explore my burgeoning womanhood and to experience life without those limitations. I would lie and sneak out of the house to meet friends and drink beers in the park under summer night skies. I had my first boyfriend, who would help me explore my sexual side, who would delight in being my biggest secret.
Later when I was old enough to get away with looking old enough to drink, I would have a favourite pub. Me and my college friends would spend most of our weekends there and dance on tables, sing karaoke songs and my new boyfriend would insist I watch him win games of pool.
I found alcohol broke through some of those social insecurities that would still threaten to overwhelm me, where self-doubt and anxiety would whisper sour nothings in my ear. I could be bold and brash and loud and dance all night and not be that girl who was bound to the confines of her safe purple bedroom. I also didn’t know when to stop, throwing up as early as nine at night into gutters whilst the current boyfriend patted my back and waited for it to subside, whilst friends the following day would reassure me that it “happens to everyone”, binge drinking is cool. Being the girl that gets a little too wasted and lives to tell the tale, covered in thick eyeliner and shoeless walking through damp 4am streets, means you are really living. “You’re just making up for lost time babe”.
It wasn’t a problem. If it was a problem then everyone was guilty.
This phase spilled over into my twenties…and the alcohol excess became an everyday occurrence. I was the ‘yes’ girl; if there was a party, night out, or an excuse to drink I would be there. Whisky into lattes and drinking at 9am to recover from the come down of the night before. The party must not stop! I must always be having fun, or be seen to be having fun and that means drinking. All – of – the – time. I was stick thin and would forget to eat, choosing to suppress my appetite with alcohol instead, if I threw up halfway through the night it just meant there was room for more, not a reason to stop. I would wake up in strange houses surrounded by strangers and do the walk of shame proud to have another story to tell my more conservative friends.
The party can’t last forever though, and before long it became something I did because I didn’t know what else to do. Go from hangover to hangover and wait for the next thing to come along where I could lose myself. Pretty soon I lost all sense of worth as those who had left the party moved on to more substantial things in their lives…and I was left behind still trying to hold on to something empty.
After I decided to go sober one of my biggest obstacles was the uprising of social anxiety that came with the clarity. I would have full blown panic attacks at the thought of going out with friends and having to explain to them that I don’t drink anymore. How would they react? Would I be able to stay strong enough to abstain? How do I let go of my insecurities enough to enjoy life with a clear mind when most of my life has been clouded by booze.
In the beginning it was hard. Some people didn’t understand my reasons. I often had the sentence “but you’re so fun when you drink? Can you not just cut down?” or “Go on, just have a couple!” flung my way, as though my issues with alcohol had been blown out of proportion. A part of me believes those comments stem from a fear of putting their own habits under a microscope but that’s for another blog…
I learned how to listen to my mind and my body and say ‘no’ when I knew I would struggle with anxiety when asked to certain events or occasions. I didn’t want to say no to everything though and allow my social anxiety to rule over my life completely so as long as I felt up to it I did go out. I went out and every single time I got through a night and didn’t drink I would go home feeling stronger, feeling more and more like this would get easier. I started being more candid and open about my sobriety decision and about my struggles with anxiety and found that in being truthful and open people would be a lot more understanding and supportive. I stopped giving a crap about what others thought and started caring more about how I felt.
It felt good.
A big breakthrough came after a few months of sober nights out. I was in the darkest dirtiest nightclub in town. This was the kind of nightclub people claim they can’t enter unless completely wasted and here I was paying entry about to enter the belly of the beast; completely sober! It was my boyfriend’s birthday and this was where we were ending up. The first thing I realised was how badly the place smelt…it’s strange what passes your senses by when you’re tippled. I walked around and watched people dancing and shaking their hair with abandon and felt increasingly self-conscious.
They are going to know I am not like them. They’re all going to know I am not drunk.
My friends grab my hands and drag me to the dance floor and I start to dance whilst watching the people around me.
My limbs are stiff and I am hyper aware of everything. I must look so unnatural and the urge to start laughing is strong.
Eventually as some songs I actually like play, I loosen up, realising that not a single person here cares about me, or notices that I am not drunk like them. I feel elated when a drunk guy with no top on throws his arms around me yelling something unintelligible, which I interpret as drunken encouragement to enjoy the song. I feel elated. I am dancing with abandon. Nobody cares about me. Everyone here is treating me like I am drunk and I’m not. I am really, really sober. Look at me go!
I drive home because I can. My partner is drunk and throwing his slurry affection my way and in my chest my heart thumps as I realise I’ve made a major breakthrough. I’m not afraid of sobriety anymore. I can go out until 4am and dance and talk rubbish like any other person and still hold on to myself. This is huge. This is life changing. I can’t believe it.
I still can’t believe it.
I have had some amazing nights in this year of sobriety. And have noticed a huge difference in my anxiety levels. I’ve noticed I do still need some alone time, to have a ‘purple bedroom’ day and store up my energy for social occasions BUT I can have both. I can be both girls without losing myself.
….and it’s bloody magic.