Life on the dry side
Some choose sobriety, some have sobriety thrust upon them. Ruth and I fall somewhere in between. After a bit of thrusting from increasingly savage hangovers, poor mental health, and bouts vengeful drinking, we eventually arrived at “choosing” the sobriety that seemed inevitable.
It's easy to take drinking as a given. So much of life revolves around drinking and if it doesn’t its soon made to. Any childhood game we once remembered from primary school has now turned into a drinking game at Uni or the fact whenever Roxanne by The Police comes on we feel compelled to spin around and gulp down our drink.
Apart from the start of the year when the dry life gets more attention in the cold light of the post-Christmas glut, we hardly ever consider sobriety to be a viable option. Even “Dry January” is bearable for most because it is just that: one month out of twelve, and towards the end of the month many welcome throwing off the shackles of the self-imposed detox.
We discovered that the sober life gives you a sense of control over your life. This is one of the best things about commiting to a longer-dry spell. We chose to drink on specific occasions for certain reasons, like having a glass of wine on the beach at New Year or a whiskey as a celebration for a new job, rather than drinking at every opportunity. Sobriety is the default option, and choosing to have a drink is just that: a choice.
So many things are dictated to us, and drinking culture gives us another set of social values about when we should drink (all the time) and how much (as much as you can hold, and then some). When sober is the default, it's easier to feel that you're drinking on your own terms, not just because it's just another night out, another after work drinks, another meet at the pub. There is a certain amount of empowerment in saying "no".
There's a kind of sweet relief in not feeling the pressure to drink. There's no internal conversation about how much you should drink, if you'll drink too much, if you'll make a fool of yourself, and if it will ruin plans for the next day.
I've decided, too, that there isn't enough time in the week to be hungover. Since quitting my unpaid position as a full-time drinker, I've realised that the weekend is quite a long time. Alcohol, like most drugs, really screws with your sense of time, so that the nights flash by in a blur, and the hangovers slow you right down to each slow pulse of headache and nausea. I'd finish work on Friday, get blitzed with Ruth and before we know it, it's 4am and I’m getting squashed by a drag queen in Canal street. Then we spend most of Saturday recovering and doing nothing, Sunday rolls around and I'm making lunch and ironing my trousers ready to go to work and the weekend is gone.
These are realisations we had once we arrived at the sober sting. The main reason for both of us to give up drinking is the toll it takes on your body and your head. Perhaps we're just getting old and slow, but I find that hangovers have become an extremely dark place and I'd rather not go there any more. We live in a moment which is saturated with memes about how we laugh off our horrendous British drinking culture, and joke about how we drink to cope. We're ready to overlook the punishment that we weekly mete out on ourselves. Both of us have woken up to the foggy, pulsing fallout from a night's drinking and felt a tight anxiety gripping our brains like a coffin. Eventually you realise, “maybe I don't have to keep doing this to myself”. We got on the sober band-wagon to save our heads.
Of course, sobriety isn't much fun if you take away the alcohol and don't put anything else in its place. And there is a belief that not drinking means not drinking but still doing everything you would do if you were drinking, like bopping around in a club with everyone else who's booze-addled. The novelty of going out sober wears off soon when you realise that most going out is designed to be done drunk, and get you drunker. That staple of Manchester student night life Fifth, for example, is barely tolerable when you're shot through with cheap whiskey, let alone if you're clean as a whistle.
Going sober, then, requires a certain amount of creativity. Either doing things that aren't so alcoholic like visiting the Curry Mile for a selection of teetotal evening establishments, Salsa, spoken word events, or experimental evening exhibitions. Basically things which don't involve standing in a dark room clutching your lime and soda and planning your Chesters order. You also have to get a bit imaginative with what you drink i.e. develop a taste for ginger beer and virgin mojitos. The idea isn't to cut out drink for a January detox, discover that life-minus-drink isn't up to much, and wait for February and the bottle to roll around. The plan is to work out something of an alternative so that not all of life revolves around drinking.
I remember once scrolling through Facebook and seeing that a friend had given up drinking for a month. "I've given up alcohol for a month", it went something like this, "to see the mental and physical health benefits and how it would improve my life. After one month of no drinking, I can conclude that there is no difference in my well-being, if anything I feel worse because I have to order a note coke at the bar or another passionfruit and strawberry J20. It didn't do anything for my social life or my health. I'm just as happy as when I drink as when I was sober, perhaps even better off."
Obviously it's not for everyone, but you don't know unless you try. It's one of those things where you need to put a couple of weeks behind you before you can really know what your drinking habits are actually like.
It's not that a drop of alcohol will never pass our lips again. Since giving it up for a period, we've see that life is a lot different without the sauce, better in some ways, and just plain different in others. Returning to the drink after a proper dry spell shows the whole experience for what it really is.
We're yet to see how it pans out in future, but for the moment it looks like we won't be drinking in the same volume or frequency as before, much to the dismay of Manchester's drinking estblishments.