‘I Never Questioned If I Actually Enjoyed Alcohol – Until I Gave Up’

As Sober October continues, Olivia Foster – who gave up alcohol at the beginning of the year – asks why more of us don’t question our relationship with booze….

Stop drinking

by Olivia Foster |
Published on

I remember the first time I drank. I was 14 and it was my friend Annie’s* birthday. The drink was vodka, bought by a friend’s older brother and snuck into her parent’s summer house. The taste? Awful. The feeling? Even worse. And, two hours after downing what probably amounted to five doubles, I found myself laying on a bunkbed, wasted. On the sofa opposite I watched through blurred vision as two friends carried out a slurred conversation about how if they pushed their eyes in a certain way, they would make a clicking noise. ‘I’m going to die and this will be the last thing I’ll hear,’ I thought, unable to move for the waves of nausea washing over me.

I can still vividly remember the feeling the next day as I sat morose and unmoving at the kitchen counter trying to eat a bowl of pasta – knowing that from start to finish there had been nothing enjoyable about the experience. But, like most teenagers, I put the story in my back pocket and carried on drinking. At college, Lambrini and £1 shots at sticky floored nightclubs, at University, 3-for-£10 bottles of wine, when I started working in magazine journalism it was prosecco smuggled into the office and any free cocktail I could get my hands on. More recently, in lockdown, whatever was left in my booze cupboard on hours long zoom calls.

Everyone I knew drank like this; in abundance and without thinking. We were always up for ‘just one more.’ And often it was fun; friends were made and memories created that still have the power to double me over in laughter a decade later. But there was another side; the hangovers, the fear, the questionable stories I may, or may not, have repeated 17 times over. The bad days where I’d use alcohol to drown out a break up, or a long day at work, despite the little voice in the back of my mind that knew it would only make my already existing anxiety worse. My drinking wasn’t always problematic, but when it was, it was a problem.

Even still, for the majority of my adult life, I never stopped to truly question if I really enjoyed the experience of drinking alcohol. I was on autopilot, walking myself to a bar week after week, ordering another bottle of Pinot Grigio, and never asking why.

Is it any wonder though? Britain’s obsession with booze is well-documented. When I was making my first forays into drinking, ladette culture was in full swing, as I got older a shift told me it was cultured to drink wine with my friends. People who were sober in the public eye were painted as out of control addicts, forced to give up. There was an overriding message that you should be able to drink and enjoy it, and if you couldn’t – you were the problem. Alcohol is, at the end of the day, a socially acceptable drug that our country thrives on – from pub culture, to wine memes.

'It's difficult to comprehend the ways in which my life has changed for the better.'

But towards the end of last year something changed for me. After the booze-fuelled lockdown, followed by equally booze-fuelled catch ups when the world opened up again, my mind and body were tired. I started to ask myself if alcohol was really making me happy – as I dug a little deeper, I realised the answer was no. I didn’t like myself when I drank and I hated the hangovers. So, why was I doing it? There is no simple answer really, other than to say that in a world where everyone around you drinks it can feel easier to keep going than to stop.

In the end I gave up under the guise of ‘dry January,’ but knowing I wanted to carry on long beyond January 31st and it’s difficult to comprehend the ways in which my life has changed for the better since then. I have more energy. I’m more productive. I care so much less. I don’t spend my evenings worrying if I’m having fun, or if other people are.

I live so much more in the moment that sometimes it takes my breath away how little of existence I was truly experiencing when life was blurred by three large glasses of white wine. I don’t burden myself with the responsibility of worrying if people like me, or wake up with an overriding anxiety they don’t. My confidence has skyrocketed. I’ve stayed out later, danced more and laughed more than I ever did when I needed to end the night prematurely to go and eat a McDonalds in bed.

A few months in I wrote a list of all the positives I’ve experienced, it ranges from ‘brighter skin,’ to ‘better sleep,’ ‘improved conversations with friends,’ to ‘feeling more educated about alcohol,’ but there’s one that really sticks out to me: ‘My head feels lighter, like a space has been cleared for my thoughts.’ When people drink regularly there’s a chance they may always feel a little bit bad, not bad enough to be able to put your finger on it, but rough around the edges. When I stopped drinking – and the hangovers were gone – it suddenly felt like I had all this freedom to think.

I’m not alone in questioning my relationship with alcohol. Dry January and Sober October allow people the chance to take a break, and more and more younger people are abstaining before they’ve even started with more than 30% of young people in England choosing not to drink at all. Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen have opened up about giving up, influencers like Millie Gooch of the Sober Girl Society discuss sober life, and there are brilliant books like Holly Whitaker’s Quit Like A Woman for people who are thinking of saying goodbye to booze. More often than not when I tell people I don’t drink they confide that they’d like to cut down and many mention they’d like to quit altogether. And while I’m not saying everyone should give up alcohol, that’s not my place, what I am saying is this - if you’re resonating with any of the above, then maybe it's time to ask yourself those difficult questions. Because life really isn’t that bad alcohol free…

READ MORE: Is It Time You Went ‘Sober Curious’?

READ MORE:Mindful Drinking: The New Way To Socialise

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