Sober Cindies Anyone?
Only 12 per cent of British teens don’t drink. LOTTIE UNWIN tries to join their number.
Two weeks ago I gave up drinking. The reality of this is rather more shocking than a simple sentence containing seven words. Broken down, such a statement meant no alcohol, which meant no glass of wine with dinner, no bottle on a night out and no occasional pint in the pub. This meant my life was going to change, big time.
Such a change was certainly not by choice. No, this isn’t a horror story of my liver turning green, storing vodka under the bed and spending quality time with Alcoholics Anonymous, nor is it a glamorous tale of Hollywood detox diets, accompanied by sunrise yoga in Sweaty Betty and the quest for inner peace.
I had to take some antibiotics.
I am at heart still the shy little girl who took fright on stage in her Christmas Nativity and sobbed all the way through, but after a drink you’d never know it. The version of myself I present after the hours of about 9.30pm is entirely new. Possessions include a 12th issue of my bank card, a collection of single shoes (the pairs to which are never to be seen again), an array of painkillers and an assortment of mysterious bruises. The undertones of self-harm in that list are loud and clear – I know the dangers and idiocy of both binge drinking and regular drinking but still I go back for more. With a hangover on the last day of term that had me saying as I do at least three times a week, ‘I am never drinking again’, I decided it would be bloody good for me to pull the plug.
While a week in Cambridge would normally comprise nights starting in the corridor and ending slumped in a cab back down Hills Road, my London life has been entirely the opposite. I turned down party invitations with little faith that I could be any fun with orange juice. Instead I found myself being an unnervingly good daughter and running a babysitting empire, insisting that staying in really was the new going out. I had come to believe that I was a special creature who became tongue-tied after dark, if not saved by the magical winey potion.
Then, one evening, I braved the pub. And funnily enough, I discovered that I don’t actually live in The Enchanted Forest nor am I an alcoholic. In fact, I had fun. Good, honest, sober fun… until we went on to a club and dancing left me feeling as uncomfortable as being naked in a lecture would. A friend proclaimed she ‘loved me sober’, but in fact what she loved was watching me in agony, in the same way someone slipping on a banana skin is funny – essentially you feel relief that it didn’t happen to you.
While I had expected to feel smugly superior observing how stupid all the drunk people looked, they had found a happy medium and I envied their confidence. I set off home early with a full wallet for an unusually profound trip on the night bus, thinking about more than just not falling asleep. A survey done in March 2009 found that only 12 per cent of British teens could claim not to drink; becoming one of their number felt strange, even lonely.
My daytime existence as a good spirited domestic goddess blossomed, while by night I tried not to yawn and make to-do lists in the pub. Only a week after I started, at a dinner party of drunk people I didn’t know, sitting next to a medical student who reassured me (knowing it was what I passionately wanted to hear) that I wouldn’t keel over, I had a glass of wine. Fuck it, I had a fair few. “Alcohol only makes antibiotics less effective”, the medic had promised, and I can now vouch that antibiotics makes alcohol a whole lot more effective. I was given a sudden reminder of that awful feeling when you know you’re embarrassing yourself and the next day, of just how awful drinking makes you feel. While I managed the last sober seven days no problem, with the last pill popped I grimly acknowledged how much it was going to take to change my habits. I was back at the bar and my dignity was back cowering in his corner.
I have adored not having the residual hangover fuzz at the back of my head, but I didn’t find anything like the fun to fuel my appetite for the next night out. If the two weeks were never to end, I would have to concede celibacy, buy some water-colour pencils and settle down for a quiet life in the Lake District. I have enormous respect and envy for anyone that can have fun sober and I will certainly be drinking less. I have well and truly learnt my limits – at one extreme, how awful drunks can be, and at the other, well, let’s just say that I will never be the kind of girl that can call Cindies ‘a good night’ if the back of the toilet door isn’t a bit blurry. As that most unpromising of expressions goes, it’s all about moderation – although someone needs to come up with a better phrase!