Why Sobriety Makes Me a Better Human

I began regularly drinking at the tender age of 14. I recall having some wine at Christmas time way before that, but I vividly remember alcohol becoming a staple part of my weekly routine from 14 years old. Unfortunately, I’m not talking a couple of WKDs or Smirnoff Ice. It somehow got very heavy, very quickly.

The Friday night would always be the same. I would take two of my dad’s beers from the fridge at home and my mum would be none the wiser of my plans as I’d assured her that two 4% beers were safe and that I’d be responsible (sorry mum). My friends would also grab anything they could from their homes, and then we’d meet in the forest and share and mix drinks and get as blackout drunk as we possibly could. Occasionally, we’d bleed our parents’ fridges dry, and so we’d have to do the dance of hanging around outside a shop until we found someone who looked ‘cool’ enough to ask them to buy us whatever was cheapest with the highest alcohol content, with the £2s we’d each chipped in. It would usually be bottles of rosé, but once I’d abused that to the point I couldn’t stomach even the smell anymore, I moved onto an entire bottle of apple sour shots to myself, drinking from the bottle until it was empty. Sometimes it was a 2 litre bottle of Strongbow, occasionally a bottle of the cheapest vodka we could find, and one time we’d squirrelled away my friend’s mum’s bottle of brandy. We’d all tell our parents that we were staying at another friend’s, and then sit in the forest until 6am drinking. We’d be sitting in science on a Friday at 3pm, and then 4 hours later be necking drinks in a field.

I often get a scary flashback of one night in particular. My friends and I had got our hands on some K Cider. (For anyone who is unfamiliar with this, it is the most repulsive beverage you could possibly put into your body. It is extremely cheap, has an alcohol strength of 7.5%, and you will usually find a dishevelled looking person sitting on the floor outside a shop asking for change drinking this exact drink). After a ‘long week’ at school, I was ready to let my hair down and go wild. (Looking back through my sober eyes and lots of growth and reflection of my younger self, my heart breaks for this girl). In my pursuit of celebrating that ‘Friday Feeling’, I drank two cans of K Cider in less than an hour. Safe to say, I blacked out and threw up everywhere outside of my friend’s house in a very public street. It shocks me to know that there must have been passers-by who saw a 14 year old girl still in her school uniform, absolutely blackout drunk and completely unable to function anymore, and just carried on walking. I never had a single sip of K Cider again.

Sadly, this is not a unique story. I have hundreds more like it that continued until I was 27 and decided to quit drinking for good. Like the time I went into the strip club with my friend to see what it was all about, and came out 6 hours later AFTER the strippers were leaving with their eyelashes off and Ugg boots on. Or the times I would pass out on the last train from Liverpool St to Southend blackout drunk with my headphones in at 1am. Or the time I microwaved the dog’s dinner for a drunken snack instead of the plate of food my mum had left in the fridge for me (luckily my mum woke up after hearing me bang around in the kitchen at 3am and stopped me from eating it). Or the time I woke up with a mouthful of BigMac in my mouth after passing out eating McDonalds. Like a cat, I’ve had nine lives, and I have absolutely no idea how I lived to tell the tale of half of my stories.

The worst part about my teenage stories is that this is extremely normal in British culture. Forget the idea that binge drinking starts in ‘Fresher’s Week’ at university. No. It is terrifyingly normalised that this is the rite of passage into teen years. It is a vicious circle. We grow up drinking so we have crippling anxiety and rely on alcohol for confidence. We drink because we are anxious, and we are anxious because we drink. I used alcohol to numb my feelings just as much as I used it to try to make me feel something.

Unsurprisingly, no matter how much older and wiser I became, every single time I had a drink, I would always end up in the same state, showing myself up and making decisions I woke up to regret. I allowed myself to fall into the trap of believing that life was boring, mundane, and stressful, and the only release was getting absolutely legless every single weekend, holiday, festive occasion, kids party, christening, wedding, birthday, celebration, bank holiday, Tuesday… you get the picture. Even when I became a mum, I would escape the struggles of parenthood into a bottle of wine, and ‘Mummy Wine Culture’ told me that this was normal, encouraged even.

Wildly, people who know me and my stories, still do not understand my choice to be sober. My own mum who stopped me from eating the dog’s dinner, would say to people in the early days of my sobriety, “But she was never really a DRINKER drinker.” For some reason, people still don’t understand it.

I am aware that it comes off extremely hypocritical as I once embodied everything I now feel uncomfortable being around. Ignoring children at parties because I was there to have my own play time. Refusing to finish my dinner at a restaurant because it would ‘take up stomach room’ and I needed that valuable space for wine. Turning down any plans that didn’t revolve around drinking. I look back and cringe. The sad part of all of it is that I really truly deeply believed that alcohol was the only way I’d ever have fun, or relax, or even just be able to cope with life. I am in no way judging anyone who does drink alcohol – we are all on our own journeys. But for me, alcohol was never the answer, and now I know it never will be.

So after that dreadful night, fast forward 13 years of heavy drinking, I knew that I was going down a dark road and that if I didn’t stop soon, it would become a significantly bigger problem. Alcoholism runs in my family and I’d seen first-hand the overwhelming damage and emotional distress it does both to the individual, and the family of that person.

Before I quit drinking for good in September 2021, I tried moderating. I’d promised myself I’d only drink on weekends, only drink outside of the house, only drink on a night out. I’d happily completed a couple of Dry Januarys, and the year before I finally stopped, I tried quitting for good. I even made a sober Instagram account – TeeTotalMess – which was shamefully deleted after a month once I’d succumbed to peer pressure. With these attempts, I knew that alcohol wasn’t serving me. I exhausted myself trying to calculate when I could drink, how much I could drink, logging when I last drank and counting down to a suitable time when I could drink again. It became a chore to schedule in and try to control this ‘magical experience’ that was supposed to help me ‘relax and unwind’. When I did finally ‘treat myself’ to alcohol, I was ‘rewarded’ with a nasty hangover and a cloud of anxiety that would hang over my head for days. I had less energy for my beautiful son. I had no passion, no direction, no happiness, no confidence, no respect for my body, and if I’m being completely honest, I hated myself for it.

On Monday 20th September 2021, I woke up with my last ever hangover. Since that day, I have focused on wholeheartedly prioritising my relationship with my son, have saved money, built tremendous confidence, fell into my dream job and promoted twice within four months, overhauled my entire lifestyle with non-negotiable consistent gym and nutrition and have since lost 3 stone, set healthy boundaries across the board in my life, discovered my dreams and goals, and continue to work through my past and offer compassion to my younger self.

Going sober was the greatest gift I could ever give to my son, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my peers, and most importantly of all, MYSELF.

I am finally the Penny I was always meant to be and I fall in love deeper with myself each and every day.

Sobriety allows me to be the best version of myself and ultimately a better human.

Written by Penny

Penny has been sober since September 2021 where she rediscovered the beauty in the world. She has a love for weightlifting and writing, and focuses on prioritising her own well-being and self-care. She can usually be found at the gym or somewhere eating giant portions of food.

Penny’s life motto: “I wish to be the person that I needed when I was growing up.”

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