'I've always been a big drinker. When I first discovered alcohol, at thirteen, I'd spend most of my weekends crashing house parties, then spewing brightly coloured sick into Camden lock while tourists looked on in horror. Ten years on, not much had changed; I occasionally find myself in slightly more civilized scenarios eg. slurping champagne at a fashion party - instead of necking WKD down an alley with emos from MySpace - but, my motives were always the same: to get completely out of my mind.
Being drunk became a part of my identity. I rarely showed any remorse for my actions when I was regaled with tales of my own behaviour (that I often had absolutely no recollection of) that would have left others crimson-faced, vowing never to drink again. In fact, I almost felt that such behaviour was expected of me.
The chaos was tiring, but as an only-child of two heroin addicts, I'd grown up relatively used to the idea of hitting the self-destruct button, and the fallout that went with it.
When my parents got clean a couple of years ago, they were met with the daunting task of tackling, head on, the demons they'd spent a lifetime running away from, which proved so painful a task for my father, that he went on to develop a drinking problem. Their struggle with various substances became a mirror for my own dependency on booze, and, around this time last year, in the midst of the usual alcohol-related dramas, I began thinking about what I too was running away from, and how horribly it could end.
So, I set myself a challenge: one year, no alcohol. Not a drop.
Today you find me three-quarters of the way through that self-imposed 365-day long hiatus from drunkenness.
When I told people that I was planning to quit drinking for a whole year, the first question was generally, 'Why?! What happened?!' I've had plenty of rock-bottom moments, but the truth is, I didn't wake up hung-over one morning next to a stranger and declare my life a crisis. It wasn't a rash decision, and it required adequate planning in order for it to be one that taught me something, as opposed to feeling like a punishment.
My life needed a redesign. I looked at a calendar and worked out when would be the best date to begin the journey, opting to leave Glastonbury and a friend's wedding as two final opportunities for me to display some revolting, intoxicated behavior.
I saw that the idea of a year without alcohol distracting me, posed one glaringly obvious opportunity: to kill it with work. I decided to make it so there physically wasn't room in my life for drinking or being hung-over. I finally took the time to get the ball rolling on various passion projects I've been neglecting for years, and knowing that I couldn't have got my shit together to do that had I still been getting drunk all the time was an instantaneous motivator.
Very quickly I realized how much drinking had been holding me back so far as my productivity, and the value I placed on different areas of my life was completely rebalanced. But that almost makes it sound easy…
'I bet you feel amazing!' people exclaim when I humble-brag about how far into the year I am, making a point of looking like I'm thoroughly enjoying whatever underwhelming soft-drink I'm nursing, while they glug at delicious cocktails.
Yes and No. Dealing with life in general without the social and emotional lubrication of booze is no walk in the park. On a bad day: people suck, the world's a mess and there's not a whole lot you can do, short-term, to distract yourself from those negative spirals of thinking. Quitting drinking quite brutally forces you confront the pain in your life that alcohol once numbed, and depending on what you've been blocking out, that can be no joke.
Dating? Near impossible. The casual occasions where you meet people by chance are fewer, and the dates themselves more rigid and forced than you ever remembered them being. Getting to know someone new whilst sober can feel like an almost official transaction, not to mention the fact that everyone's just less attractive when they're drunk and you're not. The plus side? When you like someone, you really like them; the beer goggles are off, and let's face it, sober sex is the best sex.
Now don't get me wrong, I loved getting wasted. I'm talking total oblivion, can't recognize myself in the mirror-wasted. Achieving this desired level of mess has certainly had its drawbacks over the years; waking up in a cell, waking up on a plane, breaking limbs, starting fights, losing jobs and being aggressively thrown out of multiple branches of McDonalds. But as ugly a picture as that might paint of my drunken existence, between these darker junctures have been, hands down, the best times of my life. Alcohol, over the years, has helped shape my sense of adventure; traveling the world and meeting new, incredible, people, falling in love, feeling like anything's possible, spending nights partying into the early hours with ridiculous characters I knew I'd never see again… For the most part I don't look back and regret being drunk for any of it, as, often it's lead to some of my most cherished (albeit fragmented) memories.
It's embedded in our culture that self-medicating with alcohol is normal. In fact, its encouraged. Stressful day at work? You 'deserve' this beer. Breakup? Wine. Promotion? Champagne. Whether you're celebrating or commiserating, alcohol is made to feel like an appropriate companion for almost any situation… Is that not slightly scary? Many of us would never consider going sober simply because we're scared that we'll be missing out. I'm the queen of FOMO, but, the thing is, a lot of the time it's actually drinking itself that's making us miss out on life.
Am I looking forward to drinking again? Absolutely. This year off wasn't about me training myself to know my limits, or even to learn the art of how to 'only have a few'. I'm an all or nothing girl. It was about getting to the root of why I drink. By taking a break, to discover what that may be, I'm strengthening my own foundations, so the past doesn't grow into an even bigger, scarier monster I'm unable to confront, like it has done for my parents. I'm only 23; I don't think my days of cry-laughing into Tyskies and obnoxiously shouting my way through an evening into the early hours are behind me just yet, but I want to be able to drink and have fun, in a manner that doesn't see me descend into a downward spiral, taking me and everything I've worked so hard for, with it. If that's not reason enough for a celebratory Becks Blue, I don't know what is.'