As a teenager, I had a drinking problem. And that was that I couldn’t do it. I knew that if I drank, I would possibly pass out, or start uncontrollably shaking, or become completely delirious, and whilst these might sound like familiar alcohol-based symptoms for many, I can assure you that the reaction I had was far from normal.
At this point it’s around 2004. I am 14, and like any self-respecting British teen I drink Bacardi Breezers at any social occasion. This is because I am a sophisticated young woman, who wants to get absolutely hammered on anything that does not remotely tastes like alcohol.
Looking back, the alcopops were probably bad for at least 3 reasons:
1. I now know that I struggle to regulate my blood sugar, and these drinks are pretty much entirely sugar. Delicious booze syrup.
2. I now know that alcohol does indeed effect my condition, and therefore should be consumed carefully, and slowly, and stopped at the first sign of an attack. Not downed quickly before Emma’s parents get home and find out we were keeping a secret crate in the linen cupboard.
3. (and perhaps most importantly) I am a goody-two-shoes, and the absolute peril of drinking underage “WHICH IS ILLEGAL GUYS, I DON’T THINK WE SHOULD BE DOING IT” added an unreasonable amount of stress to the situation, another major symptom trigger, and all-round fun-killer.
By 2006, I have ditched the alcopops and moved on to vodka and diet coke. I like vodka and diet coke because it doesn’t make me feel quite so unwell, and I think it’s classy. Sure. I start taking my A-Levels at the sixth form and life is going just fine. Through a strict regime of worrying, crying, stressing and panicking I have somehow passed my GCSE’s, have chosen my A-Levels, and I no longer have to know any maths. I am going to be an artist. Perfect. There are also now boys on the scene (not friend boys, other boys, older boys, boys with emo haircuts). Interesting. That’s probably fine though. I can’t see that impacting anything.
It will come as no surprise to everyone other than 16-year-old me that it did, in fact impact quite a lot of things. The main issue is that true British courtship is anchored in drink. Drowning in it. Dating is absolutely wankered. The unspoken rule at school was that if you acted how you wanted whilst sober you were a slut, do it drunk, and you just had a hilarious anecdote (we will unpack that another time…). Being underage, and too terrified to get a fake ID, we relied on these older boys to buy us booze. Usually this was vodka and diet coke, and usually I would drink the whole 20cl in one go to save having to take the bottle home. That’s 10 units folks. That’s a lot of alcohol for an underweight girl with neurological complications. It’s no wonder she’s lost 3 hours of her memory in the woods really is it?
Thankfully, I realised just how hideous all of this was making me feel, and decide to give up drinking. This was a sensible decision and one which I then stuck to for many years. There were notable relapses of course; my 21st birthday at which I drank so many piña coladas from frozen pineapples that my hands both remained blue until the next morning, and I then had to stare at my own feet for 2 hours because the ballet (a birthday treat) was “too swirly” to watch with a hangover. But, for the most part, I was tee-total by the time I reached my 18th birthday until I was well into my twenties.
It was awful. I did house-parties sober, nightclubs sober, I even did an 18-30 holiday sober. The horror. Of course, none of the horror was the events themselves – I had a lovely time, because quite frankly, if I can wear a short skirt and dance freely, I really need little else. Shania Twain and I are very similar in that respect. The issue though, was other people’s reactions to the situation.
There is an expectation that as a non-drinker I would be a fun sponge, and whilst that may be true, I can assure you that it makes not a blind bit of difference whether or not I have had a drink. There is always a chance I will ruin your party, but that is because of a little something I like to call ‘my personality’. Regardless, once you explain you aren’t drinking, people expect you to preach, to warn, to wag your sober finger and whip out a breathalyser. The truth is of course that sober people actually just want to have a nice time, and the only thing stopping them having a nice time is your incessant questioning. Who’s the fun sponge now? You. It’s you.
The constant questions about my reasons for not drinking were the first exposure I had to feeling distinctly “other"-ish” amongst a group of people I had always felt comfortable with. They would ask me what would happen if I drank, and then judge my answer on whether they thought it was reasonable evidence.
Interestingly, another fun observation of the drinkers was their constant insistence that they did not need to drink in order to have fun. They would always say this with a drink in hand. They would expect praise for the anecdotes of times they had fun sober, as if they were doing me and my kind a real service. I, of course, didn’t really give a shit. Their protestations also always felt a bit disingenuous when they had been preceded by a 20 minute lecture on how alcohol would “help me have more fun”, but I let that slide. There was always an air of defensiveness, a suspicion. The truth is that I really don’t care if you can have a good time sober, or at all really, I just want to have my own good time.
It seems that if the drunk and the non-drunk want to live peacefully side by side there will be frictions. As with any other example of opposing cultures, they must learn to co-exist with each other and adapt to one another’s customs, whether that be quietly drinking lemonade and minding your own business, or screaming that you never loved Pete anyway at a kebab shop owner. It’s give and take.
But whilst you may think your sober friends are boring, or their ability to enjoy themselves without a mood-altering substance is alarming, in the ecosystem of the night out, the sober friend plays a vital role, and that is one of caretaker. This includes, but is not limited to: holding back hair, driving, summoning taxis, fending off sexual predators, tucking in, making sandwiches, confiscating phones, undressing, redressing, and tooth-bushing. These are all things I did, albeit somewhat begrudgingly, during my stone-cold-sober years, but I realised early on that it is the lot of the tee-totaller – it is our payment for being such massive bores who only want to hand out pamphlets about the potential moral corruption that comes from a white wine spritzer.
So please, if you remember anything (and you probably won’t, what with all the Echo Falls you’ve just had), remember that the sober are not your enemies, they are the ones driving you around, making you a cheese toastie and stopping you sending your boss pictures of your arse. They are not trying to stop you having fun, they are facilitating it. They are simply out there having a nice time, and if they’re not, it’s probably your fault.