Breaking up with booze

Written by Annabel Stewart

When I was a kid, we moved a lot. Dad was in the RAF and every couple of years we upped sticks
and relocated – new home, new neighbourhood, new school, new friends.

I wasn’t a big fan of the constant schlep. Sure, I adapted and got good at picking up new accents and blending in, but I didn’t like it much. I wanted to be able to say: “Yeah, this home. I’ve lived here for years”.

I wanted to be in one of those cool girl gangs, where they had all been friends since they were babies, where their parents (or even grandparents) had been friends since forever, where they shared a look and a hairstyle and giggled at the same cultural references.

Moving was a minefield; stripy knee-high socks might be all the rage at one school and social death
at another. It was exhausting!

Wanting to belong is such a powerful driver for humans living on planet earth. Being on the outer feels so awful because to our prehistoric survival brains it’s actual real castout-from-the-campfire death.

The need to find our tribe is at its most urgent when we’re teens, when we’re full of worries and hormones.

So, when we are feeling like the weirdest kid on the block, and someone hands us a glass of alcohol,
it can seem like the solution to everything.

That feeling of all your cares floating away, of inhibitions relaxing … it’s like the answer to our teen-angst prayers (we don’t know or care at that age exactly what the neurotoxins are doing to our brains to depress those inhibitions). Plus, alcohol is forbidden to non-adults (therefore it’s cool and badass), plus it has that whiff of brimstone putting alcohol up there as the coolest, most easily
available drug in town.

It certainly was for me at 14, unsure of myself and wanting to fit in after our latest move. The cool kids went to the pub and pretended to be 18 and drank Pernod and black (gag), so I wanted to too. And that urge to follow the crowd continued through my 20s and 30s, where drinking was the one constant for the cool girl gangs, whether it was girls’ night in with pepperoni pizza and gossip and
cheap white, Hen’s Nights with ironic veils and L-plates and sticky shooters or spa days with fluffy bathrobes and elegant champagne flutes. The common denominator, always, was alcohol.

I broke up with booze in my 40s because I finally realised alcohol wasn’t actually my bestie, helping
me bravely laugh and cry my way through life. Alcohol was in reality a nasty two-faced frenemy who
constantly stole from me (health, money, family time etc). I was terrified to start with.

Who even was I if I didn’t drink?

Was I still cool and fun? Or was I now boring and dull? I didn’t know how to do me, without drinking.
But what I found was the opposite of what I expected. I found a soberverse full of warmth and
authenticity. I found that I got my life back, including my mornings, which I now treasure like rubies. And along the way, I found a bunch of fabulous, genuine, scatty, focussed, normal, cranky, loving human beings, who are just normal people who happen to not drink. But more than that, I found myself.

I’m finally home.