How Does It Feel?

I wanted to follow up my post about being newly alcohol-free with a few thoughts about how it feels, and the social, physical and mental changes I’ve observed. Today is day 66 for me – I’m heading towards my 10-week anniversary in a few days.

Clarity. I’ve already described how it feels in your head to go alcohol-free – like moving from a pixellated phone screen to hi-definition. Especially in the first few weeks. It may just be the crystalline spring light all around me, but the world literally feels lighter and brighter. Many recovering people report an improvement in eyesight which may well be due to rehydration. Whatever it is, it’s a wonderful sensation. I feel like I’ve had a factory reset.

Positivity. I used to feel as though I was dragging myself through the world, meeting challenge after challenge, obstruction after obstruction. Now I find I can meet the world head on, whatever it throws at me. I can see the positives and the opportunities, whereas my former self would feel sorry for herself. My former self would cry a lot when she drank too much. That’s all gone. Now I only feel like crying during yoga – but only because of the emotion it releases.

Productivity. I feel like I am chewing through my to-do list very quickly. I met a person recently who said I should ‘eat the frog’ each day – do the difficult thing I’ve been putting off first so I can enjoy the day. She was so right. It feels easier to do that, and move on to the next thing. I used to find it very hard to get out of bed, which brings me on to…

Sleep. I used to say that I was an insomniac. For some weird reason I always woke up at 3am and stayed awake for a couple of hours. I blamed age, I blamed stress, I blamed my low-carb diet. Even though those things played their part, the biggest culprit was alcohol. I knew that regaining blissful sleep was one of the key outcomes of giving up drinking but it took 45 days for it to kick in for me. If you’ve been drinking for about 27 years, and not even every day, it takes a while for your body to readjust to its factory settings.

Social life. I socialise more. You think that your social life will disappear if you stop drinking, but the exact opposite happens. You can go out for multiple nights in a row because you don’t have to build in recovery time. You don’t have to arrange your nights out around what you are doing the night before. Suddenly Monday night becomes a social prospect.

Friendships. I feel much more engaged with my friends when I’m with them. I feel less selfish in conversations. There is something about alcohol that made me more self-centred and I’m very glad to see the back of that. I can concentrate on the things my friends are telling me and ask them about them the next time I see them, rather than casting about for a memory of what they may have told me the last time I saw them. It’s more about them than me and that feels good.

Self-respect. I’ve stopped doing bad things that make me anxious the next day. No more drunk texts, ill-advised encounters, minor injuries, lost memories, inappropriate social-media posts or arguments with friends. No more ‘Lisa likes a drink’ comments or presents involving prosecco. I have my self-respect back.

Back to my youth. I do feel like I’ve had a factory reset to the age I was before I started drinking in earnest (around 25). My brain is sharper, my head clearer, but I am also slimmer, fitter and for some strange reason, my hair has thickened and feels bouncier. Apparently that’s also an unexpected bonus side-effect. I have spent way more time in the yoga studio which has taken me back to a level of fitness I was at when I was studying contemporary dance every day, but also back to a time when my head was less addled with anxiety.

Sugary sweet. Another unexpected outcome is a massive craving for sugar, which I’m told will subside. But for now, Cadbury’s Mini Eggs are my nectar. The advice is to be nice to yourself and get yourself through these weeks and months in whatever way you can. So my first move is a return to Goa – the place I said I’d never return to. My therapist asked me why I was giving myself that rule, why I wouldn’t want to return to a place that feels like home, with friends and animals I love, yoga and a place to write my book.

As always, she was right.


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A Bar of One’s Own

One of the main topics on my ‘must blog about’ list for Because I Can has been the concept of drinking alone. Not just sitting on my sofa watching TV with a nice chilled Prosecco or Picpoul De Pinet in the fridge – actual Going Out To A Bar On My Own.

I’ve been doing it for around four years now, on and off, so it’s become part of normal life for me, but it still amazes some people when I mention it and I find myself explaining what I do, how I do it, and reliving all those moments in bars that happened on my way to normalising this activity for myself.

It all began back in the Camino bar near King’s Cross. I’d already separated from my husband and was hitting the after-work social scene quite hard. On the odd occasion, all of my friends were busy doing other things and I became frustrated that my social life depended on other people being available. Why did it have to be like that, I thought? If I want to go out, I should be able to go out, just as guys do, with a newspaper and a pint at the end of the bar. But as we all know, if a woman does that, an assumption is made that she is touting for business, and I don’t mean hoping a recruitment consultant will buy her a drink.

I became determined to try it out so one night I took a copy of the Evening Standard to Camino – a very busy after-work bar filled with ‘young professionals’. I was maybe pushing the age range up a bit just by walking in. I went to the bar, ordered a glass of wine, took a perch on a bar stool and studied my newspaper.

Nothing happened. No one stared, no one propositioned me, no one cared.

It felt amazingly liberating.

So I did it again. I found that sitting on a bar stool right next to the bar offered me the most ‘invisibility’. People assumed I was just waiting for someone, or at least just there temporarily. I took work with me, or read a book, and barely looked up at the people around me – it was just so easy to blend in. I enjoyed the look on guys’ faces as they saw me finish my drink and leave the bar. “Oh my god, she was actually on her own, not waiting for someone!” Ha.

Every now and again someone would notice me. Usually a woman. In a pub in Belsize Park one stood next to me at the bar and asked, “Are you here, alone?” Yes, I replied. She told me how much she admired me for it and promptly ordered me a glass of wine. I watched her go back to sit with her partner and they both looked at me admiringly as I grinned back. I loved it.

I haven’t always been looked at admiringly by women for doing this. I noticed that if I went to bars alone on holiday, as I did in Thailand on my first solo jaunt, I’d see a (usually British) couple in a corner, the woman glowering at me and the man looking impressed. I don’t know why these women felt annoyed by me being on my own but I have experienced it a few times.

Only this year in Turkey, an older British woman, with her more-impressed husband, told me she thought people who holidayed alone were “sad” and she “felt sorry for them.” As I left them sitting smugly on the beach to go shopping, I thought, “I’d rather be heading to a bar in Bodrum on my own than sitting next to you on a beach, love.”

Now it’s just part of my normal routine to take myself off to a pub now and again. After a hard day of meetings, I like nothing better than grabbing a copy of Grazia and ordering myself a glass of wine in my local pub. The bar staff know me and every now and again someone I know joins me. If they don’t, no biggie. I don’t need a wing person. I know lots of people who can’t go anywhere without one – going running, to a bar, shopping, on holiday – all of these things I do on my own. It’s uniquely liberating. Why wait for someone else to validate your activities when you can own them yourself?

Whilst going to a bar alone might shock some people, what about going to a club? I’ve done it, lots of times. In a busy environment like a club, no one knows you’re on your own. You may have become separated from your friends, you may have just arrived and are looking for them. No one notices. It’s easy to slip in, grab a drink, go for a dance and slip out again. Oh the joy.

I started doing it because my friends tended to end nights out earlier than I wanted to end them. We’d go out for a drink or a meal, and I’d be back in my flat at 9.30pm/10pm itching to carry the night on. I got so frustrated by it one night that I just thought, ‘fck it’ – I’m doing it. What would a guy do? He’d just go out and see who was there. So I did. About half the time I’ve done it, I’ve bumped into people I know. When I haven’t, I’ve survived it. Loved it, even. People are so caught up in their own bubbles that no one notices me: at the bar, on the dance floor, moving between rooms. I’m just a woman in a club, albeit older than the average. Do I care about that? No. And seemingly no one else does.

I haven’t done my club routine in a while because once I’d done it a few times I’d largely got it out of my system. It’s no longer a case of me feeling like I’m missing out on something when the evening ends ‘early’, it’s more that I know what’s out there should I want to take it further, and I can if I want to. The night is never over if I don’t want it to be and it’s not forbidden territory – it’s there for the taking if I want it.

Because I can.