As we took off for our honeymoon to Switzerland, I had already decided that I’d probably have a drink.
I’d never planned to stay sober forever, and as the honeymoon approached, it felt like a time and place I wanted to enjoy a drink.
And so 6 months to the day since I had last drunk a glass of white wine at my parent's house in England, I ordered a beer in Lausanne. I felt excited, guilty and apprehensive.
As I waited for it to arrive, several voices piped up in my head:
- This is going to be the greatest thing ever: intoxication, freedom, woohoo!
- This is going to be really pants: guilt, pain, suffering.
- An IPA is a terrible pairing for this rich, creamy entrecôte
The beer arrived and slowly disappeared under good conversation and delicious food.
Which of those polarising voices were right? Neither, really. What happened instead was a resounding meh, an enormous anti-climax.
The beer was a really tasty IPA. I enjoyed it. I didn't want more, I didn't feel reconnected with a lost love, I didn't feel bad, I didn't feel much of anything. I mostly felt bemused as the growing swell of expectation amounted to precisely nothing.
What was going on?
Repeat the experiment
I had a few more drinks while we were away. I can remember each one and even took photos of most of them, such was the novelty.
Our hotel had a very posh bar which I really wanted a cocktail from. It also came with a two-tiered nut and olive fest, which if I'm being honest was half of the appeal.
£22. Each. Enough to cause spontaneous sobriety across all income brackets.
On one of the last nights, I had two drinks. As payback for my unrestrained hedonism, I woke up with a groggy head—dare I say, a hangover—a deeply unpleasant experience for which I was entirely unprepared, having woke up predictably happy and refreshed for the last 6 months.
All in all, having a few drinks was fun. But it was nowhere near as monumental or cathartic as I was expecting. I don't know where those expectations were lurking, but it was good to see them come out and get royally stood up.
When I thought more on it, I could see that the proposition of a drink had built up into an enormous event in my head. An event with daunting positive or negative ramifications. A big deal. Instead, drinking had now simply become irrelevant; insignificant compared to everything else. What I feared might be the return of an unstoppable ogre was in fact just a matter-of-fact recognition that I don't really want to do that anymore.
As we got to the end of honeymoon I found that I was looking forward to getting back to normal, and weirdly that sober had become normal.
A few weeks on, and it does feel like getting back to normal, back to better, and I don’t feel like going there again soon. (Drinking, that is. I really want to go back to Switzerland.)
But I do wonder what to call all of this now.
My previous posts were well-received among friends and particularly those in the growing Alcohol-Free community. People who have been continuously sober for a long period may balk that what I am talking about now is no longer sobriety or AF.
The day I drank a beer would have been marked as the dreaded "day zero", and the beginning of a long process of building that number back up. That said, I never intended to not drink again, and the big shift in my relationship to alcohol is certainly not trivial (to me, at the very least).
We all have our own beef with booze. If you have a history of drinking problems, then this avant-garde approach is a patently terrible idea. If one beer sends you down the death slide to depravity then you hopefully already know that this post isn't a recommendation, but rather just an honest report from one person.
But there is a big, open space between complete sobriety and the standard British relationship with alcohol that is worth scoping out. Not everyone needs total abstinence to see big changes, and the prospect of going from many to zero may just keep them exactly where they are, rather than taking the next step forward. We should be supporting anyone's efforts to re-evaluate their dependencies, whether that means just trying to give up weekday drinking, Sober October, dry January or a full year without beer.
Maybe it’s worth carving out a new moniker for someone who has not pledged to remain sober indefinitely but doesn't really drink: Nearly dry. Tipsy. Sober-ish. Able to count everything they’ve drunk in the last 6 months on one hand. Only drinks abroad. Only drinks cocktails that cost £20+.
It probably doesn’t matter. Personally, I just feel happy knowing that having a few drinks didn't cause a catastrophic regression to something I'd been holding at bay, but actually strengthened what I already knew from being sober: that I’m an all-around happier and much less headachey human without alcohol.