Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Giving up drinking feels good, there’s no doubt about it. You sleep better, you eat better and you look, well...happier. But it’s not all meaningful one on ones, sunrise walks on the beach and adventure swims. There are also many unexpected downsides.
This downside has been bubbling up from within me for the past few weeks and I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on it or understand it. So, I’ve been watching myself, assessing my own behaviours in order to come up with an answer, a reason as to why I’m judging myself so much when I’m socialising and why, when I should be enjoying myself, I'm actually drowning in insecurity.
For 26 years I’ve silenced my own voice, I drank away the noise, so now, every word bangs against the side of my brain like a wasp trapped in a jam jar. With each sound comes a sting and with every utterance; my self-consciousness deepens.
Sobriety has switched a light on inside of me. It’s shining from me so everyone can look inside, see the blood pumping around in my veins and the anxiety swirling around in my head. When I meet new people, this light feels even brighter, like the dial has been turned to its highest capacity, exposing my heart and soul. It’s a feeling of rawness and insecurity, uncertainty and doubt.
Instead of relaxing and drinking the awkwardness away like I used to, I find myself in a place where I am unable to unwind.
I’m getting lost between the true me and the person I once was. My shiny new sober personality is getting trampled over by social anxiety... leaving behind a version of me that’s exaggerated and over the top. I’m acting like a drunk person, substituting the real me with what I believe people want from me.
I’m stuck, imagining that the only me worth knowing is the drunk party girl with red wine dribble on her top. So, I fill in my fading character with old traits that I thought were the reason people liked me. After all drunk Vicky is the only Vicky I, or anyone else has known, for a very long time. I’m just doing what I know.
I guess old habits die hard. I’m accustomed to forever being the crazy girl, the funny one that wakes up with good story and a twig in her hair, and now I feel like I still have to play that role even though its completely out of my comfort zone.
A sober drunk person in a conscious blackout.
The lights are on and I’m very much home. It’s a very uncomfortable place to reside. Acting drunk without a drink pushes me so far out of my comfort zone that it’s beginning to take its toll on my mental health. I dread going out because my ‘act’ is so damn tiring, it’s hard to keep up. I feel like a clown putting on a show for an audience only to cry as I take off my makeup.
But, because of my past I feel responsible for making sure everyone is having a good time. Like the audience has paid for tickets for my show and the success of their night rests solely on my shoulders (and my oversized comedy clown shoes.)
But as my spectators stream out of the performance it’s clear to me that I’m not the extrovert I thought I was. In, fact, (drum roll) I think I might be leaning on being an introvert.
I guess what I’m hearing inside my head is the dying rasps of my previous life? The final hurdle before I step into thoroughly understanding who I am and eventually accepting this different version of me. This introvert.
I think being conscious and trying to understand my conduct could mean that I’m changing, evolving a bit like I did when I gave up booze? I’m looking deeply into what I’m made of and who I am, I’m trying to understand because if I don’t, then I think this personal dilemma could lead me away from sobriety and towards a dark place that sells Sauvignon Blanc on Tap.
Yes, giving up drinking does give so much... my boundaries are in place, my self-respect has returned, and I’m a better mum, but it also takes away many things, like my ability to sink into a crowd, to not care about anything and to let go. It means I have to bear witness to myself and my mistakes and I have to face everything head on, no release, no crutches, no numbing out. I have to socialise, be in the moment and be happy in that mental space.
I also have to work through situations instead of drinking through them.
I was foolish to think that once sober it’s easy to stay sober. I presumed like most things it would get simpler over time, that I’d get used to going out and would become re-acquainted with who I was before I started binge drinking, but unfortunately that is taking longer than I had hoped.
But, at least I’m aware.
The only thing I can do is be aware and keep trying.
I know deep down I’m not mentally responsible for everyone else’s joy but the chatter in my head tells me otherwise. My inner voice works against me and I need to learn some skills to block it out. I need to learn how to turn down the volume and be responsible only for me. I need to learn the night will pass and that everyone is usually so wrapped up in their own similar insecure chatter that my own inadequacies will disappear as quickly as the soda water I’m nervously downing by the gallon.
I need to remember that people like me for me and that it’s ok to no always be the life and soul of every pub, club and wake in the Southern Hemisphere.
The problem is that I forget that just being me is enough.
I know I often only articulate the highlights of sobriety, but the harder times are why people relapse. Self- doubt, anxiety and discovering where we fit in are why this path is full of difficulties.
Sobriety means you become a person that you’ve never met before, yet you try to continue being the only person you know, the you from your past. But, those two people would have ignored each other at a party. The old you would be swaying on a pavement outside a kebab shop as the new you jumped on the bus home for a game of scrabble and a cup of Earl Grey. Two strangers that wouldn’t have been friends, they’d have looked each other up and down then wandered off in different directions. They had nothing in common.
So maybe sobriety is about finding common ground within myself. Be able to combine these two strangers into one, into me. I will have to intertwine the hedonistic girl from my past with this sober stay at homer and work out what I want to keep about her and what I want to flush away.
So that’s where I’m at, trying to discover who I am. Sober. Trying to like who I am without a drink in my hand.
I’m practising every time I socialise. It’s confronting and very confusing, and I’m not sure where it’s taking me.... up, down, sideways or back towards drinking?
I hope my awareness means I’m heading towards tolerating my own personality. I want to feel confident in my words and not question my character. I want to feel unashamed and proud.
So, no, it’s not all plain sailing, the sea is choppy, there are monsters lurking beneath the surface of every smiling sober selfie.
But one thing is for sure ... Sobriety means being real, whether I like it or not...
and I’ve run away from real for far too long.
Time to face me, whoever me turns out to be.
By Victoria Vanstone