I like having baths. (stick with me!) I have a very particular way of partaking in this very normal, daily task. I turn on the taps and when it’s warm and about 2 inches deep I get in. I then turn off the cold tap with my big toe and fill the bath with extremely hot water. I sit back and watch as the level rises, my pasty skin turns a bright shade of red from the heat. With it still running, I wash my body quickly and dunk my head under the almost boiling water to wash out the shampoo and, as sweat begins to drip down my temple and with the bath still filling, I suddenly leap out because it’s too hot and if I stay in any longer, I’ll have third degree burns.
This whole process lasts about five minutes. There is no languishing, no blowing small piles of white foam from the palm of my hand.
I’m in - I boil – I’m out.
It doesn’t sound very relaxing does it? But any bath that is cooler than an incinerator doesn’t appeal to me. It’s just how I bath.
I like it like that…..at least I think I do....
I guess doing this to my body feels normal. It's a habit. A weird one I know but I think I might be prone to making stuff harder, or more 'ouchy' than it needs to be.
I wait until something is too hot, too cold, too rotten or too ruined before I attend to it.
I make singed black toast; I leave piles of washing until they get mouldy; I go to bed really late when I’m over tired, I let the kids have fizzy drinks and have to deal with them have sugar comedowns, I leave decaying fruit in the bottom of the fridge until it turns to sludge and I don’t put lids on things properly.
I leave everything too long.
I avoid dealing with stuff.
I let things go grubby or out of date, or so painful that, in the end, I have to do more work to repair the damage.
I scrape the black bits from the toast, I bleach the neglected clothes and suffer with anxiety because I’m over tired. I have to shout at the children when their climbing the walls with bulging eyes and I have to get the plastic draws from the bottom of the fridge and wipe off the green goo that's stuck to the translucent surface.
All these things are really…my fault, and actually, even though I had control over them at one point…. I've left them until they've become, well, messy, unmanageable and much more effort.
This morning I sat in the bath watching my skin get blotchy, start burning. I thought about turning on the cold again, taking the temperature down to a bearable level and then staying in the bath relaxing.
So… I did.
I turned the tap back on with my now, very red, toe, got the water to a comfortable warmth and stayed in there.
Why don’t I do this more often? I thought. This is quite nice.
I gave myself an interval to relax and soak. I was kind to myself. I gave myself time.
I leaned back and took in the silence and as a rubber duck floated passed my nose, I let out a sigh.
Acting out this small, yet very pleasurable change got me thinking.
Why am I always making things harder than they need to be? Why do I wait until things hurt or need more serious consideration?
Why do I have to burn myself before I pay attention?
A perfect example of this is my drinking.
It had to get bad before I took notice. I had to be suffering with anxiety before I deliberated support. I guess it’s the same with lots of things that are bad for us, usually smokers don’t stop until their hair turns yellow or they get a horrible cough, some addicts have to overdose a few times before seeking rehabilitation and gamblers often have to get to the point that their house depends on a roll of dice before admitting they have a problem. Unfortunately, it seems we all have to reach our own personal rock bottoms before we consider change. Whether it’s a bout of anxiety or waking up in a hospital bed. Something has to show us that what we are doing isn’t working out.
The problem with alcohol is that it’s hard to see where that bottom is.
Flaming toast will set off a smoke alarm but unfortunately there are no sirens blaring when you step over the line from social drinker to problem drinker. It’s not as easy to sniff out an alcoholic as it is a slice of burnt bread, even if the problem is staring back at you in the mirror every Sunday morning.
It seems life has to get bad before it can get good.
And the ‘getting bad’ often takes far too long.
A slow burn this time, just bad enough for us not to take any action or change.
We get some anxiety. Mental health goes a little off balance. We question our behavior after a night out. We get done for drink driving. We kiss a friend’s husband and can’t remember. We have shame. We have panic attacks. We have self-hatred and…. Before we know it, we have a spiralling drink problem.
We wait and wait and suffer until it gets too painful to ignore and then (some) get support.
And some, well, they carry on feeling shit, thinking feeling shit is normal, until they die.
But I have news, feeling like shit is not normal.
So, what if it didn’t have to get bad before good?
What if we didn’t normalise the use of alcohol in social situations and society make us feel like drinking is a necessary part of life.
What if we didn’t have to get to these tipping points?
What if we didn’t have to reach the rock bottoms where our bodies feel battered and bruised?
Because I know, when I was injured, after it got really bad, it took me time to heal.
Time, money, and lots of energy.
I wonder if i had looked at my problem earlier if I would've had all the panic attacks. Would I be who I am now if I hadn't reached my personal rock bottom.
The question is - Could I have put out the fire before I got burned?
I think the only way our society is going to change is if we take a look at the roots of the problems. Look at the problem instead of the solution. Work out why humans turn to drink to cope with trauma and educate us to make other choices when we are younger.
That’s why this sober curious movement is so important. Letting others know that you don’t have to reach rock bottom to get help and in fact you don’t have to drink at all to live a happy life, is a message that the world needs to hear.
Telling our stories, no matter what they are or where they sit on the vast alcohol spectrum is the only way we can dampen the fire that is ravaging our society. It’s a slow, controlled burn that’s flames lap at the door of nearly every household in every town and city. Everybody knows someone struggling, someone that needs help or someone that is hiding a socially acceptable form of alcoholism. We all know it’s bad for us and we shouldn’t do it and that it causes most domestic violence and hospital administrations. But, because it numbs out the pain of everyday life and apparently 'makes us happy' we let the fire ignite a little part of us all and don’t reach out for support until it scolds our skin.
Our stories of how we stopped drinking and why we stopped drinking will help others to see that there is a life after alcohol, that sober is not dull and you don’t have to corrode your mental health every time drink.
You can change, you can turn on the cold tap and try another way.
This sober curious movement is only going to influence people in positive ways. As they say, you never hear of anyone saying they regret their sobriety. It is always the best thing they've ever done. If we shout about it, perhaps we can de-stigmatise what sobriety is, what it means to society as a whole. We can make it more approachable (thus making alcohol less so) then together we have a chance at solving and dealing with the problems which caused us to drink in the first place.
Perhaps if we knew that not drinking was an option earlier on in our lives, things wouldn't have got so chaotic and alcohol wouldn't be causing so many people mental health issues.
So...Even if you’re not happy with that one bottle of wine a night, or you’re questioning yourself every time you drink, don’t’ wait. Don’t wait until it gets too bad. Get help, then join the sober party. Stop before it gets dramatic. the more of us that make those changes and tell our stories the more chance we have of changing this cultural booze epidemic.
Don’t worry, sober people are still fun. We’re the same, we just don’t drink. We laugh, we dance, we shout, we cry, and we also live very content lives…
We’re just not as wobbly as we once were.
What giving up drinking means for you is healing instead of drowning out. Evolving rather than staying stagnant…. and soaking in a warm bath instead of boiling your arse off in a hot one.
Episode 7 of the Sober Awkward Podcast is out now. Available on iTunes and Spotify and via my website x