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Things You Only Know If You’re Long-Term Sober

Grazia logo Grazia 30/01/2020 Laura Jordan
a person standing next to a fence: Laura Antonia Jordan © Ed Miles Laura Antonia Jordan

I never meant to get sober. That’s not to say I never thought about it. I dreamed about it in the same way one might about winning the lottery or being the woman to tame Leonardo DiCaprio, a nice fantasy, but highly unlikely to ever happen. And yet, it did and here we are; I am a sober person.

My own sobriety date, four years ago last week, coincides with an attempted dry January – embarked on, ironically, to prove I didn’t have a problem – gone disastrously wrong (a story for another time...). But it had taken me years to get to that point. I’d visited destination rock bottom countless times before I finally called it quits. ‘You always want another drink,’ an infuriated friend once shouted at me. ‘No,’ I corrected him, ‘I just don’t want the party to end.’ But it had, a long time before that. For 15 years, I’d topped myself to the brim with alcohol and it had slowly drained me of everything.

When I realised I had embarked on a sober life, I mourned the loss. Drinking wasn’t just what I did, it was who I was. A drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other and a bottle in the crook of my arm was as inextricably part of my physical identity as being short or blonde was. ‘Shall we get another?’ – a statement pitched as a question – was my personal brand. Who would I be without it? The fun part is finding out. And ‘fun’, by the way, is very much still part of my vocabulary. The most tantalising lie I told myself, the one that nearly hooked me back in, was that I would be both boring and bored without booze.

It took me a while to grasp that people who are only entertaining when you or they are drunk are not that entertaining. 

Gallery: 18 celebrities who don't drink alcohol (Delish) 

What ‘normal’ drinkers always want to know when they find out I’m sober is the physical benefits. Did I lose weight? Did my skin glow? Was my hair shinier? Eventually. I actually put on weight in the first couple of years thanks to the sugar I used as a replacement, soothing and stimulant in equal measure. Swapping one vice for another is common for addicts and while sugar is hardly rock’n’roll, I’ve never woken up in a stranger’s bed because I ate too much carrot cake. Still, despite that, it wasn’t long before I looked fresher, sparklier. And because I’m yet to encounter a beauty brand urging you to ‘Get that dead behind the eyes look!’ I’ll say that, yes, I did and do look better.

And I sleep better. I never had a problem passing out when drunk – I could do it anywhere: on the tube, the floor, the middle of a crowded room (the world’s least fun party trick). But I sleep more peacefully now, usually in my own bed, or at least the one I intended to end up in that night. 

More interestingly, I wake with, if not serenity, a calmness I never had before. Since I don’t willingly invite chaos into my life any more, there is no feverish morning- after detective work to figure out why I got a cab back into Soho or made a £200 cash withdrawal at 2am. Alcohol is a depressant and my own depression has eased, though not disappeared, since I stopped. I’ll always be a worrier who can conjure ghosts in the nooks and crannies of my mind and can still wake up with a breeze block of sadness, loneliness and existential dread weighing on my chest, it’s just that I no longer medicate that with oblivion. Instead, I ride it out. The best and worst thing about getting sober is that you get your feelings back.

Despite the myriad benefits of sobriety (more money, more time – Saturday mornings are still a luxurious novelty to me), I understand the fear of letting go of alcohol. It’s an emotional comfort blanket, one that softens the hard edges of life. A great glass of wine can elevate an average night, the dullness of a routine week can be pepped up with a twist of decadence courtesy of a whisky. Alcohol is how we relax and rev up, how we celebrate and commiserate. For me, however, it ran deeper; drunken arrogance was a poor substitution for genuine confidence. In sobriety I’ve had to work hard on nurturing my self-respect and self-esteem. That hasn’t been about posting twee inspirational quotes, it’s meant embarking on heavy-duty building work, going back to the foundations and enlisting the help of an excellent therapist.

Refusing alcohol © Getty Refusing alcohol

Most of us, however, even the most stoic and self-assured, will heave at the thought of sober dating. I hear you; first dates can be awkward and small talk the mortal enemy of sobriety. But stick with it – when it’s worth it, it’s really worth it. I remember every second of when I kissed my ex-boyfriend for the first time, and all the thrilling hope and vulnerability I felt in that moment. It was utterly intoxicating , and so much more exciting than finding someone, anyone (‘I think his name was Tim? Tom? Oh, it was James? HAHA!’), to go home with because you think it’s better than being alone. Another benefit of sobriety: sex is better.

This year I’ve learned that you can weather heartbreak and the most soul-shattering grief without alcohol and drugs. You can navigate its spiky edges without that anaesthetic. Did I crave the annihilation of alcohol these past few months? You bet. But you can choose to show up instead of running away, which is a privilege and a gift I will be eternally grateful for.

Should you go sober? That’s not for me, or anyone else, to tell you. I am not on an evangelical mission to convert you
to sparkling water. All I can do is tell you what long-term (ish – I see this as a lifelong commitment, so if I’m lucky we are at the beginning of this journey) benefits this has given me. What my lifestyle choice has taught me above all is that anything is possible. I thought drink gave me a shortcut to being smart, funny, sexy, spontaneous, dazzlingly interesting – but it only took me further and further away.

You might fear that getting sober is the end but, trust me, really it’s the beginning. 

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