They say it takes two years to feel completely normal around other people drinking when you yourself do not drink.
I can’t remember where I heard that, but two years to the day since I gave up alcohol, I can confirm it is quite true. I don’t care at all about other people drinking around me.
In fact, sometimes I’d almost prefer it if you did. I mean, if it matters that much, go ahead…
Do I sound smug? Sorry, I have no right. If you are counting the hours until the end of dry January this Thursday, I know all too well how you’re feeling.
This time one month and two years ago I made a pact with myself not to drink any alcohol for the month of January. To that end I stayed at home on New Year’s Eve to give myself a headstart.
Which worked out brilliantly — not. I ended up on the sofa in front of the TV drinking almost an entire bottle of Toffee Vodka on my own.
Christa D’Souza (pictured left with her partner Nick Allott) shared how dry January helped her to stop drinking alcohol
Perhaps the really scary thing was that I didn’t even feel that drunk. The next morning, though, oh my God! I remember clutching the Aga rail and thinking, please, God, can I crawl back under the duvet and never, ever wake up again.
Honestly. My poor family. My poor partner. Poor all you family members out there with other halves who have a problem with drink.
In defence, can I say, we never meant it to be this way. Drink has a habit of creeping up. Tragically, the last person to acknowledge there’s a problem is often ourselves.
My partner, Nick, who himself can take it or leave it, has always known I like a drop or two. When we were courting he would be very sweet about my hangovers and occasional embraces with the lavatory bowl.
We got together when I was 34 and he was 40 and in the 24-odd years since we met through one of his exes, I have never seen him drunk.
Drink wasn’t an issue for me either then. Not really. There were days, weeks, even months when I went without and I had no problem throughout both my pregnancies being completely teetotal.
The signs, though, must have been there. I remember after the birth of our first, bringing him home early in the afternoon and me suggesting we open a nice bottle of wine to celebrate. I can still feel the stab of — what was it? Resentment? Embarrassment? A mixture of the two? — as he looked at his watch and gently suggested we wait until dinner.
In one way it’s harder to get trashed when you have young kids — just because it’s so exhausting. In another it gives you the perfect excuse to drink at home.
Once they were both in bed, that’s when I allowed myself my first drink of the evening and pretty soon the pattern was set. I’d try to wait until my partner got home from the office, but it was rare I didn’t have a bottle open already.
As the years went on, the amount left in the bottle by the time he got home dwindled.
Christa (pictured) revealed she can’t mark when her drinking became a problem
So as it didn’t look like I’d drunk more than half the bottle myself (and also to make sure we never ran out), I’d soon keep two open. It was all quite casual and subtle and civilised. And then, at some point, it wasn’t.
I can’t mark a turning point, but somewhere along the line my drinking mutated from being a little foible, a family joke, to a problem that didn’t quite dare speak its name.
Was it when I took to taking a tumbler of wine with me to bed? Was it when my ‘curfew’ slipped from 8pm to 7pm? Or was it the rising fury that I was in any way being ‘monitored’?
But then my fury was also about being curtailed. Why did he have to be such a killjoy when I was having such a good time being the life and soul? Perhaps it wasn’t so much the amount, as the way I was drinking.
How many people continue dry January?
8 per cent who do dry January decide to stop altogether
Suddenly menus became irrelevant. All I cared about was the wine list. Watching how quickly or slowly everyone else drank out of their glass became an obsession, as did silently willing somebody, anybody (because it would never be me, of course) to order another bottle.
Closet alcoholics like myself — there are many — were my tribe. Those who placed a palm over their glass after one measly drink, I couldn’t help feeling were spoiling the evening.
If I’d finished my glass, I’d sneak sips from my partner’s. Later I found out how he loathed me doing that, as he did my habit, when he was tired and wanted to go home, of me putting thumb and forefinger together and miming across the table ‘just a wee one before we go…’ Oh it makes me cringe, to think that it irritated him so. When I thought I was being cute and coy. Hideous. No woman should ever act cute and coy after 30.
As I write this, horrid little snapshots like these keep popping into my head. Me trying to pronounce ‘Benjamin Netanyahu’, the Israeli Prime Minister’s name in front of a bunch of U.S. politicos and having to give up; the reaction of fellow passengers as my partner poured me into a Tube seat after The Brits (he deemed me too drunk to go to the after-party); him waking up in a hotel in Istanbul and finding me lying on the bathroom floor with all my clothes on having not quite made it into bed after a wild night out.
Christa says enjoying family time is the best thing since giving up alcohol (file image)
Yes, I had become a proper liability, so thank goodness, two years ago, I decided I had to give it up for good, and although it would be wrong to say I’ve never looked back, because I look back all the time, I’m so glad I made that decision.
Was it hard to begin with? It was. To make it easier for myself, I didn’t really go out for the first six months. Nick would attend parties alone and people began to wonder if he actually had a real live girlfriend any more.
Gradually I started accepting invitations (the ones that still came, because once you start saying ‘no’ they stop coming), but only to sit-down dinners (none of this mingling, bowl-food business), which I knew would start dead on time.
Nothing worse than a dinner where you don’t sit down until 11, although in the old days, I could never work out why there had to be dinner at all…couldn’t we just keep on drinking?
For the same reason, I avoided cocktail parties like the plague and in fact still do. There are only so many Diet Cokes one can drink after all.
Has life got easier? In many ways no. Not being able to numb out on anything means you never get a break from your feelings.
I always assumed people were lying when they said they had a better time sober
There’s no such thing, really, as winding down, and yes, if I’m honest, I miss that sense of occasion when the clock strikes a certain time, that concrete, chronological division between work and playtime.
On the other hand the satisfaction of putting my head on the pillow at night stone-cold sober and waking up feeling exactly the same as I did the night before is a small triumph I will never not cherish.
And now when my partner and I argue, at least it is not alcohol-induced. In fact we argue far less given a lot of the arguments pivoted around the results of my drinking. The relationship feels realer, if you will, more present, more authentic.
And another thing: I find I’m bolder with my opinions when we are out. Before, I found myself receding from the conversation as the drink set in, conscious I might slur my words or repeat myself. In that sense drink perversely sapped me of my confidence, whereas now, I feel I can go more out on a limb.
On A physical level I don’t snore as much, which has got to be a bonus for the person with whom I share a bed. Nor do I wake up at 4am thinking I’m going to die of thirst.
Oh that dehydrated, nauseous, migraine-y, anxious, depressed feeling I used to get almost every single morning. No wonder I was always such a grouch until teatime the following day (and only cheered up then, because of the promise of alcohol). Not that I’m not still a grouch in the mornings, but as long as I’ve had my coffee I’m perfectly safe.
The best thing of all though, is enjoying family time together, not in spite of the fact I don’t drink, but because of it. I never thought that would happen.
I always assumed people were lying when they said they had a better time sober. A couple of nights ago we had a family birthday at a restaurant. There were 11 of us and several of the kids got up and made speeches.
In the old days I would have been worrying whether the next bottle had been ordered, the first to get up to make a (not very funny) speech, and guaranteed, when the bill came, to make that little thumb and forefinger gesture which made my partner despair so.
One day soon I hope we will get married, him and I. I look forward to the wedding celebration, watching everyone happily getting off their faces, while I remain sober.
Except, is that what I mean? I think what I mean is that the whole point of alcohol is to lift one’s inhibitions, to get into the spirit of things.
I’ve found that that alcohol buzz is actually infectious. You really can, as it were, get drunk on other people getting drunk. But without the hangover.
If you are reading this with one eye on the Chablis in the fridge, chilling nicely for February 1, I don’t expect my message to resonate.
But if you are so ashamed of how you’ve behaved in the past, then give a thought to joining the eight per cent who give up for good after Dry January and we’ll catch up exactly this time next year.