It has occurred to me on more than one occasion, there are things in this life that I don’t like very much (including certain people, actually, especially certain people), and that now I am living my life without the prop of alcohol, it’s not so easy to let that fact slip by unnoticed. People aside, the things I’m not so keen on include (off the top of my head) Marmite, busy shopping centres, the rain, being cold, Top Gear, soap operas, grisly sausages. That list was exactly the same when I drank alcohol as it is today, now that I am sober. The people who I don’t like are a completely different matter.
On a night out a couple of years ago, I spent the early part of the evening sitting outside a rather nice Italian bar situated on a leafy Sheffield road, with my lovely sister. Owing to the fact that all parties involved had consumed several glasses of wine, we got chatting to two women sitting nearby who had overheard our conversation about my law degree (I was, at that time, studying at University) and who were both solicitors. Nothing wrong with that – it’s sociable, convivial and friendly. Except that both of them were complete arseholes, and who, if it weren’t for the fact that I was half-cut, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend one minute of my life with. Nonetheless, we spent much of the next couple of hours with them, listening to their boorish, self-congratulatory ranting with fixed smiles on our faces, laughing in all the right places.
Without alcohol, a) I would never have got talking to them in the first place, and b) if I had had the misfortune of getting suckered into their worlds, I would have extricated myself pretty sharpish, and relocated to a place far, far away. With the booze in my system, however, I didn’t just tolerate them, I actually liked them. I liked the fact that they had struck up a conversation with us (wow, successful, glamorous people who really liked me!!), I liked the association that I had with them, that just by sharing their company and being a part of their worlds (obviously so much better then mine) I improved my status by shifting up a notch on the social scale. I also approved of the fact that here were two professional women who had no issue with downing a few bottles of wine between them of an evening – now if they drank in such a way, did that let me off the hook? Did it mean that we were all alcoholics, or none of us? We proceeded to stick with them for the next couple of hours, them droning on about their glittering legal careers, my sister and I not getting much of a word in edgeways and drinking even more Pinot in order to numb our senses further to mask the agonising boredom of the situation.
On countless occasions I have found myself drinking copious amounts to ‘deal with’ unsatisfactory social situations – unsatisfactory because I really didn’t like the people who I was socialising with. For years I counted people as friends who, really, if I’m honest, were complete morons. Sober, it doesn’t take long at all to work out who we like and want to spend time with, and who we have nothing in common with, is dull, or who is simply a bit of a tosser. Since giving up drinking, I tend to socialise more during the daytime – meeting friends for a coffee, going to town together, taking the kids to a park – and there are absolutely no walls to hide behind. There are no false pretences, no alternative realities being lived out. I meet people whose company I enjoy and everybody is their true selves without the veneer of alcohol sugar-coating their personalities.
When I drank, the purpose behind whatever social event I was attending was not to spend time with friends or family, or to network, or to celebrate someone’s wedding or birthday or promotion. It was to get pissed. It was immaterial who was in attendance, because I was there to slip further inside myself, to sink enough booze to break through my outer layers and relax into the inner part of me that remained locked away when I was sober.
Sober, the purpose of social occasions has been brought back to the fore – if it’s someone’s birthday, then I am there because I like the person and I want to share in celebrating their birthday. If it’s a wedding, then I am there because I want to share in the joy of a couple marrying, not so that I can neck all the free Champagne that is being handed out, cop off with some desperate bloke who is not terribly discerning and doesn’t mind that his new love interest is puking over the side of the bed, and then have to avoid everyone who was present for at least a year, in order to allow their memories to fade sufficiently. Being sober effectively eradicates the bullshit and leaves us with people who we really like in our lives.