Love Being You

People pleasing. Not wanting to miss out on the fun. Restlessness. Overthinking. Scared to be me in company. Scared to be me alone. Frightened of offending someone. Feeling on the periphery of everything.

For these and many other reasons, I found alcohol to be a convenient and acceptable drug. I used it to soften the abject awkwardness I experienced in certain social situations, and to feel less lonely during evenings at home when I couldn’t face human company but struggled to feel content in my own skin.

There have always been aspects of the world that I don’t understand and that have resulted in me perceiving myself as different, slightly askew from the norm. I have, through trial and error, worked out that I am not what you might call ‘mainstream’. Somebody recently described me as ‘eccentric’ – a label that I would never have used but one that triggered a light bulb moment. It dawned on me that others might see me in this way too, and perhaps the perennial doubt I had always had about fitting in wasn’t just in my head after all. I was silently relieved.

For a very long time, too long a time, I tried desperately to squeeze my metaphorical foot into the glass slipper – a round peg in a square hole, moulding my personality to suit the requirements of others. But I never found it very easy unless I was drinking; booze is a highly effective leveller. And so subsequently, when I stopped drinking four years ago, I discovered that all the characteristics I’d taken for granted as being inherent – social butterfly, chatterbox, party animal – simply vanished like a puff of smoke.

I write this because last night I went to see Future Islands, a band I am madly in love with, at Plug in Sheffield where I live. I sat on the bar, elevated above the heaving crowds because I’m not the tallest person in the world and couldn’t see much from the floor apart from the head of the man in front of me. And I loved it. I loved being with all those people, listening to that music, watching the singer, Samuel T. Herring, who is simultaneously slightly bonkers, incredibly passionate and wonderfully talented. I didn’t need anything else other than just sitting there with my friend, listening and breathing in the atmosphere, soaking up the music.

Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands

Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands

Afterwards, I reflected on all the things I’ve done throughout my life that haven’t really been me, and the many nights out I have endured with people I had nothing in common with and who I didn’t, truth be known, actually want to spend time with. I thought of what I really love to do, the stuff that makes me feel like me and fills me up with excitement and reassurance that I fit in somewhere – stuff that I need to seek out instead of just waiting for it to land on my doorstep.

It dawned on me that there is a way to experience contentment and happiness on a fairly constant basis; it requires having one’s ‘shit filter’ turned up to the maximum setting. Don’t subject yourself to rubbish that annoys you or makes you feel uncomfortable. Do subject yourself to stuff that you love, that makes you feel amazing, that draws you close to like-minded people who reflect your own values. Be selective: the world has far too much to offer for any one person to experience it all, so don’t try to. Just pick out the best bits – for you.

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Love Is All You Need

Drinking alcohol affords a person a temporary escape route from life, a means of adjournment from a humdrum day-to-day existence. When I drank, I never looked further than about 7pm, when I knew the wine would be brought out of the fridge and my routine departure from the real world could begin.

For many people, faith provides a very real comfort from the harsh truths of our existence, and more specifically, our certain mortality.

I am neither religious nor a drinker, and it has become clear to me that here lies a real challenge in life. There is no escape route, no security blanket, no gentle dissipation of the absolute fact that I will, one day, die. And, worse still, that the time I spend on the planet will essentially amount to nothing – the Universe will one day cease to exist, and everything in it will be reduced to nothing more than a black space in time, forever more.

Is this why many people drink? Is this why I drank – because the truth is too unbearable to contemplate? I have pondered these questions over and over again since I quit drinking four years ago, desperately seeking a sense of purpose and a meaning to life that would result in alcohol, religion or any other cushioning from reality not being required, or even contemplated.

Occasionally when I look at myself in the mirror I am reminded of how old I am, how fast time is ticking away, how close I am to reaching the beginning of nothingness. At other times I think I still look young, I feel young. I’m glad I stopped drinking and smoking, and that my lifestyle choices are now reflected in my outlook on life and in my appearance. Sometimes I desperately want to wind the clock back, have another chance – do it all differently. I wish I had known myself at twenty like I know myself now. I’m often bothered by a desire to understand the purpose of it all, the meaning of life, and sometimes crushed by a sneaking suspicion that there isn’t one.

The things that I thought were important in my youth are not important at all anymore. The only constants for me are music, and love. Love seems to me to be the thing that matters the most because it allows us to leave a lasting, meaningful impression on the earth after we have departed it forever.

sunset in heart hands

We can affect other people, bring them happiness, care for them, make them feel worthwhile, nurture them, help them understand that they are not alone. We can change a person’s existence for the better, even if it is only while they are here, alive, caught in the present. The experience of living is heightened when we are loved, and in love. And yet, being selfless and loving is often difficult to achieve – we are, as human beings, prone to self-serving behaviour. It is our survival strategy, to take care of number one. Striking the balance is not always easy.

I have discovered that loving other people – and I mean truly loving them – is far easier when alcohol is not in my life. I am able to think rationally, empathise and make sacrifices whereas when I regularly drank, I was selfish, thoughtless and impetuous. I engaged in knee-jerk reactionary behaviour and was entirely unable to contemplate the outcome of my actions before setting forth down a particular path.

I’m different now, emotionally more mature. This is a very worthwhile and valuable outcome of sobriety. Finding the inner reserves to love other people fully has allowed me to attach proper meaning to my life, and in times of darkness I am assured that there is a purpose, and there is a point. For me, love is the point. Love is what we are all about. It’s the only real meaning of life that I can find.

Coffee Habit

Bleary-eyed after being up for half the night with a wriggly toddler boasting an excellent starfish impression in my bed, I wandered up to my local Sainsbury’s this morning to buy a few items and a take-away coffee. My heart sank a little when I noticed that the check-out person was the same one who has served me the last few times I’ve called into the shop to purchase a latte, feeling, as I was, somewhat self-conscious about my increasingly frequent habit.

I stood, a few minutes later, waiting to hand over some money for bread, bananas, apples and the aforementioned coffee, and my gaze fell upon the array of bottles of alcoholic drinks lined up on the shelves behind the counter. I remembered with alarming clarity the terrible sensation of shame and guilt that I used to encounter whenever I bought booze during the last few years of my drinking life. I would usually have incorporated the wine or beer into a more innocent selection of items, a casual afterthought that I’d slipped breezily into my basket. But in reality, the entire experience from the walk up to the supermarket from my house, to perusing the bottles in the wine aisle with a faux expert eye, to unloading my shopping onto the conveyer belt, would ensure that I was riddled with self-consciousness and worry.

However, these obvious warning signs that I was not in control of alcohol – or at least, not as in control as I would’ve liked – did little to deter me from routinely making the trip up to the shop under the guise of untold ‘last minute’ shopping trips for imagined necessities: cheese, juice, biscuits and other grocery items that I could always have done without, but nevertheless, would be promoted to great importance as a valid excuse for visiting the supermarket yet again.

costa bananas

And so, back to this morning, and the friendly shop assistant who I fear will, any day now, be ringing in a large latte on her till even before I’ve pressed the buttons on the machine to fill my paper cup. We smiled and said hello, I paid and took my shopping bags and coffee, and reminded myself that I no longer live a life that fills me with shame. I am just me, a person who doesn’t drink, who likes herself sufficiently to deal with living minus the prop of mind-numbing booze.

As the late Steve Jobs once said, “Life is short, so do not waste your time living the life of another person”.

Remind yourself that it is fine to just be you – no alcohol required.