I’ve done it, I’ve bloody well done it! 365 days (well, 362 as I write this) without a drop of alcohol. Boom!
So, what now? Do I sail into 2019 on a wave of Champagne and sauvignon blanc, pouring as much sweet nectar down my throat as possible? Or perhaps I take it slowly in case a glass of wine sends my head spinning and I fall over, kicking off the new year in the same way I have so many others… The choice is mine now that I’ve completed my ‘one year no booze’ challenge and done what I set out to do: raise money for PAPYRUS and awareness of young people’s mental health, depression and suicide.
I hope you won’t be too disappointed, then, when I tell you that at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I plan to be snuggled up at home with David, toasting my achievement with a large cup of tea…
I don’t miss drinking and I don’t miss alcohol. Hell, I don’t even miss Marlborough sauvignon blanc (although I did spend some time sniffing an empty bottle of it at a team lunch a couple of weeks ago; I blame pre-Christmas stress). There’s really nothing about drinking that I miss or crave, so why would I start doing it again?
If you’d told me that at the start of the year, I would have questioned your sanity and my own, and wondered what on earth had possessed me over the course of 12 months.
Drinking was such a big part of my life and I couldn’t imagine why I wouldn’t be getting straight back on it after a year of abstinence.
But I simply don’t want to. I’m so much happier without alcohol in my life. I always thought it relaxed me, but I was wrong. Alcohol fuelled my anxiety, not alleviated it. The glass, or four, of wine I ‘treated’ myself to on a Friday night (or any other night of the week, come to that) would so often make me arsey, sleepy, teary and grumpy – the not-so-fun dwarves – after the initial buzz had worn off.
The habitual nature of my drinking was making me unhappy, but it’s taken stopping drinking for me to realise that. I’d tried cutting back, tried a few nights in the week with no wine, but if I managed it, I was always so proud of myself that I’d drink even more at the weekend as a reward. And, so it went on…
I still have anxiety. Being sober hasn’t turned me into a completely worry-free Kit (that would take a re-working of my genetic code), but I’m generally far more calm and less prone to those 4am panics when I’d wake up, heart racing, feeling like the world was about to end. I now know that my body was reacting to the reducing levels of alcohol in my bloodstream as the evening’s sauvignon wore off. It probably took three months before I really started to notice this change but I when I did, it was a revelation. Now I know that when I’m feeling anxious it’s because of work, the kids, Brexit (for fuck’s sake), but it’s never because of alcohol, and that feels really good.
A lot has happened in the past 12 months: Claudia and Connor have moved back home; we had the first anniversary of Joe’s death and his inquest; I had to take a break when life got too much… And I’m confident that I wouldn’t have handled any of these things – or the million other challenges life throws at you when you’re grieving – in a remotely positive way if I’d been drinking alcohol.
One of my sober tribe on Instagram (Eve Bell, @seekingslow) wrote the other day: “Alcohol affects different people in different ways, but I have learnt it is not for me. Sober, by definition, means dull, solemn and plain. But this is exactly the opposite of the way I feel. I feel calm, joyful and firing on all cylinders.” YES, Eve! Exactly that! I genuinely don’t think alcohol is for me and I feel so much better now I’ve realised that.
One thing I always dreaded pre-2018 were visits to the doctor and the inevitable ‘how many units of alcohol do you drink?’ question. I was never entirely honest (is anyone?!) and did sometimes worry about the impact all that delicious sauvignon was having on my health, but I always pushed my worries aside. I would justify drinking wine because a) everyone else does it, b) so and so drinks more than me and they seem healthy enough, and c) I love wine. But it turns out that, a) no they don’t, b) you have no idea how much someone else is drinking or what it’s doing to them, and c) wine doesn’t love you.
So, this year, I’ve relished being asked the ‘number of units’ question. My dentist even asked me the other day and I could’ve hugged her – ‘NONE!’ I shouted. ‘ABSOLUTELY NONE!’ She didn’t seem quite as excited as me, but she did give my teeth an extra polish… I’ve also seen my doctor a lot this year as my body and mind adjust to life without Joe, and while he doesn’t need to ask me every time about how much I drink, he does because he knows I get a kick out of saying ‘nothing’. Bless him.
And that brings me onto all the support I’ve had from friends, family and strangers over the past 365 days. You guys have been incredible. The money you’ve helped raise for
PAPYRUS, the messages of love and encouragement – often from people I haven’t seen or spoken to for years – the non-alcoholic gifts (tea and Nosecco, Jem!), the random texts just to say ‘keep going!’, the understanding, and ultimately the love, have blown me away. I’ll be forever grateful and thankful to you all.
The biggest shout out has to go to my long-suffering family – David, Connor and Claudia. They’ve had to put up with those four dwarves over the years – as well as fun and silly Kit (it wasn’t always awful) – so they’ve definitely seen the biggest change and are much happier living with wine-free Kit.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t give up years ago, so Joe could have had the benefit of a more present and calm Kit, because he deserved that. It breaks my heart that it’s only because of losing such a wonderful, hilarious, bright and sassy boy that I took on this challenge. Why only now, when it’s too late, do I want to be a better person? Everyone else is reaping the benefits, but Joe isn’t, and he never will.
A lot of people have been congratulating me on my achievement and I am really pleased and proud of what I’ve done – it hasn’t always been easy – but to me, it’s nothing compared to what Joe achieved every day as he battled depression. All I did was stop drinking alcohol; he lived with a debilitating illness that robbed him of himself.
I recently read Chase the Rainbow by Poorna Bell, about her husband Rob’s battle with addiction and depression, and his subsequent death by suicide. Poorna writes so beautifully – and often with such humour – about the man she loves and about life with and without him. There are many parts of the book that resonate, but I particularly want to share the following:
“We call suicide weakness. We say it is selfish. We say it’s the easy way out. But people who have reached that point have been fighting the hardest of fights for a long time. They have often been doing it on their own, because we don’t respect or value people who are struggling inside their own heads. They are lost in their own battlefield and perhaps suicide is when it has become terminal.
“They cannot see the day when they won’t be fighting. They are so very tired of fighting. Whatever the outcome, we should be in awe of their life. We should get on our knees and honour the bravery and courage they had to stay in the world as long as they did, feeling as they did.”
Joe, my sweet boy, I honour your courage every day, and every day I regret not recognising your illness and the turmoil and pain you were in for so long. I hope that the money and awareness I’ve raised this year will help someone else, who’s being as brave as you were, to take a different path.
Thank you for your light and for the years of joy you brought us all. You are with me always, and I will try to be a better person every day, because of you.