The past couple of months have been tough. We’ve been through the anniversary of Joe’s death on what would have been his 21st birthday, as well as the inquest into his death. It’s been overwhelming and I don’t feel ready to write about it all yet, so I’m going to focus on something positive…
On 1st July I reached my six months no booze milestone! Get in! And I couldn’t let it pass by without reflecting on a few things I’ve learned…
- I don’t need alcohol to relax
For years, I associated having a glass of wine with unwinding and relaxing. I always thought that I deserved a glass at the end of a busy day or that I’d earned one by making it through to the weekend. A colleague recently looked aghast and asked “But how on earth do you unwind?!” when I told him I don’t drink. And the answer is, I’m fundamentally more chilled, more relaxed and more content in my own skin than I ever was when I was drinking, so I just don’t need it anymore.
I didn’t realise just how stressed and anxious drinking made me until I stopped, so now the thought of drinking to unwind is completely alien. It’s staggering that I feel this way after only six months when I was always the first to reach for the wine, but there you go. We can surprise ourselves sometimes.
If I’d given up alcohol at a time when I wasn’t also experiencing the life-changing loss of Joe, I may well have found myself grinning at strangers and banging on about sobriety at every opportunity, such is the joy (and that’s not too strong a word) of not drinking. As it is, I simply embrace the calm that it brings me and wonder how I would ever have got through the past six months if wine had still been a part of my life.
And yet… having said all of this, there are still certain triggers that make me want to drink (see 3) – the brain is a complex thing!
2. Life without hangovers is AWESOME
3. I can do all the things I did when I drank, and actually enjoy them more
Well, not all the things. I do find going to dedicated drinking establishments quite difficult. I can go to pubs and have a meal without alcohol, enjoy plane journeys without all the cabin crew knowing my white wine preference by the end of the flight, and have fun at a work awards do without necking champagne. But I did struggle a bit with going to bars when we visited New York…
Walking in Central Park on the first full day of our trip, we heard jazz music wafting towards us. Following it like the good jazz fans we are, we found ourselves at Tavern on the Green – the garden full of Sunday brunchers and a delightful band playing some old school jazz loveliness. We grabbed a table and I made my way to the bar.
It turns out that watching glass after glass of champagne being poured in front of me, in one of my favourite cities, with my favourite people, on a gloriously sunny day, with live jazz in the background makes me really, really want a drink. And while the barman indulged my request for a ‘delicious-not-too-sweet-no-strawberry-or-mango-and-quite-sharp-with-as-much-of-a-kick-as-you-can-make-a-drink-with-no-actual-alcohol-in-it’ mocktail, I really wanted some fizz. And there’s nothing I can do in those situations except ride it out and avoid looking at the wine list.
We went to another bar a few nights later – Gallow Green at the McKittrick Hotel (lovely, recommended). After the surprise and delight of being asked for ID – and the subsequent dismay of discovering they have to ask everyone for safety reasons (fuck it) – we found our rooftop table. I watched as groups of friends enjoyed delicious-looking cocktails and ice-cold glasses of rose, laughing and chatting away as the sun disappeared over the Hudson. The atmosphere was intoxicating, pardon the pun.
After one mocktail I was ready to leave; I was feeling antsy and just wanted to get out. Old Kit would no doubt have polished off a few glasses of Sauvignon before bowling off for dinner, eating very little and ordering more wine. Luckily, David and the kids are supportive of my alcohol-free challenge, so we left and made our way to our favourite upper east side restaurant, UVA. I ate plenty, sipped an alcohol-free lager, talked, laughed, and generally had a much better night than I would ever have done if Mr Sauvignon had been involved.
So, bars are tricky, but luckily my 40-something social life doesn’t require me to visit many, so it’s all good…
4. Tea is the new wine
I’ve become addicted to tea. Seriously addicted. I’ve always liked tea, even more so since developing an aversion to coffee at some point in my 30s, but like has definitely developed into love. I now get panicky if there isn’t enough tea in the house and I worry when I go anywhere in case the tea is shit. Because it’s not just that I love tea, it’s that I love tea EXACTLY THE WAY I LOVE IT.
Anyone who has ever lived or worked with me will know my very particular tea requirements; strong, with a tiny amount of milk. If there’s too much milk, I won’t drink it. I don’t care if you’ve spent time lovingly brewing individually hand-picked leaves of India’s finest in my favourite mug, if you’ve put too much milk in you can take it away and start again. I’m quite ruthless about this
I recently found my dear friend and colleague, Lizzie, in the kitchen at work, very carefully pouring semi-skimmed into the lid of the milk carton after discovering it’s the perfect amount for my exacting tea standards. It really is a joy working with me…
So tea and I are definitely now an item. English breakfast, decaf, loose leaf, in a bag; I don’t mind as long as you get the milk right. Capeesh?
5. I’m less arsey (although clearly not where milky tea is concerned)
I was often incredibly irritable and argumentative after a couple of glasses of wine. I’ve been brought up to enjoy a good debate, but wine always fuelled any anger or discontent inside me; I was ‘wangry’…
As an introvert living with and raising three teenagers, I was often frustrated, stressed and bemused, and I now realise that drinking wine didn’t help me deal with those feelings. I would sometimes react to situations in ways that I look back on now with shame and sadness; I turned door slamming into an art form.
Anyone raising teenagers knows how confusing and challenging it can be. Throw in being a stepmum with no children of my own who’s only 17 years older than the eldest, as well as the teens having a largely absent biological mother who made a pitiful emotional, practical and financial contribution to her children’s upbringing, and you have a situation that I defy anyone to handle with grace and serenity at all times.
I found some comfort in Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin – which should be required reading for stepmums the world over. To know that the way I was feeling wasn’t wrong or abnormal, and that other women were feeling the same way, was incredibly reassuring.
I can’t talk to Joe about any of this now or explain how hard I found it being a stepmum. I also can’t tell him how much I loved him and how I persevered every day to try and figure out my role in the absence of his own mum, and to make our weird little blended family work.
It breaks my heart that I’ll never develop an adult relationship with Joe, a relationship that I know would have been full of debate, discussion, laughter and fun, once we’d overcome the inevitable challenges of our teenager/stepmum relationship.
I genuinely believed that wine was helping me deal with these difficult situations and that I needed it to get through the crap, when in fact it was the complete opposite. I wish I could go back, knowing what I know now, and change so many things. But I can’t. All I can do is make sure I learn from my mistakes and become a less arsey, a less ‘wangry’, Kit.
6. I’ve ‘met’ some brilliantly inspiring sober bods
I now follow a whole host of people on Instagram and Twitter who’ve chosen sobriety for a variety of reasons, and are loving it. I thank each and every one of them for their stories, support and encouragement. It’s a brilliant tribe to be a part of.
7. Sobriety doesn’t fix everything
As great as being alcohol-free is, it’s not a miracle worker. The stress, anxiety and grief of the past year have built up to such a point that I’m finding it difficult to move beyond them at the moment. I’m not coping with even the simplest things and I’m not functioning at work, so I’m taking a break.
It doesn’t come naturally to me to admit that I’m struggling but I’m learning the importance of self-care, and that’s it’s ok to say “I’m really not ok.” Family, friends and colleagues have been amazing, and I have everyone’s blessing to step off the treadmill for a while.
I’ve escaped to the peace and tranquility of North Yorkshire to give myself time and space to try and compute the incalculable shock and loss of Joe’s death, and to hopefully come back stronger and more able to cope.
And of course I’m doing it all with gallons of non-milky tea…