It always seemed like a good idea at the time. I suppose at least I never kidded myself about “only going out for one”, or that it would be “just a couple before I hit the road”, but I still lied to myself about how much alcohol affected everything around me. And it wasn’t just me; there were a lot of us, kind of in love with life, with each other, and always nursing some kind of alcoholic beverage. I have stories for days, stories of adventure, of silliness, of love, of pain, and stories of nothing at all, when my brain shut off for a while and I survived on autopilot. I have stories of lengthy sobriety and stories of weeks of drinking, killing one hangover with a shot, killing the next with a beer.
You see, there are some of us who cannot really drink socially. Or to rephrase that, some of us who have such an excellent tolerance that we start to think drinking so much is normal. I learned to live without alcohol through my first long stint of sobriety in my early 30’s (3 years to the day), learned to be myself, to go out and have fun, to accept myself, and to actually even like myself. I was even a sober bartender, happily serving people until long after closing time (4am in NYC), heading home as the sun came up, tired but sober. Then I thought that I could handle myself again, and I missed the fun that alcohol could bring. It was easy to slip right back into that place again, especially as I was surrounded by alcohol and people who were drinking at work. And yes, there were days that I handled myself fine, there were days when I didn’t drink, and there were the days that remain either a hazy memory, or just a big black hole. One day I will publish my stories on all of those years living and working in NYC, of the happy days and the not so happy ones, of real sobriety and real drunkenness, but I need to let them come by themselves.
It is a part of me that I don’t want to let go of, but also a part of me I had to leave behind, for very good reasons.
I am blessed with an amazing immune system, and even after years of drinking and smoking and eating whatever I felt like (although I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater), I barely ever get sick. Even when I got things like walking pneumonia or bronchitis or the flu I was still able to function (still am), but these illnesses are so rare in my life that I just always assumed I would always be fine. Sometimes I drank enough to make a normal person sick, but I just managed to avoid it, no idea how. I was also very slight, so no extra fat to store that alcohol in. I just suffered from terrible hangovers, but even then still made it to work and functioned. I know now that this was not really a good thing, because there are no alarm bells that go off, not until you make it too close to rock bottom. And when all your friends drink as much or more then it’s easy to think it’s normal.
Addiction to drugs and alcohol has plagued different members of my family, and after losing my father at an early age I was adamant that if I ever had a child, first of all it would be with someone who I would be with forever, and second of all, the child would never be exposed to drug addiction or alcoholism. The day I saw those two lines appear on the pregnancy test was also the day I stopped drinking and smoking for good, cold turkey, just like that. There was no question in my mind that from that moment onwards my health and that of my child were more important than a Marlboro Light and a shot of Powers. It’s been four years now, and two more children, and I don’t miss drinking or smoking. I don’t miss the taste, I don’t miss the hangovers. I sometimes miss that sense of euphoria that hits you when the drink starts to take effect, but more in a nostalgic way rather than a real “oh my gosh I want a drink right now way”.
While motherhood pushed me into real sobriety, it was also a wake-up call for me. I was such an idealist growing up, with so many plans to be a writer, to travel, and to help others, reaching my dreams at a young age. Instead I let myself be bogged down in believing that I wasn’t good enough, and just perpetuated this idea until I ended up with notebooks and computer hard drives full of words but the inability to actually move forward and publish work. Moving away from alcohol and becoming a mother also inspired me to work on my self-esteem and my mental health in general, because my plan has always been to be the best I can, inside as well as outside. I don’t want to be Keith Richards and I don’t want to be Janis Joplin either, I just really want to be myself, and a very healthy version of myself who lives long enough to meet my great-grandchildren. Or at least my grandchildren. So while I still indulge in crisps and sweets, I’m a much more balanced individual physically AND mentally, without alcohol in my life.
As I said earlier, I am not a person who can have one drink and leave it. I totally get having a few drinks after a long day, and unwinding at the pub with friends. I still do that in a way, but I just stick to water and tea nowadays. And maybe one day in my old age I will indulge in a delicious cocktail here and there, for now I focus on myself and my family, and being the best I can for all of us.
My eldest told me today that her new favourite animal, Happy BaaBaa, was always happy “like Mummy”. If that’s how she always remembers me then I feel like somewhere along the way I made some right choices. And sobriety is the best choice for me, physically and mentally.
Jade Anna Hughes is a writer and photographer who was born in the UK, grew up in France, called NYC home for a decade before relocating to the California sun. She has two young daughters, another child on the way, and spends most of her “spare” time writing, reading and trying to change the world. Her first book, With Spring Comes Hope, is currently available on Amazon and B&N worldwide.