When you give something up, you notice how suddenly, everyone is doing that thing. This is particularly relevant at this time of year, as Lent rolls out its abstemious, post-pancake carpet and January's dryathlon has only just been washed down with a whisky chaser.
I gave up drinking many years ago. This wasn't for any noble reasons. It wasn't even what I wanted. But after almost completely derailing my life in my early twenties due to drug use, I was told by the support group that I joined that I wouldn't be able to drink again, and I am nothing if not a chronic people pleaser, so I did as I was told whilst watching wistfully as my other friends threw themselves into the early noughties with euphoric trance and vodka Red Bulls.
Because, for many years, I was part of twelve step groups, where not drinking is the norm, I was buffered from that most British of pastimes. It felt similar to the Amish, minus the simple houses and the horse and buggies with pop-out indicators; we were of society but not in society, trying to live in the world according to our own set of morals and principles whilst letting the 'normies' get on with it elsewhere.
Eventually, it was this sense of 'us and them' that caused me to leave that support network. Whilst I appreciated immensely the unconditional support, not to mention life-long friendships, that I found in those rooms, eventually its ethos-that we are broken and weak individuals, regardless of where we're at on the 'journey' of sobriety- began to stick in my proverbial craw. So I cut myself adrift in this strange new world of craft beer and espresso martinis, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.
Not drinking wouldn't be such an issue if I was one of those people who were allergic to alcohol, or didn't drink for religious reasons or even just because I'd never really liked it that much. But the truth is that there are parts of me, though I hate to admit it, that are inherently British; I can barely open a door without apologising to it, I seem to be frequently possessed by a spirit of someone who can't stop talking about the weather and I would much rather drown my sorrows than actually talk about them, especially to someone I have never met before. It's just that I choose not to.
It can make for an awkward life, this not drinking business. There was the date who once told me he wouldn't go out with me again unless I had a drink (fortunately for both of us, I had decided I wouldn't go out with him again, regardless). There have been the times I haven't been invited out by friends on nights out that they knew would be on the epic side. There have been the times I have been invited out by friends on nights out and turned them down for the same reason. There have evenings where I've walked through the west end on a Saturday night, watched the revellers milling around theatre land and Chinatown and Covent Garden and thought 'surely I could just have the one. After all, all that carnage happened when I was barely out of childhood. And look at me now- I have a mortgage and clean clothes and have kept a cat alive for ten years and counting!'
That's why no one is more surprised than me as to my continued commitment to staying on the straight and narrow. And yes, perhaps I have been too put off by those horror stories you hear about drug addicts who return to addiction after twenty years and it all started with a wine gum. But mostly, I decided to hold fast to my little corner of the land known as sobriety because somewhere along the way I began to see the value in being present. Because in not following the crowd, for once in my life, I have been able to hang back and gain a little perspective on life. Because sometimes, not being able to walk the same path as other people means that you have to create your own path, and I am pretty happy with the one that I have created today, even though I have yet to put an indoor swimming pool in my cupboard-sized flat.
If my twenty year old self could travel into the future and see this yoga-teaching, healthy-eating teetotaller, she would probably try and assassinate me, reverse-Terminator style, to save the future from such horror. The good news is, she'd be too out of shape to run after me, and probably too slow-witted to find me in the first place.