Waking up the (afternoon) after Sports Ball 2019 filled me with the sense of dread I have felt far too often over the past two and half years. A dervish box was lying next to my bed, as was the entire contents of my bag from the night before, but it appeared that this time I hadn’t lost anything. I knew the worst was yet to come as I reached for my phone and saw how many people I had drunk texted. This time it was a particularly impressive array of individuals, which included a former fling and my family WhatsApp group. Although I would normally be able to shrug this sort of thing off, I suddenly felt different. Recounting the previous night’s antics to my friend, I realised that actually the only thing I had gained from yet another bender was being twenty pounds into my overdraft and immense feelings of shame and embarrassment. It was then that I decided I was giving up the booze. I was going teetotal for February. Eager to ensure that I stuck to it, I quickly created a JustGiving page and shared the link on Facebook, explaining why I was giving up alcohol and urging people to donate to MIND (an excellent mental health charity). I got many love reacts and supportive messages from my friends, so was feeling positive as I headed into my first week of Dry February.
The first two days I didn’t find challenging at all. As a third year I no longer have the stamina to be out drinking four days a week (R.I.P Ma Belles Tuesday), so tend to reserve the start of the week for work. It was on Wednesday, however, that I really started to struggle. As social rep for the fifth IV hockey team, I not only enjoy drinking, but I enjoy getting my team mates to drink. Throughout my university career, my Wednesdays have been somewhat sacrosanct, the only night out I will never miss. As I arrived for this week’s social, I tried to feel positive, but an hour in I was already struggling. Although my teammates are wonderfully supportive and like a second family (cringe, but true) I felt left out from the get go. It turns out no one is really fussed about seeing someone strawpedo a J2O, and twerking against a wall is not something I will ever do sober. By the time we got to the union, I confess that I was fed up and tired, which I tried to counter with unbearable levels of moral superiority. My night did improve at this stage; I found at least two other people who were completely sober which was weirdly comforting. At 01:30, I decided to call it a night, having come to the conclusion that Sober February was a stupid idea and that I really wanted a drink.
I woke up on Thursday morning and immediately felt a lot more positive about my sober night out. I was in the library by 10 am (a Thursday record for me), and actually was engaged in my tutorial, as opposed to my normal routine of the occasional nod whilst counting down the minutes until I could go to Mozza. I felt alert, energised and didn’t have the craving for junk food that usually takes over on a Thursday. By the time I got to hockey practice in the evening, I was feeling very smug, telling anyone who would listen about how great it felt to not be hungover.
Friday night saw a similar pattern of behaviour: feeling fed up at pres (I didn’t even bother with the union this time), but relieved that I didn’t have a hangover to deal with the next morning. My usual Saturday night trip to Brew Co went ahead, but instead of a pint of Thistly Cross it was alcohol free pear cider I was ordering.
At the time of writing this, I haven’t had a drink in eighteen days and I am shocked at the effects on both my mental and physical health. I have an ongoing struggle with acne but my skin is now virtually clear, apart from the odd blemish or scarring. For the first time in my University career I have a regular sleep pattern and I have lots four pounds (lbs).
My mental health has also benefited. As of sufferer of Pre-menstrual Dysmorphic Disorder, I am prone to short term bouts of extreme anxiety and depression, which I am sure alcohol has only encouraged. What is more, it’s nice not to wake in the morning worrying about what I have done the night before or what I have missed from sleeping in. My friends have been wonderful and I cannot even begin to count how much positive feedback I have had from those around me, or those who have bought me an alcohol-free beer, telling me how well I’m doing.
I doubt I will be teetotal after the 28thof February, but I will certainly approach my nights out with a different outlook. I will go into them able to enjoy a few drinks, but also remembering everything I have done, and continuing my Thursdays without dread or shame. The idea of giving up alcohol for a certain period of time is scary, especially in a place like St Andrews where our events culture and bubble-like nature means we are not only surrounded by opportunities to drink, but are actively encouraged to do so.
A former boss of mine reached out to me at the beginning of my sober February and I will leave you with something he said, which has stuck with me throughout this process: “It’s good. It’s good to find your emotional north again. To know that your decisions are yours. Not because you’re tipsy, drunk or hungover. Just yours. There is power in that.”