It is 2007, and I am screaming for no reason while dressed as a sort-of cat. I am 14 years old, and I have just been sent to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. My mum is in the room now, looking embarrassed and annoyed. “Shhh, Daisy,” she says, or maybe it’s the nurse who says that – it’s hard to tell. Their faces are swimming and blending into one. I can smell urine. Is that me? My tights have holes in them. I just want to go to sleep. After fitting me with a drip, they wheel me off to the children’s ward, next to a toddler whose legs are broken and in casts. The children sleeping beside me are actually sick. Whereas I am just a teenager who drank too much Glen’s Vodka with Cola at Halloween. I feel a hot prickle of shame. “I’ll come get you in the morning,” says my mum, shooting me a look. And then I’m asleep, hair clumped with vomit and Barry M glitter.
That was well over a decade ago, and while I’ve clearly learnt to handle my alcohol since then, the years to follow threw up plenty of other gruesome situations. I’ve found myself at 7am with my arms wrapped around a stranger’s toilet bowl, or passed out at a party with a radiator melting my faux leather jacket, or simply miles and miles from where I started the night. This one time, after partying in Helsinki for my 18th birthday, I woke up alone in an unknown house, the windows caked in snow, my phone battery dead with no charger. I was completely safe, fortunately, but my head felt as though it’d been flattened by a passing truck.
That said, just as there have been nights involving alcohol that now make me wince, there have been fun times, too. Dancing among sweaty bodies beneath pink dappled lights in a queer club before spilling into a taxi, giggling. Spooning black vodka jelly into my mouth at a house party in Brooklyn on my 25th birthday. All those nights spent with my partner in the earlier days of our relationship, back when we’d share tequila and chainsmoke until sunrise, dancing around the room in our underwear to Shampoo’s greatest hits. Alcohol has always been my favourite vice because it makes everything looser, sillier, the stresses of everyday life suddenly seeming less serious.
Over the years, though, my relationship to alcohol has changed drastically. There wasn’t a specific moment when it happened. I didn’t do something wild like hijack a car and vow never to touch a drop again. It was more gradual than that, less defined. In my early to mid twenties, I loved nothing more than to pre-drink and then party and then continue onto an afters. And then the hangovers got worse, the drunk chat got boring, and I found myself more often craving coffees or dinners or thrift shopping with friends. Now, at 30, I drink maybe once or twice a month – if that – and rarely very much. The other day, my friends and I ate pizza and danced to the Big Brother theme tune in the kitchen. I left feeling satisfied and full-up – not just on the food, but on time well spent with others, without drinking.
The narrative we most often hear about giving up alcohol goes like this: a person has a problematic relationship to drinking, then they give up drinking, then their life gets considerably better. There is a before (bad) and an after (good), and though there may be some bumps in the road, mostly it is like stepping from a dark alleyway into the sun. And for some sober or sober-adjacent friends of mine, this has certainly been the case. But for me, and presumably for others, the reality can be so much fuzzier. Because while I have enjoyed drinking less to the point that I am healthier, happier and more productive, I don’t look back on my teens or twenties with disdain. There were times in which I loved going completely wild. I just don’t want to do that right now, or ever again.
There are elements of drinking that I definitely do not miss. I do not miss the next-day anxiety, or that puffy-faced feeling, or my brain not working like a well-oiled machine. I do not miss blurting out things I later regret, or opinions I don’t believe, or making out with people I didn’t even click with. But I do miss the way a night can stretch out ahead of you, the way it feels easier to make friends. Sober people will say that you can learn to do this without alcohol – and I believe them – but that doesn’t mean it’s the same. Now that I drink less, I miss the neon expanse of the early hours. I miss chatting nonsense in someone’s bathroom. I miss flinging myself into experiences with unhinged gusto, like a kid before becoming self-conscious.
But I don’t miss those things enough to go back to that level of drinking. And I couldn’t, even if I tried. I’m sure something happens after you pass 27 in which alcohol doesn’t hit the same way (the buzz becomes… a sort of slump). Your life tends to get more serious, too, or at least you take it more seriously. My job requires that I write a lot, and communicate often with others, and I simply cannot do that while hungover. Why would I want to? When you’re hungover, all you want to do is curl up and shut everything out. Alcohol feels like it makes your life bigger, initially, but after a while it makes everything smaller, and smaller, until a week has passed and you haven’t done anything that you planned to do.
I’m not completely sober. I like to have a drink with friends on occasion – although I can limit myself in ways I couldn’t before. But I would like to be fully sober in the future. Because I love living life in full colour, remembering what happened the night before, feeling connected to people in real ways rather than chemical ones. I love going out for delicious pastas and creamy desserts and savouring every bite, as opposed to shoving chips in my mouth on the night bus. So much of life is better without alcohol: sex, food, being in nature, intimate conversations, seeing new places. If you can’t connect with people without drinking, then maybe the connection wasn’t that strong to begin with.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.