No Hangover Club: Emily France
Trigger warning – discussions of addiction and references to non-consensual encounters.
If you had asked me a year ago what I thought of people who don’t drink, I would have puffed my chest out, rolled my eyes and given you a smug, all-knowing look as I proclaimed that I would NEVER be “that kind of person”.
People who don’t drink think they’re better than everyone else, right?
Oh, so you’re saving your brain cells? How about saving the rest of us from feeling bad?
Alcohol has loads of calories? Ever heard of skipping breakfast?
Yup, I was completely misguided and tbh… a bit of a bitch.
Time and compassion has helped me forgive my former self, as I observe the struggles of other high-functioning addicts projecting their crippling insecurities onto friends, family and society. Time has also taken me down rabbit holes that were always there for me to explore; I just refused to acknowledge their existence.
The thing is, I am the product of a culture that goes one step further than normalising unsafe behaviours of consumption; it glamorises it. From seemingly innocent Instagram stories enthusing “Rosé Yes-Way”, to glamming up weekly so that I could quite literally drink until I lost the ability to speak. I wasn’t just a textbook case of “White Girl Wasted”, I was the head cheerleader of that trope.
Being white, female and conventionally slim, I was a very inoffensive, if not “cute” drunk. Who doesn’t want a cheerful 20-something champagne-clutching girl telling you that:
- they love you - anyone who I’d met more than say, 3 times
- they are so grateful for your existence and wish they could see more of you - friends of friends who I hadn’t given a second thought to between events OR
- that they you have a beautiful energy, and maybe we knew each other in another life? – complete and total strangers
It is a little bit funny, thinking about the looks of bewilderment I would have been met with, despite not being able to see these through swaying and blurred vision at the time.
The dark side of this however, is that friendliness and over-attentiveness – albeit being unable to stand - plays to the egos of the cowardly. The sub-par guys who haven’t had a lay in a while and isn’t it about time they’d earned one? The corporates into their second decade of marriage who are quite enjoying the reminder that “they still got it”. The over-achievers who wouldn’t know themselves if they were to finish the night without a perky-yet-emaciated girl showering them with rambling compliments in the back of an uber.
From the outside, anyone would think that falling victim to even one of these archetypes would be enough of a wake-up call to jolt someone into practicing safer behaviours. Sometimes it was; a weekend at home (still drinking to blackout state, mind you), was met with a self-congratulatory pat on the back and toast to responsibility. Like a frog in slowly heating water though, my threshold for danger increasingly grew; and so too did my subconscious self-punishment.
It’s not uncommon knowledge that the most evidence-based treatment for alcoholism is complete abstinence. From time to time, media outlets deep-dive into the life and recovery journey of alcoholics who have climbed back from rock bottom. The stereotype we often see are middle-aged or older men, whose choices and recklessness over the years have led to failed marriages, indecency convictions, bankruptcy or even homelessness. There is absolutely a need for these stories to be told, and if projecting this image pulls even one individual out of addiction then it would have been worth it.
What these stories don’t show us however, is how behaviours that may be seen as normal to an outsider, are potentially lethal warning signs if left ignored. High-functioning alcoholism causes the individual to be just that: high-functioning. I, like so many others, held down a fulfilling career that continues to be the envy of many. I had so many “besties”, my Instagram stories on a night out became a collage of love enough to make those featured blush. I ran half marathons and made sure the world knew I was up training at the crack of dawn after a night out.
What the world didn’t know, was that I was working 16+ hour a day, usually hungover and fading, just to be able to deliver work that met the standard I projected to be capable of. That I would never remember posting a story beyond about an hour into a social or work event. That I was up running at the crack of dawn, not because I felt fresh-as-a-daisy, but because I felt like I was physically oozing shame. Only the penance of a self-flagellating run to burn off the calories from the night before could help bring my ego back to neutral.
As awful as all that sounds, I was one of the lucky ones. I woke up before I could ruin the lives of others. Before I had real financial or managerial responsibilities. Before I lost too many brain cells, caused my liver irreparable damage or heaven forbid, met the fate of so many other young people who are drunk in the wrong place at the wrong time and tragically pay the ultimate price. I woke up, and at just the right time.
Before gushing about my new life and the countless surprising delights alcohol-free living has afforded me, I wish to disclose that I am still very much on a journey. As alluded to, I experienced a number of traumatic incidents as a result of my drinking that will likely take years to heal from. That’s what therapy is for, and boy am I #grateful to live in a country where that is accessible and culturally encouraged. The following is a love letter to the non-medical joys of alcohol-free living. I hope that it’s also something of a guide for anyone who, like I did, recognised the problem, but was too scared to take the leap into abstinence for fear of social judgment or insecurity.
How good is belting out “Living on a Prayer” in front of 30 colleagues as Grey Goose is free-poured in a private karaoke room? Only good if you’re not lucid enough to be conscious of being surrounded by sweaty middle-aged dudes, bruising your knees as you fall off sticky velvet lounges and the fact that people are only cheering you on as you’re the chick who can drink the guys under the table.
I tell you what’s fun?
Going to a wine and cheese night, only to eat your body weight in the latter and pass out in a blissful food-coma at 10pm.
Joining a group that aligns to your values and meeting people who genuinely pause and listen to every word you’re saying (shout out @unwasted run club!). Mind-blowing stuff.
Spending half an hour of downtime in bed watching dogs on TikTok, instead of crying over the instagrams of ex-fuckboys, with a precariously balanced glass of red.
Seeing one of your best friends marry the love of their life and witness their joy, remember hugging their parents, having second helpings of cake, keeping your dress in tact so it can actually be worn again.
Getting up early every day to feel smug, then having a guilt-free nap later in the day.
…Ok, this one isn’t for everyone and I fully own my grandma-status now. But what’s not to love about grandmas?! I LOVE MY GRANDMAS!
- Everything feels better without alcohol.
Turns out my self-diagnosed ‘early onset arthritis’ was actually just my body screaming for nutrients and rest. It’s not just my muscles and joints, though. Never have I ever laughed as hard (I’m talking tears and snot-bubble laughter) as I have in the last 8 months.
Having hardly ever had sober sex (outside of relationships) in my life, I’m pleased to inform that it does in fact get better as you get older; and knowing that you are actually attracted to the other person, as it turns out, is a HUGE plus.
- Weirdly enough, you start caring less.
Old mate left me on ‘seen’? Why TF would I want to pursue someone who’s already showing signs he doesn’t match my energy and communication style?
No one ever reads this article? It’s probably the single most cathartic thing I’ve done in months and that’s a massive win in itself.
- You find your new “thing”.
Finding your “thing” can be anything, provided it’s not detrimental to your physical or mental health. I know loads of women whose passion has turned to amazing food. So many recoverees swear by the endorphins they receive through exercise or mindfulness. Just because alcohol was once your only “thing”, doesn’t mean it’s irreplaceable.
- It only gets easier.
I should preface this by saying that there will always be challenges. Recent causes for celebration have seen me grieving the option to have just a single glass of champagne. Seeing people post pics of delicious $40 pasta dishes paired with a hearty glass of red in winter still has me salivating. On the whole though, navigating social situations and heavy-drinking events is incredibly easy, compared to even 6 months ago.
Having a mantra “think of tomorrow” has kept me on track and strengthened my resolve over time. Short-lived fun (before the alcohol takes over) will never be worth the pain of the next day or risk of triggering a relapse.
The stronger you get in your resolve, the more people respect and recognise that. People stop pressuring you to drink. Then they stop offering you drinks. Then they start seeking out non-alcoholic options for you. Then they stop drinking around you too and find the joy in having a “dry night”. I’ve never sought to “convert” or project my lifestyle choices onto those around me, but I am grateful each and every day for the ones who continue to respect them and my reasons for making those choices.
Find Emily on Instagram here!