Sober Christmas: Why I won’t be celebrating with champagne 

I have this image in my head of what a night out in a pub or club looks like – Everyone looks very glamorous, there is a lot of laughter and flirtation, the banter is flying… (now that I think of it this image is very similar to what most alcohol advertising looks like) It’s important for me to remember that that’s not what it looked like when I drank alcohol. When I drank, it kind of started like that, but it usually ended with mascara running down my face, high heels in my hand.

Nights out are so much more fun now... here with my beautiful sister and lovely friend.

Nights out are so much more fun now… here with my beautiful sister and lovely friend.

Of course there were good times, especially in the early days. I loved how alcohol seemed to let me be myself – freed me of my inhibitions. Everyone was my friend, or so I thought, and life was sweet. I had a large circle of friends and most of them had no problem with the fact that I regularly got drunk enough to black out, fall over, or both. In fact, for some of my drinking buddies it was a form of entertainment… “What’s Katie up to this time?”

In my late teens and early 20s, it didn’t  matter that much. I was having fun, and if embarrassing myself occasionally was the price I had to pay, I was fine with that. Over time, though, things began to change. My friends were maturing – developing careers, getting married, having kids – while I was stuck in this live-for-the-weekend (or occasionally Tuesday) party lifestyle. The days when I could spring out of bed after a wild night were gone, and horrific hangovers were starting to take their toll.

I cringe when I look back at photos of that time now. I’m overweight, red-faced with booze, and just all over the place in 90% of them. I feel sorry for the girl in those photos, who had to drink to escape how she felt about herself, to distract her from constantly feeling not good enough. I tried desperately to convince myself that I was having the time of my life, but in reality I was incredibly lonely. Today, I have much more confidence in who I am. I face life instead of running from it.

Three months after I gave up drinking, at my best friends' wedding with all my school pals.

Three months after I gave up drinking, at my best friends’ wedding with all my school pals.

On the morning after my last binge, I decided enough was enough. I didn’t want to live that way any more. I was a bit scared about the idea of giving up drinking, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it – but I did. I asked for help and I got it. I haven’t had a drink in almost two years now and my whole life has changed- I honestly had no idea how much of my time and energy alcohol took up. Without it – and the hangovers – I took up hobbies, I changed my job, I made new friends and I became closer to my family. I started travelling again. I’m healthier and happier.

I lost a lot of drinking buddies; people I had nothing in common with apart from a love of the sauce,  but my real friends are all still there. I go on nights out with them to bars and clubs, and when I wake up the next day, I feel great. I don’t have The Fear, no regrets. I chat and laugh and dance and I go home when I want to. I used to make fun of people who went into bars and pubs and drank tea, and now I do it all the time.

Like everyone, I have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks – the only difference is that now when I’m lonely or sad or angry, I deal with it instead of searching for a solution at the bottom of a glass of red. If I can do it, anyone can.

If you’re concerned about your drinking, you can take this quiz developed by John Hopkins University to find out if you might need help.

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Please, stop calling it an ‘Irish’ bar unless:

I get why cities all over the world try to claim they have brilliant Irish pubs. Drinking and having the craic are Irish national pastimes, even in these recessionary times. Irish pubs are synonymous with good music, a friendly atmosphere, excessive liquor and fine company.

I’ve been in Irish pubs all over the world, from Boston and New York to Vietnam and Spain. A friend of mine has a good story about coming across an Irish pub in Uganda. Seriously. Thus, I understand, my friends, why you have been trying to stake your claim.

But you’ve got to stop. You just do. It’s false advertising and misrepresentation of the most scandalous kind. Pictures of some dead Irish poets and shamrocks on your cocktail menu do not an Irish pub make.

So, I am asking nicely that you stop this nonsense unless you meet some or all of the following criteria.

  • Some (preferably all) of your staff are Irish
  • None of them ever needs to ask what the difference between Northern and “Southern” Ireland is
  • You serve Guinness and Jameson. The Guinness comes in pints not cans or bottles
  • Your staff don’t offer me the dessert menu if I ask about white pudding
  • You have traditional Irish music and/or rebel songs playing most of the time
  • You serve at least 3 more rounds after last orders
  • You serve full Irish breakfasts/stew/bacon and cabbage
  • You show all the major GAA matches
  • you weren’t confused when I mentioned having the craic above because you understand this uniquely Irish concept and are aware that it has nothing to do with cocaine
  • last but not least, a large proportion of your clientele are in fact Irish
  • A true Irish pub is a beautiful thing. When my flight to Hanoi in Vietnam got in a couple of hours before my friends I found an Irish bar, made some new friends and had a job offer in the city within an hour.

    So don’t tell me your pub is “Irish” because you called it Molloy’s and stuck up a tricolour! Youre just a wannabe.

    What are your favourite Irish pubs and why?

    Vodka Always Helps

    I have emigrated again. Just to England this time. Today we rather eventfully started trying to furnish our new place. That was an experience. You could say we brought it on ourselves (don’t) since we spent most of our first 72 hours here in Irish bars giving out about Brits not being able to pour Guinness!

    They say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can so. Moving a wide couch into a house with narrow doors on a cold, wet day definitely is! I mean, we thought the stressful part was going to be carrying the couch half a mile down the road to get to our house, but as it turns out that part was comparatively easy – though it too elicited many stares from Bristolians (Bristolites?)!

    The next part involved a lot of heaving, hoing, pushing and shoving. In the course of which I jumped out the window to try and manouvre it from the other side. As you do.

    Eventually it was decided that the door of the house needed to come off its hinges, which required Seamus to go to the hardware shop for screwdrivers. In the meantime, the couch was stuck half way in and half way out of the front door. That was when I realised that while I had managed to jump out the window whilst retaining a modicum of my dignity, it would be impossible to jump back in. Did I mention that it was raining?

    And so, as we waited for our knight in shining armour, Seamus, to return, Amanda and I did the logical thing. With her on one side of the window and me on the other, lapping up the confused glances of passersby, we had a good strong vodka and coke.

    We know how to make the best of a bad situation!

    “yeah twist it – lift it up – turn – no turn the other way – yeah it’s not gonna fit”

    “hey neighbour… no, no need for help…just chillin here on my new sofa in the rain”

    Famous last words.

    I’m never going out on a school night again. Never. It’s just not worth it.

    See here’s me with a hangover:

    Come one step closer. I dare ya. No, wait, I don't have the energy the fight you off. Put the flingin flangan camera away. Please?

     

    And this, my friends, is roughly 25 awesomely cute and generally adorable but also incredibly noisy six year olds.

    Normal day "Miss, I love you TOO much "Aww, that's so cute, I love you too, now sit down". Hangover day "Miss, I love you too much" "SIT DOWN. I ONLY LOVE GOOD BOYS AND GIRLS WHO STAY IN THEIR SEATS AND IF YOU MOVE AN INCH BETWEEN HERE AND BREAK TIME I'M CALLING YOUR MAMA AND TELLING HER YOU'RE THE NAUGHTIEST BOY IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL. GOT IT?"

    I’m a professional, me.

    Every single time, my partner-in-crime and I have roughly the same conversation, vowing that the pain the morning after simply is not worth the few drinks we have on a week night out.

    And here’s the thing, we are just having a few drinks. Home in bed by 12.30 usually. But at 23, my body has already started turning against me, and on a given night, 4 or 5 drinks over the course of a few hours is enough to give me an ear splitting headache, watery mouth, queasy tummy or all of the above!

    Gone are the days when I could drink shots of jagermeister all night and get up for a nine o clock lecture [not that that happened very often anyway. Getting up for the lecture now I mean, I spent many a night downing jager]

    But then you come home after a stressful day. A way-too-big-for-his-age kid stepped on your toe. Again. A random parent is bothering you because her SIX YEAR OLD child only got 99.7% in their English exam…

     

    “Oh my God, I would murder a glass of wine”

    “Yeah, same here”

    “Will we go for one?”

    “I don’t know, should we?”

    “Ah, just the one”

    “Grand”

    “Oh, look, it’s ladies night/happy hour/Monday”

    “We might as well have another one so”

    “Definitely”

    “Oh, look! The Filipino band are playing”

    “PLAY NEIL DIAMOND!”

    “PLAY OASIS!”

    “PLAY THE BEATLES!”

    “PLAY BOB MARLEY!”

    Such is the talent of this group that they respond to all of our requests above almost immediately, and do them remarkably well. [They play them just with string instruments, moving from table to table serenading you,  it’s amazing!]

    At this point you know there’s no going home. You are officially having the craic. You might even end up dancing. It’s a great night all round.

    And in the morning as you groggily grope around the room trying to make yourself look halfway respectably for the devout Muslim parents you’re going to be seeing at assembly, you swear you’ll never do it again.

    Two classes in [“Miss, he took my eraser” ‘Miss, today is my happy birthday” “Miss, I don’t have pencil” “Miss, why is your eyes all red” “Miss, in your country with your mom and your dad and your brother and your sister and your friends do they say for you your name only Katie?”]  you consider resigning, just so you can go back to bed.

    You swear it will never happen again.

     

    Until next time.

     

     

    A picture tells a thousand words.

    It was Friday morning and I was feeling smug with a capital S. It was day seven of my thirty day challenge and things were going swimmingly. As my friends had gotten dressed up and gone out clubbing the previous night, I had curled up in bed at 10:30 with a good book (Dance, dance, dance by Haruki Murakami – highly recommended to anyone with an interest in postmodern fiction or just a damned good read).

    I woke up early, wide awake and refreshed. No hangover.  No shakes. No drink sweats. No telltale watery mouth that says “you better get to the bathroom fast”. This was great. I got all my lesson plans for the week done and then went to the mall, where to add to my smugness, I had a salad and green tea for lunch. I could do this teetotal thing, not a bother.

    It occurred to me at some point that fellow Ruwais survivors Laura and Denis were in town from Al Ain, with some of the Ruwais crew. What followed? Suffice to say the pictures speak for themselves.

    Laura fought off a Filipino to get this! 11pm – Shifting the Beady Eye drumstick

    12am – Feeling pretty ghetto, apparently.

    2 am – Laura fought the Filipino pretty hard for the drumstick but thankfully didn’t hit me for swapping saliva with her boyfriend. She’s cool like that.

    Needless to say, I am well and truly off the wagon. It was worth a try! As a good friend told me the other night “screw it, life is too short not to have champagne”.

    I’m giving up drinking.

    *pause for laughter*

    Okay, I’m not really giving up drinking.

    I’m taking a break from it.

    Okay, I’m trying to take a break from it.

    For a little while.

    I may have a tequila sunrise in my hand by six o clock this evening for all I know – it would be like something I’d do – but for the moment, I’m absolutely determined not to drink for at least a month or so.

    The reasons are many and varied –

    I hate the phrase “Oh my God, you were SO funny last night” and my stomach takes a little turn when I hear it. I simultaeneously attempt to remember the context for whatever ridiculous thing I have done and come up with an appropriate excuse/justification “I did not fall off the stage – that’s a Lady Gaga move I just got down”

    I want to be healthier. I hate how my body feels after a heavy night of drinking. I don’t just mean standard hangover stuff, though the puking is never fun. I mean sweating excessively, not being able to eat right and feeling so lethargic a trip to the bathroom feels like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m trying to lose weight at the moment and I estimate that quitting drinking will save me roughly a bazillion calories a week between the beer on a night out, the inevitable 4am trip to 24hour Macdonalds, the all too necessary cold can of coke and chips in the morning. Maybe even 2 bazillion.

    I really want to make a go of my new job and I figure showing up hungover is not going to help me achieve that aim.

    I have so much other stuff I want to do this year too – learn Arabic, keep this blog updated, lose weight, visit friends in Khalifa, Al Ain, Ruwais and Dubai and if I spend half my weekend drunk and the other half hungover way too much of that stuff gets shelved for no good reason.

    The last but certainly not least of the reasons I want to give up is money. I would dread to add up the amount of money I spend on alcohol over the course of a month. It’s obscene.

    The other day someone asked me why Irish people drink so much, and I couldn’t come up with an answer. We can’t deny it, alcohol figures in every celebration and commiseration, birth, marriage, death, when we win, when we lose, when it’s the weekend… Where does it all end?

    On a personal level I’m trying to challenge the idea that you have to be drinking to have fun, and that the more drunk you were, the more fun you had. I know that with my closest friends, I could chill in a cafe, play a round of mini-golf or just sit in their living rooms and drink tea and have the time of my life.

    So it’s time to spread that attitude beyond them to other aspects of my life.

    Anyone got any advice for me? Have you done it before?

    What are your favourite non-alcohol related activities?

    And why do you think alcohol is such a central plank in the social lives of Irish people?

    Hopefully I’ll be posting back on October 10th to tell you what a healthy month I had, that I haven’t had a drink, I have lost a bunch of weight and have a bunch of extra money in my bank account to boot. We’ll see.

    Wish me luck!

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