by Craig Stephen
Identity is an important part of our lives. We are constantly seeking others who we hold common interests with.
I personally feel lucky that I have quite a few important identities in my life: I am a student; I am a gay man; I am an athlete. But there are some identities that we try to keep hidden. For me, one of these identities I find difficult to share is that I am sober.
Where my main issue lies in revealing my ‘big secret’ is that I have had to fight for the ability to own my sober identity. From the age of 17, I have had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with alcohol.
I would excessively drink on a regular basis. On any given night, you would find me where the alcohol was cheapest. I was the party boy who you knew physically could not say no to an opportunity to drink.
What I find the worst about that whole situation was that I was proud of myself. I wasn’t primarily a student, or somebody who loved music, but I was a drinker.
I would proudly exclaim how much I could drink whilst the people around me would bashfully explain to me the events of the night before. But that fervent pride soon disappeared and was replaced with something much more toxic. I had a new-found perspective, and I really didn’t appreciate it.
So, in 2017, I gave up alcohol for Lent. I had tried a few times before to moderate my alcohol intake and become more sensible in my decisions. However, I had created an environment that wouldn’t accept that.
“Just have one Craig. You know you want to.” “That’s funny, tell me another joke.” I was having to justify my own decisions because I didn’t have any other identity to fall back on. This month was my opportunity to rebrand myself.
And it worked – until my birthday and Sports Ball coincided with the end of Lent and I went on a three-day bender. The transition from the elation of a month’s worth of personal gratification to the banality of a hangover with a thudding headache was jarring.
I had noticed a marked improvement in so many aspects of my life, but obviously, I wasn’t worthy of these improvements yet. I was clinging on desperately to the version of me I had grown so accustomed to. I wasn’t truly ready to let go of that side of me.
Fast forward to today and I have now been sober for over four months. If I was able to pinpoint what exactly changed in my mindset, I would be halfway through writing my self-help book that would earn me my millions.
But I guess the main shift has been that I understand what the word sober used to mean to me. Sober was synonymous with boring. People who don’t drink alcohol are fun sponges.
They don’t know how to let loose and have a good time. But in the end, to be sober is to not drink alcohol. I can still do all the things that I did in my life before.
There’s no minimum amount of alcohol to be consumed to let me sing karaoke. I don’t have to take a breathalyser test before I go into a club to prove that I’ve been drinking. I can still go out and have my fun, but in a way that I feel in control of.
So yes, I do find it difficult to identify as sober. I do still worry that people will judge me the way I used to judge sober people.
But that doesn’t make me any less proud of my newest identity. It’s a badge of honour that I’m going to insist takes pride of place alongside the others. Student. Gay. Athlete. Sober. I guess I could get used to that.