20 new teetotal things before my 20th birthday

19 mins read

I recently stopped drinking alcohol.

My parents used to joke to themselves when I was a toddler that I was most likely out of their three children to become a drinker or a smoker. I was addicted to dummies and refused to give them up, even when I was past the age of two. They had to invent a ‘dummy fairy’ (the tooth fairy’s lesser-known cousin) in order for me to relinquish my beloved binkies.

On my birthday this year, I reached my 107-day sobriety milestone. I chose to go teetotal for a variety of reasons: I kept having blackouts, was becoming dependent on alcohol, and seemed unable to have ‘just one’. I began binge drinking at 14. I’d say ever since then, I’ve had a problem with alcohol that just kept getting worse.

I had dabbled in moderation before, sure, going on stints of sobriety after those moments of ‘hangxiety’ we all know so well, where you declare you will never drink again. But, of course, you do, because drinking is so deeply entrenched in our culture, and teetotallers are often written off as boring sanctimonious f*cks.

The fact of the matter is, alcohol was having a severely detrimental effect on my mental and physical health. I couldn’t control it, and it was impacting on my relationships. I decided to go cold turkey for my future self, as alcohol is a drug, and I’ve realised that, as Aussie artist Campbell Walker puts it, once drugs start to suck, they don’t get better – they stay sucking.

That’s not to say that it’s been easy for me. Alcohol is everywhere. The colour of cigarette packaging is the colour least pleasing to the human eye; I wish I could say the same for all the sparkly bottles which line our supermarket shelves.

One of the main things that has helped me with my sobriety is trying lots of new things. This is a tip I’ve picked up from reading Quit Lit (literature that explores what it means to stay sober). My favourite book of this genre, hands-down, is Millie Gooch’s The Sober Girl Society Handbook. I would recommend it to anyone who is remotely sober curious.

“Alcohol doesn’t give you anything that isn’t already inside of you.”

Millie Gooch, founder of The Sober Girl Society

Millie strongly believes in grabbing opportunities that come your way when you first kick the booze to show yourself that life is just as fun without it. I was inspired by her ’30 new things in the 30 days before I turn 30′ challenge, which she documented on her Instagram back in August, to step out of my comfort zone and try 20 new things on the run-up to my 20th birthday. I wasn’t quite as adventurous as Millie – I didn’t set myself the 20-day target because I felt it would be too restrictive for me personally. Instead, I got stuck in straight away in August and thought I’d see how I got on. I’m not dead yet, I figured. 

Credit: Imogen Robinson

1. Skinny-dipped: I’ve always wanted to go skinny-dipping, but imagined it would be something I do totally sh*t-faced late at night with a bunch of friends whilst on holiday away somewhere.

It was a particularly sunny day in the summer, and I’d been getting frustrated with bikini lines for a long time (#freethenipple). I find that most bikinis give me inconvenient, glaringly-white stripes across my shoulders. I have never used fake tan, and don’t plan to. In my opinion, you can easily tell when a tan is natural and when it’s not, and I don’t want to add a self-tanning routine into my already extensive beauty regimen – girls my age already have so much to contend with in order to ‘look good’, from skincare to nails, makeup and hair styling, fashion and jewellery…

I couldn’t just whip my top off in the garden, which is heavily overlooked. So I grabbed my speaker, towel, and a bottle of kombucha (an amazing non-alcoholic alternative) to take myself on a Monday morning beach date.

No one was around. I was there, at the beach, and the weather was beautiful. The water was warm. Why not? I thought. I’ll tell you now, I don’t regret it. It was an awesome experience, swimming around starkers in the sun, smiling soberly to myself: this is what people who are baptised must feel like. It actually felt like a rebirth, and was an excellent start to the 20 before 20 challenge.

2. Learnt how to sew: I have a hatred of labels inside clothing. They’re. Just. So. Itchy. Why do they make them so itchy?

Anyways, I try and fight the urge to snip the labels out of new clothes. I really do. But I usually give up in a matter of minutes of scratching irately at my skin and grab for the scissors. By this point, I’m so infuriated that I accidentally cut holes in the fabric during the process. I’d always meant to learn how to sew because of this, but had never gotten round to it.

I used a sewing machine at school, but am still mildly terrified of the contraption after hearing some horror stories (my grandma was pushed into a sewing machine when she was young and had to get stitches in her eyebrow). Long story short, I settled with mastering the basic needle and thread method. I’m no seamstress, but I don’t have as many holey t-shirts now.

Credit: Imogen Robinson

3. Dyed my hair blue at home: I got my hair dyed pink professionally in a salon back in April and foolishly assumed that direct-dye blue I applied myself would wash out just as easily.

It went a sort of alien turquoise colour. To quote sober icon Leslie Jordan: “Oh honey, if I were you, I would take your hair behind a shed and shoot it.”

4. Got my second COVID vaccination: friendly reminder to get double jagged if you haven’t already done so!

5. Tried Tai Chi: I went along to an outdoor beginner’s session at the Meadows in Edinburgh. I was completely new to it but keen to learn more about the many health benefits of the martial art form, and found it to be a very peaceful, meditative practice. Highly recommend James’s classes – he’s a fantastic teacher!

6. Took a bite of a deep-fried Mars bar: it was gross, but hey, at least I can now officially call myself Scottish.

Credit: Imogen Robinson

7. Swam at Loch Lomond: my friend had a sudden desire to go swimming in an open body of water, so we bought a return ticket to Balloch and spent the day splashing about. This was my first time at the Loch and it was gorgeous. Great cheap day out for students too!

8. Did a pub quiz: I had never actually done a pub quiz before – not for lack of trying; I was always too trolleyed to comprehend a single question. Although my table didn’t win, I found that my general knowledge isn’t quite as abysmal as it used to be. Might go for University Challenge next.

9. Went to Bamboo in Glasgow: dancing the night away is perhaps not quite as fun sober, but it was still great to get back into it after lockdown. We did all the usual (you know the drill): made friends in the queue, lost our hearing, then grabbed a 2am McDonalds. One thing I’d say to anyone wanting to try clubbing sober – the music really makes it or breaks it, so do some investigation into what DJ is on before you go.

10. Interviewed Millie Gooch: I learnt so much from chatting with Millie, who is now coming up four years sober. After assuring me she’d had a well-deserved rest following the 30 before 30 challenge, she told me how it went for her: “It was such an amazing experience…I thought it was just going to be me doing stupid things but it turned into meeting some incredible people with incredible stories. It held me accountable every day. I was like, ‘sh*t, I’ve actually got to do these things!'”

We talked about student drinking culture and how it’s so common to cover up alcohol struggles with jokes: “I’m all for self-deprecating humour – I take the p*ss out of myself all the time – but I think it gets to a point where it hides something a lot more serious.”

I asked if she had any advice for young people starting their degree after being cooped up in lockdown for so long: “The first thing I’d say is look around. The amount of sober societies popping up is incredible! There are so many events and such a massive sober community out there; there are so many resources now. Consider alcohol-free drinks and taking days off. Also make sure you’re supported.”

Credit: Imogen Robinson

11. Picnicked at Dunbar beach: this was another place that was brand new for me – I’ve realised doing this challenge that there are so many places in Scotland I have yet to explore. The picnic was delish, and we had a paddle afterwards. Spending time with my three-year-old half-brother reminds me that you don’t need alcohol to have a laugh. He’s constantly in hysterics at his own hijinks.

12. Watched The Lord of the Rings films: all of you can get off my back about not having seen them now. Psst…Harry Potter is better.

13. Finally climbed Dumyat: nearly got blown off the top of it as it was so windy. Well worth it for the view.

14. Attended a pole fitness class on Stirling campus: one of Millie’s other teetotal tips is to look at joining groups that aren’t focussed on alcohol. This can be difficult because a lot of sport societies have initiation ceremonies which involve drinking dangerous amounts. I’d recommend the University pole fitness club, as everyone was super welcoming and it seems a safe, empowering space for female students.

15. Visited the Wallace Monument: Stirling is beautiful all lit up at night.

16. Had a night out at a poetry gig: I really enjoy spoken word poetry but this was my first time seeing it performed in concert. I would love to some day get up at an open mic myself, so I found it thoroughly inspiring.

17. Gave a graduation speech: if you’d told me a year ago I’d become a yoga teacher, I would’ve thought you were cracked in the head, but here we are. I graduated from Akasha Yoga Academy after a life-changing three months of teacher training. Yoga is another invaluable tool that has helped me so much with getting and staying sober, and I hope to teach people in recovery once I finish my degree and grow more comfortable in my own sobriety.

Credit: Instagram

18. Caught the new Bond film at the cinema: the last time I saw Daniel Craig on the big screen, I went to see Knives Out with some pals after pres. To this day, I can’t remember a single thing that happens in that movie.

19. Finally started working out regularly: spinning is my new drug of choice. I don’t think I could go a week without it now. The channel I subscribe to on YouTube is aptly named The Spin Junkie.

I used to be the laziest bugger on earth – my mum found it hilarious when I accepted my offer from Stirling, which was Sports University of the Year at the time. It’s all about finding the forms of exercise that work best for you, even if you have to try them all to discover what these are.

Credit: Instagram

20. Celebrated my birthday with some live jazz: all dolled up, I went along for a very sophisticated evening with my best mates. We felt extremely cultured, and I discovered one of my new favourite mocktails, courtesy of the bartender: J₂O and ginger beer garnished with an orange wedge. Don’t knock it till you try it.

It was an amazing atmosphere. The musicians were extraordinarily talented and it felt as though I had been transported back in time – there were couples slow-dancing and jiving around the audience, totally lost in the music. If you’re ever in Edinburgh, check out The Jazz Bar for a change of scenery. There’s a good student discount too!

Overall, I’m so glad that I took this challenge, even if I didn’t quite get to do all of the things I had planned. I really wanted to try kick-boxing and bake churros (I’ve had a massive craving for cinnamon recently), but didn’t manage to squeeze these activities in.

It’s as Bond says though: “We have all the time in the world.”

The beauty of framing things as a challenge is that it encourages you to seize the day so much so that you can’t say you didn’t take advantage of the opportunities you had while you had them. It not only reminds you to live every day like it’s your last; it shows you how important it is to actually be present, rather than under the influence, for every precious minute.

Right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to drinking. The future is uncertain, but to that I’d say: one day at a time.

Addiction is much more difficult to deal with on your own. If you think you or a loved one may have a problem with alcohol, please reach out for help and have a look at the links below:

Information on addiction from the NHS website

Lucy Moon discussion of sobriety

Dan Carden discussion of sobriety

Clare Pooley discussion of sobriety

Emily Paulson discussion of sobriety

Mei Pang discussion of sobriety

Laurie McAllister discussion of sobriety

Helpful resources on the Sober Girl Society tools page

Holly Whitaker’s newsletter on recovering

Alcohol Change newsletter on activism

Wise Bartender newsletter on good NA alternative recommendations

Resources for dependency on the Mind website

Self-assessment for drinking habits

Get free, confidential support with alcohol, drugs or mental health from We Are With You

Consider attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting

Seek support from Samaritans

Featured image credit: Vox

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English Studies at Stirling '23 / Pet Sitter / Yoga Teacher / Writer 💗

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