Alcohol is poison. It numbs your brain and your senses, and creeps into your brain to whisper lies in your ear. When you are living with chronic mental illness, drinking alcohol is one of the most harmful things that you can do, and you should try to eradicate it from your life. However, when binge drinking is habitual, it is difficult to know how to be sober.
Alcohol makes me stupider, more impulsive, and more vulnerable to the negative thoughts that constantly swirl around my brain. I have burst into tears or started heavily dissociating while drinking, more times than I can count. Drinking alcohol doesn’t only leave me with a dry mouth and a throbbing head the next day; it leaves me with regrets over the emotional outbursts that I have undoubtedly had. I am constantly emotionally unstable because of living with borderline personality disorder, and alcohol only exacerbates the symptoms.
I’m what I would call mostly sober. During my severe depressive periods, I am completely sober. The rest of the time, I abstain from drinking alcohol when I am in a bad mood, and rarely drink more than once a month. Even then, I become complacent in my sobriety and trick myself into thinking that my mental health is stable enough to handle a few drinks. That’s how I end up sobbing on bathroom floors in nightclubs, suicidal out of my mind, with my brain telling me over and over that I am worthless, ugly, and unlovable.
At only 22 years old, people are often taken aback when I tell them that I choose to be clean and sober. At my age, it is socially acceptable, if not expected, to engage in binge drinking.It can feel like drinking culture is out to get you at every turn, especially when travelling. Hostel social events focus on bars, nightclubs, and an abundance of alcohol. It’s considered a huge part of the bonding experience between travellers.
With all the pressure that is on you to succumb to drinking alcohol, it is important to devise a plan to maintain your sobriety and preserve your mental health. These are the strategies that you can use to cope with sobriety in a society obsessed with alcohol.
Be honest about your reasons for being sober.
You need to be honest to other people, but mostly to yourself. If you are not completely convinced of the benefits of staying away from drinking alcohol, then you will fall prey to temptation. I remind myself that I need to value my mental health and well-being over instant gratification and partying. If I focus on my future and becoming the person that I want to be, I find it easier to avoid the temptations of alcohol.
It is also important to be honest to people around you. I have had several people try to peer pressure me into drinking alcohol or drinking more when I have set myself a personal limit. Their focus is on having fun and losing control, and someone maintaining control over themselves is boring and antisocial to them. However, I have noticed that when I am open about my issues with mental illness and the effects that alcohol has on my body, they tend to back off and leave me alone. You don’t need to tell your entire life story to everyone, but being firm in your convictions is important.
Organise social events during the day or in places without alcohol.
The issue with travelling while sober is that many social events in hostels focus on alcohol and drinking. Social hostels have their own bar, and many places organise pub crawls and nights out. It is unlikely that people will try to force you to drink or ostracise you for not drinking, but it can feel isolating to be the only sober one. An easy way to avoid this isolation is to organise outings and social gatherings during the day. This gives the opportunity to get to know people over a meal or shared trip to a new place. Drinking can be an extremely bonding activity, but it isn’t the only one available.
I also encounter these issues while living at home. I often feel socially isolated if I go out with friends when I am in one of my periods of complete sobriety, or trying to restrict myself. I make an effort to catch up with friends over coffee or lunch so that I can preserve the friendship and still have a good time. It is important to come up with alternative ways to socialise with your friends so that you aren’t left feeling left out.
Have plans in place for situations when you are around heavy drinking.
It is important to know your own weaknesses when it comes to alcohol, and how to cope when you are in situations around heavy drinking. I know that I feel the intense weight of anxiety that I am missing out if everyone else around me is drinking and having a good time. If I am not in the middle of a depressive period, I allow myself to have a couple of drinks to feel included, but make sure to restrict my intake. I know that drinking makes me more vulnerable to impulsive behaviour, and so I need to closely monitor myself. I also make sure that I drink soft drinks or energy drinks so that I can keep up my energy levels and have something in my hand to focus on.
People may also try to heavily pressure you into consuming more alcohol. I went out to a bar with several people from a hostel in Bogotá, Colombia. They bought a few bottles of tequila to share between everyone on the table. I restricted myself to two shots and then decided that I didn’t want to continue. I had people forcibly pouring me shots and trying to make me drink them. Rather than cause a scene, I just pretended to drink them and put them back down on the table. Luckily, the other people were so drunk that they didn’t notice. It is frustrating to have to pretend just to avoid the judgement of other people, but sometimes it is the easier thing to do.
It is really difficult to avoid instant gratification in favour of prioritising your mental health or working towards your future self. It is even more difficult when society is so focused on alcohol and drinking culture, especially among young people. However, it is not an impossible task to stay sober or heavily restrict your drinking. I have worked on it for a very long time and have experienced nothing but improvements in my mental health and life in general. If you are willing to make the sacrifices, it is an incredibly rewarding endeavour.