Alcohol and emotional maturity
This week, as I sat down to write this blog, I was coming up a little bit…blank. It’s not like I don’t have a ton of advice for my younger self. I do. Like…. (1) don’t ever get bangs, (2) you’ll never learn to walk in heels and (3) stop being such an a-hole to your mother.
Yet, while I’m a 27 year old woman I still largely act like my 14 year pre-pubescent self. I don’t think I am entirely well placed for this conversation. It was in Louise Rowlinson’s last How To Quit Workshop that I first heard of how alcohol slows down emotional maturity from the moment you start drinking heavily. I remember being stunned, and then suddenly realising how much sense that made. I started binging at 14 and to be honest in many ways, I never really grew up after that. Louise explains in her blog on how binge drinking as a teenager can damage your brain “I’ve long believed, as have many out here in the sober blogging world, that our emotional maturity stops developing from the age that we start drinking heavily to manage our emotions”.
Reading the recent articles on the rise of teetotalling university students in the UK, reminded me of how I crashed through university in an intoxicating relationship with booze and low self esteem. Okay, it’s not unique to me, but this got me thinking about what I would have said to the younger version of myself about my developing relationship with alcohol. I feel worlds apart from these teetotalling students but I wish I could go back and give that girl a hug and tell her, “you’re not your best version when smashed”.
I remember picking up Koren Zailckas book Smashed: Growing Up a Drunk Girl at 17. And then again at 21. And finally at 25 I actually read it the whole way through. It struck too many chords I wasn’t ready to address more closely. Because that’s the other thing right, given half the chance to talk to my younger self – would I even listen? I would probably think I was boring. Club Soda Expert Louise Rowlinson from A Hangover Free Life echos this, “I’m not sure what I would have said to my younger self because I’m not sure my younger self would have listened!! Having said this, I think I would have said – You think booze is the solution Lou? Actually it’s the problem and your life will be so much better without it. Trust me. Believe me.”
Drinking and lost opportunities
Club Soda Member Julian Kirkman-Page and author of I Don’t Drink!, told us “if I was to talk to my younger self I would ask ‘how much luck do you think you will have?’ because if you are drinking you will only get as far as luck will take you. I had lots of luck and managed to do quite well in my career, but looking back I lost so many opportunities because of my drinking. I could have done so much more.”
Laura our co-founder adds; “what Julian says really resonates. I managed to be successful in many ways. I even surprised myself with what I managed to do with a raging hangover – then the luck run out and I ended up in a job I hated, feeling frustrated because I wanted to do more but did not have the energy. I pissed away my 30’s and I look back with regret.
Now I feel like I am 20 again (well almost) and don’t want to waste a day. I wish I could have told myself how good this clarity and energy feels.”
Alcohol advice to younger selves
Obviously at times of needing blog inspiration I turn to… Google. A quick search of “what I would tell my younger self about alcohol” revealed some interesting insights from people who had sat down and written their drinking advice to their younger selves as well as their main takeaways.
1. Be aware of the risks
“You are not invincible. Sleep at least 7 hours a night, drink water instead of booze at a party, and skip the drive-thru. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or pulling all nighters every weekend will eventually catch up to you. It might not happen until your 30’s or 40’s, but healing is always more challenging than prevention. Take care of yourself while you’re young and spare yourself the trouble” Sheleana from Young and Raw writes.
2. Know you are being sold to
Understand that everyday we are being sold things through visual cues, designing you towards drinking. We have a daily onslaught of advertising everywhere we look. Many alcohol marketing campaigns glamorise drinking, with only the printed warning at the bottom in barely there writing, whispering “drink responsibly”. Which, by the way, is totally pushing the blame of drinking responsibly on us… it’s not got anything to do with the 1000’s of consumerists nudges we encounter everyday, egging us to consume more, buy more, eat more, drink more because doing so will make us more attractive, more successful, have cool friends…
3. Don’t use alcohol to escape
Hands up who has done this? “All the cigarettes and alcohol and rock & roll do is numb you, but it doesn’t make the world go away. What you need to do is to figure out what matters to you, what you care about, and run towards it with all your might. What will surprise you is- when you do that, others will join you” Visakan on Quora.
4. Don’t do anything that you don’t feel comfortable with
Ahh, those awkward teenage years that snowballed into early adulthood… How many times have I found myself socially anxious and…. reaching for something to drink (I hope your hands are still up). This is definitely one to hang onto, even now, not just our younger selves! Do what feels comfortable to you.
5. Know how it affects your other fitness goals
“Dear Younger Me, drinking alcohol just adds empty or unhealthy calories… plus you must admit that hangovers suck! Establish reasonably strict self-imposed rules about drinking. For example, only drink when your husband is around, never drink more than 2 servings, and avoid beer and sugar-filled and chemical-laden mixed drinks altogether. When you combine those rules with genuinely caring about your health and well-being, your drinking indulgences will end. Your older self enjoys a nice glass of wine or sake now and then as a relaxing treat” writes Plibby in Top 5 Weight Loss Tips I Would Give My Younger Self.
6. Be ambitious
One Club Soda Member who wishes to remain anonymous said, “To my teenage self I would say ‘pause and ask yourself if it’s really worth it – all those dramas, upsets, dangerous situations, lost nights spent vomiting in the ladies and tears. Are they really worth it just to try and be glamorous and grown up, and have the courage to dance and flirt? Those hangovers are the universe saying this isn’t for you, and those feelings of shame, confusion and despair the next day are nature’s way of saying you’re on the wrong track. Look for ways of being with friends that don’t involve you hurting yourself, and don’t worry, the ones that matter will love you sober just as much as they love you drunk”.
7. Never fear missing out (FOMO)
Lee Mack, yeah that Lee Mack, in an interview with The Big Issue made an interesting point on how much drinking isn’t indicative of how much fun you’re actually having either, “Like most of the nation, I am a bit addicted to drinking. I grew up in a pub, so it was a big part of our culture. When you start going to pubs, it is brilliant because you are surrounded by adults, you meet girls, you might join the pool club. But it is a big con. We are told that because we are pissed, we are having a great time. It is the other way around: we are having a great time, we just happen to be pissed. I would tell my younger self not to make the mistake of thinking alcohol is a great tool of liberation. Do not assume these great times you are having are because you are drunk”.
8. Learn to drink in moderation
Moderation is a highly contested topic, but we all know people who have one drink here and there. When I’ve spoken to friends who moderate, I realised they were never binge drinkers in the first place. Alcohol wasn’t a focal point when they were younger. I could go on adding quotes but my point is alcohol doesn’t seem to be the be all and end all we once thought it was. In fact, it affects things which we battle as we grow older – weight, reaching our full potential, social pressures. And these young people are getting savvy to the fact that, alcohol inhibits this, “Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by more than 40% between 2005 and 2013, while the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who drank frequently has fallen by more than two-thirds”.
In 2014, I went to watch Anneke Short speak at TedxLSE, a lovely talk on notes to her younger self – inspired directly from a notebook she has kept for over 20 years in which she keeps inspirational quotes. Not only does she get you thinking about what would you say to your younger self, but also what the future you would say to the version of yourself sitting in front of this computer screen today. Because, we’re never going to be as young as we are right now again, and it’s never too late to take our own advice.