Happiness is often seen as a place you arrive. Many of us search for it, without really knowing where to look. At a young age, I found that alcohol allowed me to feel the friendships I was dearly missing. I spent nearly every night of my undergraduate degree (plus the 1.5 years before) drunk. Every morning, a loud alarm, shower and a coffee were the only way I could feel awake. Despite this, I graduated with a 1st Class degree and produced and toured a documentary film around London during this time.
My drinking, however, was not evidence of a thriving social life or bouts of success. It was a confirmation of the loneliness I suffered from and the longing I had for intimate relationships with others. I know I’m not the only young person to suffer from loneliness. It makes me wonder how many of us turn to the bottle?
The first drink…
Do you remember the first party you went to where there was alcohol? I was 15, going to school friend’s party. She had moved to a different school – an all girls school – there were loads of new people to meet, especially of a different sex. The sexual curiosity of that age meant that we quickly moved to play ‘spin the bottle’. This night I experienced my first kiss, that same girl became my first girlfriend (which didn’t last once we sobered up). And the more I think about it now, this very night may have structured my whole basis for sexual relations & relationship building.
Most parties I went to afterwards increasingly evolved around alcohol & sexual encounters. My friend’s 16th, where someone proudly received their first blowjob. A 17th where someone threw up and blew their chance of getting with that guy they wanted. 18th parties where sex was apparently everywhere – along with drugs and cigarettes – including one where there was someone walking around with a tray of condoms. Every year there seemed to be a new addition to the toolbox of ‘fun’.
Apart from that fateful first kiss, I never ‘got with’ anyone at parties. I was that kid who wondered around trying to figure out what on earth was going on. Asking myself, “Why do I seem to just float?”; “Why am I even here?” As the evenings went on, I would grab another beer and then wonder around to find someone to talk to. Some conversations would last for a while, keeping me away from the isolation that seemed to be looming. But some conversations would be cut short by my partner, and I would be cast back into a world of confusion and self-pity. It seemed people just didn’t want to talk to or be with me; and it was during these times that I began to diminish my self-worth.
I think it was at this young age when I first found the soothing cuddle of alcohol. Having ‘one more’ allowed me to feel comfortable, like I belonged. I used a bottle, and not long later a cigarette, as a barrier between the world and me. It felt safe. I thought I fitted in. This narrative was something I reiterated as I grew older. Little did I know that 5 years down the line I would have a drinking problem and wake up most mornings with a fuzzy head.
I grew up in a first generation immigrant family, well my mother was half-English but she had grown up in Turkey. So neither of my parents really understood British culture. I had been taught the strict and respectful manner of Turkish culture, which was different to the mannerisms and attitudes of my contemporaries. The cultural capital – social knowledge one has: in style of speech, dress, intellect, education (in & out of school) – that I had was a mishmash of two cultures that didn’t really fit, and I experienced this incompatibility through the awkwardness I felt with my friends at school.
Despite this, I was able to move through all the groups (maybe apart from the football one – I didn’t really like football) but that still only gave me a skin-deep sense of friendship. I felt most at home with the misfits, those of us that didn’t quite call ourselves that name (or any name) but certainly weren’t the ‘cool kids’. We weren’t the geeks either, however, perhaps we didn’t have a name, we were just sort of there. Wherever we were, it was there I was able to be myself and relax, yet it was a yearning to not be there that made me ache to be ‘cool’. I was not satisfied by the amazing friends I had in this group and wanted to ‘upgrade’.
Looking into the black of my eye
Towards the end of my bachelor degree, I started panicking about what I was going to do once it finished. After being asked “what do you want to be when you’re older?” all my life and still not having an answer, I felt stuck. How have I got to this stage of my life and do not know what I want to do? Is there something wrong with me? Panic and anxiety set in. Slowly, but very surely, a void began to emerge from within, as a subtle but definite sadness grew.
I had begun to ask myself questions around this time. Not extrinsic questions about jobs or positions or directions, but intrinsic queries. I started asking what I valued: about myself, about the world, my moral values, my ethical values; if I was really enjoying what I was doing? What did I regret doing in the last few months? Could I have said “no” to some of those things? Once I was able to shift my answers from analytical to honest, I realised that I’d been focusing on the wrong things.
Meditation had a massive impact on enhancing the ability to analyse my self and my thoughts. I used the app called Headspace to get me started – and still use it daily. The increased awareness of my thoughts, and to watch negative conceptions from a distance, is indispensable to self-discovery. Practising mindfulness allows us to see ourselves in the present, rather than looking into the future or reminiscing on the past.
As the Headspace co-founder, Andy Puddicombe says: the present is so underrated, and yet we spend so little time in it. Studies show having a distracted mind is a direct cause of unhappiness, and in his TED talk, Andy cites that we spend nearly half of our time distracted. That means we might be spending nearly half of our lives potentially unhappy. There’s something deeply worrying about that. Meditation really allowed me to focus on now; to understand what I enjoy; to realise what I don’t enjoy. It doesn’t happen quickly, but taking the time to train your mind is invaluable.
Where I was…
No-one knew I had a drinking problem; I was always on top of everything I needed to do, was always at university & I had spent two years successfully producing a film. There was no doctor or medical professional who told me about it. None of my friends thought it – or at least not that I know of – and I had no major health issues. High-functioning alcoholism is problematic because as it is incredibly hard to detect.
Alcohol has been such a big part of my identity for the last 6-8 years: I worked in craft beer, I had done courses in wine tasting & spent time grape picking to fund a trip, even the film I produced was about the independent brewing industry in London. My knowledge of self was intimately intertwined with drinking and its culture. My social network had been built on the people I met in the London Beer scene: bars & their regulars, breweries & their critics.
I worked in pubs; and if you’ve ever worked in a bar, you’ll surely know the compulsive drinking that comes with the job. Alongside this, the band I was in had a massive culture around drinking and smoking, and after an awesome rehearsal & visit to the pub, I would head over to my local that was open till 3 am and drunkenly sip & smoke. I was adamant that this was my life, that I couldn’t change it, and that if I did I would disappear into nothingness. But most of all, I loved it.
Admitting I’m a young alcoholic
It was after over a year of self-analysis and self-development that I could finally see that I was, in fact, alcohol dependent. This was a truly petrifying moment. All of a sudden my entire reality came crashing. I no longer belonged anywhere. I was looking at my self, naked in the middle of nowhere. Nothing to describe who I was. No past or future. Now there was only the present. A blank canvas. This was the chance I had to answer the questions I had been asking over the past year and (re-)build my self.
The morning I woke up to this thought, in a hostel, was January 1st, 2017. It was the best hangover I ever had – well, at least the most productive. Once the initial headache wore off, and I had my (cold) shower I could see. It was like those mornings (or afternoons) you wake up after a heavy night and say, “I’m never going to drink again” – except this time I meant it.
Dry-January was a perfect chance to test the water. I breezed through, only having one glass of prosecco at my sister’s wedding (which I consciously decided to have). February, I started with all the energy of the previous month, tripping over one night when out with 4 friends and an awkward 2-for-1 deal. I didn’t punish myself for it though, I could see my weakness and have worked on strengthening it. The next time I was out with friends I abstained; the time after only had a half; recognising the urges that were building inside me each sip at a time).
I am still working on it. It is incredibly difficult to be 24 and not drink. Our whole society dictates that we do. Everyone I know wants to ‘get drunk’. It is terrible being the person who is ‘no fun’ because they don’t drink. You feel ousted by groups and as if you don’t belong (again). The challenge of not drinking is not only a physical one but overwhelmingly a psychological one. The psychological challenge is two-fold. Both fighting the urges to have a drink and, whilst mentally weak, trying not to be affected by the stigma and ‘otherness’ it brings you.
If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you don’t have to fight it alone. Reach out to your loved ones. But if, like me, you can’t do that, reach out to me (hello[at]youngminimalist.uk). I’d be happy to listen and offer my support.