I have seen a lot of articles recently about being sober, especially young people and university students, which sparked my interest into what it truly means to “go sober”. I don’t drink much, or often. I have friends who have never drunk alcohol in their lives and friends that go out and drink two or three times a week minimum.
There is no shame in either lifestyle, because everyone is capable of making their own decisions, but I felt far more educated in one than the other so I decided to change that and began doing some research into the sober lifestyle. I found a whole community of supportive men and women across many social media platforms, especially Instagram who openly share their stories and offer support to those who wish to follow in their footsteps.
I caught up with Siobhan O’Connor, @notsosecretlysober (Instagram), about her decision to go from one lifestyle to the other.
This is Siobhan. She is 28 years old and lives in Manchester, although was born and raised in Cornwall. On the 17th December, after a heavy night out, Siobhan decided to go sober after 11 years of drinking. This changed her life in ways she could have never imagined.
At the age of 17, Siobhan had her first taste of alcohol. (Yes, I am aware this is underage, however, according to a study conducted by drinkaware.co.uk in 2016 “over two-fifths (44%)” of children aged 11-15 had drunk alcohol “at least once”.
Why did you start drinking?
”If I answer this question completely honestly, there are a few factors. One is society, when I was growing up I was one of the last people in my year group to start drinking, so peer pressure and what was expected of me played a huge part, it was just what teenagers did. There we also personal reasons, my foster parents had just been through a very traumatic separation, this meant my home dynamic completely changed. I was allowed more freedom but I also just wanted to escape, maybe even forget.”
What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons of drinking?
It’s a very easy way to socialise and make friends
It seems fun at the time
I’ve met some of my best friends on nights out
Sometimes it means you have hilarious stories to tell
Its really expensive
Hangovers aren’t worth it
You can put yourself in dangerous situations
You fight and argue with people that you love just because you’re drunk
A lot of time the relationships that you forge whilst drinking aren’t genuine
Its actually poison that you’re putting into your body
It robs you of time and productivity
It could mean that you have unprotected sex with someone you wouldn’t whilst sober
When drank in excess the hippocampus of your brain shuts down, meaning that you have no long term memory and memory’s can not be stored (blackout)
I could honestly spend all day on this list…”
So, when did you decide to go sober? And why?
“I went sober on December 17th 2018. It was something I had been thinking about for a while. I was sober curious for about 4 months. I started to realise that alcohol was causing an issue in my life. My binge drinking would mainly happen on nights out at the weekend. A lot of the time I’d blackout. I’d wake up the morning after asking ‘was I a dick last night’. Sometimes the answer was no but sometimes it was yes. It gave me huge anxiety and meant that Sun-Thurs was lived with a black cloud over my head. By Friday, I was happy that it was the weekend so that I could go out and start the whole process again.
My hangovers were paralysing, I’d spend the whole day in bed, not being able to move because of how much my head ached. I’d also spend a lot of the day vomiting.
Whilst I was sober curious I’d try nights out sober and enjoy them just as much but I’d be able to remember everything and function the next day. This made me decide that I wanted to do a sober a year, starting on 01/01/2019. However I had a birthday night out on 15th December, where I blacked out and passed out. My friends had come to Manchester from all over the country to celebrate and I couldn’t remember leaving the first venue, got us kicked out of a bar for being rude to a doorman and then passed out. I woke up and said that I’d start my sober year that day. Since starting my sober journey, I can honestly say that I’ll never drink again.”
Who inspired you to make this decision?
“I read Russell Brands book Recovery. I read it because he’s fit and I love him. But it actually made me think about how I used things to make me feel better. Like alcohol, not exercising and food. I used them as self sabotage myself because I didn’t really think I was worth a lot. This book really made me see negative behaviour patterns and how to stop them.”
What changes have you noticed in your life since going sober? Anything unexpected?
“This is another list that I could spend the whole day writing!
I’m less anxious
I have more time
I like my body a lot more
Sometimes I exercise
When I go to gigs, I remember them
I’m much more productive and ambitious
I’m kinder and more thoughtful
I read more and listen to books on audible (audible is a game changer!)
The relationships that I make with people are genuine
I haven’t had a one night stand in a year
People find me a lot more interesting and nicer to be around
My skin is better
I love nature and being outside
I have more money (I spend it on other stuff… but it still counts! haha)
I remember gigs that I go to! (and I still want to go to them!)
I’ve made some amazing new friends that are also sober
I say yes to everything! For example, I climbed Mount Snowdon this year
Everyone of those changes was unexpected. I thought I’d feel like an outsider. Alcohol was a huge part of who I was. I was the number one party girl. I never expected to feel this amazing and this alive!”
These all sound very positive, but are there any cons to being sober?
“For me personally, there isn’t one. I was not physically addicted to alcohol, this can make sobriety much harder in the early stages.
I know some people that have struggled with peer pressure as well as confidence whilst socialising. It’s a big adjustment if alcohol has been such a huge part of your life.
Maybe I do have one con… Not going sober sooner!”
Do you know how many days sober you are?
“Of course!! I have an app called ‘I am sober’. Watching the days add up is what really helped me in the beginning. I’d look at it almost everyday just in absolute shock, bursting with pride! I’m on 314 days today (27/10/19).”
What other milestones have you hit in your sobriety? Any more you’re really looking forward to?
“I’m genuinely more excited about my sobriety’s first birthday than I am about my own birthday, this year!
I did Christmas and New Year with just a few sober days behind me. I’ve been to weddings, gigs, an all inclusive holiday in Mexico, a trip to Berlin, a hen do, drum and bass nights, I’ve had sober sex, been on sober dates, I’ve set up a sober instagram page where people have contacted me to ask for help and advice and I WORE A BIKINI FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY WHOLE LIFE!
Sobriety doesn’t mean that you miss out on fun things. It means you enjoy them in a different way.”
What advice would you give to other people who were considering sobriety?
“My advice to anyone considering sobriety is, give it a try! Try a couple of social gatherings or nights out with out drink. If you are going to try it, tell the person that is hosting or someone that you trust that’s with you. Then if it gets a bit much, you have someone to talk to or to help you make an exit plan. Do a bit of reading/listening. There are lots of really helpful and informative podcasts. Fill your social media with sober positive people (there is a whole sober community on insta and facebook!). Being honest about being curious around sobriety is really scary because of how our society views alcohol but I’ve always found that 99 percent of my reactions have been positive! I think everyone is a bit curious about sobriety. So be brave and be proud (you’re bloody amazing after all).”