How do you define yourself? Seriously, think about it for a second.
Do you define yourself by markers such as gender, age, ethnicity, your job, marital status, sexuality, religious beliefs or by the fact that you are a living breathing being? Stepping back from the (often loaded) identities that society and others place on us, how you identify yourself is key to understanding more about what you value about yourself.
I think identity is a fascinating concept, as how you define yourself shifts, changes and is nuanced depending on your experiences. Yet certain aspects of your identity can seem rigid throughout your life. One aspect of my identity I placed great value on was that I liked to drink. I felt my identity was tied up in being the life and soul of the party, staying up ’til the wee hours chatting shit with people. I happily invested time and energy into this part of my identity as I felt I got a lot back from it.
Unsurprisingly, when I stopped drinking over a year ago, it felt like being in the throws of an existential crisis. Big questions loomed dramatically in my mind like ‘Who am I now that I no longer drink?’ and ‘How will I navigate social situations without alcohol?’ The initial shock of ripping off the plaster of the “drinking me” identity gave way to a sense of numbness. It feels quite painful to let go of a part of yourself that you thought brought you much joy, to then be confronted with a big empty space to fill. Even though I was looking back at the “drinking me” identity through rose tinted glasses, making a big change is hard work.
If you are anything like me, you got used to the ups and downs of drinking- the rollercoaster of drunken highs and the crashing hangxiety spirals. You feel you ease into who you really are when you drink, believing that alcohol gives you that sense of connection and intimacy that you crave.
One thing drinking has always brought up in me is my political beliefs. I’m quite opinionated to say the least and have been know to shout “f*ck the police” at a party when a discussion turned to the stop and search policy. I was always drawn into political rows and felt that drinking alcohol was the only space that meant I could truly let loose with what I thought. However, after political outbursts when plans were made to change the system, the next day’s hangover would thwart any action that didn’t involve going between the sofa and the toilet.
Sobriety enables the part of my identity that places great value on political engagement to thrive. I’m actually taking more politically aligned actions, like attending a BLM march in London, joining a BAME diversity & task force group in TV and when it’s safe, to start canvassing for the Labour party.
I often think of becoming sober as lifting a veil, once you see through the BS of alcohol, you start to see the limits you put on your identity and who you actually want to be. Drinking may have fanned the flames of my interest in politics but sobriety stokes a constant fire of being politically engaged and more importantly taking action.
There are so many benefits to sobriety, from feeling physically rejuvenated, to the money you save but I think it’s the subtle internal shifts that are the most beneficial. You are liberating your mind, as you go against the grain of society’s expectations to drink ethanol. You are giving yourself space to explore your identity and realise that it’s more nuanced and fluid compared to when you were drinking. I feel more at peace now, as I have time and space for my identity to breathe and shift, I’m not as “fixed” as I thought I was.
When you remove alcohol from your life, you decide how you want to proceed and how you want to consciously try on a new identity. You think critically about what is important. Booze waters down or falsely inflates certain aspects of your identity. You may find yourself reassessing friendships as you only have shared experiences instead of shared values. You may reassess why you haven’t challenged microaggressions or acts of racism in the past (this is a big one for me). As you are recalibrating and shifting into a new sober identity, you are stripped back, you no longer have booze to damper or numb your feelings and you get to find out what really matters to you.
The question is what are you going to do now? Who is the person you truly want to be?
Written by Ella St John McGrand
Find Ella on Instagram @ellastjohnmcgrand