Surviving Without Booze

I was a walking paradox through my late teens and well into my 30's. It was either abstinence or a full on 23-hour party for months, that last hour left for sleeping and sobering up before going at it again. I could go a year without drinking and then BAM: 6-month binge here we go! Life is always fun when you happen to be the life of the party, but it wears thin after a while. Some people have this innate ability to jump in and out of partying and maintain a healthy lifestyle (physically and mentally), but I've always been all in or all out. With alcohol and all that it entails that is.

I used to blame everything and everyone but myself. It was a cop out really... I had a messed up childhood. Well kind of. I mean I never went hungry to school or had to run from machete-wielding murderers (see this is what I do, I normalize stuff. Whatever happened to me I internalized and normalized it). But in a nutshell, I had a father who was an addict and who killed himself when I was 10, and a stepfather who was an alcoholic. Oh and a ton of other stuff behind all that that I'm only just allowing myself to start processing correctly. Basically, I don't remember a time when I wasn't keeping some kind of feeling or thought hidden away, or conditioning myself to hide my feelings and put on my game face. I used to blame my love of alcohol on the lack of stable, responsible and healthy father figures, and the normalization of booze and drugs from an early age. I used to blame my fear of a proper relationship on the fact that I had never seen one while growing up, well not a healthy one anyway. And sometimes I would even let myself believe that I was somehow predestined to be an alcoholic because that's just what we did. Used something to level the ground over everything else.

But after a while blaming everything but yourself gets old. I had to learn to let go and put it all behind me, booze-soaked guilt and blame.

I was a very shy child, plagued with a lot of anxiety and lack of confidence. Of course, not everything was bad, I have some good memories, but a lot of them involved being hidden away with a book, hiding away somewhere, or just being away from home. Somehow once I was able to get my mother and stepfather to agree to let me go on a school trip to Prague: I bawled my eyes out when I came home as I didn't want to leave. It was one of the first times that I felt like I belonged anywhere as me and that I could be myself. I always felt I had to play some kind of role. I was very good at hiding all of my anxiety and worries though, I learned to carry the weight on my shoulders. I still do. It's hard to let go. Alcohol was a great way to lift the weight for a while (until it all inevitably fell right back down with a wallop).

I was born in England, lived in the Netherlands for a bit, but ultimately grew up in France. I come from a very much working-class family, but my mother is a bit of a technical genius and worked her backside off to give us a better life than we may have had if we had stayed in England. She moved to California in 2000, I didn't because well US immigration sucks and, anyway, I was happy with my life. I stayed in France, partied my way through Israel for a year, and then London, and randomly secured a job in NYC in 2005 with a temporary visa.

I've never gone out looking for the party. I just walk into it. I just meet people like me and connect and that's it. NYC was a haven for people like me, and we grew, and wilted, together, rose together, and pulled each other down. But it was OK when I was single, the only person I had to be accountable for was me. No one bothered me when I went out drinking for 3 days straight, and no one bothered me when I went sober for 3 years. I learned how to function drunk, but I also learned to live without alcohol, until the next fall. Working as a bartender was amazing, sober and not sober, and I lead a pretty amazing, although not sustainable, life. Too many stories, many pretty incredible, others dark, others just ridiculous. But it was often good. And then really bad. Depression and alcohol rarely mix well. I would black out and never know how I made it home. Life of the party, not so much. More like the dying party of my brain cells.

I'd never been pregnant before, not that I know of anyway. I then suddenly it happened. Aged 35, living the rock n roll lifestyle, bartender, restaurant manager, party person... I knew I was pregnant as soon as I missed my period. And I knew that it had to end. The party that is. I went sober at 5 weeks pregnant, cold turkey, gave my cigarettes to the homeless guy across the street from work, and have been since. It will be 5 years in a few months, longer than I've ever been sober before, and I know that I can never even entertain the idea of a drink again. My children will never know drunk Jade – I bet when they grow up they will look at me and roll their eyes when I tell them some of my stories!

People often don't understand it though. When you say you don't drink you see the raised eyebrows, the thoughts behind people's eyes. You can hear them wondering "is she some kind of health-addict? An alcoholic drug addict? One of those sanctimums?". "A glass of wine at home won't hurt you though, right?" "Like you never drink, ever?! How do you do it??". "Can I drink in front of her now?? Is my glass of champagne going to cause a relapse??"

I don't explain why I don't drink – I don't feel like I have to. No, I'm not going to watch you drink your wine and then start downing shots of whiskey like there is no tomorrow either. I go to bars. My partner drinks (although not that much anymore). Sobriety is easy most days, hard some days, and I would lie if I said I didn't miss that tingling sensation that happens when you are a few drinks in. But I never stop at that tingling sensation. I go for the full on up til 6am rearranging the world order and lock-in central mode. And for my own mental health, for my kids, and for my partner's well-being, that isn't an option.

But if someone asks me about my sobriety because they are worried about their own drinking, or out of concern, or just because they would like advice, or because they feel isolated because they don't drink either, I have no problem talking about it. My journey is my own, but if I can help someone else while I am traveling along it, then I feel like I am doing something good with the second chance life threw at me.

I'm still anxious. I still sometimes look longingly at the whiskey on the shelf at the back of the bar. I still remember the fun times but also the awful times. And I will also be very honest when my kids when the time comes, about how I was exposed to alcohol, and also what my relationship with alcohol is like. I want them to grow up understanding the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, whether it comes to people or anything else (food, booze, drugs, clothes, money etc.). And in the meantime I'm still over here navigating my own ups and downs in the healthiest ways I can think of: writing, reading and listening to music. I admitted to having a drinking problem to myself a long time ago, it just took a life change to give me the incentive to quit for good.

Maybe one day when I'm 90 I will sit back and have a few shots and a packet of cigarettes. Until then I hope that I can keep myself on the straight and narrow. In the 5 years that I have been sober I have been pregnant 3 times, and constantly breastfeeding. Now I need to see how I do the next 5 years sober without those barriers… But I am now at a point in my life where I believe in myself, in my strengths and in my weaknesses, and I believe that I will be OK.


Jade Anna Hughes is a freelance writer and editor, currently residing in Northern California. She has three children, one cat, and two published books. With Spring Comes Hope is a collection of essays on motherhood and beyond, and Home is a collection of poems from 2001-2017. She is currently working on her first novel and the second volume of poems.