Sober and Scottish are two words that ging thegither like circumcision and vinegar. Celebration + inebriation x singing loudly = our national birthright. We are born with the words pished, guttered and swallied tattooed into our psyches and writ through us like rock. One of our national poets, Hugh MacDiarmid, masterpieces is called A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle fer crying out loud! We are a culturally stereotyped nation of drinkers, but let’s face it, given the way in which alcohol is lionised in our cultural references, that stereotyping is not entirely unfounded. Venture onto the streets of any of our major cities on a Saturday night (pre-lockdown) and watch as each drunken tale unfolds in front of you. We are whaur a’ extremes meet.
Here in the UK, but in Scotland especially, there is an entrenched belief that the answer to all ails is presented in that Chewin The Fat sketch (‘Take a drink!’). It has become so normalised to drink to excess most weekends. The message is that it’s funny and sociable to get blootered all the time. It has also become normalised to talk about drinking a lot of the time. That a trip to A&E and tales of drunken arguments are somehow held up as badges of honour is the tragedy of our nation. We are so much better and deserve to treat ourselves so much better.
I loved drinking. Most weekends my life was all about wine, gin and socialising - and epic hangovers that grew ever-more grotesque with age. For 21 years I partied, had lock-ins, sang and danced on bars, stole garden gnomes, crashed weddings (completely true), led the sing-songs and had one too many for the road, the garden gate, the path, the door, the letterbox. That was until my best friend died suddenly in a tragic accident and my heart broke in two. I’d never experienced grief quite like it and, so, did what felt right by turning to Dr Wine for emotional support. It was at this point I started to develop quite the dependence. My weekend drinking repertoire had expanded into both midweek and teary, ‘secret’ drinking sessions all by myself. By Christmas 2017, I was a mess and caught in a soul-destroying cycle of feeling sad so having a drink which made me feel temporarily better, only to catch me out later when I would crumple into a drunken, teary heap. Being hungover made me anxious and depressed, so I would start drinking again, dancing to the same, relentless tune. Like Born Slippy on steroids. By the end of the year, I was mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted and just plain ill. Something had to give.
So, as the New Year bells and fireworks brought in 2018, I supped my final alcoholic drink (whisky, what else?) then stuck to elderflower cordial for the rest of the night/morning. Did it stick? For five months, yes, and these were five of the most productive months of my life. I did tonnes of writing, lost 8lbs in weight, did hill walks, got fitter than I’d been in ages and acted in a community play at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre. Ever since, I have had long periods of either abstinence or moderation which are characterised by clearer skin, eyes, increased energy levels, a slimmer waistline, doing more, experiencing more, more creative output and zero depression or anxiety symptoms. It’s not always easy quitting, especially at the start, but boy has it been worth it. Educating myself about alcohol, its addictive qualities and its lifelong effects on the human body have really made me view it in a different light. In realising that I no longer have a reliance on alcohol and that I’m in control of my intake, my life has gotten exponentially better.
In lockdown, I have decided that the best thing for my mental health has been to turn away from alcohol once more. At the time of writing, I am 45 days free of the clutches of Dr Wine and his Ethanol Young Team and I have to say, I truly don’t miss him. He feels very much like the ex-boyfriend who I simply don’t fancy any more and the EYT are just a bunch of losers who still hang around the back of the shops. Yes, there are occasionally the odd misty-eyed recollections of fun times long gone, but there is also a far more exciting future filled with possibility that fills my belly with butterflies. I'm getting a Golden Retriever puppy in a couple of weeks - a dream I’ve had for years - so, I fully expect that the serotonin and endorphin high I will feel when that puppy’s placed in my arms will be worth so much more than any temporary alcohol buzz followed by blackout amnesia.
My hope for Scotland’s future - particularly in the post-lockdown world - is that we become a more moderate nation of drinkers, and possibly, abstainers. I’m filled with optimism every time I read an article about our young people’s views on alcohol which places it low in their list of priorities. I think what our young people recognise is this. That what we owe to ourselves as a nation is a much bigger life than one filled with blackouts and sunken, drunken dreams. A future in which we caw canny with our alcohol intake. A more hopeful one characterised by blue sky days where we do more, achieve more, appreciate more.
Besides, that national flower of ours is famously used to heal the liver. I think it’s time we embraced that thistle and took its cue to see the strength and beauty in ourselves.