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  • Writer's pictureChristine Coulson

Alcohol and Cost 5: Dignity

Updated: Jan 22

Gravestone with 'My Dignity' engraved on it

Dignity noun The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.

This is going to be a good one; and I know this because in this Alcohol Awareness Week, in all the posts I have written about the costs of alcohol, this is the post I have dreaded the most. Which is why it’s coming out last, hopefully you’ll forget about it over the weekend.

When I am working with clients, I often ask them to think back to times in their drinking history where the night or situation got out of hand. Where they may have shame or regret; or even relief that they are out of that situation. It can often be a difficult task; because the emotions it evokes are often raw and incredibly negative.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it. That’s the truth about alcohol. It leads us to make decisions that we are ultimately ashamed of. Not all the time, but enough to make it a 'thing'. When you’re thinking about a romantic partner, and you think about the reasons you want to break up with them it’s their actions that you focus on. With alcohol, it’s yours.

This isn’t going to be a list of my most embarrassing experiences, because they’re private. But I am going to share a few with you. Some of those moments that still stick in my mind because I wanted the world to swallow me up.

There are, of course, the moments where you think “oh god” when you wake up the next day and remember the situation. My earliest memory of this being the morning after my 18th birthday party when Drunk Christine left Sober Christine a note to inform her on waking up that “You told him”. I’d told the guy I’d been in love with since setting eyes of him at the ‘bridging week’ for my sixth form almost two years earlier. What had I done?!?! Actually, in reality that one worked out okay, we ended up in a relationship for the summer; separating before our different university choices did it for us. We’re still friends on social media, but that could have gone very differently.

In fact, it has. On many occasions. The advent of the mobile phone and texting being my worst enemy when drunk. The declarations. The rejections. The mortified embarrassment that followed as we continued our professional relationship or friendship with a massive, awkward elephant in the room. I am joyously happy to report that as I venture through the dating scene sober, one of the best things is I am confident that I’m not going to send a drunken message that I will ultimately go on to regret. It’s liberating.

As my drinking continued, the price of my dignity continued to accrue. At a family lunch in approximately 2005 I remember very little of the lunch other than vomiting into a bush outside a very nice Thames-side eatery at about 4pm; the main ‘highlight’ of that flashback being the look of horror on the face of a family walking past, on their way in to no doubt celebrate the fact that they weren’t puking into a bush in the middle of the afternoon.

I was once so offensively patronising and dismissive of a colleague that I don’t think our relationship ever recovered from it in the 5 years we worked together after it. And nor should it, I was an unfair dick and she did not deserve the toxic, barbed abuse that met her that evening when she was having drinks with colleagues after work. Drunk Christine – you deserved that weekend of hangxiety. Jade - if by any bizarre twist of fate you are reading this, I'm genuinely sorry.

One of my most embarrassing moments I recalled this week when working with a client who was mentioned in passing a taxi. There was once I got a black cab back from The City to my shared house in Hackney after a drinking session – I can’t remember the reason – and all I can remember is the cab driver refusing to take money from me, stating that he was just pleased he’d been able to get me home safe and he hoped someone would do the same for his daughter. Even as I type that, I want the floor to swallow me up and it was at least 15 years ago in a city 200 miles away.

Thinking back now, that really should have been a red flag for me to look at my relationship with alcohol, but I was brilliant at ignoring at red flags then. How pissed I must have been to have a stranger for-go a portion of his earnings that evening for my safety. One of the darker thoughts about it is, of course, how lucky I was that he picked me up that evening and not a driver with darker intentions.

All I can do is be grateful that I know that I won’t be in that situation again, and be thankful to every god imaginable that nothing bad happened to me that night. I feel sick just thinking about it, because not everyone is as lucky as I was.

Let’s take it back a bit. Ah, the loss of dignity of the drunken dancing and singing at the top of my voice when it is a fact universally acknowledged that I couldn’t hold a tune even if it had handles. The drunken falls; the drunken arguments. All these things, slowly chipping away at my dignity. Don't get me started on the 'friendships' I've formed in the toilets with other drunk women. You know the ones, those people who, at 1am, are your soulmates and you have amazing plans to change the world within 30 minutes. In reality, the next time you see them you both cringe inside and never speak again.

When I went to my old university town York recently for a sober meetup, I had a lot of stories to share. In none of these stories was a sober. Not a single one. When I go to dinner with my sober mates, chances are at least a couple of us start a sentence with “Oh god, last time I was here…” I avoided my local for four years - only venturing there recently - because of a comment the manager made. He told me I was the best drinker of their regulars. I think he meant it as a compliment. I was mortified. My life just peppered with cringeworthy flashbacks of drunken embarrassment.

In sobriety, of course, things are very different. I'm not falling over, I'm not puking into bushes, strangers aren't worried I won't get home. I'm not snogging people I'll regret snogging. I'm still offending people, but I try very hard not to. I'm still dancing (badly) and singing (badly) though, so I'm not always returning home with my dignity intact; but I make my decisions without the help of any toxins and I remember everything I do the next day.

My mum once said I'd quit drinking while I was ahead, because I'd not lost any jobs or partners because of alcohol, been arrested or done for drink driving (I never knowingly drank while under the influence, but realistically with hindsight there must have been an occasion or two when I was still drunk the morning after). Her statement is true, but how far ahead I was, well I'm not sure. Probably not as ahead as I'd be willing to admit.

The fact is, I survived all of my drunken nights out (and in) and I live to tell the tale. I have been able to make changes that means I now know I won't be in those sorts of situations again. Dignity is nice, but safety is nicer. I'm pleased I'm now in a position to have as much control over both those things as it possible for an individual to have. I am proud I survived, but I'm grateful that I have changed.

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