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  • Writer's pictureChristine Coulson

Alcohol and Cost 2: Relationships

Updated: Jan 22

Two people sitting on a bench

I’m single and have been for a while. I’m quite comfortable with this, apart from in two situations. When I’m ill, and when I’m moving house. There is something particularly tough about having to muster the energy to warm up your own bowl of soup after a bout of sickness; and incredibly stressful about being the only person who can deal with estate agents and solicitors. For the rest of the time, it’s fine. I enjoy my own company and I’m happy to be in my own space.

I often say that my drinking didn’t affect any of my romantic relationships, but actually I don’t think that’s true. Without doubt there were arguments that were full on rows and not adult conversations about concerns over incompatibility because we’d both been drinking. The “I don’t want to be with you” screamed instead of stated. My sobriety has brought me a calmer, more balanced approach to situations, but that doesn’t mean that I would have serenely worked through my issues with those exes, in reality I think I’m more likely to have paid attention to the early red flags and the relationships would not have developed.

Looking at it head on, alcohol hasn’t been the downfall of any of my romantic relationships; it hasn’t cost me a marriage or ruined my relationship with a life partner, but it has probably made the clarity harder to see at times. If I had identified the red flags earlier and not entered into relationships, would I have been in a position to meet someone with whom I was better suited? Well to be honest, probably not; and obviously it’s not just my sobriety that has made me who I am writing this, it’s my age and my experiences too.

Of course, romantic relationships aren’t the only relationships. There are friendships and relationships with my family too.

To write this, I asked some of my closest friends and my parents what impact my sobriety has had on our relationships. The general consensus seems to be that although I was obviously lovely when I was drinking (ahem); because I’m happier in myself that oozes into our interactions. I am more present, more communicative and have more of a zest for life and that, apparently, shines through. I can understand that, I feel like I’m nicer to be around.

I definitely feel like I know more about my long-distance friends’ lives because we talk more and that part of my brain that was once thinking about my next drink is instead wondering how someone’s weekend away was; or how their son got on with his exams. I remember. I ask. I’m interested.

I wonder if there are friends who have taken the decision to distance themselves from me because of my drinking. Because I didn’t seem to care about their weekend away or how their son got on in their exams. Potentially, yes. I wonder if there are friends who distanced themselves from me because I wanted all of our social interactions to be alcohol fuelled. Again, I suspect the answer is yes. If you are one of those friends, I’m sorry and I understand. And if you want to reach out now I do other things, I would welcome that with open arms.

My dad, who can often be described as ‘grumpy’ told me that some of the things he says to me that would have resulted in an argument 2 years ago, I now don’t react to. Without getting into whether or not he should me making comments he knows would upset me, this does feel in keeping with the way I feel in regard to accepting people for who they are and feeling more calmer when 'confronted'.

Of course, accepting people for who they are doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it. In the same way that I have become closer to some friends, there are some who I have distanced myself from. Some actively, some passively.

Friendships are, of course, two-way streets and there has to be an overall balance of support. There will, of course, be times where you’re doing more of the supporting and times where you need more support; but these will balance out on the foundations of respect, admiration, affection, trust, honesty and equality.

There are some people in my life who I would have considered very close friends while I was drinking, but if you take away our main mutual hobby of drinking together, the foundations were not there. We don’t have anything in common. We ran out of things to say.

Then there are the friendships with an imbalance of energy; those people who always seemed to need energy and support from me but weren’t always there when I needed it. It’s not all their fault, of course. I’d allowed that imbalance; I’d permitted the inequality to permeate; again, I hadn’t necessarily seen the signs and taken action sooner and they were past salvation. They are friendships that I could not maintain without alcohol blurring the edges and numbing the constant self-focus of the other person.

Those friendships haven’t survived my sobriety, but I don’t necessarily see them as a cost. The friendships I no longer dedicate time or energy to have been replaced by something else- my sober friendships. I was very early in my sobriety when I signed up for a ‘Bee Sober’ brunch in Sheffield. A small gathering of other people who are sober or sober curious. That cold, windy January day where I nervously ventured to meet a group of strangers unsure as to what I was walking into.

What I actually walked into was a friendly gang of women (as it happened) who did not judge me and totally accepted that I was there because I had had enough of booze. They offered tips, encouragement and guidance. I remember the brunch being full of fun and laughter, and 18 months on, I am proud to call these strangers my friends; brought together by our mutual realisation that our lives are better without wine, but kept together by the fun and experiences we share.

We cry, but mostly we laugh. We’ve been away twice, we’ve been on countless brunches and dinners, walks and cold water dips. Sober friendships are built on solid foundations without any blurring and numbing. They help keep me accountable for my sobriety, but mostly they keep me smiling.

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