Is It Time You Went 'Sober Curious'?
The Debrief: 'What would life feel like if I never drank at all? Why drink at all, when I know it (usually) makes me feel like s*it? Why is alcohol so … everywhere? Do they all think about drink as much as me?'
When I tell people I’m ‘sober curious,’ they often look confused. No, I’m not in AA, and neither do I identify with the label ‘alcoholic’. But since I launched my Club SÖDA NYC event series (an acronym for Sober Or Debating Abstinence), most people assume I don’t touch the stuff. And for the most part I don’t, having spent the past seven years completely reframing my relationship to alcohol.
Flashback to 2010, and I am the quintessential work-hard-play-hard party girl. As Features Editor on the Sunday Times Style magazine, I’m killing it in my career—my weekends an equally ab fab blur of lychee martinis and (when it’s offered) cocaine. On annual holidays to Ibiza I’ve earned the moniker ‘Cocktail Girl’, for my ability to conjure dangerously drinkable concoctions from the cheapest Cava money can buy.
From the outside, I’m living the high life. SATC with a chaser of cynical London ‘cool’. But on the cold, flat mornings after, the cracks are beginning to show. Sundays are spent mapping deadlines for the coming week against how hungover I’ll be; Mondays, keeping a lid on the constant low-level anxiety that seems to have become my base emotional state. A mid-week wine or two to take the edge off. Before I step back onto the merry-go-round, and do it all again.
Until I find myself back in Ibiza for my first ever yoga retreat, on assignment for Style. And not just any old yoga—the crazy crack style of yoga they call ‘kundalini’. Sessions begin at 7am, and consist mainly of us hyperventilating while flailing our arms around and jumping up and down to sitar-infused techno. Mealtimes are buzzy; I find myself talking a lot. Booze is not on the vegan, gluten-free menu. I bounce into the office the following Monday feeling more ‘awake’ than I have in months.
Looking back, I can pinpoint that weekend in Ibiza as the beginning of my sober curious journey. The question reverberating in my psyche: would Monday always feel this way if I didn’t drink? Sure, I was still high from the yoga. But the more obvious difference was the absence of alcohol from my weekend activities. I’d even managed to refrain when we ventured out for dinner on the last night of the retreat, despite having an internal freak out at the idea of sitting in a restaurant sans wine. Next question: what the hell was that all about?
Not that I stop drinking overnight. How can I? Cocktails are my comfort and joy, legendary East London pub the Royal Oak an extension of my living room. I plan my outfits around where I’ll be drinking that night, and my drinks around where the after-party will take us. My social, family, and work life are awash with alcohol. And it’s not like I have a problem; if anything, my friends drink more than I do.
But the cracks begin to widen. If my kundalini weekend was the chiming of a gentle alarm, a couple of nasty falls and a near drink-driving miss in the coming months hold the promise of a ruder awakening down the line. I’ve also begun to obsess about booze, making (and then breaking) countless rules about when, what, and how much I’m allowed to drink. Behaviour I’ve since learned is a common indicator of having become dependent on alcohol.
Things reach a natural break point in 2012 when my husband lands a job in New York, the move stateside an opportunity to start afresh. But if anything, I hit the bottle harder. On paper, my SATC fantasy has become a reality; sitting in my vermin-infested West Village apartment, newly freelance (read: jobless), and oceans removed from my family and friends, slipping on a pair of Miu Mius and sipping a hot-pink Cosmo is as close to a Carrie Bradshaw moment as it gets.
Which is when things begin to get curiouser and (sober) curiouser.
The move to NYC means I’ve finally begun work on a passion project, an online magazine called The Numinous. A platform for me to blog about a lifelong love of all things esoteric, my research is taking me places. My first meditation classes. A hipster spirit séance in Williamsburg. More kundalini yoga. Breathwork healing sessions that leave me high as a kite. My social life is getting busy and buzzy again, and without a drink in sight.
Before long, weeks, months even, begin to go by without booze—if not without considerable restraint and mental anguish on my part. But when I do drink these days, it feels different. Less like having fun and letting go; more like retreating into my own private padded cell. It’s the contrast, I begin to realise, between the numbing alcohol highs, and the all-organic, self-generated, Numinous highs I’ve been experiencing. As for the hangovers? More time not spent on a project that has begun to feel like my purpose.
Which means more questions: What would life feel like if I never drank at all? Why drink at all, when I know it (usually) makes me feel like s*it? Why is alcohol so … everywhere? Do they all think about drink as much as me? How come I become boring, an outsider, a weirdo, a problem, if I say I’m not? Why are there still times I can’t not? And the big one (the one I’d really rather not know the answer to): Does all this make me an alcoholic?
I find myself asking this last one out loud, at my second AA meeting. ‘I’m Ruby and I … think … I might be … an alcoholic?’ But nobody answers, and the roll-call continues: ‘Richard, alcoholic’, ‘Mimi, alcoholic’, ‘Steve, alcoholic’ (of course, I’ve changed their names). Afterwards, random dude approaches. ‘If you’re even here, you’ve answered your own question’. But now at least I know, this answer does NOT feel like my truth.
I don’t go back to AA. By now, I’m well on my own way to living alcohol free. I can feel new neural pathways forming, old habits dying hard. Most of my new friends drink less than I do, and I’m catching up, fast. But looking my addictive drinking in the face already feels like a relief.
The first Club SÖDA NYC event took place in my living room in February 2016, and two months later I partnered with the meditation artist Biet Simkin to launch it as a public-facing event series. The aim, to have an alternative conversation about alcohol addiction and recovery—and to remove some of the stigma and shame I believe keeps people locked in their own internal battles with booze. And now I’m out of the closet, it turns out I’m not alone in my sober curious questioning, after all.
Material Girl, Mystical World by Ruby Warrington is out now on Harper Thorsons. Her next “sober curious” event will be in London on September 7 2017. Click here for more info and to sign up.
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