This month, alongside “thousands” of other Britons (that’s a direct quote from the internet), I am partaking in Stoptober, the government’s first nationwide mass quit campaign. In addition to quitting smoking, I have also decided to embark on the Paleo diet meaning that my Stoptober consists of not only nicotine, but also caffeine and sugar withdrawal (all carbs except tubers/veg, alcohol and controlled drugs are out too). Mayb you’re wondering whether I am simply a masochist, or whether I lost a(n odd) bet.
In fact, going teetotal is something I’ve done numerous times for varying periods of time, and as much as I dread it beforehand and sometimes plan it months in advance to build up (what I imagine to be) the courage and emotional strength needed to do it, I always relish it. Turns out, my body and mind are, like, totally connected, man. My soul needs feeding, and it eats sobriety.
It took me a while to realise that, rather than tempering my depressive side or comforting me, my various addictions make me feel like (no) shit (Sherlock).
My career as an addict (that sounds a little extreme, though I wouldn’t say it’s untrue; let’s use softcore-addict) is quite the cliche. I was once a bright child, at an average British CofE school, with middle-class parents on a working-class wage, enough friends and clean lungs. In school hierarchical terms, I was an Inbetweener (just neither as crude nor as funny as the C4 representations.) I was a Highly Sensitive Child (turns out, actually a thing), and with this trait came huge anxiety, mental self-flagellation and frequent, violent ambushes of emotion that I didn’t understand. (It also came with abundant passion, compassion, spirituality and valuable intuition that I wouldn’t recognise until much later.)
I went from sensitive child, to anxious, sad tweenager, to depressed young-adult, via eating disorder (I hated my appearance, and understandably: I was a normal weight and believed wholeheartedly in popular culture), prescriptions for anti-depressants and sleeping pills, and whatever substances I could get from peers to change my consciousness. This brought me new, equally unstable and unreliable friends, and my confidence, rather than growing, diminished. And then I woke up at 21 years old, having hidden, hated, and inebriated 8 years of my life away.
As I say, cliched. I see and hear this same story from the majority of my generation (with significant variables, of course) but I understood my experience as negative in a way that my friends didn’t; indeed, my overwhelming feeling growing up was guilt. For my drug-seeking behaviour, for my weight and appearance, for my ‘not-living-up-to-my-potential’-ness that bore down on me from elders (“what potential?”), and from a general feeling that I just wasn’t doing The Right Thing at any given time and didn’t know how to. I had ideas to move-on-up at some point; right now, it was easier to sit in the corner with a spliff and headphones at full volume to muddy and mask all guilt and confusion.
This continued throughout University, and once I’d completed my degree with little trouble, it occurred to me that 1) if I could get a decent degree whilst occupying most of my time with head-muddying and resultant lazyness, I could do a fuckload more when ‘clean’, and 2) this was shit, I was angry, and further, I was curious. About people and ideas and life and things. So after a year and a half of help from some patient, dynamic and kind people at Bristol Drugs Project, I started eating better, exercising and smoking less. Common sense, that was buried.
(One of the most odd/interesting situations I have ever been in: the only under-30, only female member of a drug-therapy group full of Class A drug users; while I cry at my perceived inability to give up my drug of choice, a seasoned heroin addict tells me “I know how you feel. I wouldn’t touch marijuana anymore, it sends me barmy”. They all agreed. Everyone was very welcoming and never took the piss, as was my initial fear.)
That was a couple of years ago, and since then substances have still played a varyingly troublesome role in my life (I quit tobacco for a year, then something chronically stressful happened and I had a fag. That was fucking stupid.) But I rarely, if ever, do any party drugs, I don’t drink much, and I smoke on and off. Mostly off.
Every now and again when my mood dips or my confidence is rocked, I start picking up where I left off. So, I go teetotal for a bit. I always think it will be hard, and worry and worry and worry about it and if/when I’ll fail. But my determination has grown greater than my anxiety because of the work I’ve done in and around my increasing ratio of sobriety. I have gained the skill of assertiveness, built my confidence and knowledge base, made some friends-for-life (some caners, some not) and have this strange sort of feeling that I’m actually a pretty capable, worthy human. I just finished an MA, I live in a lovely house with lovely like-minded people, and things are pretty good day-to-day.
So if you take a lot of drugs, or eat a lot of junk, or buy in to The Culture (any culture) enough that you feel like shit all the time, I recommend doing a serious, multi-level Stoptober and see if it changes your spirit a bit. Or Stopvember, Stopcember, Stopril or Stopgust for that matter. Just plan it, do it, and reap the awesome benefits of treating your body like it’s mortal and needs nurturing. (I heard that’s a fact.)