The day I turned 18 was the same day I found out that I’d secured my place at university. I celebrated the fact that I was now fabulously mature and on the brink of imminent freedom by swaggering down to my local Wetherspoons and ordering the most adult drink I knew – a pitcher of Blue Lagoon.
Before that moment, drinking had never really appealed to me. Being naturally confident at that age, I couldn’t really understand why people needed booze to come out of their shell. I’d only been drunk once before and I knew I didn’t like it. Still, this felt like a rite of passage and the fact that it didn’t have to be, never even crossed my mind.
Three weeks later, my parents dropped me off at university and, having previously been both popular and top(ish) of my class, I was quite surprised when I struggled not only to connect with people but to grasp the learning aspect of student life too. It seemed that whilst I’d just spent the summer at the park with my friends, everyone else had tales about bamboo tattoos and washing elephants in Thailand. My tutor started my first seminar by asking each of us about the last book we’d read and I followed up someone’s declaration of “Orwell’s 198” with “The Hunger Games”.
Thankfully, I finally made some friends and I also got a job handing out flyers for a nightclub on Brighton seafront. The pay was crap, the hours were late - but after our shift, I could drink for free. I once heard that if you don’t like something, you should try it seven times and then, inevitably, you will. I don’t know how true this is, but it definitely worked for alcohol.
I actually have a special talent for attracting triple-threat friends, meaning they are always extremely beautiful, intelligent and kind – something that’s all very well and good unless you’re a jealous 18-year-old, obsessed by the validation of men, and said men only want to talk to your prettier, smarter and funnier friends. Luckily (or unluckily as I see it now), I quickly learnt that alcohol will hush your insecurities faster than you can say 'therapy' and so my loud, zero-fucks party girl persona was born.
Things escalated pretty quickly. By my third year, I’d garnered quite the reputation for my drunken antics. I’d been carried out of all the well-known nightclubs and turned up to many a lecture, still unashamedly tipsy from the night before. I also got myself a job at Vodka Revolutions, which is hardly the optimum setting for someone who visibly needs to cut down on their drinking. By this point, I was regularly experiencing blackouts; losing huge parts of my nights to alcohol and suffering from hellish bouts of hangover anxiety. I actually don’t remember much of my graduation ball at all.
After leaving University with a 2:1 in English (but a 1st in drinking), I showed no signs of slowing down when I went to work in Fashion PR. One of my jobs had extreme “fash-hun” culture, where we worked from 8am-8pm, stopping only for cigarette breaks, and then spent the rest of the evening drinking wine in the pub and bitching about how much we hated our jobs. But we loved each other and we loved drinking, so despite the fact I always felt on the edge of a nervous breakdown, my love affair with alcohol continued.
When I left that job for my dream role writing for a magazine, I knew I needed to take things a bit more seriously. As a result, I vowed not to drink in the week. This meant my alcohol consumption was now allocated solely to the weekend, so I could only embarrass myself in front of my friends and not the colleagues who would ultimately decide the trajectory of my writing career.
During this time, I embodied the definition of binge-drinking. My blackouts became worse, my anxiety sky high, and when I broke up with my long-term boyfriend at the end of 2017, my self-esteem hit a whopping new low. Inevitably, I tried (unsuccessfully) to fix the situation with tequila, Jäegerbombs and significantly more tequila. Though it was probably my worst bout of drinking, there isn’t much to say about this part because, frankly, I don’t remember much of it. It’s essentially one boozy, anxious blur.
On 11 February 2018, I woke up with a raging hangover, no memory of my night and a text from my friend to inform me that I tried to throw her burrito out the window of an Uber. Perhaps not your typical rock-bottom but that morning I declared that I was never drinking again. I’m not sure if it was the shame surrounding my clearly reckless attitude to Mexican food or the inexplicable anxiety/soul-crushing sadness but this time, unlike all the others times I’d said it, I knew deep down that I meant it.
Almost 3 years later, I have indeed never drunk again *cue celebration dance* and I am delighted to report that I am the happiest, healthiest and most confident I have ever been. I am now the founder of the world’s biggest Instagram community for sober and sober curious women (@sobergirlsociety) and have just written a book for anyone who has ever felt like me –anxious, unsure if they have problem and wondering if there is more to life than drinking and being hungover? Spoiler – there is.
The Sober Girl Society Handbook by Millie Gooch will be published by Bantam Press in hardback on 14 January 2021 and is available for pre-order now.
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