Dry January: Women, alcohol and the almighty hangover

One of the new things in the Mrs Mummypenny world for 2022 is where I welcome brilliant writers to share their thoughts, guidance and views. Rebecca Megson-Smith is the first and will be sharing her incredible writing on a regular basis.

Rebecca, or Bec to me, has been my best mate since 1988. We’ve been through a lot together, mostly good and also not so good. We have never managed to live near each other again since those heady day of growing up in Penzance, Cornwall, but speak to each other every day. I love her with all my heart.

And she is the most incredible writer, AKA Ridley Writes, who has taught me how to write, coached me through writing my book The Money Guide to Transform Your Life, and generally coached me through life, for which I am forever grateful.

Over to Rebecca and her take on women, alcohol and the almighty hangover.

Like thousands of people across the UK, I’m doing Dry January again this year.

It’s become something of an annual event in our house as we’ve been doing it pretty much since its inception in 2013. In that time, I’ve had two children and over the intervening years, my life, and my relationship with alcohol has changed dramatically.

From the get-go alcohol has not been my friend. My first night out ‘on the town’ as a 16-year-old, saw me huddled on the kerbside. Behind me, the lights and laughter, clatter and chatter of Saturday night drinkers as they swept in and out of the pubs on Chapel Street in Penzance. I kept my eyes very, very tightly shut because then I could pretend that the world didn’t keep doing backflips and tipping me over in the process.

Sorry for the memory Bec, this exact place of eye closed shut;-)

For a while I was flanked by two ravers who were deeply concerned I’d ‘dropped two E’s’ and was experiencing a ‘black hole’. They left shortly after my confession that the state they found me in was due only to the consumption of half a bottle of Merrydown cider and a pint of snakebite and black.

It took all of the rest of that evening to stagger, with considerable help from strangers and friends, back up towards my best friends house, where I was thankfully staying over. What I learned that night is a) it didn’t take much booze to quite literally knock the legs out from under me and, as I discovered the next day, b) my body is merciless when it comes to hangovers.

It was a lesson I enjoyed so much I decided to re-learn it, almost afresh, many, many times over.

The thing is, it was the mid-nineties.

The Ladette was just beginning to emerge as an aspirational character in our national consciousness. And in some strange, utterly messed up way, part of our politic, of our feminism, was that we could do pretty much anything the boys could do. Including drink as much as them. Oddly I clung to that for far longer than the evidence ought to have allowed me.

For much the same reason we deny or undermine hormones, periods, pregnancy, birth, motherhood, and menopause, I found myself downplaying the role my biology might have in my (in)ability to consume alcohol.

It’s only been in the past few years, since becoming a mum in particular, that I’ve really started analysing my relationship with alcohol though, and thinking about it in terms of gender and politics.

The mixed messaging about women and alcohol continue to be complex and confusing. The rise of women drinkers (now at parity with men according to a 2018 study in the Lancet) has been at the forefront of the alcoholic drinks industry expansion.

They’ve poured money into making drinks pretty and sweet – because apparently that’s what we girls are really looking for when we want a drink, something similar to the fizzy pop we used to have as a kid. They’ve poured considerably more money into making us want those drinks, in normalising our drinking, in suggesting that really having an alcoholic drink is the symbol of our empowerment.

During lockdown as a nation the UK drank a lot.

Memes around ‘mummy being an alcoholic’ were shared with wild and thoughtless abandon. It was funny, apparently, that women in particular were so stressed by the situation of home working and home schooling and living with their partners 24/7 that they were self-medicating in this way. You had to laugh, because, well, if you didn’t…

Where this pondering on drinking and gender and politics and capitalism has taken me is to this simple position: I don’t want to drink anymore.

I don’t necessarily mean that I want to go teetotal but I don’t like being drunk and I really, really don’t like hangovers. I’ve never been blessed with an easy ride of it the morning after the night before, but inevitably as I’ve got older, lying to myself and others about how I feel on a hangover has lost its appeal. I’ve had a couple of occasions since giving birth where I’ve forgotten what an almighty lightweight I am and had to deal with the trauma (am I overstating here? I think not) of being responsible for small people and all their needs. The cries and wails of ‘mama’ followed by whatever food or drink or boredom alleviation demand they had will stay with me to my grave. So no, no more wine thanks, I’ve had enough.

And life is getting shorter. The days are more precious than ever I realised when I was younger. Even if I could spend the day after in a darkened room being brought cups of tea and junk food at appropriate intervals, that is not how I want to spend my time.

So if you’re halfway through Dry January and finding it a struggle, this is your rallying call: Just think, you’re one up on the drinks industry, your action is political as well as personal and, thank god, you’re free of the damned hangover. For now at least.

Cheers.

Rebecca Megson-Smith is a writer, writing coach and feminist, fuelled by books, tea and time by the sea. You can find her on her website, Instagram @ridleywrites and lurking on Twitter @ridleywrites

In our heartland, Cornwall.
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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

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