An anonymous writer shares their advice on how to be sober - and not be the mum.

“I’m not going to go hard tonight.”

It’s a phrase we all know too well but (more importantly) we also know how untrue it is. However, for mental health reasons, this year I had to be sober for the duration of freshers’ week. I know. It sounds rough. And to be honest with you, it was a bit. I genuinely had to not “go hard”. I didn’t have alcohol as a friend or to give me that much needed confidence boost in awkward social situations. Luckily, I’m coming into my second year and already have a secure base of extremely supportive friends. However, I still experience some severe anxiety over missing out on social events.

It appears that most activities involve drinking when you’re a university student. I’m still waiting for the day when there’s a non-alcoholic equivalent of a pint of fun. Nonetheless, a big plus to being sober is that it has allowed me to prioritise myself and avoid any “oh no, what have I done” moments the morning after. I’ve even gone a whole week without posting anything or texting anyone I would later regret!

Being sober has meant I’ve had time to explore other healthy routes of self-help. I’ve read a lot and listened to podcasts. In particular, The High Low by Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. I have also tried to structure my week around sporting events such as pre season and the flow 45 classes at the gym. Importantly, I have not shied away completely from social events - I even endured a sweaty night out in Sanctuary, conscious that I was what felt like the only sober one there. But I still managed to boogie for a bit despite feeling quite claustrophobic, hot and sweaty. Moreover, I joined in on pre-drinks with a cup of tea in hand (a lot easier to down than a vodka coke) and on another occasion, in my pyjamas.

Drinking leads to all sorts of anxiety and for me cutting it out is helping. A recent study in Hong Kong showed that “abstaining from alcohol can greatly improve the quality of life for women” and reducing your alcohol intake can have a positive effect on your mental health overall. The real challenge is getting used to being around lots of other people drinking and trying to resist the temptation to join in. According to the National Union of Students, a survey revealed that 70% of participants think students drink to fit in with peers - that’s an incredibly high number. 

My anxiety can still be crippling. With that in (my now very clear) mind, I’ve even emailed my adviser to ask for extra mental health support after a tough summer. Annoyingly and arguably unacceptably, I’m still waiting for a response. My alternative therapy has been going for coffees or plant sales with friends. When my OCD kicks in, I find myself frantically cleaning my room and if I’m feeling really stressed (or what can be described as having too much energy for the room), I’ll clean the communal kitchen area. A cup here, a plate there. It seems all too common that students turn to these activities as the best alternative to proper and professional mental health support.

Friends are great and so is keeping your space clean and tidy, but I feel it’s important to have more “official” support and keep the university in the loop. No one can fully understand what you’re going through when it comes to mental illness as each case is so unique. Sometimes I feel like I’m being watched under a microscope by the people around me, who are concerned that I might have another episode. But that comes from them being caring and supportive - I have wonderful friends - and it is naturally hard for them to know what you are going through. It would be unreasonable to ask more of them and you wouldn’t want them to worry unnecessarily, but knowing that they have your back is a wonderful feeling.

I even thought of going home but after a phone call with family, I came to the conclusion that I need to push on and stop letting my mental illness affect me. The best thing to do is get back out there. You are not your mental illness. If you are not drinking at freshers, or at university in general, I would suggest coming up with a go-to line to respond to those who are curious about why you are not drinking. Mine is “I’m on medication” which normally shuts the interrogation down.

All in all, it’s possible to do university sober if you surround yourself with the right people and don’t take your situation too seriously. Focus on yourself as your number one priority, and if that involves dropping the alcohol - so be it.

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