What being alcohol-free has given me

Melanie Sykes | April 2019 | 8 minutes

Sober Spring week four: Presenter and model Melanie Sykes on why she's happier booze-free.

On the 1st May 2019 I will be two years sober. My ‘I am sober’ app has been clocking up the hours, minutes and seconds since then, whist I have been getting on with my life.

I have had long periods of sobriety in the past, the longest being seven years. In this period I was having my babies and was crazy busy with my TV career. There was absolutely no space for drink throughout my thirties. My twenties however were a little different.

This, my latest act of sobriety feels different because it’s not actually for anyone else but me.

I’ve had different degrees of consumption over the years and different patterns of behaviour around it. Drink ceases to suit me as I get older and amongst a million reasons I have chosen to give up, I have to be honest and say that vanity is one. I quite simply look a lot better when I don't drink.

This, my latest act of sobriety feels different because it’s not actually for anyone else but me.

But it goes further than being skin-deep. I feel better too. I have been in therapy on and off since my late twenties, mostly for depression; a constant feeling of loneliness that has haunted me since my teenage years (and that I'm still working on). I never brought my drinking behaviour into these sessions and if I did it was never picked up on. Now I'm unravelling the part drinking has played in my depression.

When I talk to my friends about the journey of getting sober I describe the process of peeling an onion. Revealing layer after layer of myself. The good the bad and the ugly!

Acceptance of drinking - and an assumption we will grow up and drink - is woven into the very fabric of society and dare I say it, especially up north. I was brought up around drinkers and as a child spent many a Saturday afternoon at the local working men’s club having a wonderful time with my sisters and cousins, drinking lemonade and shaking those little packets of salt into Walkers crisps, while the adults drank. We would spend hours playing in the sunny beer garden, or playing pool and darts.

During one of these Saturdays I was given a sip of shandy bass, my first taste of alcohol, but I didn’t start actually drinking until I was seventeen. Like most teenagers, it was reserved for the Saturday night slugging of copious bottles of Diamond White.

When I talk to my friends about the journey of getting sober I describe the process of peeling an onion. Revealing layer after layer of myself. The good the bad and the ugly!

The thing is, my drinking isn’t about the amount - or when or how. I drank to celebrate and to commiserate. Bingeing was my style and my tolerance was quite high. It’s more about how it made me feel.

The hangovers were a killer for me. The self-loathing and shame were all-consuming, even if I had done nothing wrong. I also smoke when I drink (chain-smoke to be exact) so I would have the tobacco hangover to contend with too.

Over the years, the torture drinking created within me escalated. Until I realised that it definitely no longer serves me - and it likely never did.

In the last two years, I have experienced an extraordinary learning curve; a year into being alcohol-free, I started therapy with an addiction therapist, Chip Somers. I was already sober without a problem, so these weren't sessions on how to stay sober; but I did need to learn to manage the emotional fall-out I was experiencing, the deep stuff being shaken to the surface now I was no longer burying it. The pain, the rawness, the depression, the residual feelings of worthlessness.

With sobriety comes clarity. With my addiction therapist, I went back over my life and listed an inventory of drunken behaviour and my behaviour around drink, where it stemmed from, why I have put up with abusive relationships, why I have been overwhelmed with anxiety and stress at times, and why I react to things in the way that I do.

Some of it was heartbreaking, some of it was freeing but mostly I was quite pragmatic about it. Instead of blaming other people for my unhappiness I tried to work out what I could do to the break these cycles.

In happy coincidence, on the one-year anniversary of my sobriety I flew out to India with my friend Adam. It wasn’t planned to be a celebration of my achievement, but it quickly turned into the pat on the back I needed.

It was a beautiful, cathartic experience; the best trip of my life. I cried a lot, I laughed more and I talked my way around Rajasthan with him.My mum is Anglo-Indian, so India is in my bones but I had never been before, so I absorbed it hungrily, particularly a moving visit to the village where my Mum grew up, which helped me better understand her journey.

When I came home I went on a meditation course and started practising hot yoga, both of which have been wonderful for my mental health.

Nearly two years on, I am more present than I have ever been, I’m shaking off old ideas about myself and I’ve moved forward bravely without any crutches. I’ve fronted up to my fears and believe me there have been tears, but the highs have felt a damn sight better than any beer buzz, or a three-glasses-of-wine thrill.

Nearly two years on, I am more present than I have ever been, I’m shaking off old ideas about myself and I’ve moved forward bravely without any crutches.

I still get bouts of depression but they're real and not brought on by hangovers, or shame around drink. It's authentic, pure depression which is definitely more manageable and it doesn’t set in for long periods. I have more tools for surviving it.

I am always in my right mind and I’m properly taking care of myself.

But most of all, for the first time in my life, the worthlessness has dislodged. I feel like I am worth the effort. Worthwhile. And boy, has that been a long time coming.

  • Melanie Sykes is the Editor of a new online women's magazine which is staffed by, written by, and purely features those aged 40+. Follow @thefrank_mag on Instagram.