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A&E: Drunk vs Sober

Summer 2019

I’m seven drinks in and feeling merry. Me and my friends bunch together at the bar, trying to get someone’s attention to order more drinks. It’s past two and I’m almost certainly slurring my words by now. Finally, I catch the bartender’s eye.

“Hi, can we get six Jägerbombs please?” I shriek in his ear.

He smiles politely but behind the smile, I can see he’s pissed that he’s got to pour six sticky Jägerbombs.

I pay for the drinks and hand them out, as though I’m doing the most honourable of deeds. We cheers, and I tilt back my head as I gulp down the contents of the glass. It’s firey, but slips down easily.

Through heavy crowds we make our way past the dance floor to the pool tables outside. The smell of cigarettes and beer would be overwhelming if I wasn’t already drunk.

The night is just beginning, but at the same time it’s already over. Always grasping for the next moment, we move from place to place, sipping drink after drink, waiting for something to happen. Of course, nothing of interest does.

People, events, sounds, and smells float by in a blur, and before I know it, we’re back on the street at closing time.

Bored and still full of energy, my friend challenges me to a wrestling match. We are playfighting for roughly a minute when I stumble. A loud thud brings me back to reality. It’s the sound of my face smacking against the nearby concrete steps. Shit. As drunk as I am, the pain still manages to hit me with guttural force, and I burst into tears.

When I look down, all I see is blood. Lots of blood. All over my white t-shirt.

I’ve busted my lip, broken some teeth, and blackened my eye. My friends tell me I have to go to A&E. Of course, I tell them I don’t want to, but apparently, it’s non-negotiable.

Someone hails a taxi and tries to convince the driver to take me to the hospital. He clearly feels bad, but also clearly doesn’t want someone spurting blood all over his back seat. Eventually though, he agrees to take us.

When we arrive, the lighting is garish and violent – like the nightclub floodlights that come on when they want you to leave. I try to explain what happened to the receptionist at the hospital, but she struggles to understand me through my tears and swollen face. She rolls her eyes and tells me to take a seat. I’m probably not the first drunken accident she’s seen this morning.

Outside, it’s getting light, and the birds are singing. The alcohol is starting to wear off and my face is in terrible pain. I wait for hours, dehydrated and feeling like shit. All I want is to be in bed.

When I’m seen by a doctor, he asks me if I have a problem with alcohol. What a ridiculous question, I think to myself. I’m injured – not an alcoholic!

I’m discharged and told to be careful in case of concussion. I spend the next three days in bed feeling sorry for myself, wondering what the point of it all is. We were desperate for ‘something to happen’, and in the end, something did. Is this what life is all about?

Spring 2022

It’s April, and me and my friends are lying on a beach south of Athens, blinded by the midday sun.

It’s my second ever sober holiday, and I’m as apprehensive as I am excited. As much as I know things can (and probably will) go wrong, I’m pleased that I’m not reaching. I’m not waiting for something to happen – I’m happy in the moment I’m in.

Being comfortable in the moment you’re in doesn’t mean you never want to have fun, though. The crashing of waves tempts me to run into the sea, despite suspecting it will be ice-cold.

I get up, shake out my limbs, and begin to run toward the ocean. My suspicions are correct – I scream as I reach the lapping shore.

Screaming and thrashing around, I smile and shout for the others to join me as I venture deeper into the water. I’m freezing my nips off, but I’m full of life and enjoying every minute.

Making my way back to shallower sea, I can once again touch the floor, but I’m struck by a shooting pain in my ankle. A pain that feels akin to someone repeatedly and brutally stabbing me in my right foot.

“AAAAGGGHHH, shit shit shit shit…” I shout.

Half limping, I try to run across the beach back to the others. It’s like something out of Baywatch gone wrong.

“What happened?!” Tom shouts to me.

Completely out of breath, I try to tell him I’ve twisted my ankle. But nothing comes out. Instead, I collapse onto my towel.

For a while, I’m scared to try standing up. The pain is so bad I think there’s no way I could put weight on it. Eventually, I stand up with a little assistance, and hobble to the nearest restaurant to have some food.

The remainder of the holiday is overshadowed by my sprained – possibly fractured – ankle. But I don’t want to bring the others down, or miss out on my holiday, so I try to put on a brave face and manage it. I rest when I can, but inevitably there’s some walking involved on our week-long city break, which probably doesn’t help my recovery.

When back in the UK, my doctor tells me to go to A&E for an X-ray. I think she’s being dramatic – it’s probably just a little sprain. I don’t really have to go to hospital, do I???

Deep down, I know the real reason I don’t want to go is because of how many awful, drunken experiences I’ve had in hospital.

I feel strangely cheated. Surely in my new, sober, wholesome life I don’t still have to go to hospital?! I thought giving up drinking would solve all my problems and things would never go wrong again…

Obviously, that’s not the case. Even though I already know this, it still feels like a kick in the teeth.

I journey to Kingston hospital, expecting to have an experience parallel to the others I’ve had in hospital.

But – weirdly enough – it’s different. Totally different, in fact.

Most of the external factors are the same. There’s a waiting room, receptionist, doctors and nurses, other patients, people crying out in pain, and people with severe injuries. There’s a long waiting list, bright lights, and the smell of antiseptic.

I find myself wondering, if the environment is so similar, why is this experience so different?

I realise it’s because a lot of the internal factors are different. I’m still in pain, sure. But I’m not drunk or hungover. I’m relatively calm and well-prepared, enjoying reading and listening to music as I wait. I’m more flexible and mentally healthy, so when I’m faced with needing medical attention, I can go with the flow and accept things as they come. None of this would have been possible whilst I was drinking.

After my X-ray, the doctor tells me nothing is broken and it’s just a sprain. Basically, the advice is a large dose of REST.

In the past, I would have been pissed that I’d wasted time at hospital when I didn’t need to. But now, with new clarity and a fresh perspective, I know that I did the grown-up thing. I don’t feel like I wasted my time – I feel as though I made a responsible choice and I’m lucky that nothing went seriously wrong.

Nothing goes exactly to plan, even in sober life. But sober life means we can accept things as they come and go with the world much more easily. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

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