Alcohol is closely tied in with nostalgia. For many of us, there are deeply entrenched associations between drinking and life events: celebrating at Christmas and birthdays, for example, or toasting the happy couple at a wedding, or getting drunk with our partner on the early dates we enjoyed, as we first got to know them.
These connections we create and strengthen throughout a lifetime become problematic when we decide we no longer want to drink alcohol. It's there at every turn - you can't go on holiday and not drink! That's what you always do! You can't go for a romantic meal and not have a bottle of wine (or two) - you always do that! Be a guest at a wedding and stay sober all day? Are you mad, woman?
But all of the above examples are nothing more than social constructs and neural pathways - a combination of what our brain has learned to put together, and the influences we are subject to all around us, owing to the particular society we live in.
I'm writing about this today because I find myself at a pivotal moment in time in my own life. A few months ago, I became a grandma to the beautiful Albie - a truly incredible gift and a role (grandma) that I just love. A few months before Albie arrived, his mum moved out of the family home, leaving just me and my younger daughter here. Although my little one is only ten, I have to confess there have been strains of Empty Nest Syndrome and much grieving for the end of the chapter that was bringing up my first born child, and all the happy memories we have shared together. My eldest is getting married in a few weeks, so I will soon have a son-in-law to add to the fold. She has well and truly flown the nest.
The three of us moved into this house seven years ago, when Lily was just three, and so much has changed during that time. Our gorgeous dog Betty died last year, and then Bean arrived, our long haired chihuahua (follow her on Instagram @ beano_ntoast). We were a family of three back in 2015, and are now moving out to a new home, just Lily and me, and the two dogs.
I had a relationship during those seven years that almost ended in marriage and then broke down completely (thankfully - definitely the right decision). My daughters went through various ups and downs of their own - school moves, boyfriend problems, university life, friend fallings out and making up. We endured lockdowns here together, playing Cluedo and Boggle and Dobble on the rug each night in front of the fire, the dogs stretched out next to us and Bo-Jo on the TV outlining the ever-changing regulations and death tolls.
Last weekend, all three of us cleared out the spare room in preparation for the move. We laughed as we ploughed through endless boxes of memories - cards from exes, drawings that were scribbled when they were tiny, funny notebooks with half-finished stories they had written in their early years. There were old photos we'd forgotten about and awful clothes that had been long stuffed into corners, never to be worn again.
And today, all of us will be heading up to Betty's favourite field and scattering her ashes. I wanted to do this before we move house but haven't yet felt up to it. Today, however, the sun is shining, everyone has a few hours free, and it feels like the right time. We are all going to share our favourite memory of Betty and release the ashes, before we go for an ice cream at the cafe and spend some time together, our growing family with baby Albie and all our dogs (my daughter has her own dog now so there are three).
As I stood in the garden this morning, listening to the distant mooing of the cows on the hills, I was reminded of how important it is to live here, in your life, now - as it is today. To look around you and see what you have got right now; the growing family, the wisdom, the memories, the enrichment that all the years that have passed before have brought to your mind, body and soul.
So often, we can resist change and growing older, wishing we were back at a certain time when things were fun or carefree, where we felt loved or happy. But you can only have what you have right now, and it's your choice as to whether you notice it and feel gratitude for it, or if you disregard it as not being as good as what has come before.
Lots of us imagine that "back then" was better than this, but it's up to us to make our today what it is. And drinking, however it looked back then, will never bring back to today what has gone before. If there is one thing I am 100% certain of, it's this: even when alcohol wasn't causing the problems it did in later life, it was still masking and creating a false reality. And if we want to enjoy our realities as they are today, alcohol has no place in our lives.