When I first began drinking in earnest, it was because I wanted to be part of a scene. And in the scene that I wanted to be part of, drinking was what people did—drinking and every other kind of drugging. London in the late 1990s was the backdrop to “Cool Britannia”—the era of hard-drinking YBAs (Young British Artists) like Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst; of the movie Trainspotting and its gritty depiction of heroin chic; and of music festival mania.
The nightlife revolved around fancy cocktails in hotel bars and spilled out into superclubs like Fabric and Ministry of Sound. The only place to vacation was Ibiza, party capital of Europe and home of the infamous “carry-on” parties, which began at 6 a.m. after the nightclubs closed, and strung the high along through the following afternoon.
As a recent graduate of the journalism school at London College of Fashion, my only ambition was to begin documenting all of this for hipster magazines like The Face, i-D, and Dazed. I’d also recently gotten out of a six-year abusive relationship, which had left me, at 22, unsure how to be a woman in the world without something essential being taken from me.
Before long, mingling at industry parties with a macho pint of lager in my hand, my confidence grew. My face began to get recognized, and the jobs started rolling in. Getting trashed, it appeared, was how you gained both kudos and commissions. Newly single, using booze to facilitate casual hookups felt wild and transgressive, like living by the roll of a dice.
But you’re here, reading this, and so you know how this story goes. A decade flashes by, and the “highs” are harder to come by. Feeling as good as I used to requires lengthier bouts of boozing, more consistent stoking with harder drugs. And as the pendulum swung harder and faster in one direction, the lows at the other end became more brutal.
Getting trashed, it appeared, was how you gained both kudos and commissions.
It’s simple physics: What goes up must smash back down to Earth with a mighty bump. By my mid-thirties, a pile-up of crash landings had left my emotional body feeling like one big bruise. I knew something had to give. Which is when I found myself becoming intrigued by a different scene altogether.
Searching for a salve for all my emotional wounds (not that I knew that’s what I was doing at the time), I began an in-depth study of astrology—a childhood passion that I’d dropped when boys and booze came along. And soon, I was off on a magical mystery tour of all things mystical. In 2012, at age 36, I launched my own online magazine, The Numinous.
Beyond astrology, I wrote about the tarot and shamanic healing, tried hypnosis and all sorts of energy work. This both fed my curiosity about anything that revealed our connection to the cosmos, and helped to explain the trippy serendipities of life. The Numinous was my home base from which I could map this esoteric expedition—while presenting these tools in a way that made them seem modern, accessible, and cool.
Even better, the bar scene that had been the backdrop to the entire formation of my adult personality (and where, as far as I had been concerned, all the magic happened) turned out to be an underground rabbit warren of alternative healing spaces strung with fairy lights, scented with incense. And it was in these rooms, and among the progressive communities inhabiting them, that I discovered a different variety of highs.
As the pendulum swung harder and faster in one direction, the lows at the other end became more brutal.
As The Numinous and the scene that was springing up around it grew, my industry parties soon became Moon circles, breathwork sessions, and cacao ceremonies (during which I experienced the heart-opening properties of imbibing ceremonial-grade Peruvian chocolate served as a soupy brew). I found myself dancing like a banshee at Kundalini discos and tripping out of my skull in Shamanic healing sessions—stone cold sober.
These activities often led to the kinds of encounters I had read about in Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Harry Potter books—access to superhuman parts of myself, and interactions with alternate realities that have to be believed to be seen. The magical part of the human experience that grown-ups have generally been tricked into thinking does not actually exist. I have come to believe that, for many of us, drinking can begin as a way to try to access these numinous realms—but if this was what they called “getting high on vibes, man” the alcohol I was consuming began to feel so … basic, by comparison. Slowly, my desire to drink, and then drinking itself, began to ebb away.
Because something else was happening. Creating The Numinous meant I had to be open and vulnerable, my naive and sincere self; I’d cloaked that woman in cool girl layers in order “make it” in the London magazine scene. Alcohol and other drugs had helped to weave these layers into my being, and I’d hoped they’d protect me. Now, one by one, the stitches were being unpicked. Who even was I underneath?
If this was what they called “getting high on vibes, man” the alcohol I was consuming began to feel so … basic, by comparison.
Well, I discovered, I was as curious as I was confused. There were parts of me that still hurt from the abuse I’d suffered in my teenage years. I was also dismayed at the state of a world that was coming into sharper and sharper focus, as I actively elected to stop numbing myself with booze and to begin to heal my wounds. But I was also full of hope. I was surprisingly resilient. And I was a far more confident person than I had believed while relying on alcohol to boost my self-esteem.
Slowly, as I began to get comfortable with this naked new way of being, I saw that I no longer needed a substance to help me “fit in.” Because, through following my curiosity and doing more of what felt good in my whole soul, I’d created a “scene” that felt like a home—one that brought me companionship, excitement, emotional support, and not to mention a whole new career.
Above all, I’ve come to see that outsourcing the joy, connection, transcendence, and belonging we all crave to booze, was the equivalent of partying all alone in my own private padded cell. When outside, a passport to limitless adventures and world of possibilities was waiting for me all along.