Cheers for all the Beers my Dears
I’ve got a bit of a strange relationship with alcohol. Always have had. Strange as in controlled, watchful, measured. Not just my alcohol use but other people around me. Hyper-vigilant for when they go past the point of happy, tipsy, merry into something else. Less coherence, less boundaries, less clear.
The story as to why doesn’t belong to me and is therefore not mine to tell. Suffice to say I’ve seen enough problematic drinking and its associated issues close up enough and for enough years to know enough.
So why am I talking about it now, here, in this space? Well, it’s another one of those conversations, thoughts that have gone around my head, conversations that I’m starting to have out loud that eventually end up on a page. I breathe therefore I write and all that.
A couple of months ago a colleague on Linkedin posted this article and started a discussion. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jun/29/rev-richard-coles-calls-end-glamourising-alcoholism-tv
I’d followed the journey of grief that Rev Richard Coles was on since losing his partner and was surprised to realise that it was an alcohol-related illness that had robbed his partner of life at 43 but not at all surprised to realise that it was shame and stigma that had prevented him from speaking out about it until that point. I posted the article up on my own social media feeds and it got people thinking and talking, mainly about their own alcohol use but also that of other people around them. The casual, easy, constant way in which we normalise, satirise, glamourise excessive use of alcohol. The slogans on the birthday and mothers day cards and how we have slipped into a culture, that makes alcohol ok, socially acceptable, that little reward for getting through another day, wine o clock is here again and you are the odd one out if you choose a different track.
Slogans like these
“if drinking was an Olympic sport then you would win gold every time”
“sip sip hooray”
“there’s no greater love than the love a mother has for her wine”
“the most expensive part of having kids is the wine”
But what reading Rev Richard Coles article did for me was a bit of a sharp intake of breath, a holy shit moment and a realisation that I was as much part of the problem as I was observing the problem.
Stressful job, wine open from the weekend, may as well have a glass on Monday night, finish it on Tuesday, open another Wednesday, phew we got through hump day, its Thursday night lets celebrate, nearly the weekend. Out on Friday, maybe Saturday too, boozy Sunday lunch and so it begins again. Let’s not forget the special occasions, birthdays, holidays, mothers days, Fridays, lockdown days and hard days, celebratory days, sitting on the beach days, just because days and it’s easy to lose track of just how big those wine glasses are and how often they are being topped up. But is it problematic, any of it? can it be, if everyone around you is doing it? encouraging it? celebrating it? buying it? gifting it? photographing it? posting about it? buying birthday cards that celebrate it?
For me, as for so many, the lockdown was a bit of a turning point, not drinking a lot, not getting drunk, but drinking earlier, drinking more often and I cringe to mention that sometimes daily thought of what time is it acceptable to open that bottle, have that glass, slice that lemon, open that can. 4 o clock hmmmm, a bit early and yes I know the sun is over the yardarm somewhere, 5 o clock maybe, that’s the end of the traditional office day and time for an aperitif, how about 6.30, that first glass with dinner or 7 onwards when the dishes are soaking and you are thinking about putting your feet up.
Now, I realise by this point that many people will have switched off, flicked onto the next post, moved away to do something less boring or let’s face it, less triggering, instead. Why ? because asides from religious, pregnancy, medication or illness reasons, not drinking, talking about drinking, or not celebrating drinking for some people, is seen as a bit boring, out of step with the norm, kill joy behaviour, letting the side down and for some people just a bit strange.
It reminds me of being a non-meat eater for 30 odd years and the strange, almost accusatory, and quite frankly bizarre conversations I’d have with people sometimes. I don’t mean people, I mean people who ate meat, who seemed to find it a personal affront that I didn’t and because I didn’t I’d better have a good explanation. One that made it ok for them to continue making their choices I guess, different as they were to mine. They needed a reason as to why I didn’t eat meat, something othering, something that made me seem out of step, wrong in some way, so that they could carry on about their business, safe in the knowledge that they were right and I was wrong. Suffice to say, in 30 years, I never asked meat eaters why they ate meat and I was never asked by another non-meat eater why I didn’t. It just was.
What’s eating or not eating meat got to do with anything. Nothing apart from the links to alcohol and how people’s decisions to drink differently, less, mindfully or non-alcoholically seem to sometimes provide sport and bait for other people. A threat, a trigger, a fear maybe that they are being judged for their choices. Maybe a reminder of a long-held wonder about whether their own choices about drinking are the right ones. Although what right actually means is a bit of a moot point. Is it the recommended number of units ? is it only drinking at the weekend, birthdays, bar mitzvahs and Christmas ? Is it only on Friyays ? or until you are tipsy, merry, happy, have taken the edge off ? or absolutely wasted with the next day written off being some kind of badge of honour?
I’ve no idea. Although the ex public health person in me would say it’s probably somewhere below the government guidelines, another part of me would say that it’s something different and is less about quantity and more about quality and mindful drinking and thinking about when having a drink would really enhance a moment or occasion rather than drinking because its Friday, hump day, Sunday lunch or 4 o clock on a sunny day.
Reading Rev Richard Coles article and the debate that followed flipped a switch in my brain somehow and made me curious about sobriety and other people’s experiences and stories. I realised that I had always imagined (hello bias) that people who didn’t drink (asides from the obvious reasons I mentioned above) had a story to tell, some backdrop and I’ll be honest, some sort of associated trauma.
Once I started asking the people around me, it turned out that there was a bit of a movement, a sober curious movement that people were exploring and around the same time I decided that I would do some of my own thinking and research which has now turned into a sober summer. Sober holiday, sober family parties, sober birthdays, sober evenings in the garden, sober sunny days on the beach, sober girls nights out, sober leisurely lunches and there is a sober outdoor cinema night and a sober music festival and other delights to come. Is it a coincidence that as well as not affected by alcohol, the other meaning of sober is
“serious, sensible and solemn”
It’s been a bit of a surprise really because it just sort of happened, without any discussion or planning. The house still full of alcohol, the bottle of fizz still chilling in the fridge, that sauvignon now at the perfect, condensation running down the glass cold, the special gin glasses still cluttering up that cupboard next to the sink.
I don’t remember discussing it in any depth at home, my partner now spending the summer enjoying his occasional rum and coke alone and the bottles of red opened after work, being enjoyed by him while I explore the world of non-alcoholic choices. That holiday with friends, where the special gin had been saved for, left in its bottle. The fridge full of non-alcoholic beer and no alcohol prosecco. That beautiful bottle of Seedlip, just waiting for the perfect tonic to join it.
So, has it been a serious, sensible and solemn summer? without alcohol. No. Truth is that it’s been as much fun, joyousness and gloriousness as ever. I’ve noticed something else though, something more has happened too, which is a delight in less menopausal symptoms, less after alcohol anxiety, less weight and clearer skin, brighter eyes and creativity through the roof. There’s more though, more connection, more interesting conversations, more thinking about the place that alcohol will have in my life going forward and a realisation that it still has a place but that it’s a mindful place, a special place, a place where I will be thinking about it more than I have done previously. A nice glass of red with Sunday lunch, a cold glass of fizz for a birthday, a gin and tonic before dinner. A because sort of consumption and enjoyment not a just because I’m pissed off, just because I need the courage, just because I need to wind down, just because everyone else is, just because its wine o clock, just because I deserve that reward.
There are some places that I have looked for advice, inspiration and information that may be interesting to others, so I have posted links to them below.