Last week I received the following message from our new neighbours:
“Would you like to come over for a wine (or some beer)?”
This might seem like a totally innocuous question. Normal even.
But it left me feeling quite angry.
Why? You might ask.
Because drinking is so acceptable, ‘normal’ in our culture, that anything else seems ‘abnormal’.
Back to the start.
I have not drunk alcohol for 4 years in April. It is not anything I want accolades for, I have done it for myself. I am glad I did and if I am honest, I am actually quite proud of it. That I have listened to what works for me and have acted on it. My only wish is that I had done it far sooner in my life, but at least I’ve done it now.
I have not written about it before for a variety of reasons. These include not wanting it to define me, nor do I want to sound condescending or preachy (it just works for me). But I have found myself getting increasingly angry by the pervasiveness of drinking culture and how sometimes I feel I have to justify myself for not drinking. Justify my behaviour really?
When I got this text, I obviously was grateful for the kind invitation, but then I thought, what if I don’t want wine or beer? It was like those were my only options.
I was then faced with the following dilemma. Do I respond to let them know that I don’t drink alcohol. Do I say:
“Thanks but I don’t drink, but tonic water or water is fine?
If I do that is that not a bit weird? Then it makes a big deal of it and could sound like I judging their drinking? Does it then raise questions for them about whether I am an alcoholic in recovery and/or am I comfortable around others drinking?
I decided not to respond with that, just politely says thanks for the invite and then tried to set a date.
But then in the back of mind I know that when we do go around I will be offered wine (or beer) so I am faced with another dilemma:
Do I take around my own non-alcoholic drink of choice?
That could make them feel uncomfortable that I have felt the need to bring my own non-booze, that they never thought about a non-alcoholic option (they may even say “if only you’d said”). Will they feel uncomfortable that I will just drink water (my actual preferred drink most of the time)? And feel like I am judging them for drinking alcohol. Quite a lot of stress for a simple drinks invitation.
We haven’t got to the actual ‘event’ yet as our schedules aren’t aligning. But it has left me with a level of resentment, anger, frustration that I have probably had simmering for some time.
Living alcohol free is far from the norm. Not having a drink is something that I have fairly consistently felt I need to justify, unless it outside of ‘Dry January’. Why should I?
If I chose to not eat meat, sugar, dairy, gluten, buy only organic food, have sex with whoever I choose, I wouldn’t feel the need to explain myself. It is a personal choice.
Living alcohol free is still not seen as that. Our culture is still hugely ‘pro’ alcohol.
I have to admit I can’t really understand why.
I am far happier now than I ever was drinking, but that is just me. I have made that choice and know it is not for everyone. It was after many years of questioning my relationship with alcohol and how it made me feel, particularly emotionally and physically. Eventually I realised that my life would be better without it. But it seems that those questioning their relationship with alcohol ‘should’ only be the ones that are bordering on alcoholism.
If we dare to ask these questions then we are a party pooper, boring, an old git (don’t get me wrong – all things I would have thought of those not drinking back when I was). Drinking is absolutely the norm. Not drinking is reserved for those who are pregnant, driving, ‘odd’ or ‘are not fun’.
It makes me angry that I feel I have to justify myself. Not drinking is made harder for those who don’t want to, have an illness, an addiction. We get caught up in a stereotypes that society perpetuates that makes us ‘different’ or ‘weird’.
I was scared when I gave up drinking alcohol. I was scared that I would never get invited out, that I would be seen as boring, people wouldn’t know what to say or how to behave sometimes. I know that this still features somewhere in some people’s minds as I don’t conform to the norm. And yet I do still love to go out, to dance, to have fun. I think I enjoy myself more now than I did before. I just don’t need alcohol any more.
Do I miss it?
Yes, in some tiny ways I do. In certain situations like meeting new neighbours or making small talk, I do sometimes wish I had a drink. It is a social lubricant, it greases the wheels of conversation, it appears to make some moments easier, more fluid. Not drinking requires harder work in some respects, particularly for someone like me who can get socially anxious and does not do well at small talk. It makes being part of a group easier, belonging to the pervasive culture, rather than singling out someone who isn’t having a bevvy or two. Not drinking can actually feel like a double whammy in some ways against ‘belonging’, being different and not feeling in the same state either as people get ‘merry’ together. All that said, I have no desire to actually drink, it is just not worth it for me.
Anyway, back to the text message. What do I do when we do finally meet up for a drink with our neighbours? I think I will have to judge the moment to see what I say about my not drinking. It may well become a subject of conversation, which I am more than happy to talk about. I actually hope we do. But it might just lead to a slightly uncomfortable situation and possibly questions in their minds as to:
“Why does our ‘odd’ new neighbour not drink?”
Now whilst I am not happy that I feel I have to justify myself, I do think it is something we need to talk about. I am obviously hoping that as a society we can start asking more questions. Start having more conversations about not drinking with friends, family, ourselves. Less wondering in our minds, more questions out loud. I am more than ready to start talking about it.
It is about time.
What do you think about living alcohol free? How do you think we can start to question the drinking culture in society, do you think we should? Would love to hear your thoughts, questions, comments below.