Questioning our culture

drinking together alcohol free

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.

drinking together alcohol free

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.

lonely feather counter culture

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.

dance again nightclub lights

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?”

question mark around drinking in lights

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.

Photos: Photo by Simone Secci, Sam Mar, Landon Parenteau on Unsplash

7 thoughts on “Questioning our culture

  1. I think they just want to hang out with you. To see you. The drink invite was just a standard label added to that invite, rightly or wrongly. A friend of ours turned up with gluten free beers when he came to ours “for a drink”. Feel free to turn up with your alcohol free tipple of choice. Several of my friends do and it can prove a lovely natural ice breaker. And interesting! Enjoy it!

    1. Thanks for the comment Lisa and being part of the conversation!

      I am sure they meant nothing by it than a simple invitation and most people would not think twice about wording an invite like this. I just want to draw awareness to how entrenched drinking is in our culture and I really think this needs to change.

      It is great that your friends feel comfortable bringing their own alcohol free drinks, long may it continue! I think the world is changing, but it is a little more complex with new friends, but hopefully we are heading in the right direction to respect and accept anyone’s decision and not just expect everyone does drink.

      Hope you and yours are all good!

      1. I agree
        We do tend to say ‘Come over for a drink’ and when many do they might have a sparkling water, Coke – whatever;
        I would never ask someone why they aren’t drinking alcohol -unless I know them get well.
        There’s SO many reasons in today society as to why one doesn’t drink / doesn’t want to /can’t/ doesn’t need to etc

        1. So true, that we never know what is going on for someone and why they might be/not be drinking at any point, it is up to us to assess whether it feels right to talk about it or not in that moment.

          Thanks so much for your comment!!

  2. It’s thought provoking Em, I’ve had friends throughout the years who didn’t drink and even been lucky to have some honest conversations about it – once we knew them better. My first eye opener as a host was the feeling for one person, as they are alcohol free, can they reciprocate the invitation if there will be no alcohol? She wondered how will I have fun at her place if she says, ‘please don’t bring alcohol’? It’s probably 15 years since that particular dinner and I have great (and clear) memories of it.

    While I am far from alcohol free, I did drink a lot less during the lockdown, especially when I was alone with the kids as it simply seemed pointless. Opening a bottle of wine on Friday for only one glass meant I was pressured to finish it the next day(s) or throw it away (too expensive), and the route of bottomless GnTs or vodka shots wouldn’t have ended well.

    I see that we have more alcohol free beer in the house these days, so it’s always on offer, and I recently discovered Seedlip alcohol free Gin which I seem to be advocating to everyone I meet. I’ve only been testing it on my alcohol drinking friends so far, but as someone who doesn’t love water, I’m enjoying a drink that requires sipping but is still alcohol free.

    In terms of how to make space for not drinking alcohol, I believe the shift is in my hands as a host. When we offer food we ask in advance if anyone is vegetarian or vegan without thinking, preparing with alcohol free drinks doesn’t even need this advanced question and while I am struggling to find a neat change to the invitation, “come for wine or water….” Making sure we offer an alcohol free optIon as guests arrive is second nature now and I believe my raised eyebrows when water is requested will be under control soon soon.

    Either way Em, know we have water (and alcohol free gin) here for you any time.

    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment Heather, appreciate listening to your thoughts and journey too!

      Alcohol free-ness is certainly something that more people are conscious of now and there are definitely more AF drink options out there now (recommend the Tanqueray or Gordon’s alcohol free gin too, by the way!). One day they might even not be more expensive than the alcoholic versions!!

      Know what you mean about changing the language we use too, I suppose we can just invite someone over for a drink and it doesn’t matter what that is then?

      Really hoping I can take you up on the water offer soon – I am sure it is delicious where you are!!

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