I won’t open this post by lying: the best nights out that I have had have been the ones including alcohol. Even as I write this memories of Spanish carnivals, beach parties, firework nights, St. Patrick’s Day and birthdays abroad abound.
Writing from rain-soaked (no exaggeration) Ireland it does seem incredible that I once stood in the heat of a Canarian night outside a night club drunk texting my boyfriend the directions so he could come and join my friends and I on what turned out to be an unforgettable experience.
So it may come as a surprise – it does to me – that just around this time two years ago, on the morning after that particular night out, we decided to stop drinking alcohol altogether.
The most frequent question I was asked at the beginning about being a non-drinker was one asked with a wry smile and a kind of knowing wink: was it because you had a really bad night?
The question implies that I stopped drinking because it was something that was out of my control and that I was incapable of reigning in, therefore needing to put a stop to completely. Why else would you give up drinking?
There was no reason why I gave it up. It did start out as both of us, my partner and I, wanting to see if we felt differently without alcohol in our social lives. Neither of us were what you would call drinkers anyway and from around 2014 I had started to think consciously about the way I lived my life – from how much I exercised to the kind of diet I maintained.
Not drinking at all wasn’t the hard part. We didn’t need to employ any strategies or tactics or motivational pep talks to keep us from doing so. What started out as a month long trial turned into both of us admitting the benefits we felt by being non-drinkers.
We felt stronger, for one. There is a kind of strength in being able to simply wake up and decide to adopt a habit and stick to it regularly, just like that. It is often misconstrued as feeling as though you are better than others but my decision rested and revolved around solely myself. In myself, I felt better.
Then there were the savings! It sounds great but it came largely because when we removed alcohol from our social lives, we removed our social lives!
When you don’t drink there is so much less incentive to go out. We stopped going to restaurants as a couple because there was no point. If we did go out it was because we went for a culinary experience rather than as a precursor to drinks. We ate better, we learned to cook more dishes, we fully transitioned to a vegetarian diet and we reaped the benefits.
The act of taking one step that we felt made us into healthier individuals in control of ourselves rather than driven by peer pressure and social norms, opened in front of us the very real possibility of doing similarly in other areas of life.
Those were the positives but it is one hundred percent true that our social lives suffered even if, as I said, we were the ones to inflict some of the damage. There seems to be the assumption that if we weren’t drinking, we would be judging others who did which was never the case. Even now I can feel that sense of wariness from people.
Other than the question and assumption about my non-drinking status, another annoyance is the way that is becomes a challenge to “get me to drink”. Peer pressure is real and while I would never blame it for the handful of times I have shared a glass of wine or champagne or a beer with friends, it is incredible that many people feel as if my choice can be downgraded into something to humorously overcome.
I have seen some videos online promising the viewer content of vegans or vegetarians eating meat products as a dare. I can do the same: I have had a beer at some functions but the fact remains that I don’t like it and it does nothing for me. I find my own choice much more gratifying. Questioning or downplaying it by assuming it is because of a lack of control or evidence of trend following is, frankly, insulting.
On my almost two year anniversary of a not- total teetotal lifestyle it amazes me the extent to which I am still questioned for this. I understand that it is normal to question that which is different but what surprises me is that many people cannot imagine that I can enjoy it and therefore it suggests the overwhelming acceptance of alcohol in our lives.
It is hard not to ask why when people ask me if I would like a drink when they know I have chosen to do without. Why should I have a drink? What does it do? Why am I drinking it?
We ask the same questions of our food. Is this good for me? Will I put on weight if I have it?
The difficulty I find is not to lecture people on my lifestyle choice. I suppose I am doing it by writing this but I hope you know what I mean! It would turn people off if after polite rejection I launched into a diatribe about what I think about our consumption of alcohol. I’d be boxed off the way some people see vegans: constantly banging on about their cause.
The issue is if people don’t respect decisions which go against the very well established grain they create the vocal responses that they then attempt to malign as nuisances. The people who swim against the tide too are guilty of judging what they feel themselves to have broken away from.
Humans seem drawn to judgement is what I am saying.
The quickest way to test the theory, I’ve found, has been to give up drinking.