The month has included a plethora of social occasions at which I would normally be the first to grab a pint in celebration including my own leaving do, five lunch dates, a big family birthday meal, a week long holiday in Ireland and several meals out with PS4 man.
The first big night out without alcohol was my lovely mother in law’s 65th birthday. I’m ashamed to admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it firstly because it was a Friday night and I’m always shattered at the end of the working week but if I’m being completely honest the main reason was because I knew I wouldn’t be drinking alcohol and it was the first time I’d be ‘outed’ as sober in public.
As we sat down around the huge table everyone was in great spirits. I however had an impending sense of doom as the waitress approached us to take the drinks order. She made her way around the entire table and came to me last. No sooner had the words “diet” and “coke” left my lips than the table erupted in uproar with loud cries of discontent. That was exactly what I was expecting and exactly what I had been dreading. Until not so long ago I would have been dishing out similar disapproval to any non-drinkers unless they were on anti-biotics or with child.
I knew if I had any more than one diet coke I’d be awake all night (I don’t tolerate caffeine well) but I had no idea what else to drink. I left the table and quietly slipped to ask the ladies behind the bar if they stocked non-alcoholic lager. I’d tried it once long ago and quite liked it. Unfortunately non-alcoholic lager was as called for as tripe and chips in this particular Italian restaurant so I opted for fresh orange and lemonade.
As I returned to the table and looked around at everyone enjoying themselves I had an epiphany – I was having a great time. I was loving catching up with everyone and having a genuinely good laugh. How could this be?! Didn’t everyone need a few drinkies to get in the mood and help the conversation and the giggles flow? Well apparently not it seems, much to my own amusement.
As the night went on I did that thing sober people do – notice the effect alcohol has on the people around me. My mother in law was having prosecco pushed on her and although she protested she was completely ignored because “it’s your birthday, you’ve GOT to have a drink!”. She ended up drunk much sooner than she wanted to and was annoyed with herself and those doing the pushing. Meanwhile another member of the family was getting louder and more boisterous with every drink – something that he’s renowned for and a few unhappy words were exchanged as a result.
The whole group retired to the local after eating and by jingo they had not just one type of non-alcoholic beer but a few. I had choices! I tried a couple. Most pleasant, with the added bonus of making me feel like I didn’t stick out so much but more importantly making every one else feel a bit more comfortable.
It seems you see that drinkers find nothing as disconcerting as a non-drinker in their midst because society perpetuates the myth that in order to be normal and have a good time one must imbibe. A single moment of clarity that evening has made me realise that this is all complete bobbins. I had a great night, I drove us home and I woke fresh as a daisy unlike the majority, I’m guessing, the following morning.
That one night and that one defining moment gave me more clarity of thought than anything I’ve experienced for an awfully long time. It’s my choice and mine alone what, when and if I drink alcohol and I don’t have to do it just to fit in or because society has conditioned me to do so.
My girl friends are having a get together in a couple of weeks and I broke the news via our WhatsApp group that I’m no longer a drinker…then I sat back and waited for the expected reaction. You could have knocked me down with a wet fish as instead of receiving a unanimous wail of “nooooooo”, I received back messages of support! Comments on how brave I am (I most certainly am not) and cries of “I wish I could do that”. This has made me realise I have friends who drink probably because they think they should rather than because they really want to.
I had a completely sober trip to Ireland last week, something I wouldn’t have considered a few months ago when I booked it. I literally lost count of the number of people I met, family or otherwise, who openly spoke of being members of Alcoholics Anonymous or who had “problems with the drink”. I was genuinely shocked. I think it’s much more socially accepted in Ireland to be a non-drinker but it seems the perception over there is that if you choose not to drink alcohol it’s probably because you’ve got a problem with alcohol addiction or abuse as opposed to just not wanting to drink alcohol. It was a real eye opener for me.
Reflecting on my mother in law’s birthday meal and the Ireland trip, something struck me. Would you turn around to a recovering alcoholic and try to force a drink on them to be sociable? Of course not. So why do people think it’s acceptable to push someone into having a drink that says they don’t want one?
I have a feeling there will be more revelations on my alcohol free journey and I’m really looking forward to seeing what else I learn along the way, the eyes I can open and the perceptions I can change.