A brave friend of mine recently blogged about why she didn’t have children. Or rather how she deals with people who challenge her very personal decision.
It got me thinking about how anyone who stands against the norm is often questioned and regarded as a bit odd. To be honest I have quite a few friends who find the fact that I make or knit my own clothes something of a surprise. Why ever would you do that? they wonder. But they rarely feel uncomfortable or threatened.
On the other hand when I decided to give up booze for good I got a whole range of surprising reactions.
I don’t know how to describe being alcohol-free or a non-drinker without it sounding judgmental. Teetotal, on the wagon, don’t drink, abstemious, stopped drinking last year, prefer not to …. it all sounds defensive and somewhat peculiar. One can make excuses or come out. I have said general things like “no thanks, big meeting tomorrow!” or “I’m driving”, and have even tried holding a glass of wine which I never touch. In the end I have decided to come out and tell people that I am over it, which may seem a bit strong and unnecessarily final and definitive, but my friends have adapted and stopped offering me drinks.
So I thought I would set out my reasons in a short blog post and invite your responses. I know this is seriously off-topic for me, which I don’t do it very often, but it might strike a chord with anyone who is “different” for whatever reason.
- I was never a big drinker, so that’s the first one out of the window. Many assume abstinence is what you do when you are an alcoholic. In fact you are, according to Alcoholics Anonymous, still an alcoholic even when you haven’t partaken for years.
- I like alcohol. I enjoy the taste of wine, especially with food. I prefer red to white, and I am not keen on fizzy drinks including champagne, never took to gin, vodka or whisky, but I have nothing against the stuff per se.
- I am not refraining from drink for religious reasons.
I don’t fear or hate alcohol. My kids and my Mum all like to have a drink, but as these photographs demonstrate we are not a very boozy family. We will offer you alcohol when you come round to visit us. But when we make a tea or pour a glass of water for ourselves we get an aghast reaction.
“Aren’t you drinking? What? Good God – why ever not? Go on! Have one! It will do you good! ”
I stopped drinking for six good reasons.
I adopt a healthy lifestyle. I want to live into old age and to be fit in my 80s. This is a strong motivator for me. I go to the gym and eat healthy food. Not drinking alcohol supports these choices, not drinking helps me stay slim. After a boozy night I would experience a strong desire for sweet or fried things. Crisps and salty nuts are the perfect accompaniment with a glass of wine, but pair less well with tea, juice or water. I have no idea if this is psychological or physiological. But I find it much easier to stick to a healthy diet if I avoid wine altogether.
I may be prejudiced and judgemental but drinkers sometimes have a puffy, reddened and lined appearance. Those that don’t drink often have better skin.
I felt ill the next day
I suppose this is the main one. Most of us get a hangover if we have more than one glass – although I know quite a few people who do not suffer from any aftereffects – but feeling unwell later doesn’t seem to be a big deterrent. But not only has my headache/feeling sick feeling intensified as I have aged, in addition I cannot afford to be under the weather at work. I want to feel lively and energetic, not queasy and bad tempered. So it had to stop.
Alcohol helps get a party going – no doubt about it. Reducing inhibitions and loosening the tongue can encourage sociability, laughter and fun. Unfortunately alcohol can loosen the tongue too much. I have, on occasion, said stupid or hurtful things when drunk. Which I regret.
An act of solidarity with my husband
Nick gave up alcohol a few years ago because he felt he had had enough. He was drinking heavily. It had become a habit and he wanted to be free of it. For a while, although he abstained, I would drink at social events, when people came round and at dinner parties.
A friend told me she had learned Hebrew and converted to Judaism on marriage. I thought if she could do that, the least I could do for my husband was to join him on the wagon. Giving up the booze was just a little sacrifice I could make, to stand by his side.
British families spend about £11.40 on alcohol and cigarettes each week. This is down from nearly £20 per week at the beginning of the century, implying I am not alone. In fact 20 per cent of young people are completely alcohol-free.
Like other drugs alcohol is harmful in large quantities. Yet it is such an intrinsic part of our culture that “having a drink” means alcohol. At work (we sell homes) we always laugh at the cliched images of new home owners drinking champagne before they have even unpacked.
Why is “having a drink” such an unchallenged part of our lives? Let’s “meet in the bar for a drink”, let’s “celebrate your exam success”, let’s go on a pub crawl because you were made redundant. Shall we leave money in our will so everyone can get drunk after the service? Shall we toast the Queen, the Chairman, or the happy couple? Or the sad couple who sit in the pub “drowning their sorrows”? What about the divorced man going on a binge, people boasting about how many drinks they had, or how sick they were, or how they can’t remember what they did last night, or how they ended up in Sudbury? I hear students talking about Jager bombs, young lovers drinking ever more ludicrous cocktails or drinks that involve salt, dares, lime, downing in one, lighting things up and so on.
The alcohol craze may be a bit of a con. We are encouraged to drink to celebrate success, to deal with sadness and to make every social activity to go with a swing. Weddings, funerals, birthdays. retirements, naming boats – whatever it is we have been conditioned to believe it needs alcohol to help it along.
What do you think?