If you want to avoid being a social outcast – a leper among your friends at a dinner party or night out on the town – avoid saying these three words. “I don’t drink.” Because as I’ve discovered lately, people don’t take too kindly to those who don’t consume alcohol. All it does get you, in fact, is a somewhat bewildered and confused look and a startled “You’re joking right? Don’t be ridiculous, I’ll buy you a beer”. Maybe it’s ‘un-Australian’. Maybe it’s just not cricket. But I’ll tell you what, there is a serious stigma attached to drinking alcohol – or in my case, not drinking it at all.
My decision to not drink for an entire year didn’t take a lot of deliberation and believe it or not, I’m not doing it for the health benefits (although they will be an added bonus). My decision is based simply around the fact that I don’t like the way I act when under the influence of alcohol and, being the ‘two can Sam’ I am today, it’s just easier to not drink at all. Despite getting trolloped off only two glasses of wine or an exceptionally strong cocktail these days, this wasn’t always the case. During my prime years between 19 and 23, I was rather proud of my abilities to drink most grown men under the table. Of course, I often had trouble keeping it down, but I had an exceptional ability to throw drinks back three shots at a time like there was no tomorrow (and coincidentally enough, the next day was often a write-off anyway).
I drank to get drunk. If you were to Wikipedia my behaviour, you’d probably stumble across this.
“Binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking is a modern epithet for drinking alcoholic beverages with the primary intention of becoming intoxicated by heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time.”
*awkwardly raises hand* Ah yep. That was me. It was great fun though! The morning after, my friends and I would congregate to debrief on what exactly happened the night before and fill in the gaps where my intoxicated memory had failed me. We would hoot and cackle about “I was sooo drunk…” stories and all agree those nights would go down in history as the greatest we’d had to-date. But suddenly things changed. The gaps in my memory became bigger; complete blackouts would replace my knowledge of where I had been, what I’d done and who I’d spoken to. I’d wake up in hotel rooms with no recollection of leaving the nightclub, the only evidence being the receipt from the taxi ride home at 4am, and any other cash I’d had gone MIA. On one occasion after a particularly messy night at friend’s house we fondly referred to as ‘The Den’, I had to actually query a guy as to whether we’d had a sneaky pash because I could not, for the life of me, remember. (We had. Oops.) While I couldn’t recall the nights, I had no problem remembering how exceptionally painful the hangovers became as I got older. It makes me queasy just thinking about them. The sad thing is, I used to relay my drunken stories to people for a good laugh, but the older I got, the more I began to realise how the stories were getting less humourous and more concerning. The situations I was putting myself in were borderline dangerous – not really that funny at all.
When I met my boyfriend, my Sundays became too precious to throw away on KFC and movie marathons, so I swapped Saturday night antics for daytime activities. Hiking trips, farmers markets, 4WD adventures, late afternoon gym sessions; all much more rewarding than over-priced spirits and sticky dance floors. Do I think abstaining from alcohol will be difficult? Not really. I’ll have to swap cocktails for mocktails and champagne for lemonade when I attend a wedding in Fiji this April, but you don’t need a high alcohol content in your glass to raise a toast. And while I will admittedly miss plastic cups of cider at the footy, I won’t miss the $12 price tag (which may also help with this little endeavour anyway). But the stigma? That’s the hardest part to overcome. People don’t really understand you just don’t want to drink; there has to be a catch. Some of my favourite responses include: “You’re not pregnant, are you?” “You’re crazy!” “I wouldn’t tell people that if I were you.” “But it’s not like you have a drinking problem!?” And the most common… “Don’t be so boring!” (Nothing boosts your ego like knowing ‘sober you’ is not fun to be around.) So we’ll see how I go. I may occasionally document my remaining 347 days of sobriety here, or I may find the experience so utterly uneventful that it doesn’t require a further mention. Who knows, I may crack under pressure and find myself looking at the bottom of a gin bottle one Friday afternoon. But for now… Vodka, lime and soda, hold the vodka thanks – I’ll cheers to that.