After reading an article today, ‘The Rise of the Teetotal Generation,’ (The Independent Online, 6th July 2011) I was reminded once again of why being teetotal is not, and should not be, something to be slightly embarrassed about. Despite being utterly committed to life as a Soberista, I still find myself tongue-tied in social situations whenever anyone (who I don’t know very well) asks me what I want to drink, and I know that I am soon to be faced with a barrage of questions about why I don’t want something alcoholic.
“Oh, are you driving?”
“Well why don’t you want a drink then?”
“Err, I just don’t. I’ve got a lot on tomorrow.”
“Well, just have one then. Come on – what will it be; G & T, a white wine?”
“No really. I don’t want a drink because I am an alcoholic and the last time I had a drink, I ended up collapsing on the pavement, being taken to hospital and waking up at three am with absolutely no knowledge of what had happened to me, only that I was covered in vomit, and that I must never touch alcohol again. So, thanks for the offer, but I’ll just have a water.”
That’s what I want, but find myself unable, to say. However, when I read about the likes of Daniel Radcliffe being on the wagon (see The Independent article, as referenced above), or meet someone who admits to having a drink problem and who has subsequently given it up, the last thing I think is that they are in some way at fault, that they have been weak or have failed at life. Conversely, I regard such people as being brave for fighting a battle that I consider to be one of the hardest there is – to fight against yourself is truly an uphill struggle that never really ends. People who have fought an addiction are, in my mind, heroes.
And yet when it comes to me being honest and giving someone a simple explanation as to why I don’t drink alcohol, I have faltered every time. The first time I was asked why I wasn’t drinking was at a party. A rugby-playing, beer-swilling bloke cornered me and wouldn’t leave the issue alone (clearly, my mineral water offended his rugby-coloured view of the world), resulting in me being a bit stroppy with him. It wasn’t a satisfactory response, and it left me wondering how I should answer the next time such a situation occurred.
Well, the same situation did not occur for a while after that – about ten months actually, as being pregnant gives you a pretty bone fide excuse for knocking booze on the head. As I am breastfeeding, I had expected to be able to avoid the issue for a further few months after giving birth, although I have found that generally it is considered acceptable to have a few drinks whilst nursing (probably not whilst nursing, as in not holding the baby to breast with one hand and clutching a pint of Stella in the other, but during the nursing period. Most women I have spoken to about this admit to having the odd glass of wine).
And so, there it was again, the dreaded question, just six weeks after Lily was born. I met a fellow new mother who I work with for coffee, and she asked me pointedly, “Have you had a glass of wine yet? Are you drinking whilst breastfeeding?” Now, this woman is a colleague, so the answer that I had semi-rehearsed in my head after Rugby Boy had questioned my beverage choice was not so appropriate; “No, I don’t drink because I am an alcoholic who has decided to live without alcohol ruining my life. I used to drink and whenever I had one, it would lead to ten, or however many it took until I passed out. I was ruining my daughter’s and my lives, and I came to the conclusion that you only live once and I wasn’t going to stuff my life (and my daughter’s) up by getting shit-faced every night.” Because you just can’t be that honest with someone you work with.
Or can you? I’m sure that Daniel Radcliffe and his honest confessions about having an alcohol dependency have not gone unnoticed by all the film producers out there. Would they not hire him because of his drinking history, next time he springs to their minds as being perfect for a particular role? Of course not, but then again, your choice of actor would be drastically reduced if you discriminated against all those with addictions, past or present. Is it different in the real world? Am I unusual for admiring people who have fought an addiction?
I have come to the conclusion that in social situations I will give an honest answer if queried about why I don’t drink – maybe not completely honest (I’ll leave out the bit about waking up in a hospital bed covered in puke), but I will explain that I could not stop drinking once I started and that I had a problem with it. I will say that my life is better without alcohol, for me and for those around me and that I am far happier without it.
I think that if anyone feels uncomfortable with that as a response, then they are probably not a person who I would get along with anyway.