“Other explosions, controlled or otherwise, take place every evening in the country’s pubs – those friendly drinking dens for which Britain is famous, and where the emphasis is always social. Intoxicate yourself alone, and you appear pathetic, as though it’s the condition of being you that needs escaping from. Do it in a group, however, and it’s the public condition – having to maintain dignity and self-control and not say the wrong thing – that you are throwing off.”
Leo Benedictus, ‘Is Britain a nation of addicts?’ – The Guardian, Monday 2 September 2013
Leo Benedictus’ article in yesterday’s Guardian is one which I regard as wholly accurate in its depiction of the manner in which Britain has absorbed, across all classes and both sexes, excessive drinking as an entirely normal pastime and one which is rigorously defended by drinkers when faced with the perceived threat of the company of a non-drinker. Simply for their choice to opt for a ‘soft’ drink in a pub when imbibing alongside a crowd of boozers, the teetotaller is regularly singled out. ‘Never trust a man who doesn’t drink’ was a favourite line of an ex-boyfriend’s father, someone who spent inordinate amounts of money on the maintenance of a highly regarded wine cellar.
Turning your back on such a widely venerated substance as alcohol is a lifestyle choice which commonly initiates a variety of unwelcome responses from both family and friends and complete strangers. Whilst some are mildly interested in why your beverage of choice amongst a round of pints and large dry white wines is a sparkling mineral water (“Are you driving/pregnant/on antibiotics?), and some don’t care a jot one way or the other, many can be scathing and downright rude, stunned as they apparently are that anyone should choose not to imbibe alcohol to excess.
If you are one of the many who cannot drink in moderation and who seemingly has no ‘off switch’ (as I am) then it is possible (and preferable for both you and those around you) that sooner or later you will decide that abstinence is the only way forward. As a result it is almost guaranteed that at some point or other your decision will be met with such comments as ‘Oh go on, don’t be dull – surely one won’t hurt’ and that certain members of the drinking population will regard you as weak-willed/boring/a killjoy.
I believe there is something inherent about the British which leads us to excessive behaviour. There is more than likely a degree of truth in the theory that we are somewhat backward in coming forward, a nation of the emotionally stunted and stiff upper-lipped who find it difficult to let rip and just ‘be’ without the aid of such an instant social lubricator as alcohol.
Having not drunk alcohol for two and a half years I have found myself having to relearn how to relax and socialise whilst straight – not an easy task after twenty years of propping up my slightly shy nature with far too much help from the bottle.
I am unbothered by people’s reaction to the fact that I choose to live alcohol-free, whether it be a positive or negative one. I made this choice for my health and the happiness and emotional wellbeing of my family, and it is one which I will forever stand by as the right thing to do.
To those who utter the expression ‘Never trust a man who doesn’t drink’, I would highlight the fact that in the UK, men under the age of 60 are more likely to die as a result of drinking alcohol than from any other cause, that more women in this country are alcohol-dependent than anywhere else in Europe, that deaths from alcohol-related liver disease in the UK have quadrupled since the 1970’s, and that one fifth of British children live with a hazardous drinker.
I believe that living alcohol-free takes balls; it can feel as though you are treading an otherwise deserted path at times, especially when surrounded by people who are all under the influence. If you find it impossible to moderate your alcohol consumption, then standing by your decision to live without booze will go a long way in ensuring that you stay healthier and happier in your day-to-day life, and also in challenging the perception of many that to be a non-drinker is somehow odd. The more people who do it, the less weird it will become.