What about not drinking at all?
Sometimes Britain is seen as having a heavy or ‘binge’ drinking culture, which is just a cultural or historical fact we can do little to change.
Sometimes it can seem like alcohol is everywhere. People drink to celebrate or commiserate, to liven up an evening or to relax.
A few years ago there was concern expressed that alcohol was being served at primary schools events, for example.
But Britain isn’t simply a nation of incorrigible boozers. The reality is much more complex, and the reason these stories are newsworthy is that they’re actually unusual and don’t reflect how most of us relate to alcohol.
Drinking patterns have changed hugely over time, driven by a whole range of factors including policy, economics, generational shifts and, quite simply, fashion.
As a nation, we’ve been drinking less and less since a relative peak in 2004, and even then we were still drinking less than in centuries gone by.
Now 20% of the population reports not drinking at all, and this seems to be a growing trend, particularly amongst younger people.
Today, we hear from Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas, which is a worldwide community of people all helping each other to kick the booze and stay sober. She tells her story of how she realised she would be happier without alcohol in her life, and how you can access the same kind of support that she has found so powerful.
Up until about eight and a half years ago, I carried around a weighty secret; I couldn’t control my alcohol consumption. Not that I was downing litres of vodka first thing in the morning or hoarding bottles in my wardrobe away from prying eyes – I wasn’t. But once I’d started drinking, I often couldn’t stop. Mostly when I was drinking, I had no idea that I was drunk and so would not experience a sensation of recognising I should call it a night. This led to numerous social occasions concluding with me passing out/throwing up/being hauled into the back of a taxi and escorted home to bed and a bucket.
Although, deep down, I vaguely knew this was all somewhat wrong, I carried on drinking in the vain hope that ‘next time’ would be different. I attached all sorts of reasoning to my drunken escapades, such as the fact that I’d not eaten much beforehand, hence my state of extreme inebriation; or that I’d had a particularly stressful day at work and so it was ok to let loose and get a bit smashed, just this once; or that my marriage had recently ended and therefore it was excusable for me to get blotto every night on wine.
In reality, I just didn’t possess an off switch. It didn’t matter what the driving forces behind my desire to drink were – something happened to me when alcohol hit my bloodstream and whatever that was meant I almost always lost control.
This didn’t happen to my friends and so I often felt really freakish. I used to agonise a lot over why I couldn’t handle my drink while they all apparently could. It wasn’t that they never drank alcohol – they did, and regularly got merrily sloshed – but they maintained an air of composure throughout. They were compos mentis, even when they weren’t. But me…well, alcohol turned me into a mad woman. This sense I had of being the odd one out ate away at me. Over two decades, it all but destroyed my self-esteem; the loathing I felt towards myself was immense.
But since creating Soberistas.com back in 2012 (the social network site aimed at people trying to stop drinking), I’ve discovered just quite how widespread this issue is – there are so many people out there who are secretly ashamed, scared of being unable to control their alcohol consumption, now coming together to support and befriend one another. Many of the people who visit Soberistas don’t consider themselves to be ‘alcoholics’, and the majority haven’t sought help from a face-to-face group or medical professional – hence the attraction of an online forum that allows its users to remain fully anonymous.
Being unable to control one’s alcohol consumption is a taboo issue in the western world. It’s frowned upon, a condition which rests at the heart of a deep hypocrisy; that it’s fine to drink enough to get drunk, but when you drink so much that you are too drunk, you should please just leave the party and get yourself sorted out. Without it impinging on everyone else’s (AKA the ‘responsible drinkers’) good time.
That sense of being one of ‘them’ and no longer part of ‘us’ is never pleasant. But it’s hugely comforting to realise that actually, what you may think is your problem and yours alone belongs to a rather significant percentage of the population. And there is a way to make it all better – it begins with knowing it’s not just you after all.