You may have seen the excellent BBC documentary ‘Drinkers like me’ featuring the presenter Adrian Chiles, the programme looked into just how much people drink over and above government guidelines and Adrian totted his tipples up to 100 units a week.
The programme was timely, there have been several reports in recent weeks offering the truth about alcohol, despite all the conflicting messages it was revealed last week that no amount of alcohol is ‘good for us’ despite years of being told that drinking in moderation offers health benefits.
In fact, in the UK, we are seeing the beginnings of a wellbeing trend. A sober revolution. While drinking is escalating in the over 55’s, recent studies find that at least 27 per cent of millennials are choosing not to drink at all.
The Guardian ran a story ‘Calling Time on Drinking’ posing the question ‘is drinking the new smoking?’ One school of thought says that within ten years drinking alcohol will be as a socially unacceptable as smoking is now. Many people believe that if alcohol came onto the market today, it wouldn’t be legalised. Online support groups and courses dedicated to giving people a ‘challenge’ to reduce or quit have gained a huge increase in membership.
Most of these people don’t identify as an ‘Alcoholic’ and wouldn’t go near the obvious route of Alcoholics Anonymous, They recognise that there are those who are at rock bottom, but there are also grey areas in between, high functioning drinkers, who present well, no-one would know they had a dependence on alcohol, but they find themselves with anxiety, waking at 3 am, berating themselves for not managing an alcohol free day, until finally something triggers them to make the decision to quit. The successful ones find support from other like-minded people, and often come to find that choosing not to drink brings a wonderful freedom, rather than a sense of punishment.
Alcohol is so deeply ingrained in our culture; in fact it’s the only drug we feel we have to make excuses for not taking! The trend is growing massively though, I’m sure you have noticed, Budweiser, Heineken and the big boys are producing excellent non-alcoholic beers to battle the market alongside the artisan breweries, and where once non-alcoholic wine tasted like ultra-sweet dodgy apple juice, there are now some brilliant ones on the market. Then there are the alternatives to spirits and the botanicals not to mention Kombucha and fabulous artisan tonic waters…
But it’s not just because I have a thirst for a nice drink and want to drive home that I have been sharing my story and have launched my podcast Alcohol Free Life, It’s because I am 17 months sober (Oh yey, what a MASSIVE thing that is,) I read a copy of The Sober Diaries by Claire Pooley and decided to go for it for Dry January. No big deal I hear you say, thousands, millions of people do that, give themselves a break from the booze to detox, give money to charity, feel a bit better. Usually they ‘white knuckle’ it till the end of the month by which they are counting the days till they can drink again. I had the usual wobbly start, feeling ridiculously tired, craving a chilled glass of sauvignon, feeling weepy and anxious and questioning why I was even trying to quit, after all I was never an ‘alcoholic’ …( I hate that word….not crazy about ‘sober’ either, its an anagram of bores…and I’m not sure about ‘recovery’ …) I don’t even have any super salacious stories to tell you. (dammit! your were hoping for some grit and grime) I never hit rock bottom, I didn’t ever miss a day of anything due to a hangover, I didn’t ever drink and drive, I didn’t get especially angry or maudlin, or reckless…there are many shades of grey between rolling around drunk, and being a tee-totaller, and I was somewhere near the top, high functioning. the phrase is ‘high bottomed’ – (sadly that ain’t true as I age!)
No-one would ever guess there was anything wrong, but I used to wake up pretty much without fail at 3am berating myself for having the second, third or fourth glass. I tried to cut down or quit for years, but I just couldn’t seem to. There was a voice in my head that told me to have another glass of wine. I now know about that voice, the ‘addictive voice’. Some sober heroes call that voice ‘The Beast’ or ‘Wolfie’ and over time I learnt to tame it, to wear it down and challenge the need for pouring more poison down my neck.
I feel incredibly blessed that I ‘struggled’ only for about three weeks, and then suddenly as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud, I found a whole world opened up to me. I was introduced to supportive online groups, masses of ‘Quit lit’ – yes I’ve read around 100 books, some memoirs written by incredible sober heroes. I began to realise that it had all been an illusion, that while our culture is entirely fuelled by alcohol and you are seen as seriously weird if you don’t drink, actually there is a paradigm shift, a whole new trend of mindful drinking and sober living. I’ve met some amazing people, authors, sober heroes and people like Jo De Rosa who was a former addict who has turned it all around and now runs addiction retreats where the focus is on meditation and mindfulness. She has also written a book and is intent on changing the conversation around addiction, Quantum Sobriety can be sought out by heading to the retreat site here – https://quantumsobriety.com/retreats/
Why didn’t I come out before? I know – daft isn’t it! It felt secret, I felt a sense of shame, because I was on an emotional rollercoaster, up one minute down the next, because when you are no longer using alcohol to numb everything, you do have to face stuff, …because alcohol is the only drug you have to justify NOT’ taking. When you give up smoking everyone pats you on the back and says ‘well done’ When you turn down the offer of a drink, you get the ‘Oh dear poor you was it bad?’ look, or worse still people try and cajole into ‘having just one’ Anyone who has the 3am voice will tell you it’s never just one! It hasn’t all been rainbows and unicorns, when you don’t use alcohol to ‘numb’ everything you have to face it, there have been times when I have felt like I am on an emotional rollercoaster, but I was able to break through to realise that there is – as the brilliant book title by Catherine Gray says ..’The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’
The truth is if you ditch the booze, you aren’t; giving anything up, you are only gaining. You have the opportunity to get back your health, your ideal weight, your appetite, your sleep, good relationships, your sanity…Oh yes the link between alcohol and mental health cannot be denied. I’d encourage you to be sober curious, don’t panic about choosing abstinence, just look again at your relationship with alcohol and take a break.
There is a fabulous Instagram hashtag ‘We are the luckiest’….oh yes sober types we really are…I want to encourage you towards #selfcareinsobriety
Janey Lee Grace runs free monthly events, Selfcare for the sober curious with the charity My Yard at The Jago in Dalston London
Janey is giving a TEDxED talk in Norwich on July 13th – Sobriety Rocks – Who Knew!