I went home to the UK last month for a few days. It was the week before my birthday so I’d booked a dinner with some friends. During the day I’d been out at meetings and had been offered more freelance work which fitted me to a tee. I was absolutely thrilled.
What did I do to celebrate, sat on a Friday evening in a hotel bar, waiting for dinner time to arrive? I ordered a large glass of wine of course!
And then I had another one.
And then when I got to the restaurant ahead of my friends I ordered another glass.
And then when my friends arrived we had a glass of champagne. And then I had another glass of wine with dinner….
My friends are all clever women. They’re bossing it in marketing jobs, being superhuman mummies of two or stepping out on their own consulting. And I have noticed in the last few years they are all increasingly sensible about their drinking.
They’re more discerning about the wine they choose and go for quality over quantity. They seem to have an inbuilt ability to stop at one or two glasses which I, somehow even in my early 30s, seem to still struggle with.
The morning after that dinner I felt horrendous. Nauseous and numb as I often get with a hangover – food has no taste and I feel one step removed from what’s happening around me. It’s not a nice feeling and one you would think I would remember and actively avoid given my age and experience.
And yet it still happens. Not on a daily or weekly basis, but regularly enough for me to start questioning. Why do I drink to excess like this sometimes?
I recently listened to one of my favourite podcasts hosted by Jessica Murnane – the One Part Podcast, in which she interviewed Ruby Warrington, founder of Club SÖDA events in the U.S. The two discussed Ruby’s ‘sober curious’ concept and the conversation they had brought up a lot for me.
They touched on a lot of interesting topics that really got to the heart of the question: Why do I drink? It’s not something I’d ever really analysed before, but it got me thinking.
In the podcast Ruby and Jessica talk about how alcohol switches off a part of the brain where we worry about being judged.
I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what other people think of me and I really like that alcohol can diminish that voice in my head. I have talked before about my eating habits being formed partially in social situations by wanting to ‘fit in’ and not be seen as a ‘boring’ person for turning down treats at parties.
But if we take that dinner last month as an example, the crazy thing is I’m surrounded by people some of which I have known for over 20 years. They’ve been my besties for decades and have seen me in all kinds of states, good and bad. What judgement am I worrying about from them? It really made me think when I asked myself that question.
Not being perfect
In the podcast Jessica Murnane made a good point about what you might think if you see someone who’s having a drink:
“If I see that someone drinks then I think ‘thank goodness they’re not perfect.’ There’s something about when someone doesn’t drink you feel they’re so perfect, or they’re judging you for having a drink.”
It’s closely linked to being judged and I don’t think being a health blogger helps this – I eat and drink perhaps even more liberally when out with others now just to prove I can and have a balanced approach. Sometimes my IBS really kicks me to remind me this is dumb.
But again, who am I trying to prove my imperfection to? I think in my personal life and in my blog I’ve shown time and time again I’m not a perfect person and don’t have the ‘perfect’ approach to diet and exercise. I don’t need to have an excessively boozy night to demonstrate this.
It’s what I’m surrounded by
I grew up watching adults drinking and enjoying themselves. As a family we enjoy trying wines and sharing our best finds. David and I did a wine touring holiday in France this year and I’ve bought wine tasting and wine vouchers for family for presents many times.
I also moved to Ireland earlier this year. A nation with fantastic food traditions, drinking is probably the cultural aspect the Emerald Isle is best known for - something I wrote about in a guest post for My Nutri Calendar recently.
My boyfriend is Irish and he loves a drink. And he likes that I enjoy one too. We have had conversations before where he tells me he thinks I drink more with others and that this is a sign I let my hair down more when I’m not with him. Drinking is very much associated with him (and many people) with having a great night and truly enjoying yourself.
However when I’ve really thought about it it’s actually because I am 100% myself with him I don’t feel the need to drink to excess in his company. I’m not using drink to let down my guard, because I can already be open with him without the booze.
It’s actually the biggest compliment of all that I can say I don’t fancy a drink when I’m with him.
I think I need to assess that feeling more often and look at the people around me that I’m drinking with. They are usually the people that love me and enjoy my company the most. I don’t have anything to prove and they have minimal judgement towards me about how I choose to drink.
In doing some research for this post I came across this Stylist article about drinking which contained a surprising stat: 21% of UK adults are tee-total. And in fact Alcohol Action Ireland states that the figure is similar in Ireland – with 1 in 5 (20%) drinking no alcohol. It’s an increasing trend and is being made trendy with celebrity endorsements and stylish booze-free hangouts.
So to answer my question: yes, I think I am sober curious.
However I’m not saying I will never drink again. And let’s be honest, it’s unlikely that this will be my last hungover rodeo either. This post isn’t about some sort of epiphany where I commit to a booze-free life from 2018 onwards.
But the things I’ve heard, written, observed and read in the last few months are making me really reassess my relationship with the bottle. I want to think a bit more about what I’m doing each time I reach for a glass, or try after a couple to just take that step back and consider why I think I need another and what the effects are going to be the next morning.
How about you? What’s your relationship with drink? Does any of this sound familiar to you? Or do you have some tips for me?