There’s no doubt that alcohol is at the centre of our social lives, especially for young people. Catching up with someone involves “going out for a drink”, the end of the week calls for “Friday drink trolley”, and most celebrations include champagne or big nights out. So when I stopped drinking 6 months ago, I was prepared for a change in the way I engaged in social environments. What I wasn’t prepared for was a change in the way everyone around me behaved.
There’s no doubt that alcohol is at the centre of our social lives, especially for young people. Catching up with someone involves “going out for a drink”, the end of the week calls for “Friday drink trolley”, and most celebrations include champagne or big nights out.
So when I stopped drinking 6 months ago, I was prepared for a change in the way I engaged in social environments. What I wasn’t prepared for was a change in the way everyone around me behaved.
The decision to stop drinking was a gradual one. After suffering quite serious health issues throughout the past year I had significantly cut down my alcohol intake, and by the middle of the year minimal drinking had become no drinking.
The changes I noticed were glaringly obvious: I was sleeping better, my skin was brighter and more hydrated, I had more energy in the mornings, I was saving money and my overall mental health had improved.
I realised during this time that drinking wasn’t something that I missed at all, and I went about my life as usual, still going out for dinners, to concerts and to parties, just without the alcohol.
But while I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, everyone around me did.
My family constantly asked me if I’d have some champagne on a special occasion, telling me that the wine was delicious or that “one glass won’t hurt,” despite my insistence that it isn’t something I wanted.
There was shock in many of my friends’ voices when I ordered a soft drink or mocktail at restaurants, all wondering why I wasn’t drinking. At first I was able to say it was because I was unwell, but that didn’t deter many from asking if I could at least have a sip.
Once I was back to full health I was constantly asked when I would start drinking again. My friends would pester me 4 or 5 times in one night, hoping to catch me slipping up and confessing that I was counting the days until my next tequila shot. Some would ask why I was even going to party if I wasn’t going to drink, or mock me and call me ‘boring’ or ‘grandma’.
There was a disconnect between what I was saying and what my friends and family were hearing. People seemed to be looking for a bigger picture, for some sort of explanation for my incomprehensible and apparently life-altering decision. They could reluctantly accept it when I was following the doctor’s orders, but beyond that couldn’t or wouldn’t understand that it was purely a personal choice not to drink.
The consistent badgering, which at times turned to mean remarks or raised voices, got tiring fast and at times made me question if it would be easier to give in and just have a glass of wine with everyone else. But ultimately I was doing this not for anyone else but for myself. My health and wellbeing are worth enduring some uncomfortable conversations.
There is value in re-evaluating our relationship with alcohol as young people, whether that be looking at the reasons we drink, how we drink and how it impacts us and our relationships.
Alcohol is sold to us as the axis of our social lives, and when we have grown up in a culture that collates being fun and young with drinking it can be difficult to see how they can exist separately.
And as daunting as it has been, I have found a way to exist in a social environment that glorifies drinking while still prioritising my own health and wellbeing, and genuinely hope that others can come to accept this and stop trying to change my mind.