Being teetotal in the year of World Cup and Neknomination

July 7, 2014 9:50 am

Ever felt like you were the elephant in the room because of your preference for Tetley’s over tequila? As though your fellow revellers subconsciously deemed your ability to enjoy a night out impossible based on the non-alcoholic drink in your hand?

If you’ve answered yes, then it is of some comfort to me as I’m currently six months into an alcohol-free year.

January is a crucial month for goal-setting and resolution-making in many parts of the world. For many in Britain, having a break from alcohol is a dose of sponsored sobriety courtesy of Alcohol Concern’s Dry January or Cancer Research’s Dryalthlon.  January is a time when saying no to the booze is not just sensible it’s almost mandatory. I decided to go one step further and set myself a challenging new year’s resolution and at the halfway mark, I actually feel fantastic: body and mind.

Needless to say not waking up with a dreadful hangover and maintaining full memory of the previous night out has been great.  Not losing my phone, camera or other valuables has been great. And saving a few extra pounds each month has been even better. Temptation has reared its ugly head from time to time but what would a challenge be if not for the obstacles to overcome and the lessons to be learned?

I’ve met my fair share of disdain and contempt at social gatherings along with the ceremonious; ‘What do you mean you’re not drinking?’ Even after I’d explained the reasons behind my resolution, some people were still confused and even predicted my failure while others wished me the best and admired my resilience. During my journey of sobriety it has amazed me just how much cultural and social importance people, including my friends and family, place on drinking alcohol and I still can’t get over how to some the social picture is simply flawed and incomplete unless there’s an alcoholic drink in my hand. It’s as though I’ve let the team down.

What I’ve been experiencing is backed up by data. According to researchers, binge and excessive drinking appears to be normative behaviour, perhaps even encouraged, in industrialized societies during emerging adulthood and particularly for those entering university. This could help explain the now familiar scenes of scantily-clad students throwing up on the streets of Britain and why my fellow 20-somethings are strongly influenced by the perception of drinking norms around them.

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics don’t let older adults off the hook either. Middle-aged and older people are now bigger drinkers than the young in rather stark and surprising figures from across Great Britain. People aged between 45 and 64 are more than twice as likely to take booze every day than those in their 20s, 30s and 40s and women over 65 are drinking more than women in the 16-24 age group.

Drinking alcohol is socially acceptable and can even have health benefits when consumed moderately, particularly wine. Alcohol has a positive association with family gatherings, food and celebration. So it may be these social and cultural influences that seem to have most people I know believing that in order for one to ‘fit in’, relax and have a good time; alcohol is indispensable. Though I never drank on a daily basis, I did enjoy the odd glass of wine with food and almost always drank with the intention of getting at least tipsy on a night out. My student party days were occasionally messy but always entertaining and I probably would have found this hiatus much harder before graduating.

Now the teetotal me is quite comfortable with shunning these ‘norms’ and image conscious ways that dictate drinking patterns. I have genuinely managed to enjoy several occasions without alcohol in the equation; from birthdays and nights out to an entire weekend at the Isle of Wight Festival. If that’s not an exercise of self-control as far as sobriety is concerned then I’ll gladly buy you a drink (I’m still in this for the long-haul).

Let’s not forget that 2014 has notoriously been the year of the internet drinking trend Neknomination. The game involves one filming themselves as they down a pint or a sometimes fatal concoction of alcoholic drinks (eggs optional) as quickly as possible before nominating more of their friends to do the same within 24 hours. Now, I couldn’t give in all of two months into my hiatus but decided to respond to my nomination creatively. So with a quick boil of the kettle and social media savvy I created a vine video in which I made and sipped on a cup of tea, citing that I was ‘sticking to my new year’s resolution’ and that the ‘game was bulls**t’. I was never nominated again.

The World Cup has also just begun and by some miracle the sun has been gracing us with its presence regularly. This is the perfect time to hit the pub, have endless barbeques or laze in the park with a few cold beers. While a small part of me from yesteryear wants to give in to that need, a greater part of me is proud to have made it this far and is even more determined to get through the remaining months with the same restraint and control that brought me to this point.

It’s been an educational and trying six months, to say the least, but I want to prove to myself (and hopefully others) that I don’t need alcohol to feel happy and carefree at social gatherings or for others to like me more. I want to be the type of person that can set a challenge and achieve it. I want to be healthier. I want to look back on this year and draw on the willpower and discipline I’d have exercised to get through future hurdles in life. And if that means enduring six more months of confused glares, internet drinking trends and big sporting events in the sun, then I’ll happily raise a cuppa to that.

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