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Sober is a divisive word really. It conjures up all sorts of images – and not many of them are positive. It has almost become a synonym for “boring” or even “killjoy”.
Or at least that’s how I felt before I spent three months without alcohol. It was an illuminating time for me – a time when I really learned about the relationship that Australians (and me in particular) have with alcohol – and it’s not a pretty picture, especially if you are a baby boomer.
Because, while young people get all the bad press about heavy drinking, the reality is that the level of alcohol consumption is actually dropping for teenagers.
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey, released on June 1 2017, showed some concerning statistics about the consumption of alcohol (and other drugs) in older Australians. It seems that Australian women over 50 are overtaking their daughters when it comes to drinking.
The survey found that fewer 12–17 year olds were drinking alcohol and the proportion abstaining from alcohol significantly increased from 2013 to 2016 (from 72% to 82%).
However, more people in their 50s were consuming 11 or more standard drinks in one drinking occasion in 2016 than in 2013.
I would like to think that I didn’t really have a problem with drinking, but if I was being really honest I'm not totally sure about that.
There was no real tipping point for me. No black-outs, no embarrassing pictures on Facebook.
I just decided I needed to do more than just cut down on alcohol – I wanted a real break from my regular habits. I was tired of feeling sluggish in the morning. I thought that I was looking puffy around the face and I had a lot of work on – early morning meetings, late night projects – all of which were not conducive to having a few glasses of wine at dinner the night before.
I wouldn’t say the process was easy – drinking is such a pervasive part of our culture – but it was such a positive thing to do. Without alcohol, I had so much more energy, especially in the mornings.
I started running again most mornings after having skipped a few months, I lost two kilos without really trying, my skin seemed much clearer (as did my eyes) and I slept better.
There were a few pleasant surprises too. It was so liberating to go to a close friend’s party and not have to worry about transport. I could drive there and back and not have to call a taxi. I took a bottle of mineral water to the party and had some great conversations with old mates – that I remembered clearly the next day.
I saved an embarrassing amount of money, which I used to buy a new pair of shoes. Shoes not booze became my new motto.
My partner in my new sober journey was the incredibly uplifting and positive website, Hello Sunday Morning. This website and the accompanying app, Daybreaker, gave me a new perspective on drinking, its effects and how to manage a new sober life in a culture that seems to think you can only have a good time if you are tipsy.
HSM’s founder is Chris Raine, who established the site in 2010. It has grown to be the largest online movement for alcohol behaviour change in the world.
According to Raine, it’s not about prohibition, it’s more about understanding that alcohol is a drug and should be managed as such.
“I would never come out and argue that prohibition or sobriety is the first place a person has to go,” he says. “What I would argue for is a real, objective analysis of the value that the drug brings to us and experimentation on whether there is a better dose you could have – in the same way that we look at all drugs pharmaceutically.
“It’s easier to say alcohol is bad, don’t drink, than it is to really tell a person that we don’t actually know if it’s bad for you or good for you, you have to work that out and here’s some tools on how to do it,” he says.
“At the end of the day you are making the choices, so really take responsibility for your own choices. And that’s a much more complicated, nuanced message, but it has resonated with people.”
So yes, I have returned to drinking alcohol occasionally – I still enjoy the odd relaxing glass of wine after work or at a social function – but I am much more conscious of my decisions now and more in control. It’s actually a pretty good place to be.
Have you changed your alcohol habits? How did that work for you?