Reactions to not drinking
The pause is unnerving. The inquisitor either then wishes they could follow suit, or clutches at their chosen inebriant, whispering ’I’d never leave you, my love’. But the pause and often confusion after I tell someone that I do not drink hasn't changed in over 6 years.
UK Drinking Culture
In my mid 20’s a break with exercise quickly betrayed my subservient devotion in the form of a small beer belly. Entering a typical London pub after a football game, I had practiced, rather ridiculously, asking for a soft drink instead of beer. Simple, one would have thought. I repeated my mantra twice more as I walked up to the bar. None of your lovely cold beer for me barkeep, I am having a soft drink! However, in between my mutterings and the barman’s proffering of the moon, sun and stars if I’d only ask (‘what can I get you?’ he charmed, the bastard), I walked away with not only a pint of lager, but with an overwhelming desire to punch myself in the face repeatedly for my lack of control. Why was not drinking alcohol so hard? It’s almost like it’s an addictive drug! As a passing note it's probably not coincidental that you have hard liquor and soft drinks, all drive at the man's ego.
Reasons for Drinking
Years later, returning to Melbourne after a rare warm British summer, I realised that I’d barely drank when visiting friends in the last few weeks. Not only that, but when I had gone out to socialise, I had stopped drinking after only two or three pints. Why? So that I could do things the next day – such as ride my motorbike safely or play tennis without needing to the throw up, the racquet being used as a sieve type instrument.
It wasn’t that, approaching 30, I felt I had wasted too many days and then nights with hangovers, which I most definitely had. It wasn’t that I had spent vast amounts of money for no real tangible benefit, which I’d also achieved with some aplomb. It was that I began to reason why I drank in the first place. I surmised that people drink for 3 very logical reasons: as a celebratory relaxant to relieve stress; to become more socially engaging or confident; to savour and enjoy the taste. As for the latter, the easiest one to tackle, I know no man alive that eulogises on the scintillating aromas of an Australian Carlton Draught. Not being much of a foodie, taste for me is not that important (I know right, what a fruitloop!)
In terms of needing a relaxant, I have the good fortune to live in one of the most habitable cities on the planet with freedom to express religion, sex, art, music and fashion, coupled with great food and high living standards. I have a loving family, friends that support me and I don’t even have a real job. To me, real jobs are policemen having to quell a fight or riot, social workers helping people of abuse, doctors making life saving operations, and firemen rescuing people from a burning building. I do none of that. What possible claims have I to stress?
Alcohol is a Dependent
As for social engagements, I was at a stage that I had enough self-confidence to talk on any subject with as much ignorance as the next, coupled with a girlfriend that could testify to it. In addition, if I was socially inhibited, then alcohol was purely a crutch that didn’t fix the underlying issue. For me, in the 6 years I’ve stopped drinking, that’s what compels me most: to recognise my flaws and correct them. Our society has developed almost a Pavlovian response to drinking: when drinking, you enjoy yourself; to enjoy yourself you must drink. For me, the realisation that I did not need alcohol to talk rubbish, to laugh, make a fool of myself and make bad jokes was life affirming, and social interaction, confidence and how I handle stress was something that’s within me, that I alone control, not a liquid substance.