Before I went to India for the first time in 2008, I always had an opinion about everything. Drinking made me unbelievably judgemental. I would regularly pass judgement on anyone that failed to meet the high standards and values I expected everyone else to live by. Anyone was fair game. At the same time, I was nowhere close to living up to these high standards myself, drinking at least a bottle of wine every night. The irony of this is not lost on me.
India made me entirely more forgiving. I learned how to view the world and other people much more kindly and compassionately. It soothed my heart and I found a rare contentment and peace that has stayed with me ever since.
It took another 9 years to fully commit to choosing the ultimate kindness by giving up alcohol but since that time I find it unusual if I get angry about anything or anyone.
However, this week I watched a UK TV programme on the BBC called The Big Questions. This episode covered the topic “Do we need to change our relationship with alcohol?” It was a short debate and therefore there wasn’t the opportunity to get into depth on such a wide-ranging topic.
But it stuck with me all week. At first, I couldn’t understand why it kept popping into my head, but every time it did I found myself getting angry. When I am angry I have a lot of words inside me so this article is an exercise and an exorcism of what’s bugging me.
Here are some statistics from the World Health Organisation:
- Worldwide, 3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol, this represent 5.3 % of all deaths.
- The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions.
- Overall 5.1 % of the global burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol, as measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).
- Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In the age group 20–39 years, approximately 13.5 % of the total deaths are alcohol-attributable.
- There is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders, other noncommunicable conditions as well as injuries.
- The latest causal relationships have been established between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.
- Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.
At the time of writing this, there have been 2.56 million deaths from COVID-19.
You can read the full article here: WHO AND ALCOHOL
Other health factors such as the increased risk of breast cancer in women and other cancers all shine a glaringly bright light on what alcohol does to our bodies, mental wellbeing, our relationships and our children.
And yet there is always a TV presenter who says, “I only drink occasionally, I can go to a pub, have one or two and leave it at that” as if they are just ordinary joes living the same life we do. They are on television. Their currency is how they look and their ability to perform. If that same presenter was drinking every night, coming to work with a hangover, calling in sick and all of the awfulness that clings to us when we drink, I can’t imagine they would be in a job for very long.
To offer a balanced debate, there are always a few pub landlords or someone with a financial vested interest in keeping the pub industry in full flow. Like the gentleman in this particular programme, his attacking style of dialogue, for me, said it all.
Alcohol is often framed as if it is some harmless social glue that holds our friendships and society together. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen something about ‘getting down the pub’ once the pandemic is over. Those who are very gently challenged about the idea that there might be better things to do than dash to the pub respond “I just can’t wait to see my mates”.
This would suggest that if you are a drinker your imagination has been surgically removed because you are incapable of considering any of the thousands of possible alternatives you could enjoy with your friends.
Alcohol is placed in front of us everywhere in society. It punctuates sentences. Soap operas and TV are awash with it. Our supermarket shelves are groaning with choice. We have been brainwashed into thinking, by a billion-dollar advertising industry, that we will be sexier, happier, healthier (apparently there are lots of internet articles claiming that beer makes you a better runner). A brand of gin claims that it’s ‘full of joy’.
Weekends in most big towns and cities will be littered with fights, unprotected sex, vomiting and arguments because everyone is out ‘having fun’.
Alcohol has crept into every aspect of our lives; children’s birthday parties, baby showers, health and spa days are all opportunities for a glass of prosecco. Social media tells us we should be drinking mummy juice and the wine-witch is always whispering in our ear telling us we can’t possibly pass up a day without alcohol. It’s absolutely everywhere. If you are considering giving up, it wouldn’t be at all surprising that you find it challenging. It can be incredibly daunting to try and imagine how you will live an alcohol-free life being made to feel like an outsider.
Because, at the moment, that’s what we are. Outsiders. We are weird, different, boring and deluded for thinking that life without alcohol is worth living. We are defective for not being able to moderate like ‘normal’ people.
Moderation is talked about as some sort of drinking holy grail. You are a very special person if you can naturally moderate. Many women come to Sobersistas to get the support they need to stay sober for some time so that they can, in time, be comfortable moderating. In over three years of running Sobersistas, I have seen very few women who have been successful at this, and I have seen many women come back into the group when moderation attempts fail spectacularly. Most women, when they realise just how great a sober life is, tend to choose to continue with their sobriety.
There is almost a rabid obsession with alcohol.
As someone who probably had the same rabid obsession with it when I was a drinker, I am very aware that this might come across as hypocritical. However, one of the things that sobriety has taught me is that I can change my mind. In the same way that I can change my drinking habits, I can and have changed my mind about alcohol.
Sobriety has set me free. I have never been happier in myself, I have a passion for my life and my Sobersistas that never wains and I know I will never drink again because it would be ridiculous knowing what I know now.
If you ask anyone who has previously had a problem with alcohol and has successfully given up they will tell you that life is so much better. I will tell you that too. I am out and proud about my sobriety and always will be. The clarity with which I now live my life is a gift I will always be grateful for.
Whilst big money has its grubby fingers in the alcohol pot, I know alcohol will always be a part of our society. I hope that with the growing numbers of young people turning away from drinking we will eventually see a shift away from this cultural obsession with poisoning ourselves and justifying it as fun.
In the meantime, I am happy to sit on the same leading-edge as many others who choose sobriety as a positive lifestyle. I will always tell you how positive a sober life is – particularly if you’ve previously had a problem with drinking. The change in your life will astonish you.
As I come to the end of this article I have realised what an immense topic this is and know that I couldn’t possibly do it justice in a mere 1400 words. I may need to write a book about it!
Anyone who knows me personally will know that Alistair Campbell and I don’t see the world in the same way, certainly politically, but I found myself agreeing with him when he said that we need to change our relationship with alcohol. This is what my sobriety has done for me. It’s made me open to points of view that drinking me would never have considered.
Much love always, Jules xxx
PS If you’d like to get the support you need to give up alcohol for good you can check out The Sacred Circle, Sobersistas private membership group. Click here.