Five years ago, I was bartending at a popular nightclub in Sydney. I served strong, expensive drinks to hundreds of people all night through to the early hours of the morning. And, in the years prior to that, I spent most weekends off school getting blind drunk at house parties. Now, in my present life, after saying goodbye to alcohol, it’s a very rare occasion where I’d have a sip of wine. I haven’t had a whole alcoholic drink in a long time, and it has been about four years since I’ve felt anything close to tipsy.
I’m not a recovering alcoholic. I’m not a sworn sober who’ll “never touch a drink again”. I’m not a believer that alcohol is “bad”. I just don’t drink.
I started drinking early on in my life. In Australian culture, a large number of teens start social drinking earlier than legal age. I sure did (Sorry, Dad!). I remember my first experience of being drunk at 15. As I continued to bloom into teenage girl-hood, going to parties and binge drinking on weekends became the norm.
Though I had experienced migraines from an early age (before my teens), I assumed that my sensitivity to alcohol and experience of deathly hangovers was normal, until I realized that most of my friends bounced back much quicker than I did. Still, I continued to party, especially when I reached legal age, became a bartender and moved to the big city. It was fun at the time; I wouldn’t change that experience. More and more, however, I felt alcohol affect me, to the point where I would be in such a sick state that I knew it was more than a regular hangover.
I can’t remember exactly when I decided to stop drinking alcohol, though I do remember the last terrible hangover I had. I was also transitioning to a healthier lifestyle, eating well and exercising more. I felt clearer, stronger and just BETTER inside. I decided to completely remove of alcohol from my life. As I’ve discussed on Kale.Life before, I took my “health and wellness” to an extreme point of unhealthiness, and the restrictions I created in terms of what I ingested made me feel anxious and constricted.
When I began to heal my mind, and depart from this rigidity, I decided that maybe one drink here or there wouldn’t hurt. But it did. My body rejected it and I was reminded that my decision not to drink wasn’t being fuelled by past perfectionism, but from real physical effects. I trusted in my motivation then for not drinking.
I maintain the mindset of “I could if I wanted to…” rather than swearing off alcohol all together. For my own sense of mental health and freedom, this relaxed mindset works best for me.
It wasn’t an easy transition, being a 21 year old who didn’t drink, especially in a culture where it’s the norm. I remember being asked by my friend once, “f you don’t drink, will you still dance?”
This one question contains so much insight into the mainstream belief and culture of drinking (especially in Australia). I won’t deny that it is a social lubricant; people are able to relax more into themselves. For me, I now find it easy to dance, be silly, have fun and open up in a social environment without alcohol. However, when I went out with friends, I remember being bombarded with questions—sometimes in standoffish tones—as to why I wouldn’t drink. People even get uncomfortable, as if my own reasons mean that I’m judging them for drinking. I feel this in some respects with my family when a bottle of wine is opened, celebrations are happening, and I am sipping on water. In reality, it has nothing to do with judging drinking as “bad”; rather, it is about how I want to feel.
What helps in these moments is to stay strong to myself. Not in the sense that I need strength to say no: Saying no is easy. I genuinely don’t want a drink. When I check in with myself, and know that my reasons are healthy (because I want to feel good, because I don’t need it, and because I don’t enjoy it), then I can trust in myself and shrug off outside opinions.
I feel better when I don’t drink. I enjoy my clearer mind. I wake up feeling great the next day (and week and month). I can honestly say that I don’t miss it, and a whole range of experiences led me to this conclusion. My hangovers, my experience as a bartender, witnessing the dark side of what alcohol can create in people, and my journey to self-acceptance. Fostering a friendship circle where my choices are accepted, and being in an environment which supports my lifestyle choices also helps.
It’s not hard to be a non-drinker when a late, crazy night in Ubud, Bali usually means a few glasses of Kombucha and staying out till 10pm.
I’m definitely not saying that alcohol is bad. I’m not saying here that you shouldn’t drink. My partner loves an occasional glass of wine or beer. My friends do, too. Heck—I probably would too if my body was more accepting of it. What I am staying is that we all have a right to make whatever choice we wish, to drink or not to drink. And the challenge in societies where social norms may lead us to feel pressure to do anything that doesn’t feel right, the trick is to stay grounded, confident and self-assured in our own decisions.
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