Day 5! (Or, as I and my subconscious like to think of it, “there now, that’s five days of not drinking all done. Clearly I can stop drinking and clearly I don’t have a problem. Can I have a drink now?”)
In my last post I started to think about the answers to three good questions my partner B. asked me about this coming sober year. Today I’m coming back to Question 3, which was “can we still go out and socialise, eat, go to gigs and whatnot in the same way when you’re not drinking?”
To which the answer is yes.
But kind of not.
Socialising without alcohol is, honestly, kind of a big deal for me. We CAN, lovely B. But it’s not going to be easy for me, and it is going to be different.
Let’s begin with the bigger picture. We live in a society which tells us that drinking alcohol is an integral part of socialising. In the UK, of course, we have used the institution of the pub for hundreds, maybe thousands of years as local meeting place, watering hole, coaching inn, travellers’ rest and centre of the village: TV soaps have always centred around the pub, be it the Rovers or the Queen Vic, and going to the local with your dad, and then later with your group of awkward adolescent friends, has always been a rite of passage for many. But in the eighties and nineties things started to expand. The down-at-heel pub was increasingly joined by more fashionable (and female-friendly) café-bars and wine bars. Cafes that had formerly been the sole province of Full Englishes and sausage rolls became licenced, hipstered up, and started serving hair-of-the-dog brunches. Cinemas certainly did not serve alcohol when I was a teenager (otherwise where would the fun have been in my pals and I smuggling that bottle of Bacardi into the Odeon to watch Pulp Fiction, eh?) but now serve pints of beer in plastic glasses as readily as they dish out the popcorn.
It doesn’t end there. Ice rink? Bar. Local theatre? Bar. Art Gallery? Exquisite, architect-designed, award-winning bar. Classical concert and fireworks in the park? Overpriced mini-bottles of Pinot bar. Farmers’ Market? Cute little caravan-bar on wheels. Gig in a big venue? Ten bars. Gig in a tiny venue? Trestle table bar manned by a bloke in a Joy Division T-shirt with lukewarm cans of Red Stripe for a fiver.
It’s safe to say, then, that it’s increasingly hard to separate the social activity from the drinking opportunity. If you find drinking alcohol hard to control, then even simple, overtly non-boozy events can take on a much more complex dimension: you want to do the thing, but then there’s the booze, which seems to be a natural, easily accessible part of the thing, and you could do the thing AND the booze, and now you get to do The Calculations all over again.
I spoke in my first blog post about The Calculations. This is my term for the long and often mentally exhausting process of calculating how to achieve your aim of getting and staying drunk, and then how to deal with the consequences of that drunkenness. For non-drinkers, or people who enjoy a glass of wine but don’t want to have one at this gig because it’s a Wednesday, so just a coke, thanks (WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?), they don’t experience The Calculations. They’re not driven by the inner voice that says “there’s alcohol available? Aha! That means we have to get as much of the alcohol as we can into our systems, starting now, preferably whilst still maintaining a veneer of social respectability about how much we really, really want this alcohol, preferably without our normal-drinking companions realising how much this whole event is going to SUCK if we can’t get another drink NOW.”
I think that, for problem drinkers, knowing that there is alcohol in the mix changes the whole complexion of an event. It shouldn’t, but it really does. Funnily enough, at this concert (pictured left), I was stone cold sober, with a teetotal friend, and it was a bit of an eye-opener. It was a superb night, with a great atmosphere and great music, and we were sitting near an aisle. What was eye-opening was the sheer amount of times we had to get up to let people squeeze past; yes, a few were just going to use the bathroom, but the overwhelming majority of them were coming back with drinks, often more than one drink, often the same people more than once. Their evening plan seemed to be drinking, with a somewhat incidental live musical background. And I remember my sober friend rolling his eyes and muttering “they might as well just stay home and get pissed and put the CD on. It’d be easier than this.”
And I thought…that’s usually me.
I’m usually the one heading to the bar again, not because I’m not enjoying the music, but because my crappy plastic glass is empty.
I’m the one who sent my lovely B. out of a concert THAT WAS HIS BIRTHDAY PRESENT to get more beer.
I’m the one who was drinking, with a somewhat incidental live musical background.
Socialising sober is going to be very different. I’m not going to have to obsess beforehand about The Calculations: will other people be drinking at this gig/meal/gallery/play/stand-up show/walk in the country/makers’ market? Will I be drinking? How much is ok? What if anyone notices I’m drinking more than they are? What will I drink afterwards? Should I get a bottle on the way home to round off the evening?
In some ways, that simplifies everything. It’s a relief.
In other ways, it fills me with panic.
Over on LivingSober, a superb sobriety blog by Mrs D/Lotta Dann which has given me vast amounts of inspiration over the past few months, there is this wise and useful guest post about socialising sober which sets out a good, practical series of ideas for getting out there and socialising during early sobriety, with tips about preparing yourself for temptation and questions.
I will be re-reading that blog post a lot over the next 24 hours. Because tomorrow is my Day 6 and I am going to a favourite restaurant and then to the theatre with some good friends. It’s going to be my first time out of the house, in a familiar drinking environment, without drinking.
Wish me luck, kids.