It’s almost 6pm. I’ve been checking the clock. At 6pm I have a glass of wine. I start looking forward to it around 4pm. There’s a warm fuzzy glow knowing that at 6pm I get to open a bottle and pour a fresh red. These are the nights when I don’t have to drive to work. On those nights there is no 6pm booze. My relaxing alcohol is reserved for the nights when I don’t have to go anywhere. I will have one glass, then a second. I’ll be making dinner, the music will be on. Or I’ll be sitting on the deck chatting to my husband. I’ll usually have a third glass and then that’s it. I’m done.
Of course there have been times when I’ve drunk the fourth glass, and the odd evening when I’ve finished the bottle. If I’m out with friends I probably drink seven glasses. I don’t count. This is how I relax. I’m not alone, many people I know also use an alcoholic beverage to fuzz out the stress of their day. The bottleshop has always had more appeal than a yoga class.
My father was an alcoholic. So was his father. My mother’s father probably was too. Like many Australians I am more likely to become an alcoholic than an Olympian. If they did have alcoholism in the Olympics I have no doubt that Australia would take gold. Drinking is so normalised we even do it at sports games, at Catholic mass, at birthdays, engagements, weddings, concerts, restaurants. You can even take a glass of wine into the movies.
I’ve stopped drinking many times. Earlier this year I stopped for a few months. I have stopped previously for two or three years. I’m aware that on the doomsday clock of alcoholism, with my DNA, I’ve always been about five minutes to midnight. So every now and then I give myself long breaks. I’m on one now. This time I’m contemplating it being permanent; What if I just never drink again? It’s as tempting as a glass of red.
I don’t struggle to be sober. I can go long stretches of time without alcohol and without much difficulty. I guess it’s because I know it’s not forever. It’s like a sober island holiday before I head back to Bingeland.
But if I’m being honest, I don’t like myself when I drink. I’m boring. I repeat myself. I talk too much. I talk too much about myself. Most people do. Booze gives you the disinhibition you need to become the dickhead that lurks beneath the surface. Booze pops that cork. And reactions are as diverse as the poison on offer: from ‘Have I told you I love you?’ to ‘I’ve always hated you’.
Not drinking makes you feel superior. But it also makes you feel lonely. It makes you feel awkward. It makes you wonder if anyone actually likes you. Not drinking is very isolating. You feel like the kid you were at school being shunned by the cool crowd. And there is just so much reality. Let’s not forget that. Reality when you are sober is fucking endless.
When I go out, my usual ease with strangers is clunky and weird. I’ll admit it – it’s hard to schmooze without booze. It takes so much effort. You become so self-aware chugging on your third water and stuffing your face with cheese from the grazing table. The inner critic tells you ‘go home’. It says ‘No one wants you here, you’re boring’. It reminds you there is tea at home, and a comfy bed, and that morning is just one sleep away. I love mornings. They’ve become my evenings. Coffee is my new addiction. I tether my hope to it every day.
I have so many friends that I share a wine with. When I tell them I’m not drinking they say ‘that’s great Mandy’ but some look disappointed. Like they’ve lost a friend. I feel sad too. I’ve loved our late night boozy raves; our stupid-but-precious drunk intimacies. But I can’t see how, for me, my fabulous social drinking is remotely sustainable. What happens to old drunk women?
So I’ve given up again. Someone asked me the other day how I can do it. She admitted her social anxiety was so bad she couldn’t talk to people in public settings without a glass of champagne in her hand. Sparkling water does not break the ice, and for her its only use is removing red wine stains.
I think I’ve worked it out, for myself anyway, how to find my place as the sober friend and not make my drinking friends feel bad. The other day I told someone: ‘I’ve given up drinking, but I’ve taken up listening’. Drunk people don’t listen. That’s why they can talk when the music is loud.
Be a binge listener. Drunk people love talking about themselves – I know, I used to be one. Ask questions and keep the focus on them. No one ever gets drunk and goes out and listens.
And when they start repeating themselves, it’s time to go. You can assure yourself that no new memories are being made. They won’t even notice.
And you? Well, you wake up at dawn feeling incredible. Check your clock. Is it coffee time yet? Is 6am too early?