Weight loss goals, expensive night out or just plain ‘over’ hangovers. As Dry July ends it’s worth examining our relationship with alcohol and make a few positive tweaks.
Can you play around with it?
“If you’re not rolling out of bed the next morning looking for a drink, CONGRATULATIONS, you’re not physically dependent on alcohol”, says Club Soda‘s, Drug and Alcohol psychologist Helen O’Connor. Club Soda is UK’s Mindful Drinking Movement and thankfully, similar sentiments are spreading globally. If it’s not a physical dependence you have you’re free to play around with psychological factors shaping your relationship with booze.
Alcohol Soaked History
Australia’s history is well soaked in alcohol. Early years of the colony had a thriving trade in rum and Australian soldiers used whiskey to drown PTSD symptoms after every war, particularly when ideas of turning to counsellors were unheard of. Decades of Australian sport interlaces alcohol use with advertising. The message to the masses urge us all to believe ‘you can’t have a good time without alcohol’. No wonder anyone born pre-2000 has personal histories peppered by binge drinking and vomiting into bushes. And that’s just ANZAC day and Melbourne Cup racing! Associating ‘getting together’ with drinking together is kind of crazy when 15 people per day die from alcohol-related illnesses.
Sometimes when we want things to swing in the desired direction we can overshoot the mark. Achieving balance is a fine art and that includes women in the culture of drinking . We’ve certainly established women can do any job a man can or drink with the best of them, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for our health. It’s common to be raised around alcohol-swilling role models at sporting matches, horse races, weddings or birthdays. It takes ‘forever’ to regard alcohol as poison or realise the rubbish we dribble when we’re drunk. We rely on alcohol to prop up our personalities and confidence, We don’t trust our abilities to maintain friendships and enjoy milestones without it. Are we destined to all be drunk as skunks? I find that depressing, my head hurts at the suggestion, my waist thickens at the thought…
But there is a sniff of a shift.
Every day is a national day of ‘celebrating something’, luckily for our collective livers there are 3 or 4 calendar months celebrating alcohol abstinence, FebFast, Dry July and Oct Sober. When you register online to fundraise for these charities (almost $4 million raised for 2017 Dry July) it prompts supportive blog topics and texts sent out to participants with the purpose of asking drinkers to do just one thing.
Re-evaluate your relationship to alcohol.
Our love affair with social media and email checking brings with it some happy side effects. Websites like Hello Sunday Morning, bring the ‘re-evaluate alcohol’ message closer, streaming positive stories of balanced or no drinking stories to your conscience for your consideration. Topics provide solutions for tricky drinking situations, like how to deal with the corporate drinking culture, wine o’clock for mothers, self-medicating, your emotions and everything else in between.
In Jenny Valentish’s book A Woman of Substances (2017) she examines alcohol (and drugs) from a female perspective, including causes, consequences and dependence recovery options depending on your class on gender. It’s well worth a read if you’re interested in health and wellbeing, particularly if you’re keen to support drugs and alcohol as health issues and health choices rather than criminal issues, which does little to address the deeper issues that drive users to imbibe. And alcohol is a drug no matter how fun the ads for champagne look. DrugInfo, a information and support resource hotline reports calls relating to alcohol at 26.6% compared with 35% methamphetamine or 7% cocaine. How despairing do you have to be with your relationship with alcohol to seek resources on quitting alcohol (or other drugs?)
Jenny Valentish, by her own admission has a lifelong struggle with alcohol and other substances and documents her trials and errors with various ways to minimise use, including Alcoholics Anonymous and accessing a wide variety of counsellors and medications. She asks readers to reject the narrative you’ve always told yourself that becomes an excuse for many of your worst decisions involving alcohol. “Have you always told yourself you’re misunderstood, a victim, deprived or have an addictive personality?”, she identifies the biggest emotions that drive problematic substance use – shame, guilt, anger and grief and suggests at some point the realisation comes that a choice can be made.
Visit any yoga studio springing up all over the Western world you notice a marvellous phenomenon. Rooms populated with ‘twenty something’ hipsters or individuals rocking their own thing are owning it on their own mats. Talk of turmeric, magnesium or vegan dishes? Oh to be young and commitment-free again, my liver would be doing a happy dance. It’s such a positive movement.
Alcohol and Drug Foundation findings suggest drinking in young people (between age 12 to 14) has reduced more than half since 2004. The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household survey also supported a reduction in alcohol, tobacco and drug use for people under 30.
It Takes a Village
We work well together, don’t we? As a global community we protect endangered flora and fauna and find cures for cancer! Reducing personal alcohol use and making alcohol drinking optional is achievable if we put our collective minds to it. People choose whether they want to take sleeping pills for a flight or panadol for a headache, it’s feasible saying no to impaired vision and judgment on a Friday night might become cool and ‘a thing’.
I’m certainly no saint, I’ve had my fair share of alcohol swilling, growing up hearing stories of a father who spent his University days proudly sculling beer in college sculling races, as his daughters we felt proud to thrust ourselves into the male-dominated surf boat rowing scene, drinking proudly at University, or buying rounds at the pub with the best of them. It made me feel an equal to a man. It’s taken me until this decade, becoming interested in health and wellbeing I’ve seen alcohol as a choice. Duh, the millennial may say, but it’s never been presented to my age group as much of a choice. Alcohol in large measures is not great for our health, vanity led me to see weight loss benefits of abstaining whether it be short periods of a week, abstaining weeknights or a complete month off the booze. Nutritionist, Donna Williams says if your body detects alcohol it burns it for fuel first, rather than fats or other fuel. For a fitness lover like me, fuel burning is always something I’m interested in.
My gift for youth of the future is to understand alcohol is OPTIONAL not compulsory. If my young kids grow up to ‘take or leave alcohol’, I’ll consider it a job well done. Some may call it a potential police state but my liver would have preferred blowing into a breathalyzer at work in my twenties as many companies are starting to now.
As individuals, what can we do?
As a writer I now try to make conscious choices to play down the role of alcohol in whatever I write about, to point out optionality in consuming drinks with or without alcohol. Websites like Club Soda offer excellent non-alcoholic choices. Chris Raine’s Hello Sunday Morning offers excellent resources for attending a wedding sober, how to deal with jeering non-supportive mates, how to get through Christmas or birthdays and many other useful ideas. For myself I’ve attended a 40th birthday sipping mineral water, a girls lunch drinking coffees and water and done a Febfast and a ‘sort-of-Dry-ish July’. I am re-evaluating my own relationship to alcohol, I need to, as do many of my generation. Now who’s going to join me with all the hipsters on the yoga mat? Tea anyone?