The Great Big Sober Secret
Anne Hathaway’s comment that she is going to quit alcohol to be a better parent has drawn quite a bit of attention. Of course there is push back from some who see Hathaway as trying to be perfect for her kids (she’s not, she just wants to be present). In particular, there is this particularly awful piece in The Guardian by columnist Zoe Williams who is somehow trying to present drunk parenting as beneficial to children. Despite her son asking why she isn’t dead from all her whiskey consumption (I know it’s hilarious right?)
It may have escaped Williams’ notice, but we are not living in 1997 anymore. Tony Blair is no longer prime minister (or popular, for that matter), Britpop is no longer a thing, and the good ship Cool Britannia has sunk.
Way back in the day, we all thought our drinking culture was a harmless fun thing that we all did. Because so many of us binge drank this way, we thought it was normal. We are, after all, the generation that normalized abnormal drinking. We had the ladette culture spearheaded by Sara Cox and Zoe Ball (who is now sober, by the way). And we drank without thought or care.
But it’s not 1997 anymore, and Zoe Williams’ tone-deaf piece of dinosaur journalism was 20 years too late.
I am so bored by the idiotic musings on what a “laugh" it is to get so drunk you wet yourself and can’t remember half the night. Now it’s dressed up as a fun story in a columnist’s “think piece” (hello, Barbara Ellen) or in a tweet (yes, I’m looking at you, Caitlin Moran) just so the writer can signal how hardcore and cool they are.
The cost-benefit analysis of drinking
Before I really get going, I want to state something important, so listen up. I am not against alcohol, the use of alcohol, or even binge drinking. What I object to is the blatant lying — the misrepresentation of alcohol abuse as something that is fun, harmless, and without consequences.
In all honesty, if you have done a cost-benefit analysis of your alcohol use and its perceived benefits to your life by looking at the cost to your physical and mental health, the impact it has on your kids, relationships, dignity, and integrity, the amount of money you spend, the opportunities you may have lost, the potential you haven’t filled, and the time you have spent drinking, thinking about drinking and recovering from drinking — if you have looked at all that and you still feel the benefits you get from alcohol (list them!) are okay with you, then all I can say is “crack on, mate.”
How do I know if I have an alcohol problem or not?
But if alcohol is a preoccupation for you then you may want to address that. I have a simple test to find out whether you have a problem with alcohol or not. A ‘regular’ person (I hate the word ‘normal’) thinks about alcohol the same way a problem drinker thinks about sandwiches. If you think about sandwiches a lot, plan when you are going to have sandwiches and take a longtime to recover from eating them then you might conclude that sandwiches are not your friend. Simply put, how much space does alcohol rent in your head?
The land of boring
Our culture has been completely sold on the notion that alcohol is the best (and only) vehicle to achieve fun, excitement, connection, belonging, and romance (which is to say sex). We are so invested in believing that alcohol can get us these things that we ignore all evidence that alcohol is destroying us. Or we can sometimes accept that alcohol is destroying, us but continue regardless because we don’t want to give up our access point to the land of fun/excitement/connection/belonging/romance/sex.
I mean, who would, when you put it like that? Not me! And because we have done such a grand job of equating alcohol with fun, then by default sobriety must equal boring. And who wants to go to the land of boring?
No, me neither!
It is the fear of missing out, or FOMO, that keeps people locked into an abusive relationship with alcohol. It perpetuates our abusive relationship with booze and makes a lot of money for the alcohol industry.
The real reason other people don’t want you to stop drinking
So if that is your view of the world, then the piece in The Guardian makes perfect sense. But this view of the world is only a perception, not reality.
One of the things I have noticed since being almost 19 years sober is that often, when you tell people you have stopped drinking, you will get a lot of concerned people asking: “But how you are you going to have fun?”
This bothers them a great deal. Because alcohol equals fun, you see. You have just volunteered to go to the “land of boring,” and they are very, very concerned about that.
My experience is that the people who need to say how alarmed they are about your alcohol-free status and the fun that you will be missing out on by attaining said status are the people who usually have a problem with alcohol themselves.
They are, in fact, not actually commenting on your relationship with alcohol but their own. Your alcohol-free status bothers them, it needles at them. They don't like how well rested and fresh-faced you look. They deeply resent the zing in your step and how different you seem. They don’t care for the fact that you seem happier and that your life looks full and interesting, and they really don't like that you could be possibly having fun without alcohol. They want things back to the way they were — you know, back in 1997.
You have become a mirror, and they don't like the view. It scares them. So they take it upon themselves to mock and persuade you to go back to drinking, so they feel more comfortable.
It's about them, not you. What Zoe Williams heard when Anne Hathaway said she’s not going to drink anymore was that she was giving up her keys to the land of fun/excitement/connection/belonging/romance/sex. And Zoe Williams was concerned.
Because if Ms. Williams did drink the way she jokes that she does, she probably would have lost her husband and children by now. She would be severely depressed, as alcohol is a central nervous system depressant — that’s just science. She would no doubt be on antidepressants and would feel “low” most of the time. Her health would be in decline, she would have been hospitalized many times, and she would quite possibly would have the beginning of liver damage. (In a generation, we have lowered the age where we begin to see cirrhosis of the liver in women.) Her career would most certainly be in the toilet.
But don’t worry — she’s only joking! She doesn’t really drink like that! No harm done.
However, that’s the bit that sadly isn’t true. There is plenty of harm done: more than we are willing to face up to.
Great Britain has an enormous alcohol problem that we like to pretend is only affecting a small minority when in fact it’s causing untold damage in our society. Binge drinking is particularly damaging to young women. I’m talking about the rise in mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and the impact on women’s health, careers, and relationships.
The knock their self-esteem takes when they behave in ways they don’t recognize because they are drunk. The loss of productivity, the missed opportunities, the wasted potential. The loss of authenticity.
And you are arguing that you want to model this to your kids? Are you f**king kidding me?
The Great Big Sober Secret
Because and it is still shocking to me how many people don’t know this, which is why I call it the Great Big Sober Secret. So maybe I’ll whisper it. There is another entrance to the “land.” You know, the land of fun/excitement/connection/belonging/romance/sex etc.? I know — shocking, right? No one told you? Well, I’m telling you so now you have no excuse. There is another way to get those feelings, to have those experiences and its by becoming fully connected with who you really are, it’s not perfect but it is real and you can do it sober. Alcohol interferes with our ‘realness’ and our ability to have authentic experiences it prevents us from being present in our lives . And I’ll let you in on another secret: When you get to the land of fun/excitement/connection/belonging/romance/sex sober, it is like a million times better. Imagine that. Welcome to 2019, where everything has changed.