A woman named Lucy Rocca recently sent me the following email.
‘I first became aware of your personal interest in alcohol issues in the UK, after watching your excellent Panorama programme about the middle classes’ growing binge drinking crisis, back in February. My business partner and I have both had personal struggles with alcohol but are now sober (and much happier for it!).
When we gave up drinking alcohol, we noticed that there was virtually no online help for people such as ourselves who wish to quit or moderate their alcohol intake. As mothers in our thirties and early forties from middle class backgrounds, we felt that we didn’t fall in to the societal norms of ‘an alcoholic’ and therefore we relied on the support of each other and self-help books in giving up.
With this in mind, we decided to set up our own online resource centre to help (primarily) women who feel that, for whatever reason, they do not wish to follow the AA route to sober living. In a nutshell, we would describe our site as ‘a Mumsnet for people who want to stop/moderate their alcohol intake’ and hope that our members will offer support and helpful advice to each other – a kind of online AA group. The site is called Soberistas and will be launching in November 2012.
Through the website and our blog (soberistas.wordpress.com) we are hoping to challenge society’s perception of people who have alcohol dependency issues, by promoting an optimistic, proud take on being teetotal.
If you could suggest any ways which you think might be helpful in raising awareness of our site, or any key contacts who might be able to help us, we would be extremely grateful. We are putting all our efforts in to getting this site off the ground and for it to become successful, and we are passionate about trying to help others who are struggling with alcohol. You may also like to take a look at our blog on WordPress. We are on Twitter (@soberistas), and we are followers of yourself on Twitter.’
So that was that … As a first step, I thought I would ask Lucy and her friend, Anita Herbert, both from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, to post a guest blog. I hope it might lead to some media interest, funding if that becomes necessary as the project develops, and above all other people who may be worried about their drinking. Here it is. It is terrific on the hold alcohol has over British life, and the double standards inherent in our approach to the issue. And I suspect a lot of people will relate to it, somewhat uncomfortably.
My name is Lucy, I am 36 years old and I do not drink alcohol. My good friend of almost twenty years, Anita, is 41 years old, and she too is teetotal.
We haven’t always repudiated alcohol – in fact, up until nineteen months ago, I regularly got smashed on Pinot Grigio or Chablis most weekends, as well as during the week if I had had a bad day, or was celebrating something, or on holiday, or bored, or socialising.
Prior to a year ago, Anita regularly drank excessive amounts of vintage Cava, muddling through at least half of each week with a grating hangover and low level depression. Many times we would get extraordinarily drunk together, intending to meet for just one or two glasses of wine, but almost unwittingly stumbling in to a predictable pattern that resulted in us imbibing bottle after bottle, more than enough to ensure blacked out memories and a certain degree of self-hatred the following morning.
Between us, we have five children, a husband, a fiancé, two dogs, a cat and a hamster. We take a keen interest in health and nutrition, and aim to maintain a fairly high level of fitness. We are educated to degree level, are middle class and have always held down decent jobs. We live in the ‘nice end of town,’ where there are good schools and tennis clubs, boutique shops and reputable restaurants. We like to take care of our appearance.
We drank to excess for more than twenty years and because of our alcohol intake, we damaged our health, our familial relationships, our self esteem, our finances, our productivity and our mental health. And we are not the only ones.
The society we live in paints two very different pictures of how alcohol plays a part in people’s lives. First, there is the ‘alcoholic’ – a desperate individual, bereft of family, employment, a place to live. A pathetic creature who lacks control and respect of self, and who endures a miserable existence, spent either ‘in recovery,’ whereby the temptation of liquor lurks in ever close proximity, or as a bum, who has lost all resolve to control their addiction and spends each waking moment glued to a bottle of cheap cider.
Then there are those who can enjoy alcohol responsibly – the friends who gather for a convivial lunch accompanied by a bottle or two of wine; the wedding celebration, incomplete without the fizzing glasses of bubbly; the drinks after work on a Friday, where colleagues bond over a mass letting down of hair at the end of a hard week.
The latter of these depictions is good; the former, bad. Good people do not cross the line from social drinker to out-of-control drinker, for this is the domain of the hapless loser.
And humming quietly in the background of this ubiquitous consumption of booze is the constant berating of binge drinkers, emitted from the mouths of other binge drinkers. Politicians who drink too much point the finger at youngsters in our city centres on Saturday nights who drink too much. Doctors, who drink more than is safe, advise us on ‘safe’ levels of alcohol consumption. Tea time programming presents excessive alcohol consumption as the norm (yes, Come Dine with Me, I am talking about you), and is then followed by news items flagging up the binge drinking crisis in the UK.
We live in a country which is floundering in a sea of hypocrisy and denial, a place in which alcohol is both the elixir of the Gods, and the stuff of nightmares.
Within the space of a few months, my friend Anita and I both made the decision to end our tumultuous and destructive relationships with alcohol, and in doing so we experienced an unexpected and unparalleled sense of relief and blessed freedom, a feeling of being released from a particularly insidious but gripping trap that had kept us both captive for all of our adult lives.
Neither of us would classify our non-drinking status as ‘being in recovery.’ Rather, living without alcohol is akin to having the blinkers taken off and seeing life for what it really is. We are happier and more balanced, and consequently our children and families are too; we are more productive and self-confident; we are richer in every sense of the word.
Based on the revelation that living alcohol-free is something to celebrate, we are launching a website, Soberistas.com, in November 2012. An online resource for those who can relate to our experiences (you can read more of these on our blog, Soberistas.wordpress.com) and who want to find out for themselves the benefits of ditching the booze, Soberistas.com will be packed full of features on health, nutrition, fitness, and of course, how to live happily without drinking alcohol to excess.
Have a read of our blog, or follow us on Twitter (@Soberistas) to keep up-to-date with details of Soberistas.com, due to launch in November 2012.
Life really is better when you are in control.