This year I participated in Dry July, it’s a charity event held where individuals give up alcohol for a month and other people donate to show their support. A campaign like this just proves how big a part alcohol plays in the Australian social life, and perhaps a lot of social lives. Coming here from another country, what jumps out at me is the binge drinking that goes on. While I was used to the idea of having a glass of wine with dinner, the whole pub culture here was new to me. Of course, I got into it. Throughout my Masters’ and my first job after, I was drinking quite heavily from Thursday nights through to Saturday night, and having a nip here and there during the week. It was great fun, and I can’t remember a lot of those few years. Then I changed, so things changed.
In this culture, while everyone is dieting and going to gyms, the alcohol consumption remains high. My office, probably not unlike other offices, is quite health conscious with all the diets and “healthy eating,” that goes around. However, like other offices, Friday drinks are the norm, and for some, they go on until Saturday morning.
I have come to realise that if you don’t drink, your social life is somewhat limited. Personally, I have gone through situations where I get strange looks for not wanting to drink, or when someone tries to talk me into having one. A friend of mine has been called “no fun,” because she didn’t want to have a drink on a particular night. In a community that values freedom so much, it seems that it only applies to the freedom to drink, and other traditionally “questionable,” acts. When someone chooses not to participate, one is not viewed in a positive light.
Why the high alcohol intake though? Have we lost the capability to have fun and connect with people without stimulants? Or perhaps it’s just as easy as having limited choices of things to do. Sure you could go to the theatre, opera or musical show on a night out, but you’d be one of the minority not drinking. Also, for the single, if you’re not at a bar or pub, where will you meet people? If you’re not drinking, believe me, your tolerance for drunken babble is greatly diminished. That hot guy greatly loses his appeal with each alcoholic breath he breathes on you.
During the time of James Dean, a “cool” person would be smoking a cigarette. Nowadays, cigarettes have been phased out, health risks and smell making them uncool. Drinking is still cool. “I can drink for three days and not get drunk,” says this person in a bragging manner, and “I don’t get hangovers anymore,” says another person in the same tone. Is it really something to brag about? Sometimes people might not notice, but words have power, statements like, “I need a drink,” are pretty common, and the question is although you want it, do you really need it?
It’s a personal choice, but for me, what happened was that I gave it up first for 60 days. Originally, I thought it would be easy, but the first two weeks were really difficult. It was only then that I discovered how much I depended on alcohol to de-stress, to sleep, and to have fun. It was a period of self reflection. The whole process was an eye opener, but a much needed one. As a result, my entire social life changed. No longer did I make “friends” in pubs. Drinks became dinners, and without a hangover, I could go out on Saturday and Sunday mornings. And believe me, without the weekly drinking, you do end up having a lot more cash for other things. It’s true however, that not everyone will support you. Sometimes, you lose people, but that’s how it works as you move from one phase of life to another.
At the end of the day though, it does take a bit of self enquiry and being completely truthful to yourself. If you like an odd drink here and there, there really are no warning bells. But if you are not capable of socialising/can’t sleep/find it hard to get drunk/lose entire weekends to hangovers/don’t remember nights out, then maybe, just maybe, think about it. This is a health question. Is the whole reason you watch what you eat or go to the gym five times a week just so that you can look good when you go to the pub?