I’m having a sober summer this year. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far
It’s summer holidays. The days are long, the nights are warm and the drinks are cold.
The drinks… are also everywhere. There’s beers at the barbecue, pink at the picnic and every hour is happy hour.
And you’re imbibing all these drinks at a time of year when you’re likely off work, which means fewer consequences if you end up hungover.
But what if you decide not to drink?
I’ve found that holding back on the booze can make people upset. Some even get angry.
There’s a tirade of annoying “as-if-you’re-not-drinking” remarks, followed by marshmallow jokes or worse; someone leaning in and politely whispering, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”
Truth is, there are plenty of reasons why you might decide to dial down the drinking. Saving a bit of money, achieving a fitness goal or simply to reap the health benefits that come with it.
And sometimes, you just decide you want a break — as good a reason as any.
So, how do you go cold turkey on the turps and deal with the social fallout?
Have an excuse ready
My default response is usually “I’m driving”. It’s one most of us are used to, and yet people continue to question the validity of it as an excuse.
You’d think civic responsibility and the law might be considered good reasons to say no to a drink, but being the designated driver still prompts discussion about how much you can drink and still be under the limit.
Tyler Juel, a self-proclaimed all-the-time drinker who became a none-of-the-time drinker for health reasons, has thought quite a lot about why people are uncomfortable when you choose not to drink.
“I used to say that I don’t trust people who don’t drink,” he says.
“My mother’s alive and well, by the way.”
Be like a high school debating champion, armed with an excuse and prepared for anything that may come at you.
Rehearse it and get ready to say it. A lot.
What’s the difference between a cocktail and a mocktail? Not that much, if you’re just looking.
There’s an alcohol-free alternative for almost any beverage and many bars, liquor stores and supermarkets keep stock of alcohol-free beer and wine.
I’ll admit, some of these drinks are an acquired taste, but they’ll help you keep up appearances while you’re trying your best to stay the course of summer sobriety.
Chris Raine is the founder of Hello Sunday Morning, an online movement which aims to change our attitude towards alcohol.
He took a year’s break from booze back in 2009, and says it changed his life.
Chris says that if you want to minimise the risk of interrogation, something as simple as a soda and lime in a glass should be enough to stop people asking questions.
Become a morning person
After he stopped drinking, Tyler noticed he “became more of a morning person”.
“It made me more proactive about finding new hobbies that didn’t involve drinking, and I sought out new friendships.”
Being around alcohol wasn’t an issue, but Tyler found the time he spent with his drinking friends naturally decreased.
Chris suggests if alcohol is constantly at the centre of your socialising, join a sports team or seek out activities that aren’t alcohol focused.
Many online meetup sites are filled with invitations for activities and events that don’t involve a drink.
Demand more from you social events
During his year without alcohol, Chris began to demand more from a night out.
“Socialising without alcohol puts pressure on the experience to be more entertaining,” he says.
“It forces you to set the bar much higher for what you do and how you spend your time. You realise that standing around, talking to a bunch of strangers you can’t hear just isn’t that fun.”
Sometimes, it helps to mindfully assess the situation.
Ask yourself: is this fun because it’s fun, or is it fun because alcohol is involved?
Get to know yourself better
Chris’s biggest takeaway during his year off booze was learning how to “deal with the marvellous personality that made him drink in the first place” — himself.
He says he’d still go out every weekend and try, while fully sober, to do all the things he did while drinking.
“I’d just challenge myself and say, ‘Get on the dance floor’.”
Know when to leave
For me, it feels like every function or event is framed as a you-can’t-miss-this moment to encourage you to stay the course of the full event.
But I’m learning there is plenty that I can, and in some instances probably should, miss.
By that stage you’ve hopefully deflected annoying questions, you’ve had a good laugh and a few interesting conversations.
So at that point, I head for the door.
If you find it hard to leave, ask yourself, “What am I really trading off for that three or four hours if I hang around?”
Remember why you’re taking your booze break.
Whatever your reason may be, choosing not to drink over summer will really test your self-control.
At times, you’ll probably feel like you’ve missed out on something. But by keeping your goal front of mind you might just find it was worth it.