Whether you’re going dry this January or giving up for good, Ally Sinyard has a booze-free bingo card to listen out for…
You’ve heard this all before, so I won’t bore you. Being teetotal really isn’t a big deal anymore – in London especially, with 30% of the capital’s entire adult population off the booze. I’ve only been teetotal for four years but, even in that short time, I’ve noticed a huge cultural shift. Sure, there’s more choice at the bar and more bars to choose from, but what’s really changed is that now people couldn’t care less when you tell them you don’t drink. That wasn’t always the case, though.
My reason for stopping drinking is nothing special, I’m afraid. I broke up with alcohol in 2016 because, just like any shit relationship, I realised the bad outweighed the good and I was better off on my own. I’ve had problems with depression and my borderline personality disorder, and alcohol is one of my triggers. I wouldn’t get sad-drunk; I’d feel bored and empty, drinking to feel something, not realising it acted like acid and just made the hole bigger. One New Year’s Day, I concluded the booze was no longer worth the squeeze.
When I first went teetotal, I might as well have told people I liked to spend my evenings dressed as a fox, hiding in bushes, egging cats and screaming.
“What? Why? Why would you do that?”
“Is that really necessary?”
“Isn’t that a bit extreme?”
I rarely hear that now. People are still surprised, but no more surprised than when my tattoos come out – perhaps a little unexpected, but not “weird”.
So if you’re thinking of going dry this January, or perhaps for even longer, here are some of the things you might hear…
“Oh, look! They’ve got vegan and gluten-free options.”
I’m neither of these things. But give up drinking and some friends will mentally tick a miscellaneous “dietary requirements” box when you meet them for dinner. (See also: “Can you actually have cheese, Ally?”)
“Oh. Right. I mean, I don’t drink drink. I’ve cut down a lot. I could do it, though. Easy. Definitely.”
It’s not a competition, darling. While it’s true that almost one-fifth of UK drinkers are cutting down, this response tends to come from people who are a little uncertain about their own relationship with alcohol.
They don’t care about yours. In fact, they stopped listening to you ages ago. These are the people who don’t know how to interact with others unless they can insert themselves into every narrative (see also: “Oh you’re doing the marathon? I’ve done that four times AND I was on fire. What was the question again?”). Distract them by asking them another question about themselves.
“Good morning, Parkrunners”
Saturday mornings, remember those? At first, you’ll start going to Parkrun so you can timestamp your 9am Instagram story. Then you’ll realise that it’s actually quite fun and everyone’s lovely and you’ll go all the time. Parkrun comes for us all…
“No. It’s fine. I’ll just have water.”
Ah, sober dating. It’s mostly fine, but “let’s meet for a drink” is still very much the first date default. Personally, I don’t care. Have a drink if you want. Have shots if it’s going to calm you down, I insist. But when the insistence is met with a sullen “just a tap water,” it’s normally not a good sign. The allegiance is appreciated but this isn’t Pizza Express with the uni girls, where a £5 bill is the very reason you’re eating American Hot in a basement. Tap water on a date is someone either looking for a swift exit or someone who actually, genuinely prefers water to all other drinks. Which would you rather?
“You don’t drink? Thank god, I thought I was the only one.”
It’s happening increasingly often – and it’s a bit lovely when it does. You might meet a non-drinker on a night out, at a wedding or when yet another one of your mates gets pregnant. It’s nice to have an ally, especially if one of you is still a bit new at it and nervy.
“I don’t trust people who don’t drink.”
I’ll be sure to let your dentist know before your next filling.
“So shall we just split the bill?”
Yeah we could, but it’s the end of the month and I’m not feeling generous enough to pay for your wine. I know, I know, the money subject is icky. It’s awkward. But unless you genuinely don’t mind, speaking up is allowed. It probably hasn’t even occurred to people. Be straight up, make a joke of it or go for the thoroughly British: “Sorry to be awkward but can we just take the booze out of my share? Please, thank you, sorry.”
“Sorry, our happy hour only applies to alcoholic cocktails. That’ll be £18.”
I’m not going to name names but one culprit is on Charing Cross Road in London and it still baffles me.
“I’m so sorry!”
When someone offers you a drink, a simple “no thank you” is often enough. You don’t always have to add “because I don’t drink” context. However, some people are quite pushy. Especially when there’s prosecco involved. These are the same people that, when you tell them you don’t drink, react like you’ve just reported a death in the family. Like you have a nut allergy and they are a giant Snickers. I haven’t figured out how to reply to this one yet, as the dickhead in me likes to throw out “I’m sorry too” just to confuse them further.
“Wow, I couldn’t do that.”
Yes, you could. You just don’t want to. And that’s fine.
“And the new British Champion is…”
Clang! Oh sorry I seemed to accidentally dropped my big, gold medal. Sorry, sorry. Oh come on, you’d drop it in too…
This one’s a bit niche, I realise. But I never thought I’d hear it. I took up savate, a kickboxing sport, initially as something to replace the booze with. Four years later, I’m alive and kicking at a nice and safe semi-contact level for Queenie and country. And I’m not saying you have to give up alcohol to be a British champion. The point is you never know what you might be capable of.
This wasn’t in my five-year plan. Since giving up drinking, I’ve binned the whole idea of having one. I didn’t have to change my whole world to put in the time, training and hard work to get here. But going teetotal certainly paved the way and showed me what I’m made of.
Maybe you’ll be dry just for January; maybe you’ll keep going for longer. Then, you might give up smoking or run your first 10k or quit your job and become your own boss. You can do it too, pal. The hardest part is making a start, then you’re flying.
If the boozy goodness still outweighs the bad, then good for you. I’m not here to try and convert anyone. But if you’ve got a mate who’s giving giving up a go, be supportive. Chances are, they’re quitting for reasons they’re not comfortable sharing just yet, and clearing your head helps you figure this stuff out. Here are a few things NOT to say:
“Oh come on, don’t be boring.”
“Can’t you just start again next week after my 30th/hen do/wedding?”
“One with dinner won’t hurt.”
“You’re not going to make me drink on my own, are you?”
“It’s just water, I swear, WINK.”
Or better still, give up together, put that money aside and start saving for a big 2020 adventure. Happy New Year!