Are you sober curious?
Doing Dry January or merely cutting down? We're all re-examining our relationship with alcohol. Could "sober curious" be for you?
The Baileys has gone off, there’s a shameful amount of empty wine bottles in the recycling bin and the very thought of mulled wine makes you feel sick. Yep, it’s definitely January. So what’s your drinking strategy this month? The Muddy office is fairly even split between Dry January devotees and moderates who are cutting down, with a couple of naughty outliers who are continuing to party like it’s New Year’s Eve.
I had a really interesting chat with New York-based wellbeing journalist Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious, a new book that outlines an alternative approach to alcohol. It’s not for everyone, but have a read of what Ruby has to say and let me know what you think in the comments box below.
So, Ruby, what’s sober curious then?
A few years ago I started to question my own relationship with alcohol. My default drinking style was to drink on autopilot because that’s what everyone else was doing. But alcohol wasn’t making me feel that great any more – my hangovers got worse, lasted longer and had that awful existential tone – my self-doubt sky rocketed. I wasn’t drinking heavily compared to everyone else I knew, probably four nights a week, including a bit of a binge over the weekend. But there were a few scary incidents that made me think – drink-driving in Ibiza and nearly hitting another car, for example. I started to wonder why I drank and if my life would be better without alcohol.
And is it?
It’s amazing how much more energised, more optimistic, more capable and more confident I’ve become. Physically, my persistent IBS symptoms completely calmed down, my skin glows and I sleep so much better.
Is sober curious different to being teetotal?
Yes. 9.5 times out of 10 I won’t drink, but very, very occasionally I will. Keeping the door open gives me a little wiggle room to not be perfect. With abstinence programmes, 90 percent of people relapse so why layer on those additional feelings of failure?
Why not just cut down a bit?
For me, moderating my intake inevitably led me back to drinking as much, if not more, as before and I’ve seen the same thing happen with so many friends too. This is more about getting curious about what it’s like to live as a sober person and trying it on for size. Although I should make it clear that obviously this isn’t a choice you can make if you have a severe addiction.
*Clutching at straws* How about just drinking on special occasions?
The problem is there are so many special occasions these days – Christmas, summer holidays, bank holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, parties, leaving dos and so on. And those occasions really can be just as special without drinking. That FOMA – fear of missing alcohol – dies down the longer you’re sober curious.
Will I become boring if I don’t drink?
That’s always a key concern! I worried that life would become monotonous without the highs from booze. But once you stop manipulating your moods with alcohol, you’re much more aware of your natural moods and there are definitely still highs – and of course lows! You’re more attuned to your own personal rollercoaster of emotions.
Will I become a preachy evangelist?
It can be quite difficult when you first stop drinking and start feeling amazing – you feel the urge to tell everyone that you’ve discovered the secret to life. But it’s really important not to judge others – you choosing to be sober is 100 percent your choice and nothing to do with anyone else’s choices.
Will I ever enjoy a party again?
Yes! Accept that the fact you’re freaking out because you’re at a party and not drinking is very understandable – we spend years teaching our brains that it’s normal to drink in these situations. Always have something to hold in your hands – there are loads of grown-up non-alcoholic options now, like Seedlip, tonic water with bitters or alcohol-free artisan beers. These drinks look “normal” so you’re less likely to be questioned as to why you’re not drinking. And make sure you don’t arrive hungry – that hunger can often translate into booze cravings.
Thoughts on Dry January?
Anything that gives people an opportunity to feel more secure about taking a break from booze is a good thing. It’s become so firmly established that it’s de-stigmatised not drinking. But if you go into it with the mentality of “I’ve just got to get through the month and then I’m back on it”, you’re not going to change your habits long term.
OK, say we’re curious about being sober curious. What are the first steps?
Bear in mind that you’re going to have to make a conscious choice to not drink so many times over the coming days, weeks and months. Once you start on this path you realise how prevalent alcohol is in so many areas; when you’re with friends, at work, hanging out with mum friends, your book club. Have a really open mind and take it one non-drinking experience at a time.