five minute read
In the lead up to my decision to try and go a year alcohol-free, and my even bigger decision to out myself publically, I had at some point crossed an invisible line. Not with regard to how much or how often I was drinking. Although that may be the case too. The line I crossed was into a new and unexpected territory. Not one I entered willing either, might I add.
I crossed the line into becoming sober-curious. While I wish I could take credit for that phrase, both the clever wording and the sober-curious movement are the work of wordsmith Ruby Worthington.
Again, this is not a moment I can pinpoint. (Must’ve been the booze! you say?) But back in 2018, I decided to participate in Dry July. I had done the odd booze-free periods before: FebFast, Lent, Oc-sober, the occasional (and half-hearted) clean-eating cleanse. This time, like during the other fasting periods, there was no sordid happening that made me go, ‘Uh-oh.’ But we had just come back from a two-week holiday. During which I drank wine every night. Sometimes an entire bottle, sometimes not. But usually (okay, always) more than the recommended daily units. Who besides someone the size of a hobbit gets eight glasses of wine out of a bottle of red?!? Eight! I think 3-4, tops. (But of course, I could rationalise all my ignoring of the recommended guidelines by saying I was on vacation. Holidays are existing in a bubble of carpe diem and YOLO. This habit wasn’t something I did every day, not real life. But still, NOT good.)
Anyway, in addition to over indulging while being on vacation, it was also winter here in the SoHem. I had a sinus infection. I was just feeling generally tired and crappy, a natural consequence of winter and post-holiday fatigue. So undertaking Dry July seemed like a pretty straightforward choice. But I still knew it would be a challenge.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that that month was not just about resetting a bad holiday-drinking habit. It was when the seeds were planted for the possibility of an alcohol-free life. Not that I knew this at the time. But now I consider it the beginning of my training for this AF year ahead – with 11 months still to go. I mean, you wouldn’t run a marathon without training first, right?
During that Dry July, once I was back to normal and my sinus infection was gone, and that first Friday rolled around…it was Gasp-City. No booze! Happy hour? No wine. Pizza night? No beer. How the hell could I – or anyone over the legal drinking age – be expected to sit through Tara’s tacky, upcycling DIY craft-making on Better Homes and Gardens without being somewhat anaesthetized?!? Her grating chipper-ness and can-do attitude could make even Gidget appear maudlin by contrast.
Also, did I mention that I also LOVE red wine in winter? Not only is it warming, but it pairs so well with so many comfort foods. Stews, pasta, risottos. Cheeeeeeeese. Even the humble plate of nachos could benefit from a side of Merlot, IMO. And I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that hearty soul-food eating is one my favourite pastimes in winter. And red wine was always there, as the perfect accompaniment. (I had already given up white wine entirely because ‘I drink it too fast’ – but more on that later.)
So, as you can see – I was very aware that all of the no-red-wine drinking was going to be tough. I also knew I needed something to bolster my mission, and this didn’t include AA. So of course I turned to my other go-to form of escapism: books. I had stumbled (metaphorically!) across a book by Annie Grace called This Naked Mind. Probably somewhere in my Facebook feed, after my digital crumbs indicated I was searching things like ‘Weekly alcohol units UK’ (I figured they’d be more generous, the Brits love a drink) and ‘What is considered binge drinking?’ Or similar.
Anyway, I decided I’d give Annie’s book a go. (How do you say ‘no’ to someone with such an amazing name? She’s like a goddamn Dickens character, but with a sweet and inviting Midwestern face.) After some quick Googling, Naked Mind seemed to be the one of the most popular go-to books for so many in the sober community – also including a colleague of mine (who just celebrated 500 days sober this very week!).
So that’s how I accidentally joined the sober-curious movement. For me, that book opened a door into a whole new world. I devoured it. Annie methodically debunks a lot of the cultural myths we have absorbed about alcohol, and not in a shaming, preachy or alarmist way. What she said just made so much sense. Although I did balk at the portions where she says moderation doesn’t really work. I thought, Pfffft. That’s why I’m reading this damn book. But my reading of quit-lit (I didn’t even know such a term existed!) had begun.
And now, about 18 months after my first foray into the sobersphere, let me tell you: it is absolutely crazy the amount of information there is out there. Books, blogs, online group pages (hello, Untoxicated!), podcasts…I had literally NO IDEA of the explosion that has happened in this space, especially in the last five years. Just type ‘sober’ into your podcast search or any web browser and see what comes up.
For me, it was like discovering proof as a muggle that the wizarding world actually does exist. And it’s not just some made up place, well beyond your reach. For entering the sobersphere (while this sadly does not apply to the wizarding world) there’s no special skills or talent needed. It’s not by invite-only. It’s open and accepting and supportive, sometimes gut-wrenching and soul-baring. But it’s always real. And it’s right there, through a portal that everyone can access – which is actually more like an obstacle course, as the hilarious and wise Clare Pooley describes it in her book, The Sober Diaries. It’s like a whole parallel universe I hadn’t even known existed for most of my adult life. So, if you are reading this, and you are sober-curious, just take a peek. You might like what you see.