“A world where confidence and identity aren’t measured in standard servings …”
This is a line from our organisational mission at Hello Sunday Morning. It’s a clever way of bringing a serious issue around Australian drinking cultures to light. How many people do you know that drink to boost confidence or would consider drinking as part of their identity? It’s troubling to me; not the drinking, but the ‘how’ and ‘why’ we drink.
I was never a big drinker. I would never dream of pressuring anyone into drinking and was completely comfortable to say ‘no’ if I felt pressured myself. This was simply my ‘normal’ – it was never something I reflected on. Despite this, working at Hello Sunday Morning has taught me so many things about our drinking cultures. This is exactly why I believe each and every one of us has something to learn and reflect on, whether we think we do or not.
I wanted to take the opportunity to outline a few of the key things I’ve learnt as someone who truly thought I had nothing to learn.
1. It is very hard to detach yourself from a cultural norm, especially when you don’t even realise you’re accustomed to one.
When I applied for my role at Hello Sunday Morning one year ago, my first thought was, “Oh man, I guess I have to stop drinking if I want to work here.”
Looking back, of course that was my first thought. Of course I was worried that my friends would think I’m a loser for working with a company they perceived to be against drinking. Of course I struggled with the idea of giving it up completely, even though I didn’t drink that much in the first place. I didn’t realise that thoughts like this were exactly why Hello Sunday Morning existed: to empower people to have whatever relationship with alcohol they wanted, as long as it was the best one for them. I now pick up on all the little cues that it’s something deeply embedded in our society. My friends don’t peer pressure at all and seem comfortable with each other’s decisions, yet I still haven’t managed to go out and say no to alcohol without the classic, “Oh, do you have to drive? That sucks.” I find myself getting the pity card a lot, and this would never have bothered me before when I was still attached to the expectation myself. Only now do I notice these subtle hints, and I find myself slightly offended that it’s such an unreasonable thing for me to simply not feel like drinking tonight. I simply ‘must’ be driving.
Having now been exposed to a vast range of people with different relationships to alcohol, from sobriety and moderation, all the way to weekend binge drinking or dependence, I also empathise with the people who do struggle. These extremely subtle lines from people who don’t think they are saying anything wrong can actually affect someone in a much more complex way. My reason for not drinking may have been because I didn’t feel like it, but you never know what someone’s reason might be. There’s a chance it’s not something they want to be reminded of, and in fact, it could be dangerous to their health to make these assumptions. By detaching myself from the current drinking culture, I now never make an assumption as to why someone isn’t drinking. For me, it is as simple as saying, “Okay, cool,” and moving on with the conversation.
2. When it came down to it, I didn’t really have any good reason to drink. Ever.
When I really looked deep into my drinking and thought about why I did it, the reasons just didn’t seem to measure up to what I thought I knew about myself. Before you start thinking I’m going to preach about sobriety, I’m not. I still drink even after this discovery, but I’ve simply changed my reasons for doing it. On the outside, not much is different. But on the inside, I feel like a new person.
I used to drink to fit in with what everyone else was doing, or because I was at a bar, or because it was happy hour so I may as well take advantage of a $5 glass of wine. But now, I drink because it’s a hot day and I love the taste of a Pimms and ginger ale in the sunshine, or because I’m sharing a cocktail jug with a friend who I haven’t seen in a while and I’m enjoying our time together, or because this wood-fired pizza would really suit a Pinot Noir to match. Changing my reasons for drinking has helped me appreciate the rare occasions I do crave a drink, because now I take the time to think about the reason on each occasion, rather than mindlessly follow through.
Having this realisation has also been great for my wallet. Now, I actually ask myself if there is something I’d rather spend $18 on than a cocktail (usually the answer is yes!). Without even realising it, I’ve stopped ‘going with the flow’ of having multiple alcoholic drinks with friends and I’m usually happy with just the one. I would also certainly not recommend keeping up with your friends by drinking non-alcoholic drinks throughout the night – speaking from the experience of a terrible, sugary, ginger beer hangover last New Year’s Day. Turns out that’s a thing!
3. We. Are. All. Different.
Something I never understood before was just how differently everyone reacts to alcohol. Giving life advice on how somebody should change their relationship with alcohol, based on your own personal experience, is not the smartest idea. There has been a lot of change in the world lately and we’ve learnt to become a lot more accepting and supportive of people who are ‘different’. People are opening up about experiences that others might not understand, and we’re learning how to find communities who are similar to us in these ways. Understanding a relationship with alcohol is no different. Some people are more prone to developing an alcohol dependency, while others have no issue with only having a couple of drinks. Some experience horrible symptoms after only one or two drinks, while others could drink all night and wake up with no hangover. Some experience a hangover as a headache and are fine after a late morning lying in bed, while others experience hangovers as a wave of anxiety and depression that could last for days. The list goes on.
However, in saying this, I’m not only trying to bring to light that people who don’t suffer as much should be more respectful and considerate of those who do. This is a two-way street, where those who struggle can learn to understand that not everybody has the same experiences as them. Sometimes alcohol is not a good idea for one person, but for another, it’s not so harmful and choosing to drink moderately isn’t a shameful thing.
So, if you’re like me, and think you’re pretty comfortable with the way you drink, I’d really encourage you to take a moment just to think about it as deeply as you can. Start getting into the habit of asking yourself, “Why am I really having this drink?” every time you go for a sip. Consider if the reason really comes down to your personal choice or a cultural expectation. Let’s measure our lives in smiles, good times, high fives or sunrises, rather than standard servings.