It’s Saturday morning and I count seven empty bottles of wine on the kitchen counter. We haven’t drunk them all last night, but still, the way they stand there like witnesses, staring me with their existence I can’t forget or deny, stirs something uncomfortable inside of me, like the sudden flick of a light switch when you’ve been in the dark for too long.
According to the NHS, a 750ml bottle of red, white or rosé wine contains 10 units. Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis and they are also advised to spread those units over 3 days or more. Between my husband and I, we drink up to 30 units an evening. What does drinking the total allotted number of unit per week in one night make us?
We lead functioning, normal, even heathy lives: we take walks in the country, cook well, buy fresh vegetables from the local market, we run a business and work from home. We can’t possibly be alcoholics. Can we be something else?
According to Jolene Park, a nutritionist, health coach and former grey area drinker, grey area drinking is ‘the space between the rock-bottom drinking and the every-now-and-again drinking’. The consequences of grey area drinking aren’t blatantly obvious, says Jolene, and since those around us drink the same way, we tend to normalise it. Grey area drinking isn’t healthy though and its effects are subtle, yet debilitating. We suffer from irritability, hangover, mood swings and, once in a while, tempers are lost. Not to mention that, sometimes, grey area drinking can lead to full-fledged alcoholism. But, unless we deal with full-on liver failure, are these symptoms enough to convince a grey area drinker to stop?
Since moving to France two years ago, we’ve been drinking more and felt less guilty about it that when we lived in London. Wine is better and cheaper here, plus, French friends have told us, wine is really just part of the meal. Your average local auberge will give you a bottle or two for free, to help wash your greasy meal down. Here, in the rolling French countryside, we’re not the odd ones out. Wine is consumed as if it has healing properties on the human body. If I’m perfectly honest, I wish I drank as much water on daily basis as I drink wine.
We weren’t the odd ones out in London either, but a big city absorbs all kind of people and being sober is almost as normal as binge drinking. If you’re serious about giving up libation, there are support networks you can rely on and options for you to replace alcohol with. You can swap tequila sunrise for healthy shakes at sober morning dance parties like Morning Gloryville, ‘the pioneers of sober morning raving’ and alcohol-free drinks, such as gin brand Seedlip, are becoming tastier and more sophisticated. But living in the country, one may have to work harder to stay sober and, at the same time, remain social.
On Saturdays, we usually drink and smoke (we’ve been trying to quit smoking since we met, seven years ago and we’ve recently compromised to smoking only at the weekends), but last Saturday I felt like doing neither of those things. The image of the empty bottles on the kitchen counter still haunting me. I didn’t have the customary beer at the local bar after the customary visit to the farmer’s market but I also didn’t feel like socialising. After a noisette coffee and a bottle of Perrier, I was ready to go home. What would have normally been an afternoon of drinks at our neighbours’ watching the rugby game, turned into my staying at home and reading a book (you can immediately start to notice the benefits of sobriety).
Not drinking is hard when you’re surrounded by the ever-present allure of alcohol. It’s just so much easier to give in to a crisp glass of chardonnay than it is to drink apple juice and wonder what everyone else finds so hilarious. Not drinking makes you question your lifestyle and wonder how you could possibly accommodate both. But it also makes you feel so good. Your senses are heightened, you’re happier, more energetic and more focused.
I’m not going to lie. I’m probably not going to go completely sober. But I may try to move closer to the now-and-again end of the grey area drinking spectrum than the rock-bottom part. To help myself (and anyone else who wants to cut down on their drinking) in this endeavour, I will make use of a few great resources I came across in my search for a more alcohol-free life:
Edit: Editing our drinking and our lives Podcast with Aidan Donnely Rowley and Jolene Park
The Temper: an online publication that explores life through the lens of sobriety, addiction, and recovery
Club Soda: the mindful drinking movement
As I said, I wish I can say I am going for life-long sobriety here, but the truth is, unless my life depended on it, that’s not going to happen. I am better at being moderate than I am at abstaining and I can, by remaining aware of my habits, stay on top of my drinking. But to make my life even easier (just like I did with The Love Project), I made 3 resolutions to help me with my efforts:
- Only drink at weekends and social occasions
- If I’m going to drink, let it be something I really enjoy
- Have at least 3 consecutive non-drinking days a week
What about you? Are you trying to cut down your drinking and what works for you?