Although attitudes to alcohol are shifting (especially in the 18-39 age bracket), drinking is ingrained in Australian culture. Our social stance is conflicting: we casually make jokes about blacking out, simultaneously shaming people who “can’t handle their drink”. It’s seen as a weakness, a private matter that someone needs to sort out on their own behind closed doors. We should be peeling back the layers and looking at the extenuating factors around what is driving someone to engage in excessive or unsafe behaviours. No one truly wants to be out of control, at-risk of harming themselves and others. We’re quick to point the finger, but this sort of blaming mentality only adds to the existing set of issues that is causing someone to behave in such a way in the first place. The more I research and dedicate time to thinking about it, the more I realise the anthropological aspect is a big old mess.
I recently shared a personal essay about my experience with alcohol and a feature about cutting it out. Some people have reached out to share their experiences (thank you—there is such strength in solidarity), or to say they’re considering quitting drinking. I make no claim to be an expert; all my advice is anecdotal. I also don’t judge anyone for their decisions. For me, a relationship with alcohol wasn’t working. If it works for you and you’re happy, that’s great. But if you’re at a point where you’re questioning why, how much, or how often you’re drinking, some of the things I have learned along the way might be of use to you, too.
First of all, you’ll want to congratulate yourself for being open to exploring the idea of cutting out alcohol. In doing just this first step, you are doing so much. You are going against the grain of a contradictory culture where alcohol is accepted and celebrated, yet addiction and abuse are stigmatised and silenced. You are showing bravery by admitting that, for you, your current relationship with drinking may no longer be serving you. It’s like writing an essay, the hardest part is starting. Once you open up that part of your brain—the part that is open to change, the unknown, vulnerability, failure—it’s amazing how many other doorways will open in succession.
Alcohol may have taken you to some low places. Try not to be shut off to these memories or label them as ‘bad’. They are just experiences, they do not define you. What defines you is who you are right at this very moment in time, what’s inside your soul, your values and principles, your hopes and dreams and aspirations, the way you treat strangers, how you smile at dogs on the street, the lengths you’d go to for someone you love, how you react to adversity. You are human and you are fallible. It’s OK to start again. You can do that as many times as you need. There is no expiration on growth.
Find a Release
Why do you drink? Why do you want to stop? Understanding motivations can help demystify habits, facilitating the end goal of forming new neural pathways. Self-reflection is essential to sustaining sobriety. Individual factors aside, the stresses of daily life are a big driver of drinking. Find positive alternatives to letting off steam. Locate what brings you joy. I have found replacements that nourish my soul, like connecting with nature; honouring my body through yoga; choosing to believe in something bigger than myself; and investing time into creative outlets like writing. It might feel performative at first, like you don’t even want to be doing these things, like you just want to be wasted on some rooftop in the city watching the sky crack open with colour, but fake it til you make it and you might find fulfillment along the way.
You Don't Have To Justify Yourself to Others
When you don’t drink, it becomes apparent how deeply alcohol is woven into the social fabric of our lives. When alcohol comes up in conversation and I refuse a glass or wine or mention I’m not drinking, I’m met with mixed reactions: awkwardness, confusion, condescension.
Countless people have made off-the-cuff remarks, asking in jest if I was an alcoholic. While that’s not a term I identify with, I acknowledge I engaged in a damaging relationship with alcohol for the majority of my adult life. I might not look or act like someone who has faced these struggles. Flippant comments go to show how hidden the issue is and how problematic the imagined stereotypes around addiction and abuse are—as well how the dominant cultural attitude is geared towards consumption over consideration. The onus is not on you to have to explain yourself. You do not have to justify your choices, or what has led you to them, to anybody.
The attitude to alcohol is binary, black-and-white. There are, apparently, only two categories: those who drink and can handle it, and those who drink and cannot. Aka alcoholics. You might not be drinking spirits out of a Keep Cup on your way to work, or living on couches or in cars, but that doesn’t mean that your relationship with alcohol is healthy. You don’t have to classify yourself as an alcoholic or slide into a stereotype to want to reassess your relationship with drinking.
It Will Be Really F**cking Hard
You will lose people who you thought were your friends. You will lose what you had considered was part of your identity. You will be pushed to your limits. And you will want to drink. It might be a summer evening, the sun glinting off cement like Swarovski, the whole world unwinding with a spritz. You will want to drink because they are. Maybe your heart is broken, you found out something deeply hurtful. You will want to drink. You could be celebrating, you could be sad. You will want to drink in these moments and more.
It is tempting to give in to circumstance for some fleeting form of freedom. The human desire and want to alter, escape, command the present moment is very real. Variations of these situations will happen every day for the rest of your life. You have no control over them, only how you react. Be present, be in your body, remember why you made this choice. I come back to how, for me, the negatives of alcohol outweigh the positives. Take comfort in the fact that you’re on a path to seeking balance. You will make new friends. Or maybe you won’t—maybe you’ll just have the same ones you’ve always had—and those friendships will be more fortified than ever. You will gain a new part of your identity, a part that is resilient and complex.
Celebrate the Small Wins
Unfortunately for many of us our struggles are so private that we’re not in a position to receive recognition. Cut off from a previous life, a social circle and associated routines, eliminating alcohol can feel isolating, thankless. How can people say you’re doing well when they didn’t know you weren’t? Make sure you celebrate yourself. Rituals are a simple place to start—like engaging in skincare regimes. You could also spend the money you would’ve on partying on something that brings comfort and calm, like a book or candle.
Open Up the Dialogue
The best thing we can do is share our experiences. You don’t have to divulge personal details. Don’t cast judgement. But please start talking. Until we can have open and honest conversations with ourselves and each other around alcohol, we will continue to struggle in silence, only cementing stigma and stereotype. We have the power to change this, in the softest, smallest ways like saying out loud something that feels like an invisible, internal evil. You might be surprised by how many other people share the same feelings or experiences, and the tenderness you can find in this oneness.
No Feeling is Final
Life is about evolution and reevaluation, that’s how we grow into the people we were always meant to become. Every relationship changes and is open to negotiation, whether that’s with yourself, a partner, or something external like alcohol. The idea that sobriety is forever, that if you had a problematic relationship with alcohol means you will always have a problematic relationship with alcohol, seems intimidating when you’re still in it. This all-or-nothing attitude is overwhelming. It prevented me from honestly looking at my relationship with alcohol, let alone taking steps to sobriety.
Cutting out alcohol doesn’t mean that you can never have another drink; it doesn’t mean that if you drink again you will automatically revert to previous behaviours. But if you cut out alcohol, you might see how the space it has left will be flooded with brighter things. I recently said I feel reborn. And it’s true; I do not foresee myself drinking again. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the same for you, and it doesn’t mean that I never will. A few years ago, this outlook of total abstinence would not have been a reality, a thought I was even able to entertain. If I can do it, so can you.
Being Sober Won't Solve Everything
Alcohol demanded so much of my attention throughout my twenties that when I took it away I wasn’t sure of… anything. I hadn’t had the time or space to create a connection to spirituality or sensuality. I had avoided my mental and physical health. I had relied on alcohol as a safety blanket for socialising, an antivenin to stress, something that allowed me to push my demons down, as a temper to the peaks and troughs of my emotional spectrum. When it was gone, I felt as though I was left with a Pandora’s box teeming with problems and questions. You don’t feel good all the time when you’re sober. In fact, I feel uncertain and overwhelmed a lot—especially when things are hard. But the trade-off is the beauty in vulnerability. There is something meaningful in being open and honest, in living in a way that is authentic and pared back. It doesn’t always feel like it, but it’s the most empowering thing.
Words and image, Ingrid Kesa.