I stopped buying wine as presents for other people when I was in my second year of being booze-free.
The first year I was all gung-ho declaring to all and sundry that “this changes nothing” when becoming... (whisper it)... a teetotaller. Adding ‘being on the wagon’ to my other attributes: single, divorced, midlife crisis-ridden, cat-owning vegetarian I presumed elevated me towards being crowned Britain’s most unwanted dinner party-guest. One benefit, I supposed, was I’d never need to turn up with a bottle of plonk for the host, holding it uncomfortably familiar in my hand.
I was wrong about becoming a social pariah - but after the first shaky year, I made the conscious choice to never, ever wander down the aisle of death in the supermarket ever again. I realised there were other options for thank you presents, aside from the borefest that is chocolate or flowers.
I was reminded of my decision to stop gifting alcoholic tipples this week when two people I know well, who rely on the same recovery system I do, had several bottles of the anxiety juice on their dining room tables. One is twenty-six years sober, and is given whisky as a perk of her job - she gives them away to family members. The other, four months sober once again, bought Prosecco for her teachers as a ‘thank you’ for their hard work educating this year. Their presence terrified her young daughter - who remembers all too well how it abducts mummy and turns her into a monster.
Like everything else, it’s a personal dilemma. I no longer worship at the temple of alcohol, but I had a drinking career of some note. Compared to most ‘drunkalogues’ I’ve read or heard, mine is pretty tame. Still, it robbed me of my self-esteem, my self-respect and my self-worth. For that reason, I don’t want to give alcohol another penny. I realise this makes me sound like a banner-waving temperance mover, but I’m not. I just don’t wish to support an industry that is marketed with notions such as “wine o’clock’ and ‘gin-er time’ and ‘prosecco hour’. Booze may be sold as ‘harmless fun’ but my experience as a child of a drunk, and a drunk myself, I beg to differ. In the UK, pre-pandemic, we already had worrying levels of consumption which were readily masked within Britain’s notably strong drinking culture.
Marketing to women has taken off in my lifetime - and yet conversely we are the ones most likely to struggle to get help. Firstly, we’re less likely to invest in rehab. Secondly, at the other extreme even free help has its limitations: AA members will tell you to go to a meeting a day in the early months (I could) but if one has young children at home, and is from a single-parent household, baby-sitting is costly, guilt is tremendous and time is precious. Zoom has, thankfully, changed this - and I’m thrilled by this innovation from the pandemic. Women also struggle to admit to drinking difficulties - age-old legacies and stereotypes rumble on, but most compelling of all is that we’ll attract unwanted attention from the authorities if we admit our problems whilst caring for children. This can be a considerable barrier - even if it’s just a psychological one. Yet, the pandemic has led to a boom in home-drinking, and escalated already worrying-levels of alcohol abuse. I know far too many people who resumed their careers because of loneliness and isolation. I was very lucky that I just happened to be walking across the wilderness of America during the worst of the lockdown, but when I did live in a ‘normal lockdown’ I resumed my prescriptions for anti-depressants. Thus not keeping any booze at home keeps me safe: if I ever have a moment of madness ever again, I’ll have a modicum of time to ‘snap out of it’ and remind myself that a life free of booze is a life free.
Person Irresponsible walked from Mexico to Canada when she was fat, forty-something, female and in her fourth year of sobriety. Her book Everything You Ever Taught Me is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. It charts her extraordinary accomplishment relying only on her dizzying levels of idiocy and some lessons gleaned from the world-famous twelve-step recovery programme of Alcoholics Anonymous.
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