Here, Holly tackles the topic of how society views those who make the choice not to drink alcohol.
As always, if you’re affected by a parents drinking, no matter what your age, Nacoa can offer a safe place to share where they can also provide help and support. If you have something to share as a child of an alcoholic then get in touch!
As Dry January draws to a close I find myself reflecting on the language that we use to differentiate between those who drink alcohol and those who don’t. The immediate thought is that there is often a suspicion about why some people choose not to drink. There must be a reason why they don’t drink. Surely, it isn’t a choice? Our starting point, our normal, is that everyone would drink. Even the fact that we use ‘drinking’ as synonymous with drinking alcohol reflects the deep rooted habit.
What are some of the reasons why people don’t drink? Religion. Pregnancy. Alcoholism. Dry January. Designated driver. These, to me, seem to be our society’s only truly acceptable reasons for not drinking, and three are assumed to be temporary. The driver will take it in turns with friends. As soon as the mother is able to start drinking again, surely she will start setting an alarm for wine o’clock. On the 1 February, hundreds of thousands of Brits will grab the corkscrew and a large glass with glee.
A stigma still lingers around alcoholism – as those of us who have, or have had, drink dependent parents will know – yet the stigma resurfaces at the other end of the spectrum too. Abstinence. A dirty word for many.
The vocabulary that we use to refer to non-drinking and their symbolism propel a myth that abstinence is wrong. Dry January. Dry. Parched. Dehydrated. Wizened. Water is a life giver, so the notion that we would go ‘dry’ suggests a move away from life.
The alcohol-free bore.What does this even mean?
That interesting things only happen when we have had a few? That without a drink, we would tell monotonous repetitive stories. That somehow we will become self-righteous evangelicals who will castigate companions who do drink? Or is it really a fear within the accusers that they think they will be boring if they don’t have that sip of Dutch courage.
A soft drink. Soft. To some it may have connotations of femininity, a motherly figure. Warmness. It can also be a derogatory comment, particularly when addressing men. ‘Don’t be soft’. ‘You’re such a softie’. Then there are the mocktails. Back to the notion of ‘ab-normal’.
The fact that there is a promotion of alcohol-free beers, wine and spirits and of course mocktails is great. It means that more people are heeding the health lessons surrounding drinking. I almost wrote ‘sensible drinking’ and paused. Why? The connotations of the word. The sensible girl at school. There are sensible shoes. Sensible clothing. Sensible behaviour. Sensible. No-fun. Po-faced.
If we want to change drinking habits, and the evidence is indisputable, we need to. Then we need to start altering how we talk about our drinking. We need a new lexicon of abstinence.