Note to readers: Please bear with me, this post is very much in the cut and paste stage, where I am just generating ideas and trying to cut and paste them into a cohesive whole. While I am strictly teetotal, I have a few coping mechanisms of my own, and they are not all healthy. I need to take a bit of my own advice in this article!
IDEAS I NEED TO INCORPORATE INTO THIS ARTICLE
– I wonder how many people I might know, struggle with this, behind a seemingly respectable exterior,
Olden days versus our days: social communities, ways of offloading
Our modern culture seems almost designed to get as many people into this problem as possible
FENTANYL/OPIOID ADDICTIONS: It is not just alcohol I am wary of. It is all substance addiction issues. I think it was the Atlantic? A tiny amount of a certain opioid, literally a dusting can take out a whole elephant, and kill a human being
Period pains, codeine
“Posh Soft drinks”
Kopparberg alcohol free apple cider and pear cider: Amazing, but a little too sweet. Also quite similar to the alcoholic version in packaging, meaning that I had to carefully study the bottles to make sure…
On one hand, whenever I read stories about alcoholism, I shudder and think: “There but for the grace of God go I!” I’ve written on this blog so many times before about how I am strictly teetotal; I’ve never been drunk in my life. Furthermore, if all the alcohol I’ve drunk in my life was added up it would probably only just be enough to get me drunk; I used to say that it would not be able to get me drunk but then I remembered a trip to Porto where we had wine tasting and – yeah, that changed everything. And then there was also the miniature bottle of Baileys… Furthermore I can tell you every single instance in my life in which I have knowingly consumed alcohol (or at least nine out of ten times) – even if it was just a sip. And most times it really was just a sip.
But all the same, I always shudder as I think to myself “It could have been so different“. If I had gotten into drinking at university, my life could look so different just now. Thankfully, God spared me.
At university, I made one of the best decisions of my life. Actually by the grace of God, God empowered me to make a few amazing decisions at university which continue to be the bedrock of my life even now. One of those decisions was to remain strictly teetotal. When I was at university, alcohol was everywhere. British culture is saturated with alcohol; in terms of avoiding alcohol I am so glad that I still have an alternative and distinct ethnic culture to identify with where alcohol is essentially alien. At university, I saw the way supposedly “clever” people did all manner of crazy things under the influence of alcohol. While I was studying there, at least two Cambridge undergraduates actually died while likely under the influence of alcohol. (One of these two deaths was certainly alcohol-related, for the other I deduced the involvement of alcohol from circumstances: the first student climbed a wall while drunk, apparently not realising it was a much steeper fall on the other side; he fell on the steeper side, and he died. For the second student, he was knocked over while crossing the road late at night and the lateness of the hour is what made me suspect that he was probably at least a little tipsy; this second student was the son of a famous composer…) And I thought: “Nup! Not for me!” And looking back I cannot begin to tell you the level of gratitude I have for that decision, one of the best decisions of my life.
I’m sure that there must be a certain percentage of Cambridge graduates who have developed alcohol issues which were exacerbated or developed altogether during university years – a number that might fluctuate slightly from year to year depending on how eagerly your lecturers pressed you to drink; I wonder how many lecturers themselves have alcohol issues, I’m sure there must an established percentage for them too.
I must admit that beyond university colleagues and lecturers I often wonder how many people I may know who silently struggle with this, perhaps behind various appearances of having their life together.
Man, I drank so much orange juice while I was at university that the wonder is that I did not turn into a giant orange! Please people let’s be creative – orange juice is not the only non-alcoholic drink in the world – and there would always be a full array of alcoholic drinks at parties, alongside a solitary carton or two of orange juice. And remember too that soft drinks are cheaper than alcoholic drinks, so if you can persuade an alcohol drinker to drink a soft drink instead, then your overall drinks’ bill will be cheaper!
After university, there was a time maybe 10 yrs ago when I flirted very mildly and very briefly with the idea of social drinking: this “flirting” consisted of that single miniature bottle of Baileys. But then, it occurred to me that if I had ever previously allowed myself to develop a drinking habit, then during one of the countless crazy times of stress I have undergone, I would probably have reached out to alcohol for soothing – I realised that I would most probably, almost definitely have developed a problem. And since then, I’ve resumed an aggressively teetotal stance for myself, and not even a single drop has passed my lips.
I can’t help thinking that the quickest way to develop an alcohol problem is probably to develop an alcohol habit, even a non-problematic one. And then, once the (non-problematic) habit is already established, when you are going through a time of stress or upheaval, it might just be too easy to reach out and take an extra beer/glass of wine.
Conversely, it seems logical to me that the quickest way to nix the possibility of developing a future alcohol problem, is to nix any existing or burgeoning alcohol habit, even if currently unproblematic.
Because of that, even if I was determined to enjoy alcohol occasionally, I would not keep any at home. I would make up my mind to never buy any for home consumption, so it is not within easy reach at any time when I might feel depressed. But for me the safest way has been to avoid it altogether. This is true of many things in my life. It frees me from the decision pressure of constantly evaluating whether I might be going too far – can I push another drink just now?
My parents were so aggressively against alcohol (and still are), that as staunch Pentecostal Christians they argued that Jesus turned water not into wine but rather into grape juice! I disagreed with them and still disagree because I think it is clear that “wine” in the Bible means the alcoholic stuff. However, now I understand why they were and are so aggressive against alcohol.
I try not to be too “preachy” about the Gospel (becoming a Christian). Yeah, becoming a Christian is a matter that transcends even life and death and concerns eternity (Heaven/hell) BUT people are entitled to their own opinions. I give people the benefit of the doubt that they have thought about life…etc.
However, when it comes to alcohol I have no qualms about being preachy. I tell people: “If you plan to have a stressful life, then don’t start drinking! For your sake and the sakes of people around you! Cut back as much as you possibly can!” And here’s the thing: in this day and age, all our lives are stressful! Especially in the time of Covid.
One simple reason why realistically I was never likely to develop a problem: because Church has been my life; I tend to hang around in circles where alcohol is simply not present. I’m just not exposed to alcohol or people drinking on a daily basis and I never have been (except at Uni!). So even though I feel a certain level of healthy paranoia when I read about alcoholism issues, realistically I was never going to be the most likely person to develop a problem (although of course it was/is never impossible). And then of course I’ve been skint for most of my life post-university so for many years I could not have afforded to drink alcohol even if I had wanted to!
People who have asked me to drink –
Part of me is tempted to say: “If someone encourages you to drink, then they definitely do not care about you. Ditch them!” However, there have been people in my own life who have encouraged me to drink, whom I know to be caring people, whom I have not ditched. I like to think that they spoke from a sincere if possibly misguided place – perhaps their cultures revolve around drink to such an extent that they truly cannot envisage a full life without alcohol. Conversely perhaps in the moment their minds were just not able to grasp some of the dangerous possibilities of drinking that would surely occur to them – while – ahem – sober.
Apologies if this sounds somewhat judgemental but I simply cannot marry someone who has an alcohol problem, or any other drug/narcotic misuse problem. This is because I simply love my own self too much in that I have a very acute sense of self-protection/self-preservation. However, in truth, I would prefer to marry something who does not drink at all, someone whose attitude to alcohol is the same or very similar to mine. Ironically, I suspect that at least one or two of my previous love interests may have had alcohol/other drug or narcotic issues. If nothing else, this is because these issues are so prevalent that it sometimes seems quicker to assume someone might have a problem to start with. This might not be as true for Nigerian Pentecostal Christians, as our underlying Nigerian culture frowns somewhat on alcohol anyway, and then as described above people like my parents take it to a different level. (One reason why conservative Nigerian culture might frown on alcohol might be because there is a high incidence of Islam in Nigeria, which has undoubtedly influenced everyone else in the culture in terms of avoiding pork and alcohol.) However it is certainly true for other Christians from other ethnic backgrounds and/or Christian traditions, especially where their ethnic backgrounds heavily feature alcohol.
A few ideas to cut back/ditch the habit altogether:
-Possibly the single most powerful idea I can think of: save alcohol for special occasions. If you currently drink at home, stop drinking at home, stop buying alcohol for the house. Don’t let it be lying around for when you have a moment of weakness, ready to pounce on you.
-Substitute as much as you can with non-alcoholic drinks. If you currently view a glass of wine as a treat, then perhaps think of an alternative treat, like a cake or cookie, or something healthy like an exotic piece of fruit
– Deliberately try out non-alcoholic drinks, perhaps a new one a week. Deliberately develop different tastes
-Even on the special occasions where you might decide to drink, start off with soft drinks. (I’ve grabbed this idea from the post linked here and below at the bottom of this paragraph).
-Set a fixed limit for yourself – cut down decision paralysis which in the moment might sound like “Can I squeeze in another?” – set yourself an ongoing fixed maximum of alcoholic drinks that you will have, no matter the occasion. I suggest maximum three drinks. Whether it is a wedding, another party, meeting up for drinks – whatever – tell yourself for instance – “I am only going to have three alcoholic drinks, period”. Remind yourself that at least three times: as you are heading out of the door of your home, as you are on the way to the venue, and at the venue before you start drinking. And once you’ve exhausted those three, switch to soft drinks for the rest of the night/occasion. If you find that you are struggling with temptation, then go home. Hopefully you would only have to do this (leave prematurely) once or twice before you find your willpower growing, and you find that you can easily stick to your maximum number of alcoholic drinks.
You know, even though I am teetotal, whenever I am going out for drinks with friends who drink, I set myself a fixed number of (non-alcoholic) drinks: just three, max – and also a fixed time to leave. So I have my two/three bottles of J20 or mocktails or whatever – and then at my fixed time to leave, I just leave. This means that I avoid finding myself in dodgy situations when people are starting to get drunk.
Perhaps have only one of these “special occasions” max a week, ideally once a month. Decide well in advance of the week/month which event it will be so you can prepare yourself for your non-drinking events (where alcohol will be present but you will not be drinking), or even avoid them altogether. For special times, like Christmas, perhaps enlist the help of a friend or two to keep you accountable for your non-drinking events OR perhaps decide to do the whole Christmas period alcohol-free OR take your own delicious non-alcoholic drinks which you’ve already tried and fallen in love with beforehand. Just make sure that your friends don’t drink them all before you can – after all they are probably trying to cut back on their alcohol consumption too!
– Deliberately seek out events which will not have alcohol served at all, or alcohol-free bars/restaurants to frequent with your friends, or even seek out new groups of friends who don’t drink/new social gatherings which are decidedly alcohol-free, possibly using online resources, like MeetUp.com, for your local area (eg this is the largest MeetUp group I found for London, UK) and there is also SoberandSocial.com which is also London-based. However I guess no-one is going to be meeting up at all at the moment with Covid still hanging in the air.
This post linked here has lots of great ideas about cutting back:
Whenever you find yourself with a drink in your hand, try to catch yourself in that moment, ask yourself (and answer honestly) – “Why am I drinking this?”
–Like the taste:
Have a look into other drinks and see which ones you like the taste of. I personally love drinking exotic fruit juices “mixed” with sparkling water. That said, I’ve unapologetically got a sweet tooth, which is why I hate the taste of alcohol in the first place. However I know of companies which are developing alcohol free spirits, and low alcohol/alcohol free (UK) versions of many alcoholic drinks. (I am perfectly happy without alcohol altogether so I don’t need alcohol substitutes at all, however, I would be quite intrigued to try the Scavi and Ray prosecco substitute.)
A UK list specifically of low alcohol/alcohol free beers is here
There is another list here
So if it is a case of liking the taste, the probability is that there already exists an alternative out there which tastes similar enough but without the risks of alcohol.
–Fancy a treat:
If you currently view a glass of wine/other alcohol as a treat, then perhaps think of an alternative treat, like a cake or cookie, or something healthy like an exotic piece of fruit – or even better, cultivate and keep at home a number of different treats
–A way of unwinding
Find and practise other ways of unwinding. Sometimes, as many of us have apparently discovered during lockdown regarding our commutes, (according to those countless lockdown Working From Home articles), it is the routine itself that is soothing, almost as if we are telling our bodies to go into “unwinding” mode. I cannot over preach the benefits of a nice hot shower. If like me, you are not (and never will be) a fan of tea or coffee (I did not get into that either at university!), a nice big, boiling hot mug of ginger, lemon and honey or bowl of soup is also extremely soothing, even if you do not have the slightest trace of a cold. (Simplest “soup” in the world” – dissolve a single maggi seasoning cube in two tablespoons of boiling water, then spoon half into a big mug of boiling water with/without a generous squirt of lemon juice, and drink! Please note that these are literal cubes, and inside are dark brown and granular. Maggi stock rectangles, yellowy-green inside don’t work quite as well, and you would use perhaps a quarter rectangle of one of those.) Combine that with some nice classical music and just feel that tension just drain out of your body. I’ve recently (today) found/acknowledged that I struggle to make the time to unwind, or do other things that are necessary for my mental health. If you similarly struggle, then simply making consistent time to journal, relax and do nothing, even in the face of your busy schedule, will probably do wonders.
–What I always do
This calls for new habits! I would say that you might need to consciously let yourself set aside the time to try new habits, and time to deliberately develop them/cultivate them into habits. Listening to music is a calorie-free habit, and perhaps if you find a beautiful piece of music that is truly engaging, that can be your new habit instead.