Things were a bit out of the normal routine yesterday as my parents returned from their holiday. It always creates a different sort of pressure when I’m around my parents. I’m way more stressed about my own children’s behaviour, my own behaviour – and how I look – everything! Everything comes into it.
We went for a lovely woodland walk with the kids. They were pretty well behaved, but extremely high energy after a morning chocolate egg binge and when we got back to the house, everyone wanted to chill out for a while. Usually chilling out would mean grabbing a beer or a glass of wine in my mind. And I’m pleased to say that actually didn’t even occur to me as an action until a couple of hours later – and even then, it wasn’t a temptation, just noticing. “Oh yeah! I would normally have wanted a drink the moment I walked in the door.”
And I probably would have waited a while to make it seem more “normal”, but I would have wanted one. It’s part of the image that alcohol has for me; it has the image of being something relaxing that will make my day better, or more “holiday-y” or something like that. I sometimes even think it will make me a better, cooler, less stressed parent. In actual fact, I think it does the opposite.
When it came time to serve our own dinner, my Dad asked if I wanted red or white wine – I answered that I’d be going without wine tonight, but red was probably better with lamb. There was the following exchange:
“Why aren’t you having wine?”
“I just don’t want any.”
And it was left there, but in that one moment I did feel extreme pressure to toe the expected line, do what I always do, what everyone else was doing, and have wine. I mean, of course, no one ultimately cares whether I drink or not, but the fact of not doing so at a big Easter-Sunday-Roast dinner is definitely cause for note.
Would I have commented on someone not drinking on such an occasion? I’m fairly sure I would have for a large portion of my life. Well, I won’t in the future. I see it a little like how I try not to comment any more about people having lost or gained weight. Or on what people are eating. Our society in general seems to pay way too much attention to what people are doing with their own bodies.
Anyway, I drank a sparkling grape and elderflower cordial out of a matching wine glass. My mother only commented to ask what was I drinking. I added on that I felt I’d had enough wine this week and so was taking a break. It wasn’t a complete lie. I’ve had enough wine for all of my life, and I’m taking a break for the rest of it.
But there’s stigma around saying you’ve stopped drinking. It’s “acceptable” to stop if you’re pregnant, or sick, or driving. It’s even acceptable to take a drinking fast – although you’ll face constant pressure to break it – nearly like it’s a game to other people around you to try and get you to break a commitment to yourself. But if you say you don’t drink anymore? Or that you’ve decided to stop for good? I think the initial internal reaction would actually be “Yeah, right. See you in three months.” No one even expects success from such an endeavour, so deeply ingrained is drinking in our culture. And the second part of the judgement that will be going on will be to assume there’s a problem there.
Well, yes, there is a problem there. Alcohol had become a problem in my life. To be honest, other stuff I ingest is problematic too – I take in way too much salt, sugar and fat – and I’m not embarrassed to say that. But to say that alcohol had become a problem? That’s something shameful. To be buried. In fact, I reckon even the people who do stop stay drinking for a lot longer because of the fear of what it represents to stop drinking.
It’s hard enough battling your own desire to keep drinking, your own fears of coping in a world where you’ve given up a crutch you’re used to. But add on the stigma of what “having to stop” means about you as a person? That can be a bridge too far.
Anyway, for the moment it means that this is all between you and me and the 360º of the glass walls of the public internet.