On Saturday I went to a friend’s 40th birthday celebration. It was an afternoon tea in one of the most gorgeous locations I’ve ever been to. Well, at least it hit all the right aesthetic buttons for me with Queen Anne chairs, Mucha panels on the walls, chartreuse chair covers and delicate bone china cups for the tea. I could have sat in the location on my own forever – on the third floor of an old Cork building, staring out over the Winter city.

But it was a party and so social interaction was required.

The organisers, knowing that the group was a disparate one drawn from my friend’s many many different friend-groups did what any good organisers would do in such a situation – they lubricated everyone with alcohol. There seemed to be an endless parade of prosecco poured; I refused twice and then with a cup of coffee in front of me, all was good. On the first offer I actually said the words “I don’t drink”. I think that was a first for me – usually I just say “No thank you” and leave it at that without explanation. I also told the person I was chatting with that I’d given up alcohol back in April.

Interestingly, I think it’s easier to share information like that with strangers. I wasn’t pressed on my reasons, in fact the reaction felt like “Cool, whatever, that’s a valid life-choice.”. I didn’t feel like a weirdo for not drinking, and the only time I felt the smallest temptation to join in the bubble-sipping was right at the beginning when that familiar anxiety bubble was high in my throat.

But it does make occasions like the above a little bit more of an effort, a little bit more draining. And I guess I came away from the afternoon feeling a little like I’d missed out on something, though I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. I guess it’s “phantom limb syndrome” but with alcohol. Phantom Drink Syndrome?

Also, I didn’t go on to “round 2” of the party – something I most assuredly would have done back in my drinking days – hey, that was less than eight months ago, you know! I’m no Wise Old Elf to be acting like I’ve achieved enlightenment you know!

One interesting conversation I had – with the lady to whom I’d confessed my sober status, no less – concerned her own drinking habits. She mentioned the many Fridays when alcohol and online shopping combined to create packages in the future that she’d no recollection of ordering. I reacted in the expected, socially appropriate way to say it was like “surprise gifts from yourself” and this is a nice way of looking at such a thing – but! I felt a little concerned.

It’s hard to tell during conversations like this if the person is employing a bit of hyperbole or not. I guess I want to assume that my conversation-partner is not literally blacking out every Friday, right? I mean, for one thing, the assumption is that this isn’t actually every Friday, and that she hasn’t really forgotten what she’s ordered, just having a bit of an “oh yeah!” moment. But all the same – did I just totally normalise drinking to blackout, wrapping it up in a cute simile about presents from yourself? I’m not sure I’m totally happy about that.

I think it might sound like I’m judging this other woman. I’m in no way judging this other woman (at least beyond judgement applied at the level of “She probably really meant “___”, right?”). But I am kind of concerned about the society that we live in where any question applied to levels of alcohol use would be seen as being a bit of a killjoy. I’m concerned about the pressure to say “but that’s okay you’re okay” to any behaviour when we like a person. It’s like we have to hide any concern we have about any behaviour in a person – not just limited to alcohol – in order to signal that we like them. Or even that we don’t dislike them.

I kind of think this is how lots of the pretty egregious misogynistic statements out there get “a pass” amongst a man’s friend-group. More than a pass even. I think men, and often women, get a bit uncomfortable with certain statements, but feel obliged to not just let them pass, but even to “play along” and turn it into an obvious joke, because you just weren’t set up for conflict just now. And, you know, surely they didn’t mean the outrageous thing they said, right?

And so society normalises things that are actually pretty concerning. And not just society. Me. Me in society.

Honestly, just recognising that is all I’ve got today. I can’t promise I’m going to suddenly be the change I want to see in the world. Because I also don’t want to be the judgement that everyone sees in the world.

The worst thing to be would be a “killjoy”, right?

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