Imag­ine 12 months with­out drink­ing al­co­hol — at all. It’s a ter­ri­fy­ing con­cept for most, but this fash­ion de­signer has em­braced a tough per­sonal chal­lenge to Ban the Binge, find­ing joy and clar­ity along the way.

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents - Pho­tographed by GE­ORGES AN­TONI By EL­IZA O’HARE

The sass & bide founder bans the binge.

or some­one who joined the ma­jor league, as half of the duo who cre­ated mega la­bel sass & bide, just be­fore the force of In­sta­gram really hit, Sarah­jane Clarke has a lot of In­sta­gram fol­low­ers. More than 26,000 of them, in fact.and it was on this beau­ti­fully cu­rated feed filled with glo­ri­ous in­te­ri­ors, har­bour views, af­ter­noons of fam­ily boat­ing and gath­er­ings of Syd­n­ey­chic peo­ple do­ing Syd­ney-chic things that I spot­ted some­thing anoma­lous: a post from De­cem­ber 5, cap­tioned: “happy birth­day to me ... look­ing for­ward to 365 days al­co­hol free” and hash­tagged #ban­the­binge.

Fast-for­ward to July 31 and Clarke had fol­lowed up with an­other #ban­the­binge post:“eight months and the re­wards of my year of so­bri­ety are start­ing to pay off.” And then this, from Septem­ber 28:“I am start­ing to think about what is go­ing to hap­pen when my year of so­bri­ety fin­ishes.” I’m start­ing to think about that too.

There’s been a lot of noise lately about women drink­ing.the Foun­da­tion for Al­co­hol Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion (FARE) has re­vealed dis­turb­ing rates of binge drink­ing among Aus­tralian women (as well as men), and SBS In­sight re­cently claimed that “more women over 40 are drink­ing larger amounts”. Doc­tors now de­fine binge drink­ing as more than three stan­dard drinks in one ses­sion — about three glasses of wine, which doesn’t seem that much to me.

But sit­ting it out for an en­tire year? There’s really only one ques­tion for Clarke. How?

EL­IZA O’HARE: When did you start drink­ing?

SARAH-JANE CLARKE:YEAR 10, in the late ’80s. Grow­ing up in Bris­bane, there is a big drink­ing cul­ture, and no ed­u­ca­tion on how to drink. I think I learnt to binge drink when I was 16 and con­tin­ued that for many years. I’m not an al­co­holic and I don’t need to drink, it was just this binge drink­ing once a week and then I wouldn’t drink for the rest of the week. The funny thing is, I’m very health-con­scious. EOH: That’s very con­tra­dic­tory be­hav­iour ... SJC: So con­tra­dic­tory! I really did care about my body and what I put in it, ex­cept for these binge nights. I learnt from a very early age to think it was ac­cept­able to drink ir­re­spon­si­bly and then used that as stress re­lief with three young kids, all un­der four, and through my work­ing years at sass & bide. I used to really en­joy be­ing reck­less, be­cause it was my mo­ment when no one re­lied on me — I could be care­free and have fun. EOH: That mo­ment of reck­less­ness, is that a way of go­ing back to your in­ner child, of be­ing a free spirit? SJC:YOU think you think you are be­ing a real free spirit, you know, telling the truth and telling it how it is. I took on the role of be­ing the party or­gan­iser

at sass & bide — I felt like I had to cre­ate the fun and the magic at din­ners and fash­ion week par­ties, which, look­ing back, was a bit ridicu­lous. [My hus­band] Daniel once said to me,“it is not your job to make sure ev­ery­body else is hav­ing a great time at 3 o’clock in the morn­ing.”

But drink­ing and fash­ion go hand in hand. It was very hard to es­cape. Every­where you went there was cham­pagne — at view­ings and af­ter­par­ties there was al­ways cham­pagne. At sass & bide we didn’t en­cour­age it too much — we were quite aware of it. But al­co­hol brands are big spon­sors of fash­ion week and they pay a lot of money, so there is a con­flict be­cause they are very much part of the in­dus­try. EOH: So you as­signed your­self that per­sona? No one else as­signed it to you? SJC: I took it on be­cause I en­joyed it, but it’s hard to shake. Peo­ple want you to be that party girl, and you get to the point where you think they like you bet­ter when you are that per­son, be­cause you are fun. But it is not fun af­ter the fifth drink, it’s just an­noy­ing. I started to get hang­over anx­i­ety. It starts with the 2am or 3am wake-up, with the lit­tle voices in the head go­ing, Why did you drink so much? Why did you say that? Why did you dance on the bar? and it just starts this whole ram­page of beat-up. I used to beat my­self up for three days straight. Even if I really didn’t do any­thing bad, it was just this whole un­easy feel­ing that was hap­pen­ing from drink­ing. EOH: Did you talk to any­one about it? SJC: Along with the hang­over and the anx­i­ety there would also be shame. I was too ashamed to talk about it. So I just pre­tended it didn’t hap­pen.that was my way to get through it. In fact, I prob­a­bly should have shared it and talked about it be­cause you al­ways feel a lot more at ease once you dis­cuss some­thing. And then you also work out that other peo­ple also suf­fer from hang­over anx­i­ety and shame. EOH: So what changed? SJC: Around this time I was [told I had] adrenal fa­tigue, which most pro­fes­sional women with young kids have.the doc­tor ad­vised get­ting enough rest, tak­ing the stress, al­co­hol and cof­fee out of my life, but I wasn’t pre­pared to give up the al­co­hol at that point.

Then I ex­pe­ri­enced the mother of all hang­overs. I just felt I didn’t want to be spend­ing my pre­cious mo­ments feel­ing so ter­ri­ble any longer. I mean ter­ri­ble. My last two hang­overs were so bad. I mean,

I’m still scarred. But it was just this very, very grad­ual build-up of the good times from drink­ing be­ing out­weighed by anx­i­ety and the sick­ness of a hang­over, and it just didn’t seem right any­more. I knew that if I was to make a big change like this, I had to go ex­treme. EOH: So you didn’t feel you could cut back to a cou­ple of glasses on a Sat­ur­day night, say? SJC: Oh, I was say­ing that ev­ery sec­ond night. But the fun­da­men­tal change came

“It was this very grad­ual build-up of the good times from drink­ing be­ing out­weighed by anx­i­ety and the sick­ness of a hang­over, and it just didn’t seem right any­more.”

when I was ly­ing in bed and just say­ing, “I do not want to be this per­son any­more.” It was such a deep shift that I couldn’t even think about a drink. EOH: What was the most re­cent big hang­over from? SJC: I hosted a beau­ti­ful, in­ti­mate party at home where I had four mar­ti­nis and a sub­se­quent four-hour black­out. Ev­ery­one else thought I was fine, there was no in­ci­dent, but I didn’t re­mem­ber. I was like, I am never drink­ing again. Sarah-jane, this is shame­ful — what are you do­ing? This is so em­bar­rass­ are a dis­grace. It took me four days to get over the anx­i­ety of that night and I wasn’t eat­ing, I wasn’t sleep­ing, I was just so up­set with my­self. It took me about a week to just say the words. It was like this whole in­ter­nal jour­ney, be­cause I like drink­ing. I ac­tu­ally love it. I like al­co­hol; I love the taste of it, the rit­ual, and I col­lect beau­ti­ful crys­tal glasses, so it was a big deal to say it. EOH: Did you tell Daniel? SJC: I did, but I didn’t tell many friends be­cause they would be like,“oh, yeah! See you next week — I’ll bring round a bot­tle of cham­pagne.” So I sent it out on In­sta­gram. I sat down on the beach and I just posted it be­cause once it is out there, I have to keep to it. EOH: So In­sta­gram had the power to make you ac­count­able? SJC:YEAH, it made me ac­count­able and it also made me feel like I didn’t have to ex­plain it to ev­ery sin­gle per­son. I felt very vul­ner­a­ble, really ex­posed. It was like, “I am ad­mit­ting that I have a prob­lem,” and that was a real big hur­dle to get over. EOH: So you dis­cov­ered there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing an al­co­holic and hav­ing a drink­ing prob­lem? SJC: I had a binge drink­ing prob­lem, def­i­nitely. If I have one or two drinks it is fine; if I have three or four, I lose all judge­ment.and then I get into six. It was ran­dom. I might have only had four nights in the whole year where I had this mem­ory black­out, but it was four too many for me. EOH: OK, let’s talk about how this de­ci­sion has af­fected your friend­ships. SJC:WELL, I don’t get asked to five o’clock drinks any­more! Now I have bro­ken that cir­cle of friends who were in my life just for drink­ing — I’m out of it — I don’t see my­self go­ing back to that way [of liv­ing].

At the be­gin­ning, when I said,“i am not drink­ing for a year,” I thought the world was go­ing to end — that I was not go­ing to get in­vited any­where. In fact, it just be­comes so much bet­ter be­cause it is real — you are liv­ing in a real state all the time, not an al­tered state.your en­ergy is dif­fer­ent. It is a much clearer way, a clearer life, and you can see things you didn’t see be­fore, and you can deal with things so much bet­ter with­out al­co­hol.when you have a prob­lem, you just have a glass of wine and you’re like, I’m go­ing to solve this prob­lem be­cause the wine is go­ing to help. But it ac­tu­ally blurs it all. EOH: That is in­ter­est­ing. Gen­er­ally, it’s sug­gested that shar­ing a drink makes you feel more con­nected to other peo­ple. Has that changed for you? SJC:YES! I mean, how many best friends do you make at 11 o’clock at night? It is ac­tu­ally the op­po­site, which is really fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause I ac­tu­ally didn’t think I had the con­fi­dence. I didn’t think peo­ple would like me not drunk. I’m not an al­co­holic — mine was more this un­con­scious drink­ing. I just really wasn’t con­scious about the amount.

Daniel is drink­ing less by as­so­ci­a­tion, by far. Even he knows that.we used to sit out here and have a gin and tonic ev­ery night and it was quite a lovely thing to do, but he really likes the fact I am not drink­ing — he can see that I am a bet­ter per­son for it. But din­ner par­ties are hard. EOH: Why din­ner par­ties es­pe­cially? SJC: Nor­mally be­cause there is really good wine! Look, I am not sure why it is so dif­fi­cult. It’s in­ti­mate and you can’t hide and I have to con­verse com­pletely sober — which sounds ridicu­lous.and it shouldn’t be, and now I am get­ting to the point where I just think, I am who I am. If they like me, they like me. If they don’t like me, they don’t like me. EOH: It’s in­ter­est­ing you say that, be­cause I strug­gle to be­lieve there are peo­ple out there who don’t like you. SJC: I think it is [my] in­se­cu­rity. Be­cause with drink­ing I could mask that and I could be­come this really fun ex­tro­vert, when in real life I am quite shy. I don’t really en­joy big par­ties and big groups of peo­ple. I have a bit of so­cial anx­i­ety. EOH: So what are you go­ing to do when your year is up? Will you drink again? SJC: I don’t know. I guess I have three

months to fig­ure it out. I’m crav­ing a gin and tonic or a mar­garita.the idea of never drink­ing again — which I did con­sider — was too bru­tal. It just doesn’t really fit. I love pair­ing wine with food, with friends — it is a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence and I think that is what I want my drink­ing to be: a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. This year is all about re­train­ing my brain about drink­ing habits. EOH: I imag­ine there are many peo­ple across the coun­try who are sit­ting down with a glass of wine right now while read­ing this. SJC:WELL, it is a lovely time of day to have a glass right now, isn’t it? I still run a wet house. EOH: So when peo­ple come around, you still have cold cham­pagne ready? SJC: Oh God, yeah. I wouldn’t have any friends left if I didn’t.

Sarah-jane Clarke’s last day of #ban­the­binge is De­cem­ber 5. As we go to print, she’s still un­sure if and when she’ll drink al­co­hol again. For more in­for­ma­tion on binge drink­ing and to cal­cu­late your in­take via a stan­dard-drinks cal­cu­la­tor, visit drink­

Pho­tographed by GE­ORGES AN­TONI

Sarah-jane Clarke wears Chris­tian Dior dress, $8400; Gucci belt, price on ap­pli­ca­tion. Styled by CARO­LINE TRAN

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