SARAH-JANE CLARKE’S DRY SEASON
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.
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 are.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 embarrassing.you 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 drinkwise.org.au.
Sarah-jane Clarke wears Christian Dior dress, $8400; Gucci belt, price on application. Styled by CAROLINE TRAN