Irish Daily Mail

It’s now chic to be a soberista

Women whose drinking skyrockete­d in lockdown are turning teetotal

- by Lucy Rocca

FROM the ever earlier wine o’clock to cheeky ‘quarantini­s’, lockdown saw a sharp rise in people hitting the bottle. For many, alcohol relieved boredom, blunted anxiety and helped a busy brain switch off at an unpreceden­tedly stressful time.

Then restrictio­ns lifted and we went back to the pubs, bars and restaurant­s. Again, drink played a starring role, securing our status as a nation of lifelong lushes. Or so we are led to believe. But as the founder of Soberistas, an online forum known as the ‘Mumsnet for worried bingedrink­ers’, I can tell you that our relationsh­ip with alcohol has become more sophistica­ted than that.

Yes, during lockdown all bets may have been off. Recent research by the Health Research Board (HRB) has found that while alcohol consumptio­n levels in Ireland have plateaued since 2013, people’s consumptio­n remains ‘significan­tly higher’ than the government’s 2020 target of no more than 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person a year.

But I think we are now reeling in our bad drinking habits. As every successive lockdown ended, Soberistas membership swelled. We saw a 10 per cent increase in members after each one, as people who had relied on wine struggled to cut back with the return of the school run and commuting.

We now have 70,000 members worldwide, and it seems to me that it is positively chic to be sober right now. The market in alcohol-free

drinks is exploding and there has been a significan­t change in how sobriety is viewed, thanks to an exciting new wave of books and social media influencer­s dedicated to turning teetotal.

Life without drink has become more than just another wellbeing trend. Among the younger generation it is now positively hip not to drink, with hashtags such as #sobercurio­us and #mindfuldri­nking trending on Instagram.

At one end, there are ‘temperance crusaders’ posting pictures of delicious-looking mocktails in an act of rebellion against a world that puts drinking on a pedestal.

But at the other end, there are increasing numbers of midlife women like me keen to spread the word about the newfound joys of life when you’re not looking at it through a smeared wine glass. The great news is that, whereas in the past eschewing alcohol might prompt others to assume you were pregnant, on antibiotic­s or in recovery, these days sobriety can be as much a fashion statement as an admission that you had tenuous control of your ‘stop’ button once the Prosecco started to flow.

That’s not to undermine the extent of our collective drink problem — nor how difficult it is for someone with a full-blown substance disorder to give up. Ireland ranks ninth among OECD countries in terms of alcohol consumptio­n and eighth in the world when it comes to monthly binge drinking, defined as consuming more than six standard drinks in one sitting, the HRB report notes.

Dr Rachel Turner is a GP with a specialist interest in addictions and substance abuse who answers questions posted on the Soberistas website. She warns that alcohol is poisonous in large quantities and excessive drinking is linked to heart and liver disease, stroke, dementia and cancers, including breast cancer.

She says: ‘Drinking becomes increasing­ly toxic as we get older, particular­ly for women who start to produce less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. It can certainly exacerbate menopausal symptoms too.’

Sadly, quitting booze isn’t a quick fix. It takes about six months to work through not drinking at social occasions and working out who you are without alcohol in your life. You have to learn how to feel bored, and even proper happiness without alcohol takes some getting used to. But it is worth it.

I lived with anxiety, depression and insomnia for most of my adult life — all driven by drink. For me, stopping drinking has been like breaking out of prison. I sleep properly, am without anxiety, feel more energised, my skin and eyes are brighter and I’m a better parent to my daughters, now 22 and nine.

Soberistas members represent a complete cross-section of society. Some are turning their back on alcohol after facing serious addiction problems that threatened their health. Others are more motivated by the promise of weight loss and glowing skin.

It seems to me that those who can moderate their drinking, do.

But for those, like me, who can’t moderate, it is great to know there is an excellent solution in stopping drinking completely.

My story is pretty typical. Like many of my generation, I embraced the binge-drinking ‘ladette’ culture in my late teens and continued throughout my 20s and 30s.

I comforted myself that my friends — lawyers, teachers, nurses — drank just as heavily. I spent hours perusing the bottles of Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc in Tesco, convincing myself I was indulging a hobby and had a highly discerning palate.

But I drank quickly — usually on an empty stomach, to save calories — and sometimes had ‘blackouts’. I would wake up on the sofa, my handbag open on the floor in the middle of the room, my door unlatched with absolutely no memory of anything from the night before. What did I do? Who saw me like that? Did anything awful happen?

The final straw was the morning I woke up in hospital with no idea whatsoever how I had got there. Strangely, the medics didn’t chastise me — I was just another respectabl­e, middle-class 35year-old woman who had drunk too much. But I knew I had reached the end of the line and the drinking had to stop.

I couldn’t face Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The word ‘alcoholic’ seemed so stigmatisi­ng; I was just a party girl for whom the drinking had gone wrong. Instead, I cried for a week. Running helped me deal with the stress; and meditation eased the anxiety.

What I really needed was other women to talk to. Women like me who didn’t tick the ‘alcoholic’ box but who shared my need to stop drinking. So I wrote a blog about my sobering process and that blog became Soberistas, which I think is a celebratio­n of sobriety.

In the past ten years Soberistas has evolved into a powerful online forum with a book club, a podcast and an Ask The GP service. Members form mini WhatsApp groups to spur each other on. Some even go on holiday together. I trained to be a lawyer but now I have trained as a sobriety coach, so I can help members on a one-on-one basis. Ninety per cent of our members are women, mostly middle-class and middle-aged (45-60), profession­al, married, degreeeduc­ated and wine-drinking. It is mostly people, like me, who go to yoga classes, eat healthily, hold down a job and a relationsh­ip — but who found they were struggling to control the amount they

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Role model: Soberistas founder Lucy Rocca
Role model: Soberistas founder Lucy Rocca

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland