I gave up alcohol around this time last year.  My obvious reason was that while trying for a baby alcohol was unwise, but that wasn’t the only reason and it wasn’t the public reason.  I fell off the wagon for a brief period after my grandmother died, a vow to remain booze free suddenly seeming of little consequence in the face of a horrible loss and a blow that was sending destructive shock waves through my family firmament.  I continued, however, to think carefully about my cycle and the potential to be pregnant.  I was off the booze within days of conceiving and have, of course been booze free ever since.  By the time the baby is born, I will have been off the booze for a year and a month I believe.

I won’t be at liberty to dive back in at that stage of course, alcohol consumption will have to be sparing and carefully timed as I am planning on breast feeding and I want to be on the ball when I’m responsible for a little life.   I’m grateful for these barriers.  I don’t think I want to go back to my old habits.  I’m not sure that I see alcohol in the same way that I used to.

I used to see alcohol as a boon companion.  A friend who gave me the social courage I was often lacking, helped to pick me up when I was feeling down, made me quicker to laugh and made evenings more fun filled and sociable.  I used to welcome alcohol into my life, but I’ve learned to see a different side to this friend now.  A side that is scary and insidious.

A little over a year ago I lost a friend to alcohol abuse.  She was my first best friend.  We had played together as children and drifted apart as teenagers and adults, but we were still in touch and talking about meeting up for the first time in years when I got the news.  She was a few weeks shy of her thirty-forth birthday when she died.   At the time I remember feeling that it was all rather unreal and I’m not sure I really believed it until I walked into the church for her funeral and saw the picture of her there.  After that I was angry.  I spent a long time feeling frustrated that all the talk of Rachel was really talk of alcohol, the sad head shaking,  as if that was all there was to her,  as if alcohol had consumed her rather than the other way around.  But at the same time it’s impossible to walk away from the impact of alcohol on Rachel’s life.  That boon companion killed her.  Our good friend is a murderer.

But then, we know that don’t we?  It’s sort of an open secret.  We know alcohol is bad for us, that it can kill us, but we ignore the problem.  We know that alcohol can have a negative impact on long term emotional health as well our physical well-being but we just don’t care.  We hang out with a serial killer because he’s such good fun.   ‘Yeah sure, he’s killed a lot of people but he’s a good bloke, a great time, you just have to know how to handle him’.  We ignore the switchblade in his pocket because he can you make you laugh until you cry.

He’s everywhere.  Everybody’s friend.  We build all our social events around him.  You’re never more aware of that than when you are not drinking, and can’t drink, for months on end.  It’s not the booze itself that you miss.  It’s the feeling of inclusion.  As a non-drinker, you can often feel a little like a social pariah.  Some of that is probably imagined but the imagination is a powerful thing.  Recently my cousins were planning an event, the popular choice of activity was to go out and ‘get messy’.   I made a crack about how excluded that made me feel, felt guilty, and then decided it was best not to go at all.  Nothing ruins the fun like a melancholy pregnant woman sipping on water because the alcohol free selection is limited to heavily caffeinated items and drinks that give you heartburn.

The feeling of being a party pooper when you frown on alcohol is pervasive.  I worry a lot about my parents drinking.  My mother assures me that they don’t drink as much as I think but I can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s the other way around, that they drink far more than they think.  I frown and grizzle and disapprove.  I’m sure I must be the voice of reason in the scenario but I feel like a party pooper.  I picture myself as some kind of cruel nanny, spoiling the children’s fun.  I won’t ever stop them from drinking.  No matter how bad I fear their habits are.  It makes me feel like a bully just to make a stern remark.  To them, that’s probably exactly what I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favour of prohibition.  I’m not telling everyone that they need to give up booze.  I am looking forward to that first crisp glass of chilled cava after months without.  But I can’t see him as a boon companion anymore either.  Alcohol is dangerous and we don’t give it enough respect.




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