‘Giving up alcohol changed my social life and my outlook on life. So I kind of had to reinvent myself’
‘I quit drinking in August 2010. I didn’t have a dependence on alcohol but I used to get into a spot of bother from time to time when I was drinking so I decided to kick it in the head.
hen I gave up drinking, I began to realise that Irish people’s social lives are so intertwined with alcohol that it’s very hard to differentiate one from the other. It’s part of every event we go to, from weddings to christenings to funerals. We drink when we meet up with friends; we drink when we socialise with colleagues.
We need to socialise as human beings but, unfortunately, in Ireland, socialising is so intertwined with drinking — and excessive drinking, which has such negative knock-on effects. From that point of view, you can feel slightly on the periphery of things socially when you give up drinking. I know I did.
I got very disillusioned with the Irish social scene, and there was a time when I would have liked to just head off and live in another country. Back then, there was one alcohol- and drug-free nightclub in Dublin called The Funky Seomra that I used to go to but, other than that, it seemed like everything revolved around alcohol.
So, in 2011, I decided to set up Sober Slice, a meet-up group that organises alcohol-free events, offering an alternative to the current social scene in Ireland.
The group now has almost 10,000 members and a lot of the events would be slightly left of centre — think yoga, meditation and chanting.
The Sober Slice community is made up of people in their 20s and 30s right up to people in their 70s and 80s. However, the average age is late-30s, early 40s.
A lot of our members are single and trying to meet people outside of a pub environment. Some of our members are non-nationals. They come from cultures where, yes, there is alcohol but it’s not all-encompassing like it is in Ireland. They might see the Irish drink scene as a bit messy and they’re looking for something a bit more civilised and meaningful.
Some of our members have issues with addiction and often they can be in a very vulnerable position. Their whole social life might have been around people who were abusing drugs and drinking very heavily, and it can be tricky for them to reintegrate into normal society.
Our older members might be widows or retirees who are at a different stage in their life. They don’t want to walk into a packed pub on a Saturday night and they’re happy to just come along at the weekend for a walk.
Back then, Sober Slice was a lifesaver for me. I was around like-minded people and people from all over the world with different views and opinions.
Some people who give up drinking are still perfectly happy to socialise the way they used to do, just without the alcohol. But I knew that wasn’t for me.
I would still go out to the pub on a Sunday afternoon and have a couple of cokes and watch a match, but rarely would I go out on a Saturday night for six or seven hours. Besides, going into a packed nightclub where everyone is hammered and you can’t hear a word anyone is saying just isn’t enjoyable for someone who is sober.
It would be different if you were in any other continental European city where people go out for three or four hours max, and remain relatively sober apart from a couple of glasses of wine. But nights out in Ireland are so long.
I would have been very comfortable in group settings back in the day. If there were 100 people in a group, I would have been in my element. Yet there was a time, in the years after I gave up drinking, when that would have been my worst nightmare. I was much more comfortable meeting people one on one for a cup of tea.
Giving up alcohol changed my social life and my outlook on life. So I kind of had to reinvent myself. You change and you have to realise who this new person is in a way. And yet you’re still the same person you were. It’s a funny one.
A lot of people who knew me before said they noticed a huge difference in me. Some people thought it was a positive thing and some people didn’t necessarily think it was a positive thing.
I suppose I became a bit more serious about life, a bit more introspective. There was almost the me when I was drinking and the me when I stopped drinking. They merged as time went on but, at one point, they were two starkly different people.
And that can be very challenging because all of a sudden you’re this new person and people are saying, ‘What happened to the old fella? The old fella was a bit of craic. Who’s this new person?’
Truth be told, I just didn’t find the stuff I found funny, say, five years ago, funny anymore. And I’m not one of these people who can just turn it on. Personally, I know I got too serious into things and then, as time went on, I found my humour again, which is important to have.
At the same time, humour is so tied in with alcohol, especially for young men in Ireland. If you have a group of young men in their late-20s, a large part of their socialising involves either recounting stories about the last time they were out drinking or what someone did when they were drunk. So when you break away from that, a large chunk of you goes with it.
I suppose I was trying to find my space and place in the group again as a different person. And that took a long time. Alcohol was a huge part of my life and my identity so I almost had to park that and start again.
I think it becomes a much bigger issue if you’re living in a smaller town and you don’t have many outlets. When people give up drinking in rural Ireland, they’re left thinking, ‘How in God’s name am I going to socialise?’
In saying that, it’s becoming a bit easier. When I gave up drinking, there were very few outlets or even drinks for people who didn’t want to drink.
Now, there are loads of alcohol-free drinks on the market, which can be a great stepping stone for people. They can have three pints and three non-alcoholic drinks on a night out and still feel relatively fresh the next day.
But that wouldn’t have worked for me. My personality is all-or-nothing so once I cut it out, I knew I wasn’t going back. And I suppose the people who dabble with sobriety for a couple of months probably won’t experience the profound changes that occur when you give it up completely. To really experience that whole change and leave the old identity behind, I think you have to cut it out completely.
It’s a journey, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. You feel better mentally and physically when you give up drinking. You wake up on a Saturday morning and you have the whole weekend ahead of you and you feel fresh and more energetic. Your overall wellbeing is significantly better and, all in all, you just have more of a pep in your step.”
Find out more about Sober Slice at meetup.com/soberslice/
As told to Katie Byrne
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