Updated: Sep 10
Guest Blog - By Amy Armstrong
Up until June last year I would have been referred to as a “Grey Area Drinker” Someone that lurks in the murky grey space between rock bottom and a 1 glass. My husband might tell you I could have been classed as rock bottom after any of my numerous alcohol related visits to the emergency department, but none of these were QUITE rock bottom enough for me. But I was high functioning; excellent at my job, a good fun mum, a committed volunteer.
But come the weekend I deserved to let off steam, relax and enjoy that temporary escapism that alcohol provided. After every hospital incident I vowed to cut down. I went through our local drug and alcohol program twice, both times never fully believing I had a problem or that my drinking was really that different to anyone else’s.
And therein lies the problem. Alcohol is such an ingrained part of our culture. Every occasion seems to require a drink. Hard day? Drink. Death of a loved one? Drink. Birthday? Drink. Going on holidays? Drink LOTS. Friday? Drink…you see where I’m going with this. It’s an expected part of our society to drink. If you drink too much it’s funny, a bad hangover is a badge of honour. People who don’t drink are seen as untrustworthy, suspicious and not someone you want at a party. Lest they lower the tone, or worse, remember everything that happens. So, when something is as normal as say eating…it’s hard to identify and accept when you are perhaps doing it wrong.
The alarm bells started ringing for me during lockdown last year. Being confined to home meant cocktail hour became more regular and crept slowly earlier into the day. I discovered that I do not lock down well. The juggle of working from home whilst looking after an energetic 4 year old was too much for my poor brain and packaged up with the uncertainty of lockdown…not good for a type A who likes to have everything organised to the enth degree. My anxiety skyrocketed and I was put onto an antidepressant by my GP. One that said that drinking was not recommended. I took that as a gentle suggestion rather than hard and fast rule because, well drinking was just too important. What this meant was that I was blacking out quicker and more often. What I can only describe as disappearing into a black hole.
Have you ever woken up to that sinking feeling, when you’re too fearful to open your eyes, look at your phone or roll over and work out if your partner is in bed or not? I have, 100’s of times. But the last time for me was the 6th of June 2020. I woke up having no idea what I had done the night before, but knowing it was no good. A long lunch had got out of hand and I was in that black hole by about 5pm. That morning I rolled over and said to my husband. You don’t even need to tell me…that’s it. I’m done. By this point I had recognised that I no longer had control, I was hurting my family and often myself and all because I was stuck in a bad relationship with alcohol.
Moderating wasn’t an option; a full divorce was required. So that day I stopped. I did a free online program called The Alcohol Experiment and over the course of 30 days, that program changed my life. It challenged everything I believed about how important alcohol was, removed its power and handed that power back to me. I thought I would lose something when I quit drinking, but all I did was gain. Gain confidence, clarity and an extraordinary amount of energy.
When you are freshly sober in an alcohol obsessed world it’s pretty isolating. I was the only sober person I knew. When I quit drinking, the party didn’t stop. There were still times to celebrate, dinners to enjoy, and I was not content to do it over soda water or OJ. I discovered that alcohol-free drinks for adults are a thing. And they can be a very helpful thing, especially if you want to continue to socialise and don’t find them triggering. So I went down a rabbit hole, researching, buying and trying all the non-alcoholic drinks…on a desperate hunt for an elusive red wine replacement. Dry but Wet became a place for me to publicly share my very strong and unbiased opinions on the ever-expanding world of non-alcoholic wines, beers and spirits.
I also discovered that while it’s nice to enjoy a bottle of non-alc bubbles in the privacy of your own home, if you want to do the same when out and about, its nigh on impossible. We’ve all been there…out for dinner with the girls. So much anticipation (especially when we’re in and out of lockdowns), so much fun getting dressed up. You rock up to the restaurant, ready for a great night, hopeful as always that there might be some options for you, the non-drinker. You open the 25-page drinks menu, 100’s of beer, wine and spirits options. There on the last page you find it:
Non-alcoholic: Watermelon & Fingerlime Shrub (virgin) $12
1 option. Shall we call it? or 2. Assume they also have sparkling mineral water.
You feel deflated, unseen and certainly not included. Whilst the rest of your girlfriends agonise over which bottle of $120 bubbles to start with, you are left out with the wind taken out of your sails. If you’re in a vulnerable situation, are you tempted to have ‘just one little glass’ of alcohol and find yourself on a slippery slope?
At present, non-alc in hospitality is where vegetarianism was 15 – 20 years ago. Now even the bodgiest of country pubs will have a vegetarian Parma on offer. Or a vege burger or pasta. How did the vegetarians make this happen? They asked for it. They didn’t accept that there were no options; they demonstrated the demand that created the change.
So, what can we do?
Firstly: ASK. If something is not on the wine list, don’t assume it’s not hiding in the fridge. My top tip is to plan ahead. If you have a dinner booked, email the venue as early as you can. Ask what options they have. If there are none, ask if you can BYO bottle of NA wine. If you offer to pay corkage, some venues are quite open to this option. If you get a hard no, ask for them to get something in for you (seen as how you’ve given them plenty of time) and that can sometimes work. If it’s still a no (so disappointing) it can be an opportunity to talk to them about why having adult options are so import. That conversation could plant a seed. Specific things I have tried out can be found here.
Secondly: SIGN: I’m working with Sarah Connelly on a petition to take to hospitality across the country aimed at demonstrating the demand. The power will be in the numbers. Sign HERE.
Thirdly: SUPPORT: Some businesses are smart. Venues like The Victoria Hotel Footscrayand The Ministry of Ombibulous Studies have seen the potential and created full alcohol-free menus (wine, beer and quality cocktails). Get out and support the venues that are doing the right thing. Word of mouth is STRONG between hospo venues. Struggling to find anywhere? You can access my ever expanding Venue Register that lists venues state-by-state. Want to celebrate a venue that is giving you what you want? - submit it here and I will add it to the register. If you are comfortable, promote them on your social media!
Together we can demand the change and make alcohol free the vegetarianism of 2021!
Thanks Amy for writing about your alcohol free journey. You can find Amy on social media @dry_but_wet and be sure to sign her petition ran in conjunction with @Sober_sommelier and together we can make choosing healthier......easier.