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Opinion: ‘Ah, yer not driving, are ya?!’ – The trials of being a non-drinker in Ireland

You could turn up to the pub in a bunny suit and do the ‘Macarena’ on the bar, and you’d still be considered dull if you don’t do shots to boot.

Claire Micks

A WELL-KNOWN journalist did a series in the broadsheets a few months ago about giving up alcohol for one month. Only in this country would such an endeavour be considered so remarkable so as to be newsworthy. Yet here, it merits 1,500 words. And the front page of the Weekend section. And, to be fair, the writer and paper in question are just reflecting the unbalanced nature of our relationship with booze.

We are very much hooked on it but, at the same time, very much in denial. And we are borderline obsessed with proving to ourselves, and to the world at large, that we don’t really need a drink at all. As a nation, methinks the lady protests too much.

I don’t drink anymore. There, I’ve just lost half my readership in less than five words. That’s what it’s like to be non-drinker in Ireland. You have to have one hell of a personality on you not to be considered a social outcast. You have to work extra hard at being engaging or interesting or funny. To be considered a ‘decent skin’ even though you don’t drink is a massive achievement that most of us ‘boring types’ don’t manage.

Because you will always be treated as a bit of a weirdo. No craic. The killjoy in the group. No matter what you do. You could turn up to the pub in a bunny suit, do the ‘Macarena’ on the bar and snog every bloke in it, and you’d still be considered dull if you don’t do shots to boot.

The elixir of social contact

Growing up in Ireland was about admiring the opposite sex from afar but being bloody terrified of them at the same time. Until you hit your mid teens when you discovered booze and, hey presto, the elixir of social contact with the other side. Suddenly Aidan from Glasnevin whom you’d admired for weeks on the bus became within your reach. That can of Bulmers you’d necked before entering the disco was the bridge to the other side where fear was lost and dreams were made.

Booze was an absolute necessity. A way of making it through what could otherwise be an insurmountable divide. And what started in school, was then echoed in college with greater gusto and well into the working world, where not only was it free flowing, it was very much expected.

Then I got pregnant and had to stop. And to my eternal surprise, I didn’t miss it. Then got pregnant again and am only now coming up for air, three years and two screaming children later. And this weekend I will go to a hen for the first time in years without ‘an excuse’ and already I am slightly apprehensive about the likely reaction. I feel like I need to go around with a sign around my neck that reads ‘I am not pregnant/trying/a raging alcoholic’. Not that it should matter if I was any one of the above. But it does irritate me that it is so unusual in this country not to drink so as to lead to the conclusion that you’re either with child or suffering from a disease.

I realised I’d never really liked drinking

It was only when I stopped the weekend boozing that I discovered that I’d never really liked it all that much in the first place. Sure, I enjoyed goin’ on the tear, getting hammered, doing mad stuff you would never do in your right mind and laughing about it afterwards. But ‘The Fear’ I used to get of a Sunday night was never really worth it. It would set in from about 4 o’clock on and from then until about Tuesday lunchtime I would not be myself. I would be a nervy, irritable, moan-ey version thereof who was just counting down the hours until my liver had done it’s job, my head had cleared again and my perspective returned to normal. Two and a half days is a long price to pay for a good night out.

So once I gradually figured out that I was capable of socialising without it (although dancing is still a stretch) I never went back. And in doing so regained about a quarter of my life back – even if I lost a few friends and a few mad memories (whatever I would have been capable of remembering) in the process.

It is hard, though, in many ways. You’re treated with anything ranging from slight suspicion to utter contempt depending on your audience. You make people extremely uncomfortable, which is hard because you know you’re doing it just by having a non-alcoholic beer in your hand. And yet that was never your intention. You’re just trying to live your own life however you can best manage it. Still, people’s defences immediately go up and you’re automatically considered a threat and ‘one to avoid’, however subtlety.

The devastation of alcoholism

There isn’t an Irish family out there who haven’t seen the devastation that alcohol can wreak, and yet we still treat anyone who chooses to abstain as the enemy of a good night out. There is a proven genetic link between generations of alcoholics to show that some of us have a higher likelihood of falling prey than others. We all know that. And most of us can track it down through generations.

When people have elective surgeries, or go on diets, or run marathons to try to outsmart their own genes, we applaud their foresight and their bravery. But if they choose to abstain from the bottle, we raise our eyebrows and try and persuade them to have ‘just the one’.

So maybe give those of us on the dry a break and not try and force it down our throats. It’s not easy taking the road less travelled and most of us have our reasons, even if we don’t want to broadcast them.

If only not drinking in this country could become as unremarkable as drinking to excess. Wouldn’t we all be better off?

Claire Micks is the mother of a (reasonably behaved) three-year-old girl and an (entirely spoiled) 15-month-old boy. She survives by day and writes by night. Croaks rather than tweets, but despite that somehow manages to get her ramblings published on occasion.

Poll: Would you be comfortable going to a pub or club and not drinking?

Read: We spent €50 million a week on alcohol in 2013 – and 75% of that was binge drinking

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Claire Micks

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