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Column: What is it about Good Friday? Can we not enjoy one night without alcohol?

Today is one of two days of the year when alcohol cannot be sold or purchased. In an almost post-apocalyptic scene, people rush to stock up the day before so that they aren’t left short and so they can get through their Friday night, but what’s that say about us as a society, asks Kathryn Reilly.

Kathryn Reilly

GO OFF THE drink they said. Be fine, I said. When I was approached by SpunOut.ie to help launch the Hello Sunday Morning initiative in Ireland, I didn’t hesitate. I could be a poster girl of abstinence having had many ‘dry’ spells before and having not drank since January anyway.

When we are told we can’t do something, we often intrinsically want to. For 24 hours alcohol is unavailable, but in the run up to it we see cheap alcohol and special offers encouraging people to stock up on drink. One in every four of alcohol marketing practices recorded involves price promotion, such as special offers, free alcohol, volume sales and large discounts.

Good Friday

When there’s a weather crisis, we see people flock to shops for food supplied, but Good Friday is not akin to a weather or humanitarian crisis – there is no need for this and it is indicative of a dependency we have developed around alcohol. Can we not enjoy one weekend night without alcohol?

The month of March was not an easy month to decide to go off alcohol- planned nights out, concerts, St Patrick’s Day and All-Ireland club finals in Croke Park. Throw in a few personal crises that would usually send me straight to the rum and I had one interesting March! But, at the same time, it was the perfect month to launch the initiative; St Patrick’s Day and Good Friday are the two days of March when we become frenzied over alcohol.

Our relationship with alcohol

St Patrick’s Day has come to be associated as a day-long session as opposed to a day celebrating our patron saint and it’s a day when collectively we go out on the rip. Indeed, no person can deny they’ve heard the association of Irish people with drunken leprechauns, or seen the “Irish yoga” t-shirts of drunken people sprawled in all sorts of positions. On the other extreme, there are two days of the year when alcohol cannot be sold or purchased and Good Friday is one of them. In an almost post-apocalyptic scene, people rush to stock up the day before so that they aren’t left short and that they can get through their Friday night.  Can we, as a society, not cope for one day without alcohol?

My relationship with alcohol is very similar to that of a lot of people in Ireland – I binge drink and drink socially. Typically, a lot of people cannot relax without a few sociables to loosen them up. A lot of social activity, if not most of it, revolves around alcohol, whether in the pub or at home. Alcohol is available readily when I’m buying my milk in my local convenience store, I can pick up a six pack if I take two further steps up the aisle.

Hello Sunday Morning challenge

We often hear the phrase “out of sight out of mind” and this is true of alcohol with the convenience of access and the prominence it often has in stores, separate to off licenses, we often just pick up our tipple of choice without casting a second thought. What’s come as a surprise to me since starting the Hello Sunday Morning challenge is the realisation of how much we, as a nation, have come to rely on alcohol as a social lubricant. On certain occasions, at least.

Irish people can be said to have a real problem with alcohol; it’s so ingrained in our culture, to go out and get drunk at the weekends, or to enjoy a few drinks at home, that it has become a force of habit – a social crutch. Despite the fact that the harm being done to society through alcohol abuse has been so well catalogued and there have been commitments to tackle the international perception of “the drunken Irish”, it is not an issue that we have been able to tackle in a meaningful way.

What about our health?

Alcohol Action Ireland estimate that cheap alcohol in Ireland is fuelling a growing health and crime crisis, that is costing us €3.7 billion a year in health, crime/public order and other ancillary costs, such as work-place absenteeism and we have a problem that is both economically and socially crippling. The Health Research Board has found that there is a strong belief among Irish people (85 per cent) that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is too high and that there is a general perception (73 per cent) that Irish society tolerates high levels of alcohol consumption. But how do we challenge cultural assumptions about alcohol and try to change the societal pressures that we feel to drink?

Step in Hello Sunday Morning.

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Hello Sunday Morning focuses on encouraging people to realise their full potential and not to feel that you need alcohol to enjoy yourself. Recognising that alcohol has taken too much of a grip on people, the initiative encourages people to change their lifestyles and have the power to control their lives. You should be controlling alcohol – not the other way around.

Changing our drinking culture

It is not the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (funnily enough, of which I was a part for many years in my teens), it does not pontificate, it is not an anti-alcohol initiative, it is an initiative aimed at encouraging people to take a break from alcohol and use that experience to inform future drinking habits. People know that our levels of consumption are too high. This initiative tries to open our eyes to it on a personal level and tries, through a network and community, to change our drinking culture.

So what has Hello Sunday Morning meant for me? Well that’s easy: it has meant that I have saved a fortune in money, I have been able to go training at the weekends without wanting to vomit or feeling lethargic and most importantly to me, it has meant that I have been able to deal with personal issues without clouding my judgement. For too long I relied on alcohol as a social crutch and when the going got tough, my first instinct was to drown it out with alcohol. This almost always led to a worsening of the situation. So this month has been an eye opener. I’ve been able to enjoy my weekends and simultaneously come to terms with my own relationship with alcohol.

I’m not saying my abstinence will be permanent, but my drinking habits will alter dramatically.

Kathryn Reilly is a member of the Sinn Féin party and member of Seanad Éireann. Hello Sunday Morning is an initiative that aims to provide a platform for individuals to create meaningful change in their lives through a period of sobriety. They encourage people to share their story, with the idea that each persons’ stand is a unique and essential contribution to a better drinking culture. For more information, visit the website or Facebook page.

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