A booze-free Christmas: It would have been more socially acceptable to spark up a crack pipe

It's pretty much impossible to refuse a drink without having to provide an explanation
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The Independent Online

It took a while to realise that alcohol and I were no longer friends. Dinner and a bottle of wine had begun to lose its allure, so too the prospect of a post-work G&T. The easy laughs and daft chatter had disappeared, replaced by pained silence and a hint of dread.

It was the migraines that did for us – and I'm not talking about hangovers. For me, a few hours of nausea had always seemed a fair exchange for an evening of sozzled silliness. This was an altogether different affliction in which alcohol had become one of several triggers for intense light sensitivity, relentless retching and an instant, crushing pain behind the eyes that could last for a week.

And so, after a trial separation – albeit one punctuated by awkward reunions – booze and I have finally gone our separate ways. Perhaps most surprising is that, after 20 years of largely joyful drinking, our parting is amicable. My wine-free world is still turning. I'm fine with my new-found sobriety. If only other people were, too.

As it turns out, it's pretty much impossible to refuse a drink without having to provide an explanation. No, I'm not pregnant, I find myself telling nosy parkers whose concerned expression will inevitably turn into a knowing smirk. "Antibiotics?" they will enquire next, as if access to my medical records has become their divine right. No, I will say, and I'm not on a health kick or converting to Islam either.

Naturally, the social faux pas that is not boozing is more keenly felt at Christmas and New Year. "God, how very boring," said a family member when I toasted Christmas Day with a cup of tea. "Not for me," I replied, as brightly as I could muster. Indeed, there have been moments over the past month when it would have been more socially acceptable to spark up a crack pipe than turn down a drink.

Saying no to alcohol either hints at a medical condition, a dark alcoholic past or that you are the type of terminal bore whose body is a temple.

Why such unease? Guilt seems to be the driving force, along with a kind of inverted sanctimony that dictates that if someone is not drinking then they must be a major-league party-pooper.

Last year, while having dinner at my house, a doctor friend admitted that my disinclination to drink made him uncomfortable. The bottom line seemed to be that I might notice, from my sober vantage point, that drunk people talk bollocks. Seriously, who knew?

Odd as it might seem, I don't keep a chart of other people's alcohol consumption or a transcript of their drunken burbling. The truth is that while I'm less likely to stay up until the early hours, I still like to be around people who are having fun. For me, life without booze is much the same as life with booze. Your job is just to not give me the third degree every time I decline a drink.

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