A scrape of chair as I stand up. "I am David," I say, "And I am a teetotaller."
I'm avoiding the eyes of everyone else in the room, but there's no need. They all have their heads down, looking at the floor, knowing they'll be next. They, too, will have to confess their helplessness, their shame at the night they got home at 10.30 and didn't piss in the sock drawer. Their sadly unexciting, considerate treatment of their partner. The fact that they have no anecdotes about being off their face, wasted, wrecked, and out of it. The lack of red wine stains on their lips, and the absence of liquid excuses for their behaviour.
We should have listened when people said we weren't fun. But we didn't. And now we're here. Obliged to attend the weekly meeting of Non-Drinkers Anonymous until we pull ourselves together.
Alan Johnson was right, back in 2009, when he warned teetotallers were becoming pariahs. But he was a lone voice then. No one took him seriously. After all, who would have thought a future Labour government, the one after Cameron's, would so much want everyone to drink that those who didn't must attend these meetings. But they did, and we do. "Anti-sociable elements", they called us. And so here we are, in this church hall, sharing our shame.
It's hard to sit here listening as grown men and women weep as they tell their terrible tales. Two weeks ago was the worst. A woman aged about 35, calls herself "Jo". Two kids, too. God knows what they're going through. So anyway, up she gets on her feet, and at first she's quite calm. "It all started when I went out with friends after work," she begins. "They'd be drinking and laughing at things that weren't really funny, and I was the one in the corner, making a Bacardi Breezer last all night, and longing to go home and have a sensible conversation. And then, one evening, I tried pineapple juice."
There was a lot of shuffling around the room at that; a lot of us had started on cordials. "Soon, they were all I wanted to drink. And my friends began to notice. Said I was no fun. I tried giggling all the time and balancing beer mats on my nose. I even pretended to throw up in the street. But I couldn't do it. I..." And she choked up. Just stood there, crying.
"Go on, Jo. Tell us," said our mentor, Stephen, or "Stevie-boy" as he prefers to be called, "You can do it." He's very patient, and encourages us with stories about what he can do with a pint glass after he's had a "skinful", as he puts it. So Jo dabs her eyes, clears her throat, and goes on.
"And then," she says, taking a deep breath, "I started not drinking alone. At first it was just the evenings, but then I was not drinking in the mornings, too. Soon as I got up. And the kids knew. I could tell from their faces, the way they looked at me...."
Her voice trailed off, and kindly hands helped her back into her chair. We applauded. Takes guts to do what she'd just done. "Well," said Stevie-boy, "I don't know about you guys, but after that I fancy a drink."
And he declares the meeting over, and races off to the bar down the street. We follow. I have a shandy. As they say, it's one day at a time.
David Randall is a non-recovering tee-totaller, sick to death of the idea you must drink alcohol to have a good timeReuse content