According to the latest stats, we’re more sober than ever. Researchers for the Office for National Statistics found that 42 per cent of Britons hadn’t had a drink in the previous week, compared with 34 per cent a decade ago. It seems like as a country we’re slowly drying out, and our attitudes to drink are changing. But as a teetotaler myself, I can tell you they’re really not.
I gave up drinking five years ago, and was immediately met with absolute bewilderment from most people. It was a fairly abrupt change for me; at university none of my tutors knew who I was but all the staff in my local knew me as “wine lady”. And then, aged 26, I declared I was finished with wine forever. I expected a bit of shock.
As time passed, and it became apparent that I wasn’t secretly pregnant after all, the shock didn’t lessen. Sure, most of my friends gradually got used to it, and others drifted away when it became apparent we didn’t like each other much when I was sober. But every time I encountered someone new and the issue of alcohol came up, I was met with surprise again.
For all the stats say, teetotalers are still in the minority. The presumably boring and dull minority, because the moment you say you don’t drink people immediately decide you must have no personality or sense of fun. At a party a few years ago a friend of a friend told me I was “very spirited” for someone who was sober. I’m still not sure if it was an insult.
Then there are the professional woes, for even though it’s no longer acceptable to do a Don Draper and get drunk at lunchtime, a lot of our working life is built around drinking. I’ve spent countless networking events having to explain to people that no, I really don’t drink at all, and no, there’s no dramatic or medical reason why.
It seems you still do need a proper reason to not drink. It can’t be something you’ve just chosen not to do, or something you did do and got tired of. Some personal calamity must have befallen you to make you decide that a bottle of warm Corona that’s been sat out on a convention centre side for hours just isn’t worth it.
I’ve spent countless events worrying that my dedication to Diet Coke is having a negative affect on my career; that I’m seen as harbouring a secret addiction, or hiding an early and corporately inconvenient pregnancy, or worst of all, just not joining in with the team bonding. It’s a worry that’s never totally gone away, because it seems some people still believe that if you don’t drink there must be something terribly wrong with you.
Then there are those who believe themselves to be teetotalers but have a funny definition of the word. At those dreaded corporate events I was often joined by a colleague who proclaimed to me that she too didn’t drink. Except, it seemed, when it came to white wine spritzers. Apparently she’d discovered a secret I’d never known; lemonade cancels out alcohol, so spritzers “aren’t really drinks” and “barely count”.
After the third event I gave up trying to explain to her that no, I really didn’t want a spritzer, and just stood there holding one and gradually tipping it out into a pot plant. It seemed the easiest thing to do.
So yes, it may be that there are more of my kind out there, joining me in a life of eating rare steak and soft cheese just to prove that no, they really, honestly aren’t pregnant. But to everyone else, we’re still social aliens.