Giving up alcohol (how to combat 10,000 years of marketing spin): Why my sober curiosity got the better of me

This week’s blog is from Jo Easingwood-Roberts – a tea-sniffing, booze-free mother and co-founder of Left Field Kombucha (est 2016).

We need to talk about ethanol. In a 10,000-year marketing campaign that Don Draper would struggle to pull off, alcohol has reigned supreme. As a fully signed up member of the Mindful Drinking Movement™ and maker of a non-alcoholic alternative, I know we’ve still got some work to do. And kicking old friend ethanol to the kerb isn’t that straightforward…

I was 15 when I had my first real alcoholic drink. It was on an exchange trip to France. It was Champagne. My friends and I better acquainted ourselves with our French contemporaries by becoming merrily boozed up for most of the week.

The Champagne was replaced with Kronenbourg (founded by a chap called Geronimus Hatt – included just because that is a name to found something with!), and the photos from that trip are mainly of slightly shiny faced teenagers holding a stubby bottle interspersed, less often, with groups of us standing outside the tour bus in Paris or Reims looking less bloaty-eyed.

And, so this began a relationship with alcohol that only changed about twenty years later.

Where are my boozing stripes?

Mine is not a story of party girl turned sober, nor is it one where I found myself as a new mum consuming a bottle every night as a crutch.

But I could see that was a step I could easily have taken. Granted there have been episodes, such as being carried in a fireman’s lift by a friend’s older brother along the street as a teenager and deposited into my house long before the bells at New Year. By way of a cultural backdrop, I grew up in a small Scottish coastal town; drinking alcohol was as much part of the right of passage into adulthood as all other associated activities. And once there, friends and family alike believed drinking to be something you do as an activity. Like kite surfing. Just with less wind.

Fast forward to my life more recently, where booze had sometimes become the replacement for a cup of tea, and then came the time for putting my money where my mouth is. Come, take a wobbly walk with me… through the stages of a relationship with alcohol. This is my journey…

Stage 1: Becoming friends with booze: Isn’t it nice?

Teenage kicks: For me, the only reason not to drink alcohol was being too underage to actually get it. I wasn’t shy back then, more of an aggressively friendly kind (this is still the case :)). But still the lure of a pastime of boozing replaced horse riding, the pub replaced the fresh air, and everyone seemed to be having a lovely time there.

What’s not to like?

Stage 2:  Strength in numbers: Aren’t they nice?

Everyone is drinking and they all look so much better through slightly glazed eyes. Friends, potential boyfriends, work colleagues.

There’s a sketch by Robert Webb and David Mitchell called “Slightly less than two drinks” which purports the idea that the world and everyone in it runs very smoothly on the basis of being ever so slightly pissed. In it, when one drop more is consumed the world decays into Armageddon. So, at this stage, we’re all happy being slightly merry.

I am in this stage for a while, I’d say. Nothing sinister occurs but there are incidents including the time waking up with the imprint of a box load of recorders that I fell asleep in face first after a work trip away. But it’s all ok as it’s a work trip, we’re all looking after each other, and the boss is also completely inebriated. In this same trip, a colleague is carried out of a restaurant horizontally before we’ve been there more than an hour because she’s had well over “slightly less than two drinks” and she can’t stand upright. But, we’re all ok. Everyone is fine with this. There’s nothing to see here. Because this is alcohol right? It’s not like we’re all shooting up heroin over our curry.

Stage 3: Witness for the prosecution: Are they ok?

Have you ever found yourself in the toilet of a bar worried for the safety of someone else? In stage 3 I would find myself holding strangers’ hands/hair/tissues/shoes/dignity while eagerly trying to find out where they live to try to get them a taxi home.

Your subjective look at booze becomes ever so slightly more objective. But in this stage, you still think you’re ok. It’s not you who has a problem.

Stage 4: Out of body experience: Am I ok?

So, there’s this moment. Or maybe a series of moments that start you thinking more deeply about your relationship with booze.

I remember very clearly, when I was seven months pregnant with my first child, standing in a checkout queue in our local supermarket and someone behind me looked at my expanding girth (housing a beautiful baby boy at the time :)) and her first comment was “Oh, I couldn’t do that, I’d never want to stop drinking for 9 months”.

Imagine that statement. And then imagine my response and that of the checkout assistant. We both laughed at her funny joke. Haha, thought us, what a card. Alcohol and our dependence on it, in a big or small way, made that a perfectly acceptable remark.

So deeply ingrained in our society as necessary an item in our shopping trolley as toilet roll and toothpaste, that we all just carry on. And yet, alcohol is more damaging to those who drink it and to others, than crack or heroin ( “Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis”A Lancet Study, David Nutt, 2010).

It wasn’t long after this that I became very aware of the branding of alcohol in the world. I had two babies, I was breastfeeding, I was responsible for two small people, and with my husband I started a drinks business, Left Field Kombucha, making kombucha tea, a serious alternative booze-free option for people wanting to cut down drinking alcohol.

Ok, so things were in motion,

  • Reasons not to drink – check.
  • A grown-up alternative to drink – check.

And yet, I still chose wine at the end of those long days starting a business and growing a family. I am ashamed to admit it that I would text my husband (bear in mind he is, at these points, brewing an award-winning healthy alcohol alternative, apologies for the shameless plug :)), with these words,

“Bring booze”.

Stage 5: Cracking the code: Let’s be ok, ok?

And in an ephinany, it strikes you. Almost.

When did you last hear yourself saying, “No, thanks, I’m driving/pregnant/on antibiotics” – why does alcohol warrant an excuse NOT to take it?

What’s your pain

You’d take two paracetamol for pain. Maybe you have a headache.  What is the pain the booze takes away for you?

For me, its the relaxant at the end of the day, The inner voice saying “You need this, have a glass and exhale”.

If I change the language of that inner voice, I start to focus more on the problem/the pain. It made the benefits kind of pale into the background. So, the problem is nothing extraordinary,

  • I feel tired and struggle to switch my brain to low gear after a normal day of running a young business with my husband and caring for two small people.
  • I feel anxious because I am wired that way.

What does a couple of glasses of wine do for those two primary issues?

If I am honest, they exacerbate both those key problems for me. The alcohol makes me sleepier and then results in a night of broken sleep, and my anxious brain wakes early. If you’ve ever read Mark Manson’s book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, you’ll get where I am coming from here. His words, “You get anxious about confronting somebody in your life. That anxiety cripples you and you start wondering why you’re so anxious. Now you’re becoming anxious about being anxious. Oh no! Doubly anxious! Now you’re anxious about your anxiety, which is causing more anxiety. Quick, where’s the whiskey?”. I hear that.

A friend without benefits

As far as benefits, I am no longer buying it. It is somewhere here (in stage 5), where I realised that alcohol was not a friend, and normalising it was ensuring its detrimental effects would continue. Sans booze, I still wake early but I write instead of the usual self-flagellation of my anxious brain. I feel hugely better. I no longer want the crutch.

And, I want to put my money where my mouth is. We make a serious alternative which tastes bloody great (I don’t suggest that in Stage 5 everyone needs to start up their own non-alcoholic drinks business btw :)).

I start to read more about sober living. I meet more people who do not drink alcohol. I connect with the brilliant Club Soda, and others who are drinking more mindfully, have given up drinking and talk of the benefits of giving up alcohol.

My radar actively picks up all the sober signals. If you want to be inspired to give up drinking I heartily recommend the 12-minute Tedx talk by Clare Pooley, Making Sober Less Shameful. In it, she encourages a mindset change to treat alcohol as the drug it is.

I was struck last year when I asked the young daughter of someone we know how her mum was and her reply was “She’s ok, once she gets her glass of red wine”. I don’t want that to be me.

Stage 6: A brave new world. Better than ok.

Once acclimatised, the sober waters feel pretty darn fine. I am not sure what I’m going to do with the gifts of fizz in their wine-shaped gift bags that I am collecting. You know the ones that we get as thanks or arms-length Christmas presents. I’m also not sure when my replacement to alcohol, chocolate, is going to also need replaced. But I’m ok with that.

I often used to have a glass of wine beside me when the kids would be doing crafts before dinner. We all have kombucha now (the kids were never having wine btw, just to clarify).

In the end, my sober curiosity got the better of me. Cheers. I’ll drink to that.

Find Jo @afizzymind (Igram), and them @leftfieldbuch (Igram, Fbook, Twitter). leftfieldkombucha.co.uk.

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