I was strolling through Dublin city centre recently, enjoying the warm balmy afternoon and dying for something to quench my thirst. It occurred to me that things had changed a lot since I had worked there many years earlier. Outside restaurants, brightly coloured tablecloths bedecked the tables and attractive young men and women rushed forward to encourage passers-by to take their menus.
I felt I’d been transported to some Spanish or Italian street. There was one element that was a little different: in Rome or Madrid, many would prefer a coffee at such an early hour, but I noted that most people seemed to be sipping a cold beer or glass of wine.
Maybe my recent decision to become a teetotaller resulted in me being a little bit more observant, but it was very noticeable that those who were sipping coffees or cokes were in the minority.
In fact, it took me some time to spot anyone who wasn’t consuming alcohol.
I love the summer and the recent warm spell had me lathering on the false tan, dancing around the sitting-room with the kids to my favourite summer hits and thinking in terms of popping open bottles of Prosecco or having a few glasses of my favourite pear cider. Isn’t that what summer is all about?
Since my trip to Greece as a student a long time ago, summer was blue seas, blue skies and cocktails like Black Russians and Blue Lagoons. I was almost about to grab a cocktail shaker when I remembered my new status as a non-drinker. Having endured four months of chemotherapy recently and with several weeks of radiotherapy still ahead, I decided that 40 minute workouts in the local gym followed by copious amounts of water were the order of the day.
Since I decided that I’d be replacing red wine with red lemonade, I began to notice just how much alcohol is connected to every aspect of Irish life. Whether it’s celebrating your team winning a match, a birth or death or just a bit of warm weather, alcohol is like the close friend that has to be part of every occasion.
If I was feeling a bit hard done by to be having tea instead of Tia Maria, I wondered how tough it must be for those who are struggling with a dependence on alcohol and who would find it very difficult to break their drinking cycle.
We have a certain image of those who suffer from alcoholism but it can be a sister, brother, spouse or close friend.
Recently I read an article ‘Memoir of an alcoholic parent’ about one woman’s struggle with alcohol and her road to recovery. Stephanie Wilder-Taylor was a wife and mother who started drinking more as a way to unwind and ended up drinking two to five glasses of wine every night, rarely finding any reason not to. She eventually sought help when she realised how much she had to lose, having a loving husband and three young children.
For those who aren’t dependent on alcohol but who see a worrying drinking pattern emerging, there are steps which will help them to reduce their intake.
Parents often worry about their teenagers or young adult children drinking too much without acknowledging that they themselves have a problem.
The first change to make to cut down or cut out alcohol is to seek the help of good friends or family members. If it’s widely known that you’re attempting a new regime, it’ll be harder to back out of the commitment.
Avoid those who don’t respect your decision and are keen to offer you alcohol in spite of your protestations. My reasons for giving up alcohol are health associated, but whatever the reason it requires some planning. Saying one will never drink again can seem like a step too far but a target of a month or two seems manageable.
Review your social life and entertainment options; pub nights and gigs can be replaced with plays and concerts or a meal out. I went to the Bloom flower festival recently in the Phoenix Park and was delighted with the non-alcoholic drink options. On a sweltering hot day, a glass of chilled elderflower cordial is just as appealing as a glass of white wine.
On a night out, it’s amazing how popular you become when you’re the designated driver. The pressure to drink eases when others know you’re their safe passage home. You’ll also feel a lot better the next day without the discomfort of a hangover to deal with.
The best advice of all is to be proud of your decision not to drink. Faced with a confident “No, thanks!” and some positive results in your life, most people will be supportive or at least they’ll stop pressuring you to indulge.
When children see parents enjoying events and days out without the addition of alcohol, they’ll learn more than any education campaign could hope to achieve.
It’ll also improve their quality of life: Stefanie Wilder-Taylor wrote of being “fully present” for her children. When reading a bedtime story she wasn’t racing through it to get started on her “buzz”.
Best of all for this mother was the knowledge that her children would never have to see her drunk and in her own words “the joy in that is so much sweeter than any amount of Pinot Grigio”.