Shades of Sober

Sobriety has been on folks' minds a lot lately. "Sober curious" is a somewhat annoyingly cute way of referring to the growing number of people reconsidering their relationship with booze, and opting to either cut back on or forego drinking altogether. The topic has sparked several books and countless blog posts (including this one! Such a joiner.) and, after crafting, then deleting, an outrageously long comment on Cupcakes and Cashmere’s post on the subject, I figured I may as well write the thing up properly and put it here.

      To be honest, I don't have a particularly wild take on this subject. I think that consuming alcohol is, like most things, about moderation. Boring, but true. I also think that, between societal standards, representation of booze in media (and on dumb, cheap merch), and the sheer drinkability of a super yum beer/wine/what have you, it's really tough to keep moderation in mind while consuming. It's a struggle that affects all folks differently; to some it's a serious battle, for others it's a total non issue, and I think most of us fall somewhere in the middle. There are so many facets to the conversation, like the health factors involved, effects on the environment of producing and shipping various types of alcohol, and the matter of big business vs small business in the industry. But that's a large and unwieldy conversation, about which I am most certainly not an expert, and I'd rather pare it down and address two areas on which I can speak with some knowledge: 1) the predation in alcohol advertising and how we need to think more about what motivates our consumption, and 2) where I've chosen to land on the sobriety spectrum. 

      So, let's start off with how alcohol has been sold to us for the last 25 or so years. The issue far predates that, but I want to work with what I've personally experienced. When I was a kid, beer was very much a dude thing.  Advertised alongside sports (or at least their spectation) and using scantily-clad women, it was about as heteronormative, sexist-on-all-fronts, and dumb as you'd expect, and it's largely still sold that way. In the 90's we were still in the midst of ad folks realizing the insane grossness, er, uh, golden opportunity of marketing gendered versions of things that require no gendering whatsoever. In short, we'd had lady cigarettes down pat for a while but hadn't quite gotten around to lady pens yet. But, hoo, boy, we sure got there. Perhaps in part thanks to shows like Sex and the City portraying women enjoying a drink with the gals [**See note], and not just as a side effect of trying to fit in with the guys, someone finally got around to marketing booze made just for the ladies. In the late 90's and early 00's we found ourselves inundated with a bevy of cocktail mixes, wine coolers, and flavored vodkas meant to make women feel more feminine just as a cold brewski was meant to make a man feel like one of the bros. As with all things, it took the usual route: for a few years we fetishized the woman who drank sugared martinis until we had so many of those that we switched to fetishizing the woman who was "cool enough" to drink beer or scotch with the boys. Now, none of this is new behaviour, and has occurred for ages, but the packaging, marketing, and mass normalization of it is more recent. Women had a whole new way to compete with one another: are you a cool girl, willing to have a beer (light, obvi) with the guys, or does your drink come with an umbrella? Similarly, fellas, are you man enough for a nip of the world's peatiest Scotch, neat, or do you need fruit in your booze, like some kind of pantywaist?

      Drinking to excess has become

not only part of one's identity as a woman,

but increasingly conflated with self-care. 

It's the same oversimplified, stereotyping binary gender nonsense we know all too well, that has touched every part of our capitalism-crammed lives. But I don't think it started to get well and truly out of hand until the conversation became about wine and shit like "Mommy Juice" started trending. The idea of dad sneaking out to the garage ("man cave") with a beer while mom uncorks a bottle and drinks her feelings in the kitchen is so reductive, so sexist, so gross in just ALL. The. Ways. It genders alcohol. It reinforces gender stereotypes. It completely excludes same-sex relationships. It enables the tendency to drink in order to cope with our lives. It's just GROSS. And it caught on like wildfire. For a while I didn't think much of it, and didn't really bat an eye when the boutique I worked at sold socks that said things like, "My favorite salad is wine." But the longer this trend lasts and the more momentum it gains, the more it feels like we're pushing alcohol on women to a creepy extent, and drinking to excess, by ourselves, a propos of nothing, has become not only part of one's identity as a woman, but increasingly conflated with self-care. While alcohol consumption geared toward men is still largely a social and/or event specific affair (Get together with your buddies and have a beer! Break open a cold one during the game!), for women the message is, "Drink wine with your ladies, sure, but also have a bottle to yourself at the end of the day because you deserve it, queen," and that's awfully fucked up. 

      I'm not even going to get into the portrayal of women drinking until they blackout in TV, movies, and ads, because it's neither new information, nor do I feel like harping on the subject, but it's creepy as all hell, and sure does make it seem like we've created a standard in which we market enjoying a drink or two to men, but market straight up alcohol abuse to women. 

      All of that being said, I don't think the solution lies in us all becoming teetotalers. There is a big, wide world between abstaining from alcohol and abusing it, and my point is not to shake a finger at you and tell you to put down your glass. My point is that we need to acknowledge how big, gross, and predatory companies have played with our perception of and attitude toward booze and ourselves, and simply think twice about WHY you want a drink. As with all things in life, give your choices that extra half second of thought and try to strip away the possible social conditioning, prejudices, negativities, or other factors that could be influencing your decision, and move forward from a place of clearer intention.

       Are you drinking because you feel awkward in social situations sober?

       Are you drinking because it's a mechanism for coping with stress?

       Are you drinking because you're used to it?

       Are you drinking because it's in the house?

       Are you drinking because of the myriad subtle little ways we are told we're supposed to?

      Maybe none of those. Maybe you're drinking because it's your favorite brewer's seasonal release, or you bought the perfect wine to go with dinner, or maybe you just know you would reeeally savor that bev right about now. But it's definitely worth taking the time to check in and find out your motivations. 

      Which brings me to where I, personally, have landed on this front. Funnily enough, given how much I've emphasized coming to this with intention, I came to my solution by accident. I suppose solution isn't the right word because it implies a problem, but I am quite pleased with the changes I've made, so it's a solution of sorts. It's been years since I drank heavily with any sort of  regularity that would give me cause for concern (ah, the many perks of being neither in my early 20s, in an abusive relationship, nor unsure of myself around strangers), and I've done dry months many times, sometimes on purpose, sometimes just because I happened to go through spells where having a drink simply didn't occur to me (and, when I was restricting, to avoid the calories). Other than feeling like an odd duck out not having a drink at a party, and noticing how much my alcohol tolerance would drop when I finished a dry spell, I didn't feel much of a difference between me drinking a light-to-moderate amount and me drinking nothing at all. So when 2019 began I briefly considered the idea of doing another dry January, but knew I had two concerts that month at which I'd really enjoy having a couple of beers, and it ultimately didn't feel like a pressing issue, probably because it wasn't. I scrapped the idea of a dry month, but I did, without consciously thinking about it, stop buying any booze to keep at the house. In part, I suppose, because I knew my boyfriend isn't much of a drinker and didn't feel the need to keep anything on hand for his visits. Mostly, though, it just simply seemed like an extra expense I couldn't justify. I am not wholly unskilled at putting away an entire bottle of wine on my own, and that's not an inexpensive thing to do several times a week. The beers I like most come from independent breweries and aren't what I'd classify as a cheap buy, and that's even more true with good liquor.

       Well, suddenly it was March and it occurred to me that, outside of entertaining once or twice, I hadn't brought booze home for a good couple of months. Now, again, that's not particularly remarkable, and I've had plenty of spells where I lost interest in alcohol for long stretches. But this time I decided to give that new habit a little bit of attention and evaluate any positive effects possibly coming out of it. I realized that, while I still struggle with fairly frequent insomnia, as I always have, the nights on which I manage to go to bed early but wake up groggy despite it were markedly less common, and in fact, the number of mornings that I wake up well before my alarm goes off have increased noticeably, even after nights when I haven't fallen asleep as early as planned. 


     I decided to make it an intentional choice, to limit my drinking to out and about and in social situations, and skip the beer or wine with dinner at home. I gotta say, several months into it, I am seriously digging my decision. Do I feel any vast and sweeping differences? No. I simply wasn't drinking heavily enough before for my body to make terribly noticeable changes. But my grocery bills are lighter when I skip the beer aisle, my sleep has continued to be a bit less of a hot mess, and, frankly, I just kinda like being completely sober at bedtime. I'm more likely to read or do crosswords before falling asleep instead of snacking on food I don't need while rewatching shows for the trillionth time or starting a new series and staying up way too late. The handful of times I've gone out in the last couple of months I have definitely noticed how much rougher those mornings are than after dry nights, and it just seems logical to avoid that when I don't have any particularly good reason for drinking. Will that good reason for drinking sometimes be that it's been a while since I've gone to one of the many seriously good breweries in the area and feel like treating myself? Yep. That's a good reason! And it feels so nice to know I'm motivated by genuine interest in a scrumptious drink and not social conditioning or simply because it's in the fridge. I'll be honest, I hadn't really thought about alcohol consumption as an area of my life that needed more mindfulness, because I had thought of sobriety as a black and white issue, and one that didn't apply to me. But I'm so glad that my subconscious got the ball rolling on this and that I consciously decided to keep it up, because now when I have that first sip of whatever yummo beverage, I know I'm savoring it fully.

       So give it some thought! You probably don't have a drinking problem, but that doesn't mean you can't evaluate what motivates you to grab a drink, and when and where you do. Maybe you're like me, and you realize there's no need to keep wine in the house. Maybe you find that you're most likely to engage in less thoughtful consumption when you're at a bar, so decide to keep most of your drinking to when you're at home, or in a restaurant. Maybe you realize your drinking habits change seasonally, and want to adapt them accordingly. Whatever the case may be, I say, think about it, be mindful about it, and enjoy that sip even more. Cheers!

** Note: There's no SATC shade here. Despite its problems, I still stand by that show and its representation of women as capable of caring about but functioning independently of men, and as a more realistic representation than most of women and their relationships with sex, and with their close friends. Also, if you don't know about Woke Charlotte, get. On. That. 

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