abstinence

The Weekday Wagon

HIGH SOBRIETY: MY YEAR WITHOUT BOOZE
Jill Stark
Scribe, $29.99
A funny thing about books is that sometimes you can pick one up and start reading, only to quickly lose interest and then put it down again. A few months later, you go back to it and race through it in a couple of days.

That’s what happened to me with High Sobriety, in which journalist Jill Stark details her year without alcohol. Except that I HIGH_SOBRIETY_300dpi_titlecoverstopped reading it twice, placing it in the shelves in my study – that’s where the Books I’m Done With go, and then visitors to the house are free to peruse them and take home whatever they like.

No-one else must have been interested in this book either because it remained there both times. Which is why it was still there for me to have a third crack at it. Clearly there must have been something in the book for me to keep giving it another go. I think it was because it dealt with, in part, issues surrounding alcohol in Australia. Issues like the sponsorship of sport, the way beer is marketed and the prevalence of bottle shops.

Of course, it also follows health reporter and self-confessed booze hound Stark’s journey through an alcohol-free year. And I think that’s what actually hooked me this time and is why I raced through the book in a few days. See, for the last few weeks I’ve been getting quite serious about reducing the amount of beer I drink. It’s not that I drink too much (but everyone says that, don’t they?) but more than I tended to have too few alcohol-free days that bothered me.

So in the last few weeks I’ve been heading in the direction of climbing on the weekday wagon again. That’s where I’m alcohol-free from Monday through to Friday night and I’m only allowed to have a beer from Friday to Sunday night. The four straight alcohol-free days are a target as much as anything and some weeks I’ve fallen short but if I get three AFDs rather than four – or even just two – I figure that’s still a good thing. And if I can’t do an AFD, I’ll look to limiting myself to just one beer on that day.

The funny thing, it wasn’t so much the health issues that pushed me in this direction (though the is the hope that less beer will lead to a bit of weight loss). To be honest, I’d simply gotten sick of getting out of bed in the middle of the night to take a leak. I’d hit the sack after a beers and then have my bladder wake me up at 1am. That started to irk me so much that, on the first few alcohol-free days a month ago, I actually climbed into bed earlier than normal because I was looking forward to an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

It was something a bit more than that that drove Stark to give alcohol the flick, first for three months and then the rest of the year. A woman who admits she used to get rather smashed on a very regular basis, she woke up one New Year’s Day with an awful hangover and decided she’d had enough. But it still wasn’t easy for her. Most surprising was the number of people who thought what she was doing was somehow unAustralian or who actively tried to sabotage her efforts.

I guess it highlights a theme that I felt runs through her book. That is, that we treat alcohol use as normal, that it’s so totally ingrained in society that there really is very few situations where a beer, a wine or a champagne is frowned upon. It then follows that someone who doesn’t want a drink is somehow weird because, hey EVERYONE drinks.

That’s why I’ve always admired those who choose not to drink, because it’s such a hard decision to stick to. Tell people you’ve decided to stop smoking, people would congratulate you. Tell them you’ve stopped drinking, and they think you’re some sort of killjoy wowser. To me, in Australian society, choosing to drink is the easy option. Choosing not to is the hard one.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to swear off the booze any time soon. I like the taste of a good craft beer and the days of getting shitfaced and spending the day after hungover are long gone.  I’ve learned that hangovers hurt more the older I get.

What I will be doing is paying a bit more attention to how much I drink and when I drink. And so far, you know, I feel a bit better – and I’m enjoying not having my bladder wake me up in the middle of the night. The weight loss? Well, that doesn’t quite seem to be happening just yet. But I still have hope.

You may have found this post a bit of a downer but, honestly, in the craft beer community we don’t seem to talk that much about the health impacts of our hobby. If anything, we like to think we’re better than those who slam down a six-pack on a Friday night.

But I reckon if you’re going to knock back a Russian imperial stout or a double IPA or two, you’re taking in quite a bit of alcohol yourself. Just because it tastes better doesn’t negate the health risks.

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2 replies »

  1. I don’t drink during weekdays unless I have an invited event (such as a beer launch) or social occasion, and even then I’ll be the first to leave. Partly because I get up at 5.30am but also I spent a big chunk of my teens and twenties drinking to excess (hospitality, and yes I said teens) and think it impacted my health and probably brain development negatively.

    I agree also that us beer lovers sometimes delude themselves into thinking we are somehow immune from the health issues because we drink “craft”. Many will say they drink less but drink better, but their Untappd or the state of the skin during Good Beer Week will tell a different story.

    • I envy your weekday willpower – I’d like to have AFDs Monday to Thursday but I seem to come up with excuses to have a beer a little too easily.
      That said, I actually feel better the next morning after an AFD.
      In terms of the health impacts of beer, it wasn’t until I read this book and started thinking about my health, that I really understood that niche of the “beer runner”.
      Be good to become one of them myself – if the willpower was strong enough.

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