Mulling on Club Soda’s Mindful Drinking Festival

Today marks a week since Club Soda’s Mindful Drinking Festival…and after 7 days spent mulling (in thought – not in alcohol), and recovering from the bombardment to the emotions and senses, I think I’ve finally managed to synthesise the key learnings that I took away from the day.

To provide some context: I stopped drinking on 4th February 2018, but I largely did this alone through copious amounts of reading and listening to podcasts. Prior to Club Soda’s festival, I only knew two sober people: my gym husband, and a friend/acquaintance through work. Approaching the new year, I realised that I needed to meet some of “my people” – I needed to not be alone in this. Yet I didn’t feel that the more traditional groups suited my purpose; I’m an atheist, young female, I don’t self-define as an alcoholic, nor did I have a severe ‘problem’ (whatever that is). I had reached a point where my relationship with alcohol (sometimes more problematic than others) no longer served me. And so, when preparing my ’19 for 2019′ list (see post 4/1/19), ‘join a sober community’ was one of its first additions.

On Saturday 12th January I rocked up to the Truman Brewery, slightly apprehensive as to what to expect. I’d come alone. I needed the impetus to actually MEET new people and make an effort to converse. Upon entering, I was thoroughly shocked at 1. the amount of people who were there AND sober(!), and 2. the amount of alcohol-free beverages available – you name it, they had it. I grabbed an alcohol-free beer and a black coffee, double parking myself for dutch courage, and headed for the Sober Millenials’ stand. One large deep breath and I was in!

I couldn’t have been more welcomed by Scott, Kate, and the other lovely ladies I met that day. It was so refreshing to enjoy the company of people my age who had also decided to follow this path in life, and who had more interests than propping up a bar of an evening, and more conversational ability than relaying their last big night out. My whirlwind day of workshops, panel discussions, meet ups and interviews at Club Soda’s mindful drinking festival rapidly came to a close before I had to head back out into the cold to start for home – heady with a sense of belonging and exhaustion from pushing at the boundaries of my comfort zone. With so much information and multiple conversations it was difficult to keep track of my ponderings, my reactions, my opinions. Some things came back to me on my train ride home, other reflections took a while to land. Instead of merely saying, “I woz there, 2019”, I wanted to outline the most resonating messages of the day, assigning credit where its due, and maybe inspiring some to pursue this further:

Love Bomb. Author Clare Pooley shared her strategy for dealing with trolls online, but could be applied to any situation where someone is trying to shut you up for speaking some truths: LOVE BOMB THEM. This is a method to deploy when reasoning is futile and anger just inflames the situation. Instead, love bomb your critics: “Thank-you so much for taking the time to read, and engage with, my work; your feedback means a great deal and is invaluable to me – I’ll be sure to seriously consider. Wishing you all the best and much success for your future endeavours. love love love xxxxx”. I must say, I’ve deployed this strategy in response to shit*y work emails a few times, and it’s always a winner. I should do it more often. Next time someone tries to throw a bucket of water on your fire: LOVE BOMB THEM.

Beware of social media addiction. Again, Clare Pooley was the first to flag this issue, her kids complaining that she’d supplanted the wine glass for the iPhone. Upon giving up alcohol, it’s often the case that one dependency is replaced with another: sugar; exercise; social media; love; until we can do the work on the underlying issues. But in a bid to reach out to other sober-goers and to share one’s story, social media is an imperative. Personally, I only returned to social media in order to connect with this community but already I’m finding that it sucks up my spare moments that I had been utilizing so efficiently, and delaying my bed-time unnecessarily.
Knowing your limits, your comfort zone, and deploying strategies to have times of abstinence from social media is so important (see my post ‘Alice in facebook-land’ 29/12/18). Do you need the apps on your phone? Are you going online for a specific purpose? What’s the opportunity cost of the time you spend on social media platforms? Compared to exercise or sugar hits, I think social media can be one of the most dangerous dependencies to our self-worth; don’t let it waste your Sunday mornings in a lethargic brain-dead state, don’t let it cloud your judgement, don’t let it enable interactions that you wouldn’t have in person. Does all this sound familiar? It’s almost as if we could be talking about drink.

Sobriety is a gendered experience. Yes, both men and women can be sober, but it was only until the festival that I realised that either there are far more women than men who are sober, or, far more women who want a sober community (that is not AA) than men. Apart from Scott, all the people I met through the Sober Millennials were women. Working in a male-dominated industry, I love the opportunity to meet women whenever I can, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether society’s discourse around alcohol is preventing young men from choosing sobriety, or being public about it. I commend Jonathan (author of SoberPunks blog) for being present in the sober space, participating in the panel discussions, and sharing his experience from the perspective of a man. Men and women’s experiences of sobriety don’t completely overlap; just being at a work drinks function I can see how men bear the brunt of the alcohol peer-pressure. Watching traditionally-male sports, such as cricket, rugby, football, also seems to involve copious amounts of alcohol. Advertising associates alcohol with masculinity. Society’s expectations of the masculine shames men into not getting help, not talking about their feelings, not sharing their experiences. I’m not sure what the answer is here, but it’s something that I’d like to pick apart. It’s nagging at me.

There’s always someone with more days. At the event I met many people at different stages of their sobriety journey, and yet there was only support – not competition. Some were on their second or third attempt at sobriety, some had just come from treatment centres, and there were others who were a comfortable distance in. It was humbling to hear of their journeys, eclectic and engaging. It was interesting to hear their plans for the future, their excitement at what was possible, and know that through the Sober Millennials our paths would likely be interweaving. Most reassuringly, it was evident that no-one, no matter how far along in their sobriety, had everything figured out – jobs were changing, friendships were transitioning, other cravings were being addressed. It was almost as if these people had awoken from slumber and were methodically working through their lives and tweaking what no longer served. The sheer courage, determination and creativity of this community provided me with a light to see and assess my own path. Nothing is ever stuck, fixed, impermeable, impossible.  

Sober people are incredibly entrepreneurial. At first, I wondered why this was, turning it over in my brain. What was the connection between sobriety and entrepreneurship? Dawn Comolly (author of
SoberFish blog) suggested that side-hustles occurred in sobriety because when you stop drinking an expanse of time opens up that had previously spent out or hungover. Similarly, I guess, you’re no longer operating in a fog and so can be more efficient with the time you do have, and get sh*t done – a side hustle in addition to your full time job. Lastly, when you stop drinking, I think you finally have the clarity, energy and focus to see things for what they actually are, recognising what things no longer serve you, and seeing where you would rather be. It cuts through the bullsh*t, and the sobriety community seem to be channelling this into entrepreneurial endeavours – actively shaping their future paths, not merely letting life happen to them.

Thank-you to all the inspirational people I met that day. Thank-you to all those who put themselves out there by participating in panel discussions or interviews: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

 

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