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Sober chic

By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 26, 2023 5:00 am

I remember coming home and the morning sun was glaring down at me. My alarm had rung barely an hour after I had gotten to bed. My eye makeup was smeared across my cheek, my hair a bloody mess; I pulled myself together and did my best to look presentable. I had to take my boys to a gingerbread house-making activity. To say I was hungover is probably false. I was more likely still drunk from the previous night’s festivities.

It was awful. I felt so ashamed. I was present but a ghost of myself, not engaged, everything a blur. Children laughing, Christmas carols playing and I was a shell. Missing out on life’s precious moments. They would never be that little ever again.

This was 2019’s holiday season. One of the worst of my life, right in the middle of my breakup. I poured myself into work and events and poured myself a lot of drinks. Masked as joie de vivre, it really was pure and simple escapism. A precursor to what would be some of my darkest times giving way to my darkest thoughts.

Early 2020 found me actively seeking therapy, mostly to resolve my issues and past trauma, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I never accompanied it with sobriety. I didn’t think I had a drinking problem. I was fun, I drank good wine and while I avoided the benders after that gingerbread house incident, I still drank almost daily.

During the pandemic, this became the norm. Cocktail hour at 5 p.m. and daily glasses of wine. I wasn’t getting drunk per se but I definitely wasn’t totally sober. It was a way to cope. I’d have Zoom drinks with friends and we felt connected.

Consuming alcohol became a norm for the author during the pandemic.

During this time, I really explored a stricter and more rigorous fitness regime. I had body goals I wanted to achieve and was encouraged by my nutritionist to give up alcohol, even just for a month. I acquiesced; it was my first-ever experience in total sobriety since pregnancy.

What was at first difficult became revelatory. Not only did I feel better physically, my anxiety and constant emotional roller-coastering dissipated. I found the experience novel and enjoyable and thought I would do this more regularly.

The author got better physically, emotionally, and mentally after deciding to be sober.

As the world opened up, it became more difficult to do. My work in particular is basically a revolving buffet of pass-around drinks and cocktails. At each event, the glasses of wine, gin tonics or martinis are offered like mints. It’s almost rude not to take one. And when you don’t drink, people are concerned you’re not enjoying. Eventually you give in and the daily drinking habits come back. “Oh, just one glass!”

Until a gut health issue prompted me to stop drinking for three months. That’s a significant amount of time where you really just have to go about your daily life. As always, it’s difficult in the beginning and as you power through it becomes liberating. It allowed me to understand when I craved for alcohol and why. I love wine so much, I think it’s such a beautiful thing that encompasses history, wisdom, and mother earth’s generous touch, I could never give it up. However, this experiment in sobriety had helped me have a healthier relationship with alcohol and not use it as crutch for life masquerading as a bon vivant.

Alcohol is a social lubricant; it helps you “have fun” when you aren’t. But the question remains — if you can’t see the fun or joy in a situation and need alcohol to enjoy, why are you there to begin with?

Seems like I’m not the only one. Global alcohol consumption has decreased. In the US it’s dropped by five percent and in France, the government is having to wrestle with spending millions of euros to destroy millions of hectolitres of unconsumed excess wine. The French have seen a decline of 22% in wine consumption, while in Portugal it’s 34%, Germany is 22%, and Spain is 10%.

There’s a growing trend of non-alcoholic “spirits” and beverages that allow people to still enjoy the social aspects of “drinking” without actually drinking. The Gen Z even have a term for it: “sober curious.” And despite all the comedic IG reels and TikToks glorifying “the drunk mom”— that’s honestly the last thing I want to be.

Here are some of the insights I gained that can hopefully help you navigate the holiday season and beyond:

Drink to celebrate, not to commiserate
For the author, drinking is the worst way to deal with stress so drink to celebrate.

“Ugh, I’m so stressed. I need a drink.” This is a phrase that’s far too common in our society. I would come home from a difficult day and all I wanted was a long, cold sip of wine and for that first flush of alcohol to numb my senses. This is probably the worst way to deal with stress. Not only are you NOT actually dealing with it, but alcohol will mess up your metabolic system and circadian rhythm, so you actually feel worse physically. It’s also a depressant, so drinking your sorrows away in fact amplifies them. Try other things instead. A call with a close friend, watching an uplifting movie, calling in for a massage, exercising, or simply sitting with your feelings and crying it out.

I now only reach for a drink when I’m happy and joyful. Celebrating someone’s birthday or a win at work. Perhaps you simply had a really good day and you’ve cooked a nice meal. I now associate alcohol with positive emotions—where in fact, in most cases, I don’t even “need” it but actually “enjoy” it.

Sip and savor

When you really think about it, how much of what you consume do you actually, truly enjoy? Personally, I embraced the maxim “better, not more.” I drink less but better. I no longer have an arsenal of cheap and cheerful everyday drinking wine. Instead, my fridge has fewer but better curated bottles. Pricier, too. I’m more mindful of when I open them. I treat each bottle with respect and reverence. I try to pair them properly with the food and relish each sip.

In fact, my favorite experience with wine is the beautiful alchemy that happens when it finds its perfect match in a dish. I hear angels sing and I dance in giddy delight.

In a cocktail bar, I try to look for more unique concoctions. Libations that have a story and thought put into it. I listen to the story the mixologist has to share and inquire about the different liquors that he’s selected. What’s the story behind each drink?

Gone are the days when I would pound the shots and pass out in a bathroom (hello, high school grad party); today, I prefer to take the time to honor the artisanal craft that’s been put into each drink. Slower sips, closed eyes, and a little sigh.

Don’t be afraid of the why

I’ve often found myself at a large event just mindlessly sipping the generic white wine that’s been handed to me. I don’t even really like it. It’s not special, but not bad, and you’re not really sure why you’re drinking it.

Alcohol is a social lubricant; it helps you “have fun” when you aren’t. But the question remains—if you can’t see the fun or joy in a situation and need alcohol to enjoy, why are you there to begin with? It’s a tough question to ask—existential, even! But it’s a liberating one.

By default, at large events, I try my best to stay sober. I don’t declare it because people harass you to drink. I simply hold a glass all night or sip on sparkling water with lemon disguised as a G&T.

Being sober at these events has helped me seek out deeper connections with people, even at a random networking party. This mindset has helped me push my boundaries beyond the usual social niceties of “Hi! How are you?” and really take an interest in the people around me. I’ve made new friendships this way and discovered wonderful things about people I have always known and seen but never really spoken to.

Nowadays, I prioritize interactions that don’t necessarily always involve alcohol. I love walking and workout dates with my friends, checking out an art gallery or bazaar, or even taking a class together.

It’s really empowering to discover that you love yourself enough not to need alcohol to enjoy life. It’s also so liberating to realize that your friendships are solid and flourishing without the booze. That isn’t to say you can’t have fun and let loose—but does one really need a drink for that? Me coming home totally sober last Saturday at almost 4 a.m. from a ball and Diwali party after dancing the night away says: no, you don’t. My children squealing in delight and giggling because of silly fart jokes also says: no, you don’t. Joy is free and always up for grabs, for everyone.