Refusing an alcoholic drink is often cause for a raised eyebrow, at least in Australia.
You can see the cogs turning in your companion’s brain as they wonder if you are pregnant (at least for women), or if maybe you have a ‘problem’ with booze. They also might not immediately take ‘no’ for an answer.
But among millennials, going sober (or ‘sober curious’, more on that later) is becoming increasingly common, and likely to be for a less dramatic reason: an early gym class, a strict savings budget or a night ahead working on a side-hustle.
Statistics back this up: recent research by Roy Morgan found in an average four-week period, the proportion of Australians who consume alcohol has declined by two per cent in the last five years, dropping to 67.9%.
Further proof is the popularity of several new books on the subject. If you’re doing Feb Fast or have been contemplating the role of alcohol in your life, these books are essential reading.
Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, by Ruby Warrington
A few years ago Ruby Warrington – New York City-based author and founder of modern wellness platform The Numinous– noticed a trend in the hip NYC circles she moves in: a sneaking suspicion alcohol takes more than it gives.
Warrington is credited with founding the ‘sober curious’ movement, which could also be described as ‘mindful drinking’. In her book of the same name, based on her own journey, Warrington gently encourages the reader to question when and why they drink, and offers advice on how to avoid drinking merely because of habit or social pressure.
With Warrington’s toolbox, it’s possible to see a future in which one doesn’t need alcohol for a confidence boost when socialising or dating, to relax or to de-stress. She paints an enticing picture of a life of, as the title lists, better sleep, improved mental clarity and focus and being more fully present with friends and family.
Reading Sober Curious, you might recognise some of the questions Warrington initially asked herself that led her to write the book, as she recounts early on:
“Why is alcohol so . . . everywhere? How come I feel like an outsider, a weirdo, sometimes a problem, if I say I don’t drink? Why do I sometimes lie about why I’m not drinking? Where do I go to socialise without booze? How do I kick it with people who do drink if I’m not?”
For those wondering if life might be better almost (if not completely) alcohol-free and looking for some guidance,Sober Curious feels like finding your tribe.
The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath, by Leslie Jamison
If Sober Curious is a light-hearted tour of what a life might look like with less (or no) alcohol in it, The Recovering is more … an intense expedition. But the rewards are much, much greater thanks to the stunning literary talent of Leslie Jamison, one of the most important voices in modern women’s memoir – actually, in memoir, period.
A mix of memoir, essay and reporting, Jamison’s third book (you might have read her essay collection The Empathy Exams) recounts her past struggle with alcohol in a way that entices the helpless voyeur in us all. In unflinching detail, Jamison lets us into her former life as a young woman studying at one of America’s most prestigious writing colleges, and the substance use that went on among her cohort in the shadow of literary giants that romanticised drinking, such as Ernest Hemingway.
But it would be doing a disservice to The Recovering to make it sound like just a juicy addiction memoir. It’s so much more. The book explores alcohol dependence, but you could swap booze with almost any vice or indulgence – shopping, workaholism, excessive exercise – and the big questions Jamison poses and deeply excavates hold true: where do our deepest needs come from? What is the hole inside so many of us are trying to fill? Is it possible to ever get – or be – ‘enough’?
On top of all that, The Recovering is a delight thanks to Jamison’s vivid, specific writing, which makes you feel, ironically, like you’re in a bar late at night with a new friend telling you their craziest stories and darkest secrets, and leaving nothing out.
Buy The Recovering
This Naked Mind, By Annie Grace
If you’re interested in how social conditioning, advertising and marketing influence our sub-conscious when it comes to alcohol, you’ll devour This Naked Mind.
High-flying American marketing executive Annie Grace was, at 26, vice president of a multinational company. By 35, her role saw her responsible for 28 countries. After years of drinking to de-stress and socialise with clients, she became frustrated by how much she relied on alcohol for those things, and began to investigate.
The result is an eye-opening look at why we might reach for a wine, beer or cocktail without really even wanting it. With intelligence, wisdom and humour, Grace shares research that has, for many readers, provided a new perspective on alcohol, liberating them to decide if they really want to drink at a particular moment, or if they’ve been influenced by seductive advertising or unconscious thought patterns.
The most valuable and empowering aspect of This Naked Mind is the reminder we don’t need a wine to relax after a stressful week at work, or a vodka to be fun at a party. The ability to be relaxed or fun doesn’t come from a bottle – it’s in us already.
This Naked Mind never verges into preachy or judgemental territory. It just arms the reader with information and knowledge, therefore providing the confidence to resist the pressure to drink – whether you’ve got a cardio class in the AM, an important meeting coming up … or you just, you know, don’t want to.
Buy This Naked Mind