Thinking of taking a break from alcohol? Cliona Elliott looks at the sober curious movement
Your head is pounding. You open one eye and roll onto your side, hoping there's a glass of water next to your bed. The stale smell of hangover fills the room, and memories of last night start appearing in your mind. Because you're still half-cut, you try to convince yourself that the dancing on the table and having in-depth conversations about the universe with a stranger didn't happen. As you begin to sober up, alcohol-induced anxiety, or better known as the 'fear', sinks over you. It's a crippling feeling that makes you want to hide from the world, eat a mountain of greasy carbs and perhaps question your existence. Every time you overdo it with the booze, you ask yourself, "Is it really worth it?" And the words, "I am never drinking again" reverberate in your head.
Like most people in their mid-twenties, alcohol has been a key part of my adulthood and I’ve endured my fair share of hangovers. Birthdays, after-work drinks, summer barbeques, leaving parties and catching up with friends—alcohol sits at the top table of almost every social occasion. And in my experience at least, it has always been synonymous with having a good time.
The intention behind having a drink is not always to get drunk—I genuinely enjoy the taste of good wine and the refreshing taste of a beer on a hot day. But I'll have a glass of liquid courage before going on a date, and a glass of wine is always appealing after a hectic day at work. I have not experienced dependency on alcohol in the traditional sense, but I am definitely becoming more aware of how alcohol operates in the deeper levels of the psyche, and also within wider society.
"When I have been sober-curious, I notice a spike in my energy and productivity levels, feel less anxious and generally feel an increased level of wellbeing."
Taking a break from drinking has been popularised with trends such as 'dry January' and 'Sober October', but more people are exploring #soberlife further. Ruby Warrington is the author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, and the leading voice of the sober curious movement. Ruby's definition of what it means to be sober-curious is, "to literally question every impulse, every invitation or every expectation to drink, whether it’s on your behalf or in the eyes of others, rather than just go along with the dominant drinking culture."
Ruby has been sober-curious for nine years now, and she says, "one of the things that I always find myself having to explain is that I wasn’t an alcoholic. The only description for myself comes with a lot of explaining, that tends to be along the lines of, 'I didn’t wake up in the morning desperate for a drink, but I couldn’t go out to a bar without having four.'" There have been many occasions when I didn't honour what my body and mind were telling me. I've gone out drinking until the early hours in shitty bars where they never change the music playlist, despite really not feeling it, and spent a fortune trying to get in the mood for the sake of having fun. And for what?
Being sober-curious usually goes hand-in-hand with a healthier lifestyle overall. When I have been sober-curious, I notice a spike in my energy and productivity levels, feel less anxious and generally feel an increased level of wellbeing, both physically and mentally. I also spend more time doing the things that feed my soul, like going on weekend adventures, yoga, camping, reading, cooking and attending classes and workshops.
In a culture where people drink to relax and lose inhibitions, being sober-curious can be difficult, and one of the most common concerns Ruby hears from newly sober-curious people is that it will have a negative impact on their social life. But solid friendships are bound by a much stronger spirit than alcohol, and there are many ways to connect and have fun that don’t involve drinking. Ruby says, “there are people who are consciously choosing not to drink, but not necessarily doing yoga”. This led her to create an event series called Club SÖDA NYC—a sober event that isn’t boring, where people can meet and connect with new people outside of work hours. As the sober-curious movement grows and sobriety becomes more fashionable, it will be interesting to see if sober social events become more popular.
The sober-curious movement has removed the all-or-nothing mentality that is attached to sobriety. Doing things sober, when you'd usually have a drink in-hand, pushes you to step outside of your comfort zone. You can be sober-curious for one night, a week, a month or never have a drink again. It doesn’t require you to put yourself in a box. It simply encourages you to be more present and to invite more awareness into your life—to question yourself when you think you need a drink to dance, or be confident on a date, or just be your authentic self.