Learning To Drink Mindfully (Or 'Normally' As Other People Call It)

'Tis the season for bubbles, baubles and, for Sophie White the ever-present booze bummer


“I’m doing this thing where I only drink once a week,” I tell my friend, confident that she’ll be madly impressed.

“Oh, so just what normal people do, Sophie,” she quips.

Touché, b*tch.

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I’ve never really looked at my drinking straight on. I like to observe it from my peripheral vision, skirting the reality and ignoring the unpleasant side effects of my mindless boozing.

It’s easy to lie to others about drinking, or at least it is for me. I’m fairly high functioning. It is rare, it seems that others notice my drinking as much as I am noticing my drinking.

DrinkAware is an extraordinarily aptly named service. Awareness of my drinking is exactly the thing I don’t want, but clearly, need. I like to drink with a kind of casual ignorance, a willful unawareness.

How many of us don’t really want to know the truth about our drinking?

The first unpleasant truth when I visited Drinkaware was that a home glass of wine, is likely equivalent to two glasses of wine, meaning my more moderate bookclub outings of “just a few glasses” were not the abstemious occasions of self-restraint that I billed them to be. The second truth bomb was that, on an average week of wine with dinner at home, by Friday I was already halfway to exceeding a healthy limit of alcohol. And to my mind, I hadn’t even actually gone on a proper night out yet.

Is feeling self-conscious about your drinking a sign of a deeper problem? I have googled signs of alcoholism and while I know I’m not an alcoholic, I do have a deep, dark suspicion of my own relationship to booze. When I was 22 I gave up alcohol for several years because I had a serious (mental) health scare and not only was alcohol incompatible with the strong medication I was prescribed, it also produced effects I no longer enjoyed.

Around that time an old college tutor, upon hearing that I no longer drank alcohol and apparently assuming it was addiction-related, congratulated me saying “you’d always seemed to struggle with the concept of moderation”. Ouch, but accurate.

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As I said, I don’t believe that I am an alcoholic or even a problem drinker exactly. In Ireland we don’t have a lot of nuance around this subject, you’re either grand or an ‘alco’ which I think allows for quite a lot of problematic drinking to go unchecked. We feel that if we are questioning our booze behaviour then we must have a problem and no one wants a problem. After looking at a lot of the information available online, I finally started to identify where my drinking departs from “normal” drinking. I drink mindlessly, I drink very quickly without really having any awareness of how much I am consuming.

As the pre-Christmas ramps up (earlier and earlier every year yadayadaya) the invitations are flooding in. As a semi-professional media ligger (ligger definition: An individual who attends parties, openings, social gatherings and events with the sole intention of obtaining free food and drink) and hobbyist boozehound, I could spend every night between now and New Year’s Day in a state of mild to extreme tipsiness. And for Christmas’ past, this has largely been the case, however this November I began to toy with the notion of moderation. Not abstinence, which being the compulsive personality I am is not actually that hard for me, since my teens I have largely been either totally on the wagon (at one point for years at a time) or I can be found singing Shania Twain down the back of the garden at a house party having fallen into a bush (and made my home there). Going completely on the dry is not particularly difficult for me, moderation is where I fall down.

The cycle of hangover fear, regret and hazy memories of nights out was starting to wear me out. So two months ago, I made a rule, one night of drinking a week. This, as my friend pointed out, may not be the radical overhaul I think it is, but it has made a big impact on me. Without my customary glass of wine (or what is actually according to Drinkaware, two glasses of wine poured into a goldfish bowl-sized wineglass) in the evenings I was more likely to still make something of my time after the kids’ bedtime. I went for a walk with my friend, caught up on the next day’s to-do list, or would go for my swim. An even more welcome side effect was my new largely guilt-free existence, before my month of moderation I would often feel a kind of low-lying, generalised guilt whether it be because I had put my foot in it with a friend while out drinking or just strayed beyond the first glass of wine sitting in of a Wednesday night.

For my one night of drinking alcohol, or the weekly Booze Cruise as my husband dubbed it, I made three rules to help me drink more mindfully.

#1 No more than three glasses of wine

11 standard drinks per week are the current recommended HSE guidelines for healthy consumption of alcohol for women. Placing a cap on drinks at the start of the night works for me, I think of it like a booze budget and tend to ‘spend’ it more carefully, skipping pre-dinner cocktails, saving for the wine with dinner.

#2 Don’t get a top up until the glass is finished

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Regularly being topped up means you literally have no idea what you’ve consumed by the end of the meal.

#3 Take a selfie after every drink

As an avid selfie-taker, obviously this rule was my favourite, according to Drinkaware, this helps to “chart the exact moment that you’ve had enough.”

Merry Moderation everybody!

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