Teetotalism - the complete abstinence from alcohol, for either religious, social, health reasons, or just through choice. I have chosen to write about this particular topic, to highlight my experiences, thoughts and opinions. As I am a 20 year old university student, I am aiming my argument more at the younger generation, but I hope I will speak across all generations. My latest stint at teetotalism lasted 13 months, so here I will share my reflections and thoughts on this time. I am not aiming to preach, as I believe the choice to drink alcohol is up to the individual
From a young age I have always known the perils of alcohol. My maternal Grandmother has been an alcoholic all her adult life, and although she has now reached the grand old age of 91, my relationship with her hasn't been a typical one. When visiting her, we would always have to take her a bottle of whiskey, as otherwise she would often pawn belongings to get money for it. She had many falls as a direct result of being drunk, and at one stage had to have an operation on her stomach because of alcohol damage. We even had to involve the police when a drug dealer began living in her house - because of the alcohol she had no touch on reality or the danger she would put herself in. Eventually, we had to put her in a carehome as she could no longer take care of herself.
Now, I realise that is a somewhat extreme account of what alcohol can do to you. My point in sharing this information isn't simply to scaremonger, however it does explain why I've always been dubious about it.
My own personal journey into teetotalism is not a direct result of my Grandmother. Although I've never been a regular or heavy drinker, in April 2010 as I was approaching the end of my 1st year of uni, I decided I was going to stop drinking alcohol altogether.
It was a real sense of empowerment which encouraged me to simply quit. Being at university, I am constantly swamped with flyers and facebook events, all advertising cheap drinks at the Students Union, because that's what you do as a student, right? But in all honesty, the drinking culture just never appealed to me in the same way it does for everyone else. Give me Tetley over Smirnoff anyday!
After sitting down and contemplating why young people drink, especially at the startling rate they do, I came to some conclusions. Other than to unwind and relax in social situations, the majority of students in my opinion, drink because they feel like they have to. Away from the watchful eye of parents, amongst new groups of friends, from what I have experienced - people do it either to impress or simply because of lack of confidence. "Everyone else is doing it so I have to".
There may be some people who totally disagree with me on this, and that is fine because we all have our own views, and if we all thought the same the world would be a dull place. But honestly, when you think about it, why do YOU drink?
If the answer is "To have a good time" then, don't you think it's a sad state of affairs? We all know, young people especially do silly things when under the influence, whether it's stealing traffic cones, jumping into hedges, taking clothes off in the street (just some of the things I have witnessed!), but can you really call *that* having a good time, especially when you are not in a correct state of mind and probably won't remember it in the morning?
When I think of the best times of my life, unsurprisingly none of them involve being under the influence. Travelling around Europe with friends following a music tour, visiting New York, and meeting Tori Amos are some of my life's highlights so far. I understand my account isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I wouldn't have it any other way, despite the backlash I often face.
For me it's about unlocking life's simple pleasures which can give you that sense of gratification without having to resort to a bottle - walking, spending time with loved ones, baking yummy cakes, going to concerts, travelling, and perhaps most of all writing and recording music.
There is the tired old saying which crops up quite often: "I did it because I was drunk" - a supposed excuse for fighting, lashing out, stripping in public, sordid and later highly regrettable goings on, etc. What many people fail to realize is that alcohol not only impairs judgment, but is also a depressant. From what I have witnessed, many seem incapable of judging their limits, and end up making a fool of themselves or even putting themselves in real danger.
Without fail whenever I have gone to club on a Friday/Saturday night, men will always come up and either try and grab me or say lurid things at me. This is the same for pretty much all my female friends who I asked. Now, if we were in a supermarket buying my bananas, and a guy tried to do the same thing I could have him arrested right?! But because we're in a club, and "he's drunk", it suddenly becomes socially acceptable. It can also be a scary experience if you have no male friends with you to protect you, and the man is being persistent - and not at all in a good way.
You what, you don't drink?!:
Needless to say, being a university student and also living with 18 year olds whilst in my second year accommodation, I have often been met by stony faced reactions when asked if I drink, or "go out". In many instances I have felt judged simply on the basis of my teetotalism, over who I am as a person, because to many, not getting bladdered at every opportunity is simply not normal. About as abnormal as the fact I live in Middlesbrough and don't wear fake tan - (tantotalism?)
I've taken such criticism with a pinch of salt - I will not allow myself to feel pressured simply because of mindless judgements cast upon me. If it can't be applauded that I choose for myself and not let others choose for me, then was Emily Pankhurst jumping infront of that horse really worth it?! *insert irony here!*
Since being teetotal, I have also watched with a beady eye, drunk flatmates coming in waking me up screaming playing music etc etc. It's perhaps less amusing when you don't drink and have a deadline. But looking at intoxicated behaviour when you yourself are not, although can sometimes be amusing, can also be a real eye opener. This is especially the case when it involves people flashing body parts, being sick, screaming and yelling (usually nonsensical notions) - is that really something I should find appealing?! To all those who argue it is "just a part of being young", who decided all of this, and what
where you thinking?
Time on My Teetotalism
After my 13th month stint at teetotalism, I decided I was going to celebrate the end of my second year of university with a few quiet drinks in the student's union. I had a few double vodka's, and as I went home that night I suddenly remembered my dislike for alcohol. In the night I began shaking, feeling incredibly sick, I couldn't sleep and I had an early train to catch the next morning - not a good combination. Perhaps it was because I hadn't drunk in such a long while my body didn't know how to react, but I remember feeling dreadful, wishing there was something I could do to make it stop. Why was I doing this to myself?
Needless to say when I woke up the next morning, feeling like a corpse with a train to catch, I knew that staying on my teetotal plan was the right thing for me and my body. Yes, I could try drinking less or anything not containing vodka... but why not just cut out alcohol altogether? It worked for me before and I felt fantastic - this morning I did not.
Looking at the wider social impact of alcohol, there is also the crippling strain on the Emergency services, particularly on a weekend when revellers swamp A&E departments. My personal opinion on this, is that anyone who has to be treated by the NHS for alcohol related injuries, should be made to pay for their treatment, especially when they are abusive towards staff or fellow patients.
The point I wish to leave you with on the subject of teetotalism, is really to stress that the choice of drinking alcohol, or to abstain is ours; and should always be. I believe many people, particularly the young and impressionable, drink far too much, too regularly and for the wrong reasons. Briton's have a reputation for drinking abroad and it's not difficult to see why, but does it really have to be that way? On the flip side, I don't wish to judge those who choose to drink, especially socially, for celebratory toasting, and of course sensible drinking. Banning alcohol would not be a solution, as we should always have the right to choose for ourselves.
There are some who would argue that education is the key to reducing alcohol related problems, such as binge drinking etc especially amongst the younger generation - however with peer pressure and the glamorisation of alcohol, particularly amongst celebrities and the media, is better education really the answer?
For me, my short lived "relapse", reminded me of the benefits teetotalism actually gives me. Not suffering any hangovers whatsoever allows me to focus on the things that are important to me. I wake up each morning feeling fantastic - not feeling as if I could be sick any moment, the room spinning as I trip over remnants of the fast food I bought on the way home (or the even the bloke!). But most of all, I feel in control of what I am doing, and what I believe in. Even though a lot of people do frown on me for not drinking, I feel what I am doing is in my best interests not only for my health, but for my wellbeing.
Alcohol Related Stats:
*3,000 people are killed or seriously injured each year in drink drive collisions
*The UK has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in Europe
*Alcohol is estimated to be responsible for 33,000 deaths in the UK each year
*Around 40% of patients admitted to A&E are diagnosed with alcohol-related injuries or illnesses.
*More than 30,000 people were admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning in England in 2007-08
Thankyou for reading, I hope I have inspired at least one person out there to take the plunge and join me in my teetotal lifestyle.