One of my readers sent me an article recently from ABC in Australia. It was about research being undertaken by a PHD student - Ashlea Bartram - at the University of Adelaide into drinking habits of over 25's.
Ashlea says that "drinking is, for many people, something that is very ingrained in their social life, something they tend to do with friends and it has a lot of meaning attached to it... to celebrate, to commiserate, to mark achievements." (Don't we know it?!)
"To not drink risks losing all those meanings that we attached to the drinking. You're rejecting not just the drink, but the celebration and all the experiences."
One of her interviewees backs this up: "I drink very little alcohol in relation to my friends and I get the sense they feel I'm judging them when they get boozy, that I'm taking the high moral ground or something."
Ashlea found that, in many cases, the solution people found to this social dilemma was to fake it.
"As someone who doesn't drink, I find it easier at social functions now to just have a red wine that I hold," said one interviewee. "No-one notices that you don't actually drink it, but they notice and go on and on if you don't have one in your hand."
There was another article in The Times and The Sun in the UK recently, under the headline Sobriety's taken me by surprise...and it feels great (click here for full article) in which journalist Daisy Goodwin talks about quitting the 'lady petrol'.
(Co-incidentally, Daisy was, like me, diagnosed with breast cancer a few months after she quit. She says she is incredibly grateful that she was sober when she got the diagnosis, because "I am quite sure that otherwise, my reaction would have been to anaesthetise myself.")
At the end of the article, Daisy prints some 'teetotal tips', one of which is: DON’T TELL PEOPLE YOU HAVE GIVEN UP - I usually nurse a glass of champagne. Non-drinkers make drinkers uncomfortable – better to practise some deception.
Now, Daisy only quit three months ago, and I get the impression reading her article that she's still at the 'parties are really hard work, and I'm not sure I'll ever enjoy them again' stage.
I've been there. But I do feel that I'm coming out the other side. I'm loving parties again, though in a different way from before.
Instead of buzzing round the room in a blur, talking to no-one for more than ten minutes, I find a few old friends, or new people who look fascinating, and have a really good chat (which I remember in detail the next day. Who knew?).
Even so, I do totally get the fake drinking thing. At dinner parties I let people fill up my wine glass. At drinks parties I choose drinks that look alcoholic. Not because I'm embarrassed about not drinking, but because other people get totally hung up on it. It becomes the only thing you're able to talk about.
And I know what they're thinking. I know because it's what I used to think. It goes like this: Oh God I'm sitting next to the TEETOTALLER. This is going to be really HARD WORK. They'll be no fun. I'll have to have a SERIOUS CONVERSATION. They'll judge me. Am I slurring? Beam me up, Scotty!
So I fake it. And no-one knows I'm not drinking (unless I choose to tell them). I don't have to talk about it, or defend myself. They don't think I'm dull, worthy or judgemental (I hope). Problem solved.
But isn't it ridiculous?!?
Imagine a situation at a party where you felt you had to hold a cigarette in order to make the smokers feel more comfortable! Or pretend to eat a deep fried Mars Bar so as to make the morbidly obese person next to you less self conscious.
It's not our problem, it's theirs!
I wonder whether, or when, not drinking will start to be seen as a perfectly valid and normal lifestyle choice that can be embraced and celebrated rather than disguised.
Perhaps we can make it happen, my friends.