How I gave up drinking in the music industry (and survived)
A friend of mine once said to me, ‘I don’t know how you don’t drink Viv Fantin!!!!’
It wasn’t a question. More of a plaintive statement, but the subtext was clear. How the hell do you get through the day without a drink? Not. One. Drop.
I’m in the music industry and no longer drink alcohol. Actually, it’s not a new thing. Roughly nine years ago, I made a tough personal choice and gave up drinking altogether. I have honestly never felt better. I feel clearer. I am more productive. I now know definitively that children and hangovers don’t mix.
I know many, many people in the creative industries who are in a constant state of trying to cut back, slow down or stop drinking altogether. A few have managed to pull it off, cold turkey. Many abstain during the dedicated months (febfast, Dry July, Ocsober) but find it hard to sustain. There are festivals, launches, tours, conferences, lunches, chart positions to celebrate, and sorrows to drown. There’s often something in the way and plans to cut down or quit are derailed. The thinking becomes future focused, “When such and such is over, I’ll stop”. But then the next thing gets in the way.
In many creative workplaces drinking on the job is not exactly discouraged. In some offices I’ve shared, it’s actually been condoned. At 10am. So there can be a culture of enabling, often in the spirit of good fun and camaraderie. And if you’re a person who seriously struggles with addiction on any scale, this can spell big trouble. For those wishing to cut back or stop altogether, inner strength, support and some very clear boundaries are in order.
From the diluted to the extreme
The last thing I want is for this to come across as preachy. I’m not a wowser. I’ve done more than my share of boozing and (mostly) enjoyed it at the time. I’ve gone through phases of drinking every night of the week then cut back to just weekends and binged all over again. I’m pretty sure I’ve participated in at least one of those quit-alcohol themed months. I’ve been hung over, silly, slurry, feisty and said a few regrettable things.
But I wasn’t drinking to numb any pain. I didn’t have a problem with alcohol. I didn’t black out. I was just a run of the mill social drinker from the suburbs who happened to land in the music industry. I drank for fun and because my peers did it. It’s really important for me to make this distinction as I don’t want to compare my situation with that of a person who is really struggling with alcohol addiction. Because I know that to be brutal.
Even when I drank I didn’t ever get really smashed. Just pleasantly sloshed, sozzled enough to be able to sit around dark bars into the small hours debating the merits of Oasis versus Blur or why You Am I never cracked it in America. I was mostly in control of myself.
I was also very lucky. I don’t have an addictive personality and I didn’t feel as though I was masking any deep seated psychological problems by drinking. But I did have health issues that were being seriously compromised by drinking so the choice was simple. In the end, I just wanted to stop because my health was at stake. It was a simple equation. Drinking seriously aggravated my auto-immune condition. Not drinking made it feel better.
I stopped for good when I fell pregnant with my second child and (conveniently) totally lost my taste for alcohol. I realise not everyone reading this will find it so easy. I know there are degrees of social drinking that veer wildly from the diluted to the extreme. But having a powerful catalyst certainly helped me stop.
Would they think I’m a killjoy?
So I did it. And then I worried. Would I still be included in social events? If so, would I still want to go? Would I have the stamina to stay up all night that booze seems to offer? Would my friends want to hang around a non-drinker? Would they think I’m a killjoy? Would I have social anxiety without the crutch of alcohol? All these questions and more had to be asked and answered.
I’ve had to coach myself through a number of these fixed mindsets I had in place around my alcohol consumption:
- Would I become boring? HOPEFULLY NOT
- Would my friends change their behaviour around me? SOME BUT NOT MY CLOSE ONES
- Could I still have fun without booze enhancement? YES
- Would people still include me? YES
- Would I get all judgey being around others who drink to excess? I TRY VERY, VERY HARD NOT TO.
In order to process the change, I had to focus on the upsides, which were:
- I can still have nights out with my friends (just not as late)
- My mind is clearer
- I don’t get hangovers
- I still say what I think
- I’m a cheap date
- I’ve saved money
- I no longer care what other people think of my non-drinking
- People don’t have to watch me dance in public
Truth is, some relationships will change. Some temporarily, others might be dealt a fatal body blow. There is a period of adjustment that can be uncomfortable. Not just for the person doing away with alcohol but for the friends and loved ones who have only ever known that person as a drinker. The dynamic shifts. You will change.
It’s worth examining the motives behind your drinking. If you’re trying to drink less or stop drinking, consider the following:
- Do you actually like drinking?
- How much time and effort goes into drinking?
- How much money goes into drinking?
- Is drinking holding you back from achieving your goals?
- Is drinking interfering with your life?
- Does drinking make you feel good about yourself?
- Do you drink for pleasure or use alcohol as a crutch for social anxiety?
- Specifically, what are the regular effects of drinking? (Regular hangovers, waking up feeling you’ve said or done the wrong thing, feeling as though you have to apologise to friends the morning after.)
- What’s the upside of drinking?
- What’s the downside?
- What is the worst thing that could happen if you cut back or stop?
- What are the positive outcomes?
The curious side of human nature
I’ve learned some interesting things about human nature since I gave up drinking alcohol. Firstly, there is an insecurity around both drinking and not drinking alcohol. In some quarters there’s a deep-seated suspicion of people who don’t drink. It’s so culturally ingrained that some folks can’t seem to wrap their heads around standing in a bar with a non-drinker. People are genuinely perplexed and curious. They want to know WHY. In fact, at times, people have demanded to know why. Sometimes in a funny way. Other times in just a gob-smackingly, painful way. That’s probably been the hardest part. Feeling as though I have to constantly justify my non-drinking.
I recently read an article about how to ‘survive’ being a non-drinker. Included was a helpful tip which involved standing around with a decoy drink, basically a mocktail with a little colourful cocktail umbrella in it so people would be fooled. But I don’t want to trick people! It’s taken me a while but I own my sobriety and will back it every time.
I’ve stopped feeling as though I have to explain myself these days. That feels good. My close friends get it. My family gets it although I know my husband occasionally pines for the looser, drinking version of me he met all those years ago.
I still go to festivals, parties and launches, and feel like I can hold my own without having to drink. I don’t feel like a social pariah, but in my more vulnerable moments, I feel like an outsider and that feels lonely. Do I miss drinking? Sometimes. But when I come close to someone with a raging hangover, muscle memory kicks in. I just don’t want to go back there. Ever.
So now, at every event and festival, there is a growing number of us who huddle together over our sparkling mineral waters. I’m sure the irony is not lost on any of us.
Reproduced with permission from my blog Next Act Coaching.