herald

Tuesday 18 September 2018

We called last orders on alcohol and have still got a social life

Arlene Harris meets two women who say socialising is better sober

Karen Dempsey. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Karen Dempsey. Photo: Doug O'Connor

For many people the idea of going to a party without the aid of some Dutch courage is a horrifying thought.

Everyone knows the dangers around alcohol. Leaving the obvious health risks behind, there is also the very big threat of doing something unplanned or out of character while under the influence.

Many an unwanted encounter has taken place after one too many and while regular drinkers know this is a potential side-effect of a big night out, few are reluctant to meet someone new without an alcoholic crutch.

We spoke to two women who regularly socialise without the aid of a drink and who not only find it quite possible to engage with others, but actually find it liberating.

Cathy O'Brien (37) lives in Naas, Co Kildare, where she works as manager of the Naas Sports Centre. She doesn't drink alcohol at all and although she has sometimes found this to be a barrier when socialising, she believes that relationships based on alcohol are less meaningful than those that aren't.

"I don't drink alcohol at all. I never started drinking when I was younger and I always enjoyed going out without it. I had a big involvement in sport and preferred to live a healthier life and nights out without suffering the next day.

"But I have found the social scene difficult at times. Firstly, everyone wants to know what is in my glass and why am I not drinking. It can get tiresome saying I have made the choice not to.

Conversation

"I have had many occasions where a man is talking to me and into the conversation he finds out that I am sober. He then doesn't want to talk to me anymore because he thinks that I will remember everything he says.

"At the beginning of a night everyone is more or less on the same level. But as the night progresses and more and more alcohol is drunk, men become less inhibited and gain the courage to go up and talk to or dance with a group of girls.

"So I would definitely say that relationships or dating where there is no abuse of alcohol can be more meaningful ones on an emotional and physical level. I can only comment from my experience of being sober and being involved with partners who have been drinking.

"Things that are said or done while the person is under the influence can be very different to what is said or done when both parties are sober because anything which happens while abusing alcohol is based on a distorted reality and therefore in effect is meaningless.

"When one person is sober and the other person is drinking it can be difficult to ascertain what is reality and what has real meaning.

"So when both parties are sober, there is a much greater chance of developing and deepening any relationship.

"There is currently nowhere in Naas to socialise without alcohol. But in Dublin I have been fortunate enough to have found the Funky Seomra, which is a dance nightclub where like-minded people from all walks of life can come together and dance and socialise without any alcohol.

"My first night there over four years ago was such a huge relief for me. I no longer felt like I had to explain myself and was able to enjoy the space and comfort to express and dance freely.

Courage

"I think if you have made your own decision not to drink, others need to try and respect that decision. It is your body and your mind and you have no one to answer to except yourself.

"If you are hoping to meet a man and feel you need courage, the most attractive quality you can have is to be totally yourself. If someone does not accept you as you really are, then they are not worth having in your life and your time will be better spent finding someone who values you for you."

Karen Dempsey (35), from Dublin 7, is a life coach and therapist who works with people who have Alopecia (and has the condition herself). She gave up drinking a year ago and since then has noticed that her social and dating life has become a lot more honest – and she is feeling healthier to boot.

"I gave up alcohol over a year ago and I haven't looked back since. I got tired of the hangovers, both physical and financial and began to realise that pretty much everything alcohol had to offer was an illusion. It didn't make me feel better, or look better, or enjoy myself more, or relax – in reality it did the opposite and left me feeling unwell, guilty and ultimately more stressed.

"I was the type who would rarely drink midweek, but would go out at the weekend and end up drinking more than I'd intended. Then I'd waste the next day recovering from the night before. I had a hectic life as it was, so I decided I didn't want to waste my weekends on alcohol any longer.

"On a social level I think alcohol is just a big hammer to break the ice with. But if I'm not interested enough to sit and chat with someone when I'm sober, why would I hope they'll become more interesting when I'm drunk?

"And in the dating game, if you're out with someone you don't like, it's much easier to have a few more drinks to numb yourself until you're convinced you're having fun. But at least when you're not drinking, you can tell whether your enjoyment is genuine or as a result of the mojitos.

"There's also the serious issue of the beer goggles. Now that I no longer drink, I see how misleading they are.

"I've seen really good-looking, intelligent, charismatic guys descend into gibbering, obnoxious wrecks in the space of hours as a result of alcohol. If that's what they do on a regular basis, I'd prefer to find out sooner rather than later.

"It's also well-known that decision-making capacities are severely affected by alcohol, so it would follow that people are likely to make different decisions with alcohol than they would have otherwise, which can land them in pretty serious situations.

"I don't think that alcohol necessarily makes any relationship any more or less meaningful in itself.

"However, it's reassuring to know that anything taking place in that relationship is done in full conscious awareness and not because of a mood brought on or exacerbated by alcohol.

"I socialise in the exact same places I did with alcohol, except less frequently and I go home when things start to get messy. It's great to know my car is outside and I can stay for as long or as little as I like.

"My social life has definitely improved in quality since I stopped drinking. Now I drive myself, I'm not restricted by taxi fares if I want to go somewhere off the beaten track

"And if someone suggests a Saturday morning hike, I can say yes and be confident that no matter how late I might stay out the night before, I definitely won't have to cancel because of a hangover."

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