Now here’s something I’d love to have people’s opinions on…
Just back from what was probably the best short break we’ve ever had, which is an enormous statement given there have been so many and they’ve all been crazy and wonderful. Let’s just say Gothenburg delivered – sunshine from clear blue skies, in the company of close friends, awesome food, friendly people and on our last evening Foo Fighters rocked everyone’s socks off at Ullevi Arena to the point where I was beginning to feel religious. Those boys are phenomenal live and I found myself humming Best of You and Wheels in the car on my way to work this morning.
Best thing of all – I stayed sober and it was wonderful. I’m so happy that I can do all these things I felt doubtful about when I decided to quit drinking and this weekend (which, just like Paris, we booked before I abandoned the booze) was absolutely one of the things that made me hesitate. How could you possibly enjoy a mad weekend in Gothenburg – let alone a rock concert – without drinking? Turns out you totally can and that I enjoyed it much more than I would have if I’d still been on the juice. And no way would I have been able to stay through a whole concert, I would have been stressed out of my mind because the seat rows were stupidly narrow and it would have been impossible to keep running back and forth fetching more drinks. Instead we just sat there happily taking in the atmosphere and music, hubby nursing his beer like a normal person and felt no need to get another, and me occasionally taking a sip from my bottle of water. It was perfection.
My friend L’s husband also doesn’t drink alcohol. I’ve never heard him say he is an alcoholic or that he’s had problems, he’s only hinted that when he drinks it doesn’t turn out so great, but it’s not for me to draw conclusions although I don’t think he’s ever drunk the way I used to. As it happens, when they came to see us in London a couple of months ago, I quite openly shared with them not only that I’d quit drinking but also the reasons why. It’s funny actually, because when I first quit I was dreading the reactions from people. I mean, I’ve spent my whole adult life drinking like a sailor on leave so I expected people to be shocked and have a million questions that’d become uncomfortable. There’s been none of that and it was easy, liberating and really quite nice to just tell L and her husband about it. No judgement whatsoever, just sharing with friends that I trust. Because that’s one of the things I’m still a little weary of – it’s not always so easy to explain you’re a drunk and I’m sure there are times those words are met with disapproval and even disgust. It’s not a nice label to wear. Luckily, it would seem I have the best people in the world around me so up to this point I’ve only been met with love and kindness. Phew.
Anyway, after a day in the sun and wandering around the beautiful city that some call “Little London”, we got to that time when you really fancy finding a bar with an outdoor area where you can have a drink and chill out in the afternoon sun. Said and done, so we found this bar on a street corner and I was tossing up whether I wanted a coffee or a soft drink. Did I mention how I like the smell of beer? I only ever really drank wine and weirdly the smell of wine makes me shudder now – although I used to drink it at such break neck speed I suppose I never did smell it – but the smell of beer, mm….. So when L’s husband ordered an alcohol free beer for himself and turned to me to check if I wanted one, I happily obliged. See? This is what I mean about how nice and easy it was to share my new non-drinking approach to life with these lovely friends – it was just “OK, cool” and no big deal, and when we got to a bar I was offered something alcohol free, in this case beer! I’d forgotten that this is quite common in Sweden, alcohol free beer, and it exists because it means you can enjoy the taste but not have to worry about driving or getting drunk. Sensible little Swedes, gotta love’em.
When we found a lovely little area in a corner with a bit of shade to protect our red shoulders from more sun, I carefully scanned the label. 0.05% alcohol. You could quite literally drink 100 of those bottles and still be sober. Still, my fear was that even a trace of alcohol might set me off – WHAT IF? Then I realised my deodorant contains more alcohol than that and relaxed. Fuck me, was it good to have a beer! I could enjoy the taste and have a beer, it was SO nice. And that was IT! I wonder if this is what it’s like to not be an alcoholic, because nothing happened in me. That raging desire didn’t come to life and a while later I realised that on the table in front of me I saw something I have never seen before. L and my hubby had finished their regular beers and L’s hubby had finished his non-alco beer too. Left was my glass which was still half full. MY GLASS HAS NEVER EVER BEEN THE LAST ONE WITH DRINK LEFT IN IT BEFORE. And when they got some more drinks in, I still had plenty – there was no reason to drink any more than my actual thirst dictated because no alcohol had woken the beast in me. I looked at the table and was filled with joy.
Later on when we were going to get on the ferry back across the harbour to our hotel, we stopped for another drink. Alcohol free beer can have up to 1% alcohol content I think, and the kind they had here had 0.5%. That made me feel uneasy and I decided against it. It’s still so low that I can’t imagine it’d wreck everything but on balance it wasn’t worth it for me. As much as I don’t REALLY care about the science behind the fact that I’m an alcoholic – I am a drunk and that’s that – or what happens biologically in my body when I take a drink, what was going around in my mind was “physical allergy” being part of it, and what if half a percent would be enough to trigger it all off? I wasn’t going to find out and see no need to play Russian Roulette with my health. As fantastic as it was to enjoy a beer, it would never, ever be worth risking my sobriety for. Funnily enough, I would never bother with and have no desire whatsoever to try alcohol free wine. Birra Moretti Zero though – yum!
But anyway! Whoever might read this – what do you think? Do you think alcohol free beer is playing with fire? Do you read this and see someone who is taking her first steps back into active alcoholism by claiming to drink because she likes the taste? Or do you see someone who likes the taste and can continue to enjoy alco-free beer without a care in the world? As always, I’m genuinely interested and more importantly, I know that if my drunkard’s brain were to take over I could probably make myself believe anything so any opinions or perspectives are welcome!