We all live in our bubbles braced by social media that make us believe in certain realities and then we are surprised when we happen to leave the bubble that the world is a bit different. But I would dare to say that the bubble of the community that is promoting alcohol-free lifestyle is growing. The drink revolution is picking up momentum, more and more people and communities are sharing their positive experiences with alcohol-free choices, they have more and more insights about our system fed by alcohol myths and alcohol producers that would do anything to maximize their profits. And luckily the variety of alcohol-free drinks on the market is expanding.
The latest news about the most comprehensive study ever showing that the safest level of alcohol use is zero has been widely reported and spread and will for sure influence people’s choices. At the same time, we know that knowing facts only does not necessarily lead to a change in behavior. Contexts do. And that is why I think, drink revolution is really important to create that context. What does it mean to make an alcohol-free choice?
There is much more to alcohol-free choices than just the fact that a drink is without alcohol. Let me share with you some thoughts about the language and how words matter. Let’s have a closer look at the word “without”. I think there are three problems with the word “Without” in this context:
People living without alcohol might in the best case be seen as strong individuals. Resisting temptation. Resisting the norm. Unique. One of a kind. Which paints a picture that a choice to be without alcohol is something special. Only for strong ones. For and by the brave ones. Or only for those who really HAVE to. While we know that’s not the case. The reality looks different.
There are many people who would prefer to go alcohol-free if they could.
If there was a choice at all.
If there was a better choice.
If there was that freedom to do it.
If there was that freedom from questions.
If there was that freedom from looks. Expectations. Pressures. And complicated politics of social relations in which choosing alcohol-free is often interpreted as despise of all those who do choose a drink with alcohol.
All those “if”s come to our minds with the words “without booze” on very subtle levels. And those subtle thoughts make people hesitant to the idea of choosing alcohol-free.
Without knowing exactly why, in people’s minds, the concept “without alcohol” does not seem attractive because the word “without” kicks off all the subconscious notions of needing to conform with norms, wanting to belong, wanting to just have some peace for a while and not being questioned, not having to challenge someone. In western culture, celebrating without alcohol is perceived as demanding.
In addition to that, in western culture, the image of a person who goes for a choice without alcohol is an image of life without any excitement, without joy, laughter, adventures, party, and romance. Describing a life or a choice by saying what is NOT done, strips away everything that IS done. Being defined by what we do NOT do, especially in the culture of alcohol use, reduces people to that “choice”. Or better said: it reduces people to that rejection. Exclusively. That person becomes someone who does not want stuff, does not want to hang out, does not want to have fun and does not want others to have fun.
Another word and its use the sober community (or everybody) needs to be aware of is “party”. Speaking about their sobriety and alcohol-free lifestyle, I have heard many people say: “I do not party anymore”. Which I dare say is not true in most of the cases. A party is a social gathering of invited guests usually involving eating, drinking and entertainment. Synonyms for party can be dance, open house, reunion, shower, reception, wedding. I believe many sober people go to those. Alcohol use, on the other hand, is NOT a synonym for party – it’s the current pervasive alcohol norm that teaches us that party and after work, and adventure all are used synonymously for alcohol use. Which brings me back to the word “without”. According to the logic I just described, celebrating birthday without alcohol would mean no party.
What is missing in our current understanding is the concrete idea of what a day, a party, a month or life “without” alcohol actually is like, feels like and looks like? Let’s look at “no alcohol” day. What does it actually mean? One rather extreme understanding is: Sitting at home doing nothing. And this understanding makes people who choose to be sober go bananas to prove that they too can have fun trying to be the craziest out of craziest people on the dance floor shaking their butts off.
Words matter. And if we want to shatter the alcohol norm and create environments where more people enjoy their lives, we need to be aware of words we are using. And that is why to shatter the current pervasive and harmful alcohol norm and create more freedom for more people, we need to change the discourse. Let’s stop talking about NO alcohol day, and choices to go without alcohol, and life without alcohol.
What I’m proposing is to say: YES TO MORE and in doing so, show all the beautiful benefits that alcohol-free choices bring. There are so many amazing examples of these gains (and a whole blog about it here). I would summarize them in three categories:
It is time to flip the script, and in our narrative move from NOs and WITHOUTs to a life-affirming focus on YES TO MORE. Yes to more drinks and less worries, yes to partying in the night and coming fresh to work or school the next morning, yes to better conversations, yes to new interests, yes to more self-care, yes to new encounters, yes to better health, yes to more freedom, yes to more celebration of life that comes with alcohol-free choices. Yes to more moments.
Also published on Medium.