I LOVE nights out. I love pre-drinking, I love dancing, I love pubs, I love having fun, being social, meeting new people, talking to strangers, making fast friends. I love losing my voice in a karaoke bar at 4am while some poor barman pries the microphone from my hands while I spit Celine Dion lyrics furiously into his face. I love having an “I love you soooo much, no really, I do!” heart-to-heart with my close friends.
When you read those things, you probably pictured most of them involving drunk people, right? Because yeah, all of the above are, in Ireland, associated with drinking. Sure, pubs are okay on occasion if you’re off the drink for Dry January. And yeah, being social can mean many different things, lots not involving alcohol at all.
I don’t drink.
I’m not alone in that, obviously. Plenty of people don’t. Although it’s still rare enough in Ireland that when I tell people that for the first time, they usually remark “oh really?” with an air of piqued interest. They’re sometimes confused (Americans cannot wrap their head around the fact – ‘But… you’re IRISH???) and they’re sometimes intrigued as to why (are you very religious? Are you a recovering alcoholic? Are you Amish?? I’ve heard it all!) but mostly, the response I get is “fair play to you! I couldn’t do it!” My friends and family are incredible, and all fully understand and accept my teetotal stance. But acquaintances and people I’ve just met presume I’m a craic vacuum, dry, shy, etc etc etc. Which is a bit closed-minded, really. And it used to annoy me, but I’ve come to accept it as a fact of life when the country you live in’s main pastime is drinking.
People sometimes marvel at my ability to have the same night out they have without drink being behind it, and to that I say this: there’s nothing special about that. It’s not an ability. Anyone can do it, it’s just that most people choose to let the drink take charge. Someone said to me once “imagine this nightclub if no one was drinking. It’d be shite!” And look, I’m not gonna argue with that. It probably would have been. But maybe a nightclub wouldn’t be the only place to have fun in Dublin on a Saturday night if that was the case? Would we diversify? Who knows!
As a teenager, not drinking was kinda okay. My friends accepted it. I was strong enough as a young person not to be too bothered with anyone who didn’t. Now that I’m in my late twenties, it’s bloody hard. I thought my teens would be the toughest part. I was wrong!
I’ll try to explain, if I can.
During a particularly long working week, when everyone was stressed out and tired, my colleagues were all talking about the bottle of wine or the gin and tonic they were going to enjoy on Friday evening. I wanted to be like ‘yeah, I’m DYING for a cold can of Coke, just to take the edge off’. But that, to a person who drinks alcohol, sounds a bit stupid. How could I enjoy a can of Coke the way they are going to enjoy their wine? How could a can of Coke relax me in the same way something with 12% alcohol in it would? Not possible. I felt left out in a way that I never had as a teen.
I feel left out of those types of conversations, frequently.
On nights out, I have a ball during pre-drinks. I have a ball driving all my friends to wherever we’re going. I dance, I sing, I laugh hard. I talk to strangers, I have the craic with barmen, I make shifty eyes at my friends when some weirdo tries to chat me up. Around 1am, usually, when the venue gets inevitably full to the brim, I start getting tired. Alcohol is great fuel, and if you’re only on the water, it’s tough to keep pace. I also get agitated by the elbows to the back, the toes getting crushed and the clothes getting stained by spilled Jager shots.
I notice creepy men more and instinctively go into friend-protection-mode. I am more conscious when a friend of mine is getting to a too-drunk stage, and again, on instinct, watch out for them. None of this is at their request of course, but it’s just what friends do. I never feel obliged to do it, but I always want my friends to be safe, enjoy themselves, and get home without incident or injury.
This makes me feel like the mammy. Again, completely on me. But it happens out of my control, and it gets frustrating. I know full-well my friends will make it home safely without me, but I have the fear that the ONE time I don’t see them to their door, something bad will happen. Irrational, yes. Unnecessary, yes. But my cross to bear for sure.
If I want to leave a night out early, it’s assumed it’s because I don’t drink. Not because I’m just having a crap time, oh no. It’s definitely (said with a tilt of the head and a knowing look) “she doesn’t drink…”. If someone who’s knocking back Prosecco decides they want to leave early, no one questions their logic. No one judges them for being shite craic. So when I decide I want to leave at midnight because I’m not feeling the buzz of the night, “if she just had a few drinks in her she’d be grand” is the thought running through many minds. Unfair, but that’s the way of it.
Then there’s the bonding. Silly, I know, but drunken chats brings people together. It mends friendships (it breaks them too but that’s another day’s posting…) it creates laughter, it encourages sharing and secrets and revelations. Two tipsy girls watching each other wee is undoubtedly a bonding experience, and it happens every night in clubs and pubs across Dublin. And I feel left out of that. I feel as though at times, people can be reluctant to share, knowing that their secret will be remembered.
It’s hard to shake the feeling of being on the outskirts of all the fun. No matter how much I laugh, dance, sing, flirt, share… I never feel like one of the gang. And that’s hard.
I mean, I’ve had people I’ve been out with disappear off into the bathroom to do cocaine, leaving me on the dance floor alone and left out. Knowing I definitely won’t take part, and assuming I won’t want to be present for the drug taking, they sneak off without saying anything.
This leaves me (a) alone, and (b) feeling like the ‘big kids’ are gone off to do adult stuff that I wouldn’t understand. And while I’m feeling needy on the dance floor I’ll add in a third thing: I miss out on whatever inevitable craic happens in the loo. I don’t want to do drugs, of course. But I don’t judge, and I don’t need anyone to protect me from being ‘exposed’ to debauchery in any form.
Oh, and drunk people take twice as long as sober people to do things, so when the bathroom lols start to happen, it can result in a lot of time spent loitering by yourself.
My close friends, I might add, are spectacular, and would never do anything on a night out to purposely make me feel left out. They know who they are. My choices are my choices, and that’s all on me. They’re entitled to enjoy their night to the full, and I love seeing them do just that. And I love facilitating it in any way I can.
I will gladly collect and drop home every single friend of mine, just to make sure we’re all together, having fun and not spending all of our money on taxis – more drink, yay! And I will make playlists. And I will do their make-up. And I will do a 3am chip run if needs be. All of those things I LOVE doing, and wouldn’t swap those experiences for the world.
The Day After The Night Out…
I remember everything. I remember who scored who, who played air guitar with a bartenders leg, who booty called their ex and who went home in the worst state. I don’t, however, judge anyone. For any of those things. Because, believe it or not, all those things apply to me when sober, which in a way is worse. I’ve no booze fueling me and giving me an excuse to carry on.
I remember everything. But for some people, this is a dangerous currency. They don’t want evidence, they tell me. They don’t want to hear stories of hilarious things they did while drunk, I’m assured. And as for pictures?? Only filtered ones from before 10pm, I’m told. Recalling the craic is the ONE available avenue that I have for sharing in the fun from the night before, and they don’t want it?? What??
But they DO want it, just not from me.
When a fellow drunk person offers up the hilarious story, they’re only dying to hear it. Dying to reminisce about how locked they were, how funny that moment was, how they can’t remember getting home and isn’t that just GAS. But if I try to remind them of their antics (in a completely nonjudgmental way) I’m the liability – the person they’re embarrassed to be around the next day. And that’s a bit shite, really.
And as for the hangovers? I obviously don’t have them. And despite hearing regularly how horrible they are, I have often wished for one just so I can take part in the complaining. Just so I can share the “oh god, I’m about to die…” text messages that go back and forth. So I have ‘an excuse’ to go to Eddie Rockets and inhale a portion of garlic cheese fries.
My choice not to drink alcohol wasn’t one I very deliberately made at a young age, or anything. I kind of just… never started. My reasons for not drinking are mixed – I don’t particularly like the taste of it but that I could get around with sugary cocktails I’m sure.
What I don’t like is the feeling of not being 100% in control of what I do, what I say, where I go, how I act etc. I like the thoughts that I can drive myself home from wherever I am, at whatever time I need to leave. I like the hangover-free weekends. I like how I rarely have skin breakouts caused by alcohol. I like imagining the waiting list there’d be for my liver if I pop my clogs.
I see articles all the time online that are, to me and other teetotalers, a bit of a slap in the face. “13 things to do when the pubs close for Good Friday” or “18 ways to have fun without drinking” or “Dry January: A survival guide.” Well, lads. My whole life is one lonnnnng dry January. And I get on just fine, thanks very much. It’s weird how the whole country seems to be under the illusion that drinking is the single available route to fun, and without it, people are wandering the streets aimlessly, waiting for stimulation. Cut the gen-pop a bit of slack there, maybe?? That’s a whole other rant…
I love drunk people. I appreciate 100% that there are people that enjoy alcohol in moderation, and some that really need a bit of dutch courage to do certain things and love the feeling it gives them. I even love the people who take moderation to another level at times, and push the boundaries of how much vodka one person can safely consume in a night. I’ve been at parties where there’s been people on ALL sorts of stuff, from drink to I don’t even know what else, and I’ve loved every second, and I’ve immersed myself in the experience as much as I could – just without partaking, myself, in the controlled substances. Drinking is fun, it’s a way to relax and it’s a wonderful way to spend time. Not for me, of course, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know and understand all of those things.
Not drinking is my choice. Probably one of the best I’ve ever made, and one I know I won’t go back on. Ireland is a funny old place to be teetotal, and I genuinely wish sometimes that some seismic cultural shift will happen and the pub won’t be the centre of the social universe here for a while. Unlikely, but a sober girl can dream.