Yvonne Hogan: '10 years as a near-teetotaller and I still can't go to the Christmas party'
The Christmas party season is upon us and it is the time of the year that, as a non-drinker, I most feel like an outlier. The Christmas party is the one thing that I'm just not able to do sober. And it isn't that I think I would require alcohol to endure it, I just feel like I wouldn't fit in. Because one of the many things I discovered about myself when I did give up alcohol is that I am bad at small talk, and not as comfortable or confident as I thought in such social gatherings.
How could I have been? Like most of my generation, I learned to socialise with drink and, once I hit my late teens, rarely did so without.
And I loved drinking. I loved boozy dinners and pubs and clubs, and being the last to go home and letting loose, until I didn't any more. I gave up drinking at the age of 34 because my hangovers were horrific - psychologically and physically, and getting progressively worse.
Cutting down didn't make any sense to me - I do better with firm, clear guidelines and liked the effects of alcohol far more that I did the taste, so after a particularly boozy Christmas in 2009, involving many fun-filled parties and gatherings, the kind that you can only have before kids, I called it quits.
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For the first couple of years, not drinking was easy. I put all my spare time and energy into becoming super fit and the high that brings blotted out all else. I had the zeal of the newly converted and the joy of wearing lovely clothes on a body with very little fat.
Year three, my daughter was born close to Christmas, so I had a great excuse for sitting that one out. The years rolled on and I was shattered by trying to balance career with motherhood, and became less fastidious about exercise and food, and surrendered my fabulous fitness to fat borne of lack of sleep, compensated with binge-eating sugar. But even when the fitness faded, I never felt the urge to drink again and even if I had, I don't know where I would have found the energy.
It was then, when my abstinence could no longer be explained as part of a fit and healthy lifestyle, that I found myself almost embarrassed by it.
I also felt I had more occasion to explain it - as my daughter grew, so did my social circle, with some wonderful new friends and acquaintances. But I would always dread getting to the point when I would have to reveal that I didn't drink.
I don't know why I felt and, indeed, still feel this way. Probably, nobody cares one way or another. People ask questions, sure, but no one has ever commented negatively or otherwise on my decision not to drink. But I suppose the fact that it has to be said, that questions are asked, does point to the fact that people who don't drink in our society are outside the norm. And nowhere is this fact more obvious than at the office Christmas Party.
Funnily enough, I'm more conscious of my non-drinker status since I became a mother than I was before. Perhaps it is because having children draws you back into society in a way you haven't experienced since you were a child in school.
When you're at the school gates, you don't have the comfort of context that you do in the workplace or with your old friends. And there is a vulnerability in that.
More so, I think it is because drinking is now directly marketed at mothers in a way that it never has been before.
Shows like Sharon Horgan's Motherland and movies like Bad Moms and Bad Moms' Christmas perfectly encapsulate this, with the message that drinking alcohol is the way to reclaim your identity and free yourself momentarily from the hurricane of multiple competing duties and obligations that is modern motherhood.
Drinking is a sign you are still you, and you haven't been entirely consumed by the parenting role.
This is will be my 10th Christmas as a non-drinker, bar the odd gin and tonic and maybe three p*ss-ups in the last decade.
I haven't stopped socialising entirely - I go for dinner with friends regularly, and out with my husband and family. I am a big fan of New Year, but I just can't bring myself to do the Christmas Party sober. And I must say I miss it. I miss rushing headlong into busy social situations without a care in the world. But honestly? Not enough to endure another festive hangover.