It's Alcohol Awareness Week. So I spent it in the binge drinking capital of Europe.
Yes. I went home.
I had something different lined up each day. I went to conferences. Listened. I sat and watched discussions on alcohol policies.
Yes. It was as dull as it sounds.
I discovered that if you put a load of experts in a conference suite they make labels and sub-sections for addiction the ways rabbits make babies. It doesn't help anyone. People hate labels in addiction. The hate jargon and buzzwords. Being called an alcoholic. Having an alcohol problem.
One evening I stood next to a stage as I was about to give a talk. I heard a young girl announce to a room full of students there was "like an alcohol awareness talk next if you want to hang around for it" and watched them all flee for the exit like they were Indiana Jones and I was a boulder.
No. I didn't blame them.
Students don't need Alcohol Awareness. They are hyper-aware of it already. Students don't want to be lectured on alcohol. They spend all day in lectures. A two-way conversation is fine. Talking at them is just boring for both sides. Nothing is achieved.
I began to dread each appointment as it came around. When Wednesday loomed I decided if it was no better I was just going to hide under my bed until Alcohol Awareness Week was over.
But then a lovely thing happened, Sky Tyne & Wear took me to a beautiful bar in Newcastle and we filmed a little Christmas piece on how to make Mocktails. Metro Radiohad me come in chat about life as a sober girl. We had fun. Sh*tloads of it. Statistics were kept to a minimum. Buzzwords were left at the door. For an entire day I got to do sobriety. Not talk at it. Not bore it into submission. Just live it.
I got more done on Wednesday than the rest of the week put together.
The people of the North East do not need Alcohol Awareness. Or drinking statistics. Or minimum unit pricing. Or weaker alcohol strengths. We do not need a gaggle of experts to discuss what is best for us. We do not need yet more segregation. To be told alcoholism is a disease, a mental illness. It scares me that this is the best our experts and leaders can come up with. It scares me they are getting it so badly wrong.
How many alcohol & addiction experts work at Sky Tyne and Wear?
So how did they manage to capture the essence of successful sobriety so accurately? Without even trying? It is beautiful bars and Mocktails. It is pretty dresses and smiles. It is interaction with people. Learning new things. Making the world a bigger more exciting place. Having more options.
How many addiction guru's grace the Metro Radio Newsfloor?
How do they understand so effortlessly that people need people to recover? That they need fun and they need laughter and a bit of hope? That talking about happiness in sobriety is paramount to long-term recovery?
Because they both deal with people all day every day. Because they both listen to people all day every day. If the organisations that dealt with addiction talked with people instead of about them. If they didn't put so much effort into telling us how difficult addiction is. How confusing. How impossible to overcome. May be if we even just invited people to the discussions we are having about them. See what they have to say about alcohol policy and addiction management. Invite your statistics to the party instead.
Tonight I will go give a talk with another set of unsuspecting students. Presumably there will be cattle prods to keep them in their seats this time. Maybe we will leave feeling like we taught each other something. Maybe not. All we can do is keep trying every visible platform we are given and see which works and which doesn't.
We don't need Alcohol Awareness. We need Life Awareness. To tell people that stopping drinking is the start and that it is not even the main focus. Other people are. Places. Things. Experiences. We need that social integration every week. Not one week a year. Not if all it does is isolate and separate us further.
Our local tv news channels understand that. Our radio stations do too.
I know who I'll be spending next year's Alcohol Awareness Week with...