As October draws to a close, so too does my charitable month of sobriety, as part of Macmillan Trust's 'Go Sober' challenge.
Student and sobriety aren't two words you often hear coalesced and the phrase 'you have to be off your face to go here' is one frequently bandied about before hitting the tiles. Such is the culture of university.
So saying no to a drink for a month, when surrounded by shots, 21st birthday parties and bar crawls, has certainly proved a challenge. I wasn't exactly pacing the floors looking for a mini-bar a la Denzel Washington in Flight, but I did feel an apprehension that I hadn't before experienced when going out.
It wasn't so much that I had a problem with not drinking, but that people had a problem with me. The stigma that you're not fun when not drinking became increasingly apparent. Whilst, I had the reason of enforcing this lifestyle choice for a charitable cause, before disclosing this, reactions varied from aghast and slightly judgmental to slowly impressed that I could take on such a task. Either way, negative connotations were prevalent. How could I possibly enjoy myself when just drinking water?
Peer pressure also raised its ugly little head. Admittedly more in jest, but I was nevertheless surrounded by people and a society that attempted to jovially subvert my unshakeable determination to complete this challenge, something which is very much endemic to most university socials. Chanting 'we like to drink with...' becomes very commonplace and a clear divisiveness emerges in the organisation of sober and non-sober socials - suggesting that sober people can't integrate with drunken people. A modern day segregation.
Because let's face it, the drinking culture at University is definitely one of excess and hedonism - a 21st century Gatsby party (albeit where something much cheaper and cloudier looking than champagne flows). That's not to say we're all alcoholics and can't handle ourselves, but there are chunder charts pinned to fridges for a reason.
I've never felt that drink was a necessity to a good time; however it became noticeably inherent to one when I went without it. Sure, there's the odd coffee-shop catch up or night in watching a movie, where ice-cream takes precedence over wine. However I noticed myself going home earlier and feeling less involved, and more observational, when sober. I was the sensible soul in the corner of the room, more inclined to quiet conversation than dancing on tables than usual.
Conversations also felt slightly disconnected and incongruous. As much as you giggle and nod in agreement, it often feels like a drunken person is speaking in a different language, making interaction very much more difficult when you're sober. That I see a lot of my friends at university during a drunken atmosphere was quite alienating when I didn't feel able to match their levels of 'fun'. This culture of intoxication not only limits our concepts of what is considered a good time, (as opposed to American universities, where you're underage for most of your degree), but isolates those that have made choices to live a 'clean' lifestyle.
In a utopian society, the mingling of drinking preferences would take place without issue. There would be no utterances of sympathetic 'how are you doing?' when clutching your cup of lemonade, or eschewing certain events because everyone will be drunker than you.
I don't have any regrets about choosing to 'go sober'. My bank account and my liver are certainly healthier for it, but, there were certain times, when my awkwardness, or quietness became very very apparent. I, of course, felt I was behaving perfectly normally but compared to the loudness and frivolity of the inebriated, I did stand out like a sore thumb.
Sobriety has given me a new perspective on socialising. I can resist the insistence that intoxication is fundamental to a good night out, but I'll also enjoy regaining the autonomy that I can drink when I want to. After all, sobriety is just another form of the extreme and we've always been told to enjoy excesses in moderation. So here's to a month of saying yes to drink. Just to restore the balance, of course...