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If you drink, I'm not judging you - I'm questioning drinking culture.

Aug 24, 2020

This week I've been reflecting a lot on a message I received about the tone of my posts being judgmental towards those who drink. I'm super grateful for this message, as it sparked a reflection in me, and made me question - has my tone changed? Why has my tone changed? Do I need to be mindful of this?

I realized, that the person who sent me this message was absolutely correct - my tone has changed over the last 499 days since I quit alcohol. In my first 90 days, I was too ashamed to even share on social media that I was alcohol free. In the days from 90-365, my posts were about my personal journey and how going alcohol free benefitted me. And yes, since 365 my tone has changed - and that's conscious. I've stepped into my purpose as "Sober Yoga Girl" and my work has become massively about being alcohol free. 50% of my job is running a virtual yoga studio for EVERYONE - drinkers, non drinkers, whomever. Yoga for all. And 50% of my job is sober coaching and sober yoga for those actively trying to change their relationship with alcohol. So of course, my tone has changed. I've become focused on researching the problems with booze culture, strategies for those who are on the alcohol free path, and sharing this content on my Facebook and Instagram. So of course, my tone has changed. I will try to be mindful of how it comes across to the reader as I really don't want it to be misinterpreted as judgmental - but I have noticed this shift within myself! And I've realized that and also realized, that it's been somewhat intentional.

But what I've reflected on, and I want to share, is that I don't judge people that drink.I was a party girl for twelve years. I am the least, absolute least, judgmental person of those that drink. I see the appeal and I did it too for almost all of my adult life. As I wrote early this week, I am no Mother Theresa.

What I am questioning of, is drinking culture.Specifically, the drinking culture I was raised in (and so many of us were). The drinking culture I stepped into as an expat.

But one of the beautiful ways being an expat has influenced me, is I've come to see so many varying perspectives on life. I'm surrounded by people from all over the world, every day. And I see how varying culture perceive so many different issues - alcohol being one of them. I want to give you one example.

I was out for dinner with a Belgian friend, an Emirati friend and an American friend a few weeks ago (expat life, right?!) We were speaking about my work as a sober coach, and the Emirati friend (raised in a Muslim home, where drinking is haram, or forbidden) just didn't get it. She had never wanted to drink alcohol in her life and could only remember one occasion where she'd been pressured to drink by others (when she travelled out of the country and was in Europe, surrounded by European teens). She asked, "people need sober coaching, who aren't alcoholics? Why?" In Emirati culture, it is completely normal to go for dinner on a Friday without wine. In fact, we were at a restaurant that night where alcohol wasn't allowed, and so no one in the room was drinking.

I remember finding it bizarre when I moved to Kuwait - how are they having weddings, dinner parties, work parties, without alcohol?! I would constantly remark on it - "It's so weird to have dinner without wine." (Isn't THAT weird? That I found the absence, not the presence, of alcohol strange?) And it's because in their culture, they generally do not drink. Since alcohol is haram, it is not marketed towards Emirati people or sold to them as necessary to have a fun time. It is discouraged and it's problems are highlighted. In fact, alcohol is legal, but hidden here in the UAE (most alcohol stores are not clearly marked, and there are walls up hiding alcohol inside). There is a strip of restaurants which has a public walking area on the waterfront (Galleria mall) and drinks are served in black glasses, to hide the alcohol inside. There aren't signs making light of binge drinking like, "Wine-o-Clock" and "One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor!" Like there are on the streets in Canada.

And myself, the American, and the Belgian, we're trying to explain to her: "No, it's like a really, really big thing where we're from. Drinking is a really really big thing."

I explained to her that in Canada, where I was raised, it was normal for all the families (not just mine) to include alcohol at dinner on weekends, holidays, and all special occasions. Street party on a Saturday? Adults drinking. Wedding? Adults drinking. Funeral? Adults drinking. New Years Eve. Christmas. Alcohol was part of every event, from baseball games, to formula one races, to golf tournaments. My parents and grandparents always drank responsibly, but it was present. And we didn't question it. At my grandfathers funeral, when I made a speech when I was 21, I probably referenced the glass of white wine he had in his hand throughout my childhood about three times. Everyone laughed.

By the time I got to high school, binge drinking was a badge of honor. It was cool to hold keg-stands for 30 seconds or longer. In university, it was the norm to go out drinking 4-5 times per week. Grad trip in Punta Cana was a week of drinking starting at 9am. On a high school trip to Italy (Not through my school, through an alternative program) I was literally brought to a bar and vineyard by my teacher.Not only this, I remember witnessing a lot of terrible things happening around alcohol when I was a teenager and University student - people in vulnerable situations, people doing reckless things, people making choices they'd nevermake while sober. I'm not saying alcohol was to blame, I just see now how it was involved in and perpetuated issues in society.

I can't speak for all Western countries, but I can speak for my experience in Canada. Alcohol is marketed to us as sophisticated, cool, and necessary to have fun. Check out this picture I saw on Instagram this week where wine is marketed as "Home Schooling" Supplies.

As well, I saw an instagram post this week in which Amy Schumer makes light of women's drinking problems, by describing how she hides her liquor inside glasses and pretends she's not drinking today. This is a common theme in movies, TV shows, and social media. Here's a chalkboard that says "Tequila - Soup of the Day!" Chalkboards like this are outside a lot of bars on the street.

Signs like this are everywhere in Canada. Seriously, when I was in Canada last summer, I started making a photo journal of all the times I came across this kind of stuff, and then gave up because it was everywhere and I'd be taking photos literally all the time. The other day on Instagram, I received this ad for "Wine Yoga" ..... I don't even want to start about why this is not okay.

It is a massive part of our culture and marketing and society. According to research I found - the Canadian government made $10.5 billion in revenue and taxes from the sale of alcohol in 2013-2014. But according to researchers, in 2013-2014, 20% of all violent crimes in Canada would not have occurred if the person was not under the influence of alcohol. They suspect that is a conservative estimate. When speaking to police, they indicated 70% of their work late at night has to do with crimes committed under the influence of alcohol. And out of the $38 billion that substance abuse cost Canada in a year - 70% of that can be attributed to alcohol and tobacco. Much more than opioids. (Source) Alcohol use is the third leading cause of death in the United States (Source). if people followed drinking guidelines, alcohol related deaths in Canada would reduce per year by 4,600. (Source) So yes, the deeper I get into this work, the more troubled I am by the harmful affects of alcohol and how unaware we are of them as a society. I posted the other day that I hope my grandchildren are shocked by alcohol the way I was shocked by smoking as a child - and I deleted it after the judgmental comment. However, it's the truth! I truly, truly hope my children and grandchildren don't drink excessively the way I did. I truly, truly hope that they see the way it impacts their mental health, their physical health, their finances and makes them vulnerable to really, bad things. I truly hope they don't party the way I did for twelve years - because it only held me back from achieving my potential. But I want to make it clear - people are NOT to blame for their drinking - it's a society that perpetuates it, normalizes it, and makes it cool, while ignoring all the harmful impacts alcohol has on us. I definitely don't judge people that drink, but as I get more and more passionate about this issue, I want to be part of the move for social change. Trust me, I don't judge you if you drink. We are shaped by our society and I see that more and more. I'm not judging people who drink - I'm questioning drinking culture.

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