HOW I GAVE UP DRINKING IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY (AND SURVIVED). CAN YOU DO IT? (YES, YOU CAN)

A friend of mine recently said to me, ‘I don’t know how you don’t drink Viv Fantin!!!!’

It wasn’t a question. More of a plaintive statement, but the subtext was clear. How the blazes do you get through the day without a drink? Not. One. Drop.

I’m in the music industry and no longer drink alcohol. Actually, it’s not a new thing. Around 9 years ago, I made a tough personal choice and gave up drinking altogether. I have honestly never felt better. I feel clearer. I am more productive. I now know definitively that children and hangovers don’t mix.

I know many, many people in the creative industries who are in a constant state of trying to cut back, slow down or stop drinking altogether. A few have managed to pull it off, cold turkey. Many abstain during the dedicated months (Feb Fast, Dry July, Oct-sober) but find it hard to sustain. There are festivals, launches, tours, conferences, lunches, chart positions to celebrate and sorrows to drown. There’s often something in the way and plans to cut down or quit are derailed. The thinking becomes future focused, “When such and such is over, I’ll stop”. But then the next thing gets in the way.

In some creative workplaces drinking on the job is not exactly discouraged. In some offices I’ve shared, it’s actually been condoned. At 10am. So there can be a culture of enabling, often in the spirit of good fun and comraderie. And if you’re a person who seriously struggles with addiction on any scale, this can spell big trouble. For those wishing to cut back or stop altogether, inner strength, support and some very clear boundaries are in order.

It’s tough cutting back or giving up alcohol altogether, especially in a social industry where there’s a perception that alcohol greases the creative wheel. But is it possible? YES. This is not a how-to guide. It's designed to get you thinking about why drink and your return on investment.

The last thing I want is for this to come across as preachy. I’m not a wowser. I’ve done more than my share of boozing and (mostly) enjoyed it at the time. I’ve gone through phases of drinking every night of the week - cut back to just weekends and binged all over again. I’m pretty sure I’ve participated in at least one of those quit-alcohol themed months. I’ve been hung over, silly, slurry, feisty and said a few regrettable things.

But I wasn’t drinking to numb any pain. I didn’t have a problem with alcohol. I didn’t black out. I was just a run of the mill social drinker from the suburbs who happened to land in the music industry. I drank for fun and because my peers did it. It’s really important for me to make this distinction as I don’t want to compare my situation with that of a person who is really struggling with alcohol addiction. Because I know that to be brutal.

Even when I drank I didn’t ever get really smashed. Just pleasantly sloshed, sozzled enough to be able to sit around dark bars into the small hours debating the merits of Oasis versus Blur or why You Am I never cracked it in America. I was mostly in control of myself.

I was also very lucky. I don’t have an addictive personality and I didn’t feel as though I was masking any deep seated psychological problems by drinking. But I did have health issues that were being seriously compromised by drinking so the choice was simple. In the end, I just wanted to stop because my health was at stake. It was a simple equation. Drinking seriously aggravated my auto-immune condition. Not drinking made it feel better.

I stopped for good when I fell pregnant with my second child and (conveniently) totally lost my taste for alcohol. I realise not everyone reading this will find it so easy. I know there are degrees of social drinking that veer wildly from the diluted to the extreme. But having a powerful catalyst certainly helped me stop.

So I did it. And then I worried. Would I still be included in social events? If so, would I still want to go? Would I have the stamina to stay up all night that booze seems to offer? Would my friends want to hang around a non-drinker? Would they think I’m a killjoy? Would I have social anxiety without the crutch of alcohol? All these questions and more had to be asked and answered.

I’ve had to coach myself through a number of these fixed mindsets I had in place around my alcohol consumption:

-Would I become boring? HOPEFULLY NOT

-Would my friends change their behaviour around me? SOME BUT NOT MY CLOSE ONES

-Could I still have fun without booze enhancement? YES

-Would people still include me? YES

-Would I get all judgey being around others who drink to excess? I TRY VERY, VERY HARD NOT TO.

In order to process the change, I had to focus on the upsides:

The Upsides

-I can still have nights out with my friends (just not as late)

-My mind is clearer

-I don’t get hangovers

-I still say what I think

-I’m a cheap date

-I’ve saved money

-I no longer care what other people think of my non-drinking

-I don't buy into peer pressure (I'm too old for that anyway)

-People don’t have to watch me dance in public :)

The Downside

Truth is, some relationships will change. Some temporarily, others might be dealt a fatal body blow. There is a period of adjustment that can be uncomfortable. Not just for the person doing away with alcohol but for the friends and loved ones who have only ever known that person as a drinker. The dynamic shifts. You will change.

If you're serious about quitting or cutting down it's worth honestly examining the motives behind your drinking.

Consider the following:

-Do you actually like drinking?

-How much time and effort goes into drinking?

-How much money goes into drinking?

-Is drinking holding you back from achieving your goals?

-Is drinking interfering with your life?

-Does drinking make you feel good about yourself?

-Do you drink to feel good about yourself?

-Do you drink for pleasure or use alcohol as a crutch for social anxiety?

-Specifically, what are the regular effects of drinking? (regular hangovers, waking up feeling you’ve said or done the wrong thing, feeling as though you have to apologise to friends the morning after)

-What’s the upside of drinking?

-What’s are the downsides?

-What is the worst thing that could happen if you cut back or stop?

-What's the worst thing that could happen if you DON'T cut back or stop?

-What are the positive outcomes?

-If you stopped drinking for one month, what do you think you would learn about yourself?

I’ve learned some interesting things about human nature since I gave up drinking alcohol. Firstly, there is an insecurity around both drinking and not drinking alcohol. In some quarters there’s a deep-seated suspicion of people who don’t drink. It’s so culturally ingrained that some folks can’t seem to wrap their heads around standing in a bar with a non-drinker. People are genuinely perplexed and curious. They want to know WHY. In fact, at times, people have demanded to know why. Sometimes in a funny way. Other times in just a gob-smackingly, painful way. That’s probably been the hardest part. Feeling as though I have to constantly justify my non drinking. For a while there the questions came thick and fast.

Do you not like the taste of it? Yes, I do actually (I quit drinking coffee too and still love the taste and smell of that.) Don’t you miss it? Truthfully, sometimes I do. Are you pregnant? Lactating? Er, no.  Will you ever drink again? Probably not. Religious? NO.

Then the silence as people start to imagine that perhaps I was an alcoholic and have entered into a 12-step rehab program. Which would be no-one’s business of course.

In a parallel universe where I’m not afraid to offend people, I fantasize that the scenario is reversed and I start asking all the hard questions. Honestly, I’m not NOT drinking to highlight how much you are! I’ve just made a personal choice. So please stop treating me as if I have a problem!

Funny things happen now. Namely I AM THE SOBER ONE. And with that comes grave responsibilities, like always being the implied, designated driver and having to remind XXX what they said to XXX at the party the night before. The sober one always has to have their shit together (even when you don’t want to). The sober one is often the only person who can remember the mostly hilarious, occasionally ridiculous, circular conversations that take place late into the night.

I recently read an article about how to ‘survive’ being a non-drinker. Included was a helpful tip which involved standing around with a decoy drink, basically a mocktail with a little colourful cocktail umbrella in it so people would be fooled. But I don’t want to trick people! It’s taken me a while but I own my sobriety and will back it every time.

I’ve stopped feeling as though I have to explain myself these days. That feels good. My close friends get it. My family gets it although I know my husband occasionally pines for the looser, drinking version of me he met all those years ago.

I still go to festivals, parties, launches and feel like I can hold my own without having to drink. I don’t feel like a social pariah, but in my more vulnerable moments, I feel like an outsider and that feels lonely. Do I miss drinking? Sometimes. But when I come close to someone with a raging hangover, muscle memory kicks in. I just don’t want to go back there. Ever.

My poison now is a strong chai (seriously). It’s a ritual and it tides me over.

I love my drinking husband and friends. If anyone around me wants to drink and dance on tables, as long as no-one is getting hurt, I’m mostly around to cheer them on. And if it’s all getting too much, I just quietly remove myself from the situation. Exit, stage left.

So now, at every event and festival, there is a growing number of us who huddle together over our sparkling mineral waters. I’m sure the irony is not lost on any of us.

Change is hard but not impossible.

Please seek professional help if you are struggling with alcohol.

Share with a friend who is keen to cut down and if any of this resonates, I'd love to hear from you :)

Coach Viv XO viv@nextactcoaching.com.au