LONDON-IRISH charity Mind Yourself will shine a light on the relationship that Irish people have with alcohol tonight.
Here, one member of the seminar’s panel, recent emigrant Ciara Flanagan, shares her experience of trying to change her relationship with alcohol – a process that began when she found herself to be a panic-stricken twenty-something who needed a nightly drink to take the edge of fruitless days of job-hunting.
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‘Sure of course you’ll have one, you’re Irish!’
The natural showmanship of the Irish is a pretty big global export these days.
This summer we’ll fill up the beer gardens of London, Sydney, Toronto and beyond with that ease of charm and revelry that our foreign hosts can only expect – and maybe even secretly envy.
Personally, I never learnt to drink in moderation. How on earth do you drink sensibly?
My six can standard became six pints when I got old enough to blag my way into pubs. Then, pre-drinking only meant I had the six in me before I got to the pub and properly started the night. Forever, I prided myself on my high tolerance – a total false bravery.
But this became a particularly fine party trick the more I travelled even though I was always the sensible head in the group. I would make the first exit, most often walking home alone.
In December of last year, home was Beirut.
I’d end most days propped up at the bar where my friend worked. The barman would pour mine extra strong because I was Irish. No complaints – it took the edge off a long day of endless job applications and dead ends.
Boozing was the focus of my social life. No different to the pub culture of Ireland I was brought up in.
If I’m honest, the escape it offered me was also going down easy. I wasn’t having much luck finding work – caught in the new-age-mid-twenties-funk: formal education, check, no job, check.
I had a place to sleep and the support of family to bail me out if things really didn’t work, but that wasn’t much of a cure for the daily frustration and nightly panic that you might return home a failure, tail between legs. Emigration in any generation will attack the psyche.
‘What do you mean you’re not drinking? Don’t be boring!’
In January I had a moment and decided to cut alcohol out completely.I was biting the bullet and moving to London.
I gradually withdrew from pub life. But I still worked weekend shifts around alcohol and took to persuading bar staff to always fill my tequila shots with apple juice.
It worked an absolute charm. Within two weeks my body clock had reset.
I slept a perfect eight hours and woke every day with more energy then I’d felt in years. I didn’t need to binge eat as much.
The groggy, half-speed haze that I’d been wading through for months lifted and I have to admit the clarity in my mind was overwhelming.
For the first time, I actually stepped back and realised how alcohol was affecting my physical and mental health.
It had actually been pushing me into lower lows and eating into my motivation the whole time.
Since arriving to London, I continued my no-booze promise, making it official by starting a HSM (hellosundaymorning.org).
During the weekdays, I got involved with Mind Yourself, a London-Irish organisation committed to improving the mental and physical wellbeing of Irish people across the city.
Pints didn’t feature on my list of possible weekend plans any more.
In my first month, I put myself in more social settings that better defined me as a person than I’d done in living memory.
Don’t get me wrong, at moments a drink would have been nice and having to explain your way around not drinking could be tricky.
On top of that, it was disappointing to discover that being sober around some people can be grim.
In those three months I realised I only want to drink alcohol to enjoy it and never because I need it.
I realised that I only want to drink alcohol both in the company of people and in a setting that I would also enjoy sober.
Most importantly, I realised that I resent our current culture around alcohol.
Alcohol is a drug, a depressant.
Just because we can buy it openly in the supermarket does not mean its potential to have a destructive and debilitating effect on our lives is any less. Irish culture makes it really difficult to openly admit that, just like not letting the bravado crack and talking about our mental health.
It’s time to grow up. We should be shaping our culture into one defined by individual choice and acceptance.
If suddenly I fancy a coke when I’m out, then what of it? It’s not a bad reflection on me, nor is it anything to do with my friends. I haven’t changed at all and it doesn’t mean I’m pregnant.
If we’re not comfortable with who we are sober and, similarly, if we’re not comfortable with sober friends being around us when we drink, then that should surely raise alarms.
Taking a moment to consider what that means has the potential to change our individual relationships with alcohol and in doing so, change the focus of the Irish drinking culture forever – from one of need to enjoyment.
Mind Yourself’s seminar takes place tonight at the charity’s headquarters in Angel, London. If you are interested in attending, call 02073545248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org