By Lulu Goad, BA Arabic
The pandemic turbulence has rattled on, reaching new highs at the end of 2021, with global statistics showing downward trends, in almost everything one would expect and hope to be heading in the opposite direction. One significant shift, that seems to have gone somewhat unaddressed, was in levels of alcohol consumption. Public Health England has reported that there has been a ‘58.6% increase in the proportion of respondents drinking at increasing risk and higher risk levels’ and the Journal of the American Medical Association wrote similarly that ‘women’s heavy drinking rose by 41 percent during the pandemic.’
As a result of reports like this, new support movements have been developed globally, with numbers like the latter inspiring some to found initiatives in support of women and their journey with sobriety in particular. It was the press around these groups that eventually brought me to the work of Millie Gooch, author, journalist, and activist who founded the upcoming initiative ‘Sober Girl Society.’ At the beginning of January an article from The Cut landed on my desk(top) about the upcoming ‘AA’ alternative initiative, ‘Tempest,’ founded by Holly Whitaker in 2012.
Reading it, I was unconvinced by her efforts to support people with their sobriety. Yes, Whitaker’s thought that ‘there was no such thing as “normal” drinking’ was interesting, but it wasn’t groundbreaking nor was the contemporary move to mindfulness as the solution. But as a university student, reading her comment on how she felt about being sober around her friends intrigued me. She felt she had become the friend who in a social setting had broken the social contract.
The expectation that a social occasion required an alcoholic drink in one hand and perhaps a cigarette in the other has become the norm.
It made me reflect on alcohol consumption in a university setting and how the expectation that a social occasion required an alcoholic drink in one hand and perhaps a cigarette in the other had become the norm. In an effort to find out more about these newly created alcohol free initiatives, I did a little research and came upon the ‘Sober Girl Society.’
Having founded the UK based initiative in 2018, Gooch began building a community of sober and sober-curious women, providing tips and resources, and creating a space for connection. Networking events are a huge part of their work, focussing on the benefits that it can bring to those feeling alone or excluded. In this case it gives women the chance to meet other women who are also making an effort to stay alcohol free; An opportunity that Gooch says she wished was available to her at the beginning of her journey, having felt isolated not knowing anyone making the same move.
With the desire to find out more, and have an excuse to go somewhere new in London, I signed up for an in-person ‘mixer’ hosted by the initiative for what they described as ‘booze-free fun.’ Unintentionally, although I tell people it was calculated, I arrived at The Ministry, Borough, forty-five minutes late for the event so by the time I’d arrived it was in full ‘booze-free’ swing; I instantly felt less apprehensive about making small-talk without a beer in hand. Two hours later and I left wondering why I’d been worried at all. It wasn’t a large affair, maybe thirty people all sipping on a mocktail from SquareRoot, gathered in groups based on their star signs.
Whilst the obvious topics of conversation were sobriety and why you’d come to the event, the discussions very quickly moved to hinge dates, with one person even seeking my advice on whether they should get bangs. It seemed a barrier had come down, in the same way that one might lose their inhibitions a few drinks in, but this time we were all completely sober. Everyone was totally at ease, perhaps safe in the knowledge that we’d all avoided the next day’s hangxiety. Or maybe I was just feeling quite smug with my four new instagram followers and two new knitting patterns to try. I was sold, maybe not on what Whitaker was selling but certainly on sobriety, or trying it out at least, especially knowing that there were simple but rewarding forms of support from groups like ‘Sober Girl Society.’ Having once thought a night out without alcohol was boring, my mind had changed. Nearing the end of the evening, one guest suggested a ‘Sober Girl Society’ club night, with Gooch replying, ‘never say never.’ Maybe I’ll see you there.
Photo Caption: Attendees gather at the Sober Girl Society social (credit: Lula Goad)