My tilt at sobriety came after 20 years of partying that had left me physically and emotionally spent.
It was ironic, given my job. Sunday Age readers may remember an article I wrote at the time, in which I outed myself as the binge-drinking health reporter. During the week I wrote about Australia’s booze-soaked culture. At the weekends I wrote myself off.
I thought swearing off the grog would be an interesting personal challenge. But it turned out to be so much more. Three months without alcohol became a year, and led to a book charting the challenges of staying sober in a nation obsessed with booze.
In High Sobriety, I documented the most confronting, emotionally revealing and ultimately rewarding year of my life.
I danced on bar-tops sober, tackled the footy season without beer, learnt how to manage stress without hitting the bottle, and even navigated the dating scene on soda water.
The learning curve was shocking. Without alcohol I was stripped bare – forced to acknowledge that alcohol had become more than an emotional crutch. It was my medication, my aphrodisiac and my liquid confidence. It helped obscure my shortcomings, and provided a convenient excuse for my inertia.
When I removed booze from my life, I realised the emperor was wearing no clothes. Alcohol was not what gave me self-assurance or helped me deal with tough times. There was nothing I couldn’t do sober that I used to do drunk.
But swimming against the tide wasn’t easy. I was told that not drinking was ”un-Australian” and that a year without booze would be a ”year without mates”.
I discovered that in a culture that exalts drinking as the cornerstone of all social interaction, abstainers are the modern-day lepers. It made me realise that tackling Australia’s binge-drinking problem is a far more complex proposition than the finger-pointing politicians and media commentators would have us believe.
We can blame young people for the escalating rates of alcohol-related violence and under-age drinking, but as long as they live in an environment that places more value on getting pissed than it does on moderation or sobriety, they’ll have little incentive to change.