14 Jan 2021

Giving up alcohol with awareness not just abstinence

From Summer Times 2021/2022, 10:00 am on 14 January 2021

'Tis the season when so many of us think about our relationship with alcohol, because what starts as holiday celebrations can evolve into a full-on boozy summer.

Annie Grace was one of those social drinkers who turned into something she didn't like, drinking two bottles of wine every night. She found a way to change her relationship with alcohol, preaching awareness not just abstinence, and has helped thousands of people around the world do the same with her "This Naked Mind" books and podcast.

She has a new book that challenges others to think about the drink. It's called The Alcohol Experiment Journal: 30 Day Alcohol-Free Challenge.

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Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

Grace tells Summer Times that she was happy in her career and marriage and was living a good life, but alcohol was the one thing that was out of control.

“It wasn’t outwardly out of control, it wasn’t that people were coming up to me and saying things… but in my mind and my heart, I felt like I was drinking way more than I wanted to. I’d set limits on myself like two glasses of wine, then I’d have four or five and wake up with a hangover the next morning.”

She says there wasn’t one wake up call, but a bunch of small ones instead. She recalls once asking her son to come sit on her lap and he told her she smelled bad and had purple teeth.

Another time, she spilt beer on her kids and they went around smelling like beer for the rest of the day.

“Having these two little kids smelling like a pub was internally heartbreaking.”

Grace says alcohol is responsible for more harm and death than any other drug in the United States, but it is still freely marketed and widely seen as acceptable.

“I think collectively we turn a blind eye to the harms and made it out that if you start talking about those harms, you have a party pooper mentality and you’re not welcome in certain places. It becomes a really awkward conversation.”

She says there’s a stigma around deciding not to drink. People, for instance, might assume you have an alcohol problem or, if you’re a woman, that you’re pregnant.

Another problem is that if people think they might have a problem with their alcohol consumption, or that they’re an alcoholic, they believe they must go sober forever which is an off-putting choice.

“That’s actually not needed for most people, a lot of people can change their drinking habits.”

This approach has caught Grace some flak from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) who advocate complete abstinence from alcohol for members of their programme.

“A lot of it is built on this idea that we have this allergy to alcohol. It’s not based in science, it’s not based in reality and, depending on what group you’re going to, I’ve heard stories of them not having a lot of compassion or grace for people who start drinking again.”

However, she says it’s a beautiful thing that anyone can find an AA meeting anywhere in the world and she has attended a meeting and found everyone to be lovely and compassionate.

“Where we differ is on this word alcoholic. I really believe that we can be empowered to change, AA believes you have to declare you’re powerless before alcohol but I think our power comes in recognising alcohol for what it really is and owning that power.”