On New Year’s Eve 2016 I was at the Duke of Marlborough Tav, in the Bay of Islands, ringing in the occasion in true Kiwi style. At about 1am, I looked around the room, noted the state of the partying patrons, looked at the drink in my hand and decided it was going to be The Last.
At the beginning of the night, standing on the deck having a glass of wine with my brother, we’d had a brief discussion about drinking. At this stage in my life (I was 36) I wasn’t drinking like I used to in my twenties but I had an intense love/hate relationship with booze. Mainly erring towards the side of hate/guilt/shame and a raft of depreciating self-talk when I would have even just one drink.
The conversation with my brother was something along the lines of “going to be a bit dusty tomorrow” and “funny how we feel like we have to drink tonight”. It was the beginnings of a little critique around the social conditioning we Kiwis have around the perceived pressure to drink at/on certain occasions. For me, the conversation triggered some deeper reflection on how I was basically having this glass of wine not because I genuinely wanted to but ‘because it’s New Year’s Eve’.
It became one of those nights where the more I drank, the more sober I became. I felt out of body, and couldn’t shake the sensation of observing myself from afar. It was a feeling I’d regularly had before, in my heavy drinking days. I remember looking at myself in the toilet mirror after a few and it was as though someone else was looking back. Like I’d somehow ended up somewhere I wasn’t meant to be.
Six years previously I’d given up drinking for a couple of years. I lived in Los Angeles at the time. I was going through a divorce, a career one-eighty and starting to become more present to the previously unconscious trajectory of my life. Over those two sober years, I dove pretty deep into the practice and study of yoga and meditation, sporadically attended AA meetings in Venice Beach (in true LA style) and basically became a walking cliché. I think I was reading Eat, Pray, Love at the time.
I won’t delve too much into this period only to say that giving up alcohol for that long, paralleled with deeply introspective and consistent practices illuminated the f*ck out of many things I’d been burying and ignoring. And one of the most shocking aspects of giving up drinking was it was JUST SO DIFFICULT. I became hyper aware of just how deeply drinking/binge drinking had permeated all aspects of my life. I had to relearn how to have fun, how to relax, how to get excited, how to connect and dig deep down inside to remember who I was before alcohol lubricated my life.
After those two years I had a beer, then some wine and eventually started drinking again. Not to the extent I did before but on special occasions or when everyone else was or when I felt like I ‘should’. These are all terrible reasons to drink.
The difference was that now accompanying the drinking was self-awareness. Frustrating, challenging, always there self-awareness. I noticed when the desire to drink kicked in, whose company I was more inclined to drink in, the clutter of thought processes around how much to drink or what kind of alcohol was more acceptable. I also navigated my meditation practices around alcohol as this had become a priority, and because of this, drank less and less – it’s horrendously uncomfortable to meditate after you’ve had even one drink, let alone the day after a few.
Waking up on the first day of 2017, after the party at the Tav, I decided to do another sober year. I was so committed I posted a little bit about this sober year on FB. By the end of the day I had 80 people who wanted to do it with me. I started googling sober movements and saw it was a ‘thing’. My boyfriend at the time came up with the name No Beers? Who Cares! and I decided to host little monthly events for anyone joining us on this wagon at a local bar. I remembered the loneliness I felt throughout those two previous sober years and understood the power of community. We had our first mixer on January 31st, 2017 and for the next two years had events almost every month.
I created a Facebook group and a beautiful soul Gabi made us a website. We had a simple membership system for accountability and education. I started finding Ambassadors – people who were living inspiring sober lives or well-known Kiwis who wanted to give the AF-life a crack for a couple of months, maybe longer.
Pretty quickly into this new period of sobriety I realised I wasn’t going to drink again. It had slipped away from my life. This time, instead of seeing wine, tequila, beer everywhere I looked; booze became invisible. I could go to bars and not be triggered, I felt comfortable meeting people without a drink in my hand. I had no doubt that this was in part due to years of consistent daily practice of yoga and mediation, and also just because it was time. I’d like to emphasise though, that for me, it was a process that took years and continues to this day. Event though I have zero desire to ever drink again, stuff still comes up occasionally when I’m overwhelmed, at weddings, or on a hot Summer’s day. But the difference is, I welcome these moments as they show me there’s still some little nuggets of gold that become grist for the mill of my practices.
At one point we had over 150 people coming to the No Beers? Who Cares! events and I was hunting out inspiring people to talk at each event. We had ambassadors falling off the wagon, and so many messages from people finding it impossible to stay alcohol-free and wanting support and help. I think I realised what a layered and entrenched, sensitive topic our culture’s drinking can be and I got a bit overwhelmed and took a little step back. I did some more training to help me become more effective helping people and started working with people one-on-one. I’m perpetually deepening my understanding of why people drink, and what is helpful if they’d like to drink differently or not at all.
Three and a half years after that first Facebook post, we have helped thousands of people feel more ok about questioning the status quo around what is an incredibly toxic, dangerous, insidious yet completely socially acceptable coping mechanism. I’m excited to re-launch our NBWC 3-month membership program with more amazing events on the horizon and also within our private Facebook group. We’re also going to tell you the stories of some of our members – some of whom have been with us from the beginning.
No Beers? Who Cares! isn't a group of people judging others’ drinking habits. It’s a supportive community helping each other make different choices. Many of our community have never been heavy drinkers and just want to hang out with likeminded people and not feel like the odd one out. We have an option for you too!
We’re in the processing of finalising our 3-month membership programme and launching some new events, so stay tuned and if you’d like to be first on the list to find out when we re-launch NBWC you can sign up here.
We’re looking forward to sharing this new chapter of our adventure with you.
- Claire & the NBWC Crew