top background

Being sober is cool too

Alcohol is a prevalent and divisive part of our culture but for lots of people sobriety is gaining appeal for lots of (often personal) reasons. Here,'s Creative Designer, Rhea, shares her experience of navigating life being almost teetotal.

As a 23-year-old, mixed-race woman, the side effects I experience after having even a small sip of alcohol are embarrassing. My face lights up like a Christmas tree, ears burning, nose blocked and worst of all, I sometimes get nosebleeds. The Asian gene runs strong! For context, most people with an East Asian background have an inherited deficiency which means we physically find it harder to break down alcohol as we lack an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase. This can result in unpleasant side effects like the ones that I experience, as well as many others, and an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

Drunk for the first time

My first experience of being drunk was not fun, or as glamorous as I thought it would be. It was during freshers week at uni and I had a few vodka lemonades (not a fan) and very quickly after finishing them, I felt a little funny.

I sank down on the sofa in one of the campus pubs and the room started to spin slightly. After realising that I was experiencing what it’s like to be drunk for the first time, I felt a weird sense of happiness. I felt happy that I reached this ‘cosmic’ place I had never been before, that other people experience frequently. At that moment, I felt cool. I was on the same level as my new friends and flatmates and I felt like I was fitting in.

The concept of fitting in has never been a problem for me, but it is definitely something I actively think about. In that moment, the biggest thing between them and I was alcohol, so I knew I had to partake to be included.

Drinking (or not) to fit in

I tried to continue liking alcohol after that point for a little while during my first year at university. However, I found my interest in it getting dimmer and dimmer very quickly and by trying to like it and fit in, it just proved how much I didn’t want to drink.

There have been countless times since then when I’ve been out clubbing with my flatmates and I’ve pretended to be drunk when I secretly was not having any alcohol the whole night. To make it a bit more believable, I even would make a comment about a bad ‘hangover headache’ in the morning, even though I was just really unwell from drinking in the first place. This all sounds like silly things to exaggerate about and it really is silly, but in those instances, I felt too much pressure not to.

Coming into my adult years, I still felt the need to experiment with alcohol in order to find the ‘right’ drink for me - one that I actually like, so I have something to hold at parties, or something to sip at when I’m out for dinner with my boyfriend’s family. This feeling still lingers sometimes, in moments where I feel I have to exaggerate my love for alcohol in new spaces and social groups, and being around people who enjoy alcohol a lot more than me.

Perceptions around alcohol

What I’ve found interesting after coming to this realisation is that it feels like I have to have a reason why I don’t want to drink, like being pregnant or religious, but neither are the case. I simply don’t want to drink, but unfortunately this often seems not to be a good enough reason for some.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a cheeky frozen cocktail once in a blue moon, or having a pink gin and lemonade at the work Christmas party, but life without alcohol for me is pretty fun. Only now do I feel empowered enough to stand by the fact I don’t want to drink and that it’s perfectly okay. It’s liberating not having to pretend to be interested in something that I'm clearly not into, something that makes me feel physically so unwell - more than the average drinker.

Looking back at that moment during Freshers, four years ago, I feel sad that I finally felt like I was ‘cool’, just because I was drunk; that I felt the need to drink in order to make myself feel part of the group and seem more friendly and inviting. After truly realising that I do not need to drink, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I embrace the fact I’m not a drinker or party-goer, and find so much pleasure in doing other things.

Finding my footing

I’ve made the purposeful choice to respectfully remove the people in my life who made me feel like drinking alcohol was the only way to spend my Friday nights and that if I don’t go clubbing at least once a week, I’m not fun enough. I am so incredibly lucky and grateful that I have wonderful people in my life who don’t make me feel bad because of it. It sounds like it’s a small thing and should be the bare minimum, but unfortunately, and in my experience, this isn’t always the case.

I am by no means saying people should ditch alcohol if that’s something they enjoy, or telling other people that my way of life is the only way. This is for the people like me who feel that they are in spaces where saying no to alcohol would result in negative responses and mean names. To the people like me who might want the reassurance that it’s perfectly okay to not drink, and that saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘convince me to just have one’.

However, to the perfectly fine alcohol lovers who are loving life, please make your sober friends, peers, family and even strangers feel safe and accepted. Being sober is cool too.

Book a health retreat

More posts similar to this one

If you like this post, here are some similar ones that you might be interested in: