The first thing you realise about sober socialising is that you might find it hard to convince others to join you. Not even my husband was keen on the idea – and we spend most of our time together sober.
Undeterred, I finally managed to rally up some friends to attend a fundraising event – usually the stuff of awkward conversations and stilted small talk, the kind of event where Dutch courage is pretty much a necessity.
Our sober-socialising table had a spare seat at one end, and a procession of very drunk people stopped by to share their meaning of life and some increasingly candid confessions: everything from how difficult it was to take off double Spanx layers in the bathroom, to inflated career ambitions and secret crushes that really should have remained secret.
A decade ago, a sober table in a blur of drinkers would have been unusual, and caused much derision, but mindful millennials have led the trend towards abstinence. The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report showed that Australians under 30 were drinking less than in previous generations, and that just under a quarter (22.9 per cent) were teetotallers.
The new wave of sober socialising is less about removing alcohol because of problems with drinking, and more about wanting to feel better physically and mentally. Meet-ups for sober singles promise that you’ll be unlikely to say or do something you regret, that you won’t be swayed by “beer goggles”, and that you’ll get home earlier and more safely.
“Sobriety has been gaining quite a lot of traction,” says Chris Raine, founder and chief executive of Hello Sunday Morning, an Australian charity helping people change their relationship with alcohol. “There are now so many ways to socialise that don’t involve drinking.
“If you want to dance without being in a boozy club setting, there are salsa meet-ups or No Lights No Lycra nights where people can forget about drowning their inhibitions with grog and dance in the dark alcohol-free.”
Other events organised by sober-socialising groups include catch-ups at night markets, twilight sailing, star-gazing outings, evening gallery talks, food-tasting tours and the theatre.
With the advent of dessert-only bars, plus the fact a small glass of dry white wine has the same kilojoule content as two crêpes, a sober night out means you can indulge guilt-free in that creamy slice of cheesecake, not to mention dodge the kebab you normally get on the way home and the fatty foods you crave the next day to cure the hangover.
Raine says non-alcoholic drinks are also coming of age, including lots of creative cocktail options involving exotic ingredients such as spiced ginger, Earl Grey tea, wattleseed and West Indian buttermilk. “There’s no need to down a load of sugary lemonade any more,” he adds.
Initiatives such as Dry July, which challenges people to abstain from booze for a month while raising money for cancer patients, their families and carers, not only helps you to get healthier, but also makes your conscience shine. “Going dry is easier with friends, so you can motivate and support each other,” says Dry July co-founder and chief executive Brett Macdonald. “Think of all the extra time you’ll have to take up a hobby. Not to mention that extra energy you’ll have when you wake up with a clear head.”
Dry July ambassador Renee Gartner says it is surprising how quickly the month passes. “Temptations come and go, but you’ll feel 10 times better the next morning for staying sober,” she says.
The Liars’ Club author Mary Karr agrees. “I thought giving up alcohol was saying goodbye to all the fun and sparkle. It turned out to be the opposite: that’s when the sparkle started.” My sober socialising, which had me feeling virtuous and often home by 9.30pm, was great. The only thing left to do was pour a large glass of red wine and sip it slowly by the fire as I contemplated my next sober-curious adventure.
• Don’t feel the need to tell everyone you meet when you’re out that you’re “not drinking”.
• Be creative with the drinks menu and choose a non-alcoholic drink that looks like an alcoholic one.
• As you’re not loading on the kilojoules that come with alcohol, have an indulgent sweet treat as a reward.