December 24, 2019
When I tell anyone that I’m teetotal I know to brace myself for the questions, because there are always questions. 
Im Teetotal. Christmas Isnt The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year For Me
The first, usually, is “how come?” – as though being a non-drinker is so unusual it warrants a solid reason. Alcohol is so ingrained in British society that it’s as if there are a select number of acceptable reasons why a person might abstain from alcohol: religious beliefs or total abstinence to recover from alcohol addiction, perhaps. My reasons are often met with frowns of incomprehension, as if people are reassessing their entire opinion of me. 
It’s a given alcohol will be the centre of the celebrations, as drinking has become so normalised in British culture that most of our transitional rituals, from turning eighteen to getting married, normally involve a lot of alcohol. Even in our daily lives, it’s acceptable to admit to having a few glasses of red after a demanding day at work. 
When I said goodbye to alcohol, I expected to see health benefits, but I didn’t imagine I’d lose friends.One of my friends, who I only ever saw for drinks at the pub, hasn’t been in touch since I gave up alcohol. Perhaps I should have expected her reaction, but I thought our friendship was based on who we are, not what we do when we meet up.When I said goodbye to alcohol, I expected to see health benefits, but I didn’t imagine I’d lose friends.At this time of year, Christmas party season, I dread the questions even more. Our festive rituals are dominated by alcohol too – from New Year’s Eve celebrations to the office Christmas party. Haven’t we all at some point had a few extra drinks just to get through the cringeworthy office Christmas do? 
We teetotallers are always in the minority, making us a target. At Christmas, there are more opportunities to be placed in the firing line, and it’s harder to avoid. Recently, I met friends in a restaurant to sample the Christmas menu and couldn’t participate in the round of drinks between courses. There were a few raised eyebrows at my refusal to get into the festive spirit.
Growing up, alcohol didn’t feature in my family’s cash-strapped household. Anything outside of food, household bills and other necessities, was viewed as a luxury we could not afford. I was only introduced to alcohol around the same time as disposable income entered my life, in my late teens. At university, my social life suddenly revolved around alcohol – even socialising with sports club friends meant heavy drinking after a game. I continued to be a social drinker throughout my twenties. Saying goodbye to alcohol was not an overnight decision, and wasn’t an easy decision to make. In my late twenties I started to socialise in ways that didn’t always involve alcohol. When I did drink, hangovers lasted longer too. And that’s when I began to distance myself from drinking. Related... Where Are All The Royals Spending Christmas This Year? 'I Roll My Eyes': When Exes Get In Touch At Christmas If You Feel Sad At Christmas, You Are Not Alone In the end, it was a health condition that gave me the push I needed. After suffering six months of debilitating migraine symptoms I realised that alcohol aggravated my condition by causing dehydration. So, I eliminated alcohol from my diet and made other lifestyle changes. I didn’t tell many people what I was doing because I wanted to avoid drawing attention to my decision, which, if I’m honest, I was not yet completely behind. By going against the majority, I was afraid of what people might think, but obviously it wasn’t easy to keep to myself.
Turning my back on alcohol was much easier than telling other people about my decision. There’s still a stigma that comes with being teetotal, thanks to the negative connotations associated with non-drinkers. On my teetotal journey I’ve been accused of being “no fun anymore” or “tight” for not getting another round in. Payday drinks and Netflix nights with friends were swapped for sharing a coffee together one evening instead. Some friends grudgingly admitted that it wasn’t fun without alcohol. 
One friend jumped on the defensive when I told her about my choice, interpreting my decision as an attack on her own habits. “You won’t have a hangover tomorrow, now you’re not like the rest of us drinkers,” she laughed when a group of us shared drinks over a meal. As a teetotaller, it’s like I’m perceived as thinking myself superior to my drinker friends. But I’ve never once pressed my decision onto anybody else.There’s still a stigma that comes with being teetotal, thanks to the negative connotations associated with non-drinkers.Eventually I found the courage to stand by my choice. When my symptoms worsened and my world shrank, I realised I had to take control and cut out my trigger completely. But despite justifiable reasons for becoming teetotal, I was still judged for my choice, often by friends who would try to tempt me to drink. At Christmas, it’s almost expected that food and booze will be consumed to excess. Even though my friends know I’m teetotal, a few still offer to buy me a drink, or suggest we share a bottle of wine to save money on the bill.  Along the way I’ve been accused of “enjoying being the odd one out,” by one acquaintance and deemed “awkward” by another friend. It’s hurtful to be judged in this way because I am none of those things. At Christmas, a time for joy and celebration, I feel a sense of foreboding at being perceived as the odd one out all over again. 
A few days ago, Robbie Williams revealed he found being teetotal a struggle at first, but that eventually it “becomes who you are.” Like Robbie, I’ve come to accept that most people will have an opinion on my teetotalism. It’s only now that I’m learning to care less about what people think, and to feel more comfortable about doing something that is right for me. Letting go of this emotional energy has brought me a sense of freedom, which confirms to me I’m doing the right thing. 
Being teetotal in a culture that encourages drinking is no easy task. Many of our behaviours, and even our marketing at this time of year is aimed at drinkers. I now spend more time with my younger friends – many of whom make up the 25% of young people who are teetotal. Perhaps this is a sign of the future, one where teetotalism is the norm?
Karen Bryony Rose is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @SunSparks4
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