I thought I had a breakthrough last night. We headed to our new local, a lovely big pub with artfully tatty decorations, mis-matched furniture and an excellent drink selection. Looking at the available options I realised they had my favourite beer (I am not generally a beer drinker but this one tastes like a Piña colada) and really wanted one. Not to get drunk, but just to drink it. That was a new experience. My breakthrough was short-lived however. It’s a popular pub so we managed to get a table only by hovering nearby people who looked like they were leaving. As they left and we sat down I saw the drink they’d left behind – a bottle of wine and two glasses and I felt that familar pang; the desire to get completely ratted. The desire was so strong it shocked me.
I didn’t drink last night, opting instead for ginger beers and lime and sodas, but still stayed out all night and had a great time. I didn’t find my ability to chat, laugh or enjoy my time with friends in any way impaired by sobriety. I am clearly getting there and the time away from drinking is giving me whole new perspectives on my relationship with alcohol. What has been unexpected though, is how it is also giving me new perspectives on our relationship with drinking as a culture.
If you are reading this, you are on the internet. If you are on the internet, there’s a fair chance you will have heard of ‘NekNomination’, a drinking game which works via social media. If you are reading this by, I don’t know, osmosis or psychokinetic powers then maybe you’re not on the internet and haven’t heard of it. So for my unusual psychic readers – it’s a very simple drinking game where you down a pint of something alcoholic, then nominate two other people to also down a pint of something alcoholic. The difference between NekNominate and your average party drinking game is that NekNominate is played via social media. The pint-downing is filmed, as is the subsequent nomination. It’s then posted on social media and the nominees then have 24 hours to also down a pint of something. There’s been a lot of press over NekNomination over the past few weeks due to the game apparently being the cause of a number of deaths of young participants.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll probably not be remotely shocked at the confession that I LOVE drinking games. I’ve made some great friendships over the years and had some of the best and most hilarious outings through drinking games. My favourites are probably ‘Ring of Fire’ – where you use a pack of cards and ascribe a truth, dare, action or challenge to each card and take turns picking the card – and ‘One to Ten’ which is pretty much impossible to explain but involves having to count to ten as a group but with each person saying a number each without agreeing who says which number and without two or more people saying a number at the same time. If you get to ten, the person who said ‘ten’ can change any number to a word, phrase or action. Both of these games have led to great times, and terrible hangovers.
Generally, the whole point of a drinking game isn’t really to win the game. The point of the game is to GET REALLY DRUNK. Therefore even if there is a loser, you’re all winners at the end, because you’re all REALLY DRUNK. The losers are the people that decided not to play the drinking game, as not only are they not REALLY DRUNK they also now have to put up with a group of obnoxiously REALLY DRUNK people.
Having said that, I have actually played both Ring of Fire and One to Ten as NON drinking games – I originally learned One to Ten as a drama/group work concentration game and introduced it to friends as a drinking game later – and can confirm they are just as hilarious sober as drunk – that is if you are able to be uninhibited enough sober to do silly things and laugh until you make weird snorting noises. You know, the sort of laughter where you actually need to stop because you can’t breathe and it hurts. I’ve had these experiences sober as well as REALLY DRUNK.
NekNomination is a very different sort of drinking game. You don’t have to be at a party, in a social space. It is played over social media, and the drinking within 24 hours rule means you could be drinking at any day of the week; not just as part of a weekend bender. Unlike my favourite drinking games, you can’t play it without booze; there’d be no point. It’s got that added pressure of direct nomination. Someone has nominated you so you HAVE to do it, or everyone will clearly see you failed. It reminds me a little of those stupid chain letters I used to receive as a child in the pre-computer days (yes, I am that old) where you had to painstakingly copy out the same letter to 7 of your friends or you have BROKEN THE CHAIN and you will NEVER FIND PEACE and small kittens in a desert somewhere will DIE.
I have a dark sort of fascination with NekNomination, which I think is entirely linked to my booze-free state. If I hadn’t decided to go booze free, I would probably already have been nominated several times by now. If I hadn’t, I would probably have really been hoping I would be. While I always hated those chain letters, and generally refuse to pass anything like that on on a matter of principle, I’d have probably got stuck into this chain game with the same huge boozy enthusiasm I get stuck into all drinking games, and with a similar justification of my over-drinking habits (I HAVE to do it, I was NOMINATED). It would be hugely hypocritical of me therefore to condemn those taking part as mindless idiots. Indeed, people I am am close to have taken part; including Baby Sister Dinosaur which gave me such a severe case of mixed feelings I couldn’t even put it into words for several weeks.
While I am aware that this no-drinking thing is very much my own journey, I have to also acknowledge the affect it has had on other people and how it has affected my view of other people’s drinking habits. Once you step outside something which is considered perfectly normal, you start to realise that it’s not actually that normal. Some friends have been almost offended by my abstinence, as if I am making a comment on their drinking habits. Others have missed the seriousness of my situation, asking me why I can’t just drink in moderation (I don’t know why I can’t. I just can’t. That’s the point.) But the thing I have noticed is how entrenched our relationship with excessive drinking is – how normalised getting REALLY DRUNK is. It’s actually more of a transgression in our culture to be sober than to get so drunk you fall over. If you don’t get so drunk you fall over then you’re doing it wrong.
NekNomination is a really visual clear representation of this binge drinking culture – it’s like a microcosm of the peer pressure to drink, and how excessive drinking is seen as perfectly normal and fine. Those that have died allegedly playing this game, by newspaper accounts, seemed to have taken it a LOT further than the average participant – one tried to drink an entire pint of vodka. Another jumped into a freezing river. These deaths are horrible, and shocking; but the media discussions around it have been very much around how the deaths and the problems are because of the game itself. But I don’t think you can look at this game as the problem; the game is a representation of a culture in which problematic drinking is not seen as being problematic at all. NekNomination is a product of our drinking culture; a symptom of a wider issue.
Baby sister dinosaur and I have both acknowledged that we won’t bother having a drink at all if we don’t intend to get drunk. My whole reason for drinking is to get hammered. And that is seen as perfectly normal in our culture. Should it be? This is a question I’ve never even considered before – it’s a question I’ve only started asking myself in the last few weeks as I reach the 2 month mark of abstinence.
How long have I suspected my drinking was problematic? If I am brutally honest, I would say nearly 7 years. And yet this is the first time I’ve gone without drinking alcohol for more that two weeks, pretty much since I started drinking 20 odd years ago. Everything around me told me my drinking was ok. Even now, I am finding it hard to avoid alcohol not because I really want a drink, but because the pressure on me to conform and ‘just have a few drinks’ is immense. NekNomination isn’t a new and dangerous craze that is killing young reckless people – it’s a drinking game which is perfectly in keeping with our current age; played by social media and fired by peer pressure, successful because “getting drunk” is virtually synonymous with “having a drink”. The reason it is dangerous is because our perceptions of alcohol and its dangers are flawed, and our relationship with alcohol deeply complex as a culture.
If you were nominated, would you do it? If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you? You know, if all of my friends jumped off a bridge on a regular basis, and if jumping off the bridge was something everyone did every weekend, and if NOT jumping off the bridge marked you as boring and no fun, then yes. I probably would jump off that bridge. And I probably wouldn’t even stop to ask myself why.