The Sobriety Diaries – week two: ‘I arrive in Donegal gumming for a drink’

A ‘normal Irish drinker’ has quit alcohol for four weeks, to experience life without booze. She’s halfway there

 Sparkling again: Anne-Marie Hourihane. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Sparkling again: Anne-Marie Hourihane. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Sat, May 17, 2014, 01:00

It’s strange when the two of you order nonalcoholic drinks. The barman looks kind of disappointed. Then in the restaurant you send the wine list back and feel that somehow you are failing to come up to expectations. Or perhaps this is projection on my part.

We do get a nice wine cooler for our mineral water, which comes in an unmarked bottle and so presumably was carbonated on site. (I have become slightly obsessed with mineral water.)

During dinner staff and other diners sing happy birthday to five different people in a 90-minute period. I don’t get half as cross as I would if I were drinking.

I’m two weeks into my social experiment of not drinking for a month. I go away for the weekend, and that’s when the desire for drink hits. In the car on the way up I am looking forward to Guinness in shady bars and white wine on the wind-blasted patio of the rented holiday home: of such moments are Irish holidays made.

I arrive in Donegal gumming for a drink. If I weren’t writing these diaries I would certainly cave in. Over the weekend I drink bottles of alcohol-free beer (five) and cups of coffee (innumerable). The pubs in the area vary from cavernous barns to the type of cosy bar with framed photographs of soccer and GAA heroes on the walls, and a girl wearing pink bunny ears at 5pm having a fag and a pint outside the door.

This pub is said to have the best music session on Monday nights, but we decide to stay in and watch a Dolores Keane documentary instead.

It’s the right choice. Dolores Keane, mother of a chronically ill child, is not the only woman in that situation to have experienced a drink problem. On the Soberistas website there are women living without alcohol – or trying to – while caring for sick children, or parents or spouses with dementia.

If you have ever wondered about the human cost of unpaid, unsupported and unacknowledged domestic nursing, then Soberistas is a good place to start. I thought I would be surprised by the youth of the women on soberistas.com, but instead I’m surprised by the number of women in their 50s and 60s on the site. Many of them are grandmothers.

For at least one of them, going alcohol-free led to her being allowed to mind her grandson overnight; her daughter had not trusted her to do that before.

According to Lucy Rocca, who started the Soberistas website, in the UK it is the over-65s who are presenting most with alcohol-related problems. “It is harder for them, because you’ve not got the restrictions in your life,” she says. “You’ve not a full-time job, maybe, or small kids.”

Many people, both male and female, find that their drinking really takes off when they retire. According to Rocca, there is a lot of unreported depression in this group as well. But they are fighters. To read about the woman who takes such pleasure in making time to go to her choir practice, as well as caring for her demented husband, and has not had a drink in many months, is chastening.

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