It’s a little embarrassing to admit that alcohol consumption has long been something of a national sport in the UK, but more latterly it has become a national obsession, as the media continues to drip feed a steady stream of seemingly contradictory medical advice. For example, from recent memory, I can recall that we have been advised that alcohol can be of benefit to the middle aged, only to be told subsequently that middle aged people are consuming way too much alcohol and are unaware of the dangers their “problem drinking” presents. Officially women are permitted 2 units per day, but even that piece of government advice now has a big, fat, red-flashing question mark hovering over it. The latest theory is that we should all have at least 3 alcohol-free days per week to allow our livers to recover.
British journalist, India Knight, has recently waded in with her opinion, rejecting the stark media coverage comparing the middle aged to partying, vomiting teenagers and suggesting that the middle aged should not allow themselves to feel guilty for enjoying a glass or two of wine.
However, I’m the first to admit that I have leanings towards hypochondria and, given that I rather indulged in the “high spirits” of the nineties (not to the point of flashing my pants in street gutters, I hasten to add), this extensive media coverage only serves to increase my anxiety over any historic hangover so that any pleasure derived from relaxing with a glass of something sparkly is now tempered by the ever present media warnings. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t yet a help group catering for women like me, who would love to stand in the middle of a circle of sympathetic listeners and announce: “My name is Claire. I worry about health issues.”
This leads me to the issue of socialising with other parents. Whilst we all cherish our children, there are times, it has to be said, when, come 8.00 pm, the desire to crack open a bottle of wine is almost overwhelming. I know many parents who are intent on re-living their youth, their children having reached an age where they are more self sufficient or happy to stay overnight with grandparents. The fact that time alone as a couple or spent mingling with friends is more limited by the presence of a family, only serves to heighten the thrill of any down time and the temptation to let loose and exceed the recommended daily allowance of alcohol units (or, as the powers that be put it, “to binge drink”) during those late night conversations, is something that many of us succumb to.
I know of at least three intelligent, responsible, well educated mothers who are flying the flag for the over 40s in terms of their approach to socialising. These are the mothers who can be found donning sunglasses at the school gates after a heavy night on the town (or at home), sheepishly admitting to the number of empty bottles resulting from the previous night’s festivities. Yet they do it again and again. I on the other hand, have no wish to be a party pooper, but my alcohol anxiety prevents me (most of the time) from over-indulging. Hangovers, as we all know, can be eased by a cup of tea, a bacon sandwich and some ibuprofen. It’s the guilt I struggle to erase.
So, time for another admission. I have been known to invent an excuse not to drink. There, I’ve said it! Only last night, in preparation for an evening at a friend’s house, I sent a text to another invitee, offering her a lift. Her prompt response sought to clarify that the lift was only to my house, so that we could walk the rest of the way, ending with the loaded statement, “I hope you’re not driving!”
Miraculously, I managed to stay within the recommended daily allowance pretending that I had had a heavy weekend celebrating another friend’s 40th and simply couldn’t risk another hangover. Is it not pitiful that I am still bowing to peer pressure?! It seems that we Brits simply cannot believe that it is possible to have a good time without alcohol, but until the facts and risk factors associated with alcohol can be scientifically established (will that day ever come?), I am happy to just dip my toe in the water, so to speak, whilst outwardly striving to maintain my “cool/fun mum” persona.