Not sober curious, just sober

An article covering the “Sober Curious Movement” was published in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks ago. My brother shared it with me, and I’m still thinking about it. The article discusses a “sober curious” movement in America and interviews a number of people in Chicago that have chosen to quit drinking. Apparently because they quit drinking for different reasons than alcoholism or binge drinking, they are “sober curious” instead of simply “sober”. (It’s a book too).

My brother sent it to me because I don’t drink either, which can feel like an oddity in your twenties. I quit drinking at concerts when I was 22, after I went to a concert, had one drink, and ended up fainting in between the opener and the headliner. Thinking it was just a fluke of that night, I tried again at another show a few months later, and spent the headlining set sitting down in the back of the venue to avoid fainting a second time. After that I realized that it wasn’t worth it, and never drank at a concert again.

It took longer for me to quit drinking overall, and I’d make exceptions at time for special occasions when it just felt too awkward to not drink—weddings, parties, first dates—but after awhile I decided to stop making the exceptions. It was part personal challenge, and part health-conscious decision. My body had never responded well to alcohol, what with lightheadedness or nausea following anything more than a couple drinks. By the time I was 22 I had a short list of “okay alcohols” and quantities, and by the time I was 26 I’d grown tired of bothering.

My life had shifted to involve fun activities beyond drinking, and my friends weren’t drinking-focused either. I’d be going to concerts or to the gym/the soccer pitch every other day, and drinking just didn’t fit anywhere. I’d spent time in college not drinking at various parties, where I knew I had to be fresh for studying the next day, so I knew I could still have fun without drinking. Choosing to quit drinking overall felt like a natural progression.

So where does that leave me now, and why am I still so peeved at that article? For one, it only quotes women. I like to see women quoted by journalists, but by only quoting women, the choice to be sober felt somewhat trivialized. In addition, the women’s comments were contextualized with talk of mindfulness and yoga, as though this is a choice being made by a particular type and class of woman, and no others. It also perpetuates the notion that having fun without drinking is some strange novelty. There are a lot of people out there that have fun without drinking. Indeed, as one of the women in the article points out—it’s a challenge to your confidence to go out and be all of yourself, without alcohol. But it can be that much more invigorating in that way. You get to challenge your social anxiety and actively build confidence, rather than relying on alcohol and wondering if you can talk to strangers without it at all.

I think there’s also harm in talking about sobriety distinct from alcoholism. A lot of quitting drinking is about realizing that you don’t like who you are when you drink (or after you drink). The recent essay about the Joe Beef restaurateurs makes this clear. Some people have the lifestyles, genetic predisposition, or experienced traumas that escalate their alcohol consumption to recognizable alcoholism. Others have a dependence on it that they dislike, even if others don’t see it as an issue (as one of the women interviewed in the Chicago Tribune article mentions). It’s more than okay to share that common understanding, rather than separate ourselves into different groups, “the sober curious” and “the fully sober due to addiction”. That’s harmful. Indeed, the sober curious meetup in Chicago also includes “young women in recovery”. They get it.

Often, quitting drinking feels like a social choice more than a personal choice. It feels that way largely due to the fact that there often aren’t that many sober social activities out there. It’s hard to stay out late with friends sober when the only places open late are bars. It’s harder to choose yourself over alcohol, when it can often mean isolating yourself from friends. So while I struggle with the rhetoric and the patronizing presentation of the “sober curious” movement, I absolutely support it as an overall societal direction. Here’s to more late-night diners, pastry places like Mission Pie, and sober pop-ups like Brillig Dry Bar that help us sober people stay up late and out with friends.

Masculinity, AIM, Ads, and Cops

Here’s what was important this week…

I treated myself to ice cream last night (from the freezer, not a lonely ice cream shop date with myself) and it was delicious. While I gained weight from starting an office job after college, I still have the privilege of avoiding most body policing placed on women.

However, men suffer their own share of body policing. In Hollywood, this manifests itself as an obsession with fit bodies, and fitness. Mens Journal examines the issue, speaking mostly to trainers and talking about the pressure for actors to get “fit” in order to land coveted roles. It’s so important to the industry that:

“There are dozens of hormone-replacement clinics in and around Hollywood, and their business is booming. But there are significant risks: Hormone therapy accelerates all cell growth, whether healthy or malignant, and can encourage existing cancers, especially prostate cancers, to metastasize at terrifying rates. Testosterone supplements can lower sperm counts. For many, the risk is worth it.”

Fitness is just one aspect of a narrow set of masculinity standards imposed on men. For many men, high school is one of the more painful places that these standards are enforced. Well-documented in this great book by sociologist C.J. Pascoe, an essay in The Walrus gets to the heart of many of the standards. A new sex ed program in some Canadian schools works on teaching these high school boys not only aspects about sex that are often glossed over in traditional sex ed courses, it also focuses on relationships, gender identity and expression, and explores these things in a safe space. Importantly,

“Teaching young men to trust, communicate, negotiate, and empathize does not undermine or threaten their manliness. It expands their humanity. It reclaims men’s possibilities.”

Something else that helps men reclaim their possibilities is by supporting women, becoming advocates for them in the workplace, being feminists… Shanley, a writer on diversity in tech, wrote an essay about what men can do to help women if they are in a position of power (in her case, speaking directly to white men in tech). It’s a bit profanity-laden and not completely generalizable, but makes some great points.

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Metrication of the Self

A soon-to-emerge recurring theme…

Also referred to as “datafication” by the authors of Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform how we Live Work and Think, metrication can be defined as beginning to see all aspects of our lives as valuable data points and metrics against which to gauge our worth, success, and productivity, a relatively recent trend. Spurred on by technological advances, new tools of monitoring others such as plug-ins and cookies also allow us to track ourselves. 

Using metrics to evaluate people is not a new concept–from birth we’re monitored against percentile growth charts by pediatricians and our anxious parents; once we’re of schooling age we are monitored and tracked by the government and school districts using grades and standardized testing–reducing our school performance to “valuable” numbers and the odd, coded comment like “works hard in class”. After graduation and/or college, it could be over, but the working world possesses its own set of metrics. At my own job we track all sorts of data related to customer satisfaction, in addition to how quickly and efficiently we serve our users. This is consistently relayed back to us as workers, with the implicit intent of improving those numbers. The higher the better.

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