The Truth Behind Teetotalism

‘At the end of the night, I’m not the one left quietly mewing into my own sick’ – MOLLIE WINTLE chats to some Cantab teetotalers about their experiences of being booze-free.

Alcohol alcohol abuse Cindies Drunk non-alcoholic drinks sober Sober in Cindies swaps teetotal

As I write this, I am still recovering from the effects of last night’s alcohol.

I know this because of two things. Firstly, I’m tapping the keys very gently and slowly so that they don’t jump up and attack the fragile and throbbing wreck which is my skull.  And secondly because someone just linked me this and I almost threw up in my mouth:

Teetotal in Cambridge. It doesn’t sound particularly paradoxical. Not like ‘Teetotal in Leeds’ or ‘Teetotal in Newcastle’. No, it sounds plausible – and yet, the phrase prompts a limited range of reactions:

‘Oh no not me, I couldn’t do that…’ is the most common, as if teetotalism is the equivalent of wrestling a bear or going to live in a monastery – something only a chosen few could do. Is it really such a challenge to go alcohol-free in a city with what has been described by one person as the tamest nightlife offered by any university anywhere ever? It has already been proved that Sober in Cindies is not a recipe for success. But what about those few who put up with the swaps, clubs and night activity in general stone-cold sober, and on a regular basis?

My first point of enquiry was R – a teetotaller for religious reasons. She stands by the view that not drinking is not a problem for her: ‘You tend to gravitate towards the fun people, the funny drunks.’ She describes seeing drunk friends as ‘one of the perks of the job.’ But does it not get tiresome listening to the inane nonsense uttered by the inebriated? Personally, I can’t think of anything worse – having a sober conversation with my drunk friends makes me want to punch myself in the face. Hard. It’s the glazed look, the horrible, horrible loudness, which may seem musical and/or profound to the drunk ear, but reminds all others only of their local drunk back home. R insists that this ‘really is hilarious.’ I’m not wholly convinced.

A slightly bleaker side is revealed when I talk to L – a girl who started off at Cambridge as a teetotaller, for a mix of health and personal reasons, but gave up two weeks in. Whilst R talks of the joys of being engineered-pennied with a soft drink, L found the swap and pre-drink culture too much, and our conversation kept coming back to the word ‘impossible’. At least R has a strong reason for her deterrent from alcohol. Is it impossible for the average agnostic? As another friend rather sadly once remarked as we headed out into the night, it ‘feels weird’ to be sober and outside after-dark.

This is not an ideal state of affairs. We are, for the most part, a young, energetic and supposedly intelligent lot. It should be enough to go out, like R, high on life. But no – inhibitions must be nullified. Swaps must be sedated with a bottle of wine. Certainly, potentially awkward situations are transformed by this magic liquor into hilarious ones, but we are left to suffer the consequences in the cold light of day.

Of course, there is a grey area between teetotal and trollied. It’s a lovely place to be, but unfortunately too often just part of a slippery slope to smashdom. Maybe teetotalism is the way forwards after all. In the words of R, ‘It’s sometimes awkward to request a J2O when someone offers to buy you a drink, but I’m not the one left quietly mewing into my own sick at the end of the night.’