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Charlie Martina: Sober Students

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A couple of years ago, I (somehow) managed to scrape by and graduate with a degree in sociology. Throughout my time at university, all the conversations I heard about alcohol were pro-bevving, and as a result I never questioned alcohol’s place in my life. Fast forward a few years – we’re in lockdown number three, I’m no longer a student, and I find myself with a little bit of an alcohol problem.

It only occurred to me that I had a problem after I finished university. I don’t think anyone would have noticed how much I was drinking during my student years because that was simply the norm! But just because something is normal, doesn’t mean it is good; I suffered hugely at the hands of student drinking culture.

Having recently re-entered the student sphere to study a master’s, the prospect of socialising makes me a little nervous. I am comfortable in my sobriety now, but the feeling of being judged by fellow students hasn’t shifted entirely.

In desperate hope there might be a hidden underbelly of sober curious students, I decided to set up a brand-new university society: Sober Soc. I wanted to create a safe alcohol-free space where everyone was welcome (whether they’re sober or not). Earlier this week, in the midst of boozy freshers, we held a stall at the societies fair and awaited student reactions.

At 8am (a time I never saw in my drinking days) on Friday, I headed to the SU to set up, hanging our hand-painted signs and Canva-made posters. I was tired – creatively, physically, and emotionally – but ready for the day ahead. A day which, it turned out, was full of surprises.

The morning went so quickly, and we received more interest than I could have possibly anticipated. People from all sorts of backgrounds were showing interest in rewriting the alcohol narrative and socialising without having to get pissed. Some people didn’t drink for religious reasons, others had a history of addiction. Some people had never enjoyed being drunk, others anticipated wanting to avoid hangovers during exam season.

Part of me knew I couldn’t be the only student who didn’t want to drink, but another part of me couldn’t believe it. Every time someone complimented the society or said it was long overdue, I felt warm in my chest, as though my heart was growing three sizes bigger (Grinch style).

It wasn’t all plain sailing, of course (none of the best things are). As the day progressed, the

responses became a little less positive. At first it was just a few obviously hungover people nudging their friends with a smirk. I didn’t mind it; I would’ve done the same when I was drinking. Other people were more obviously rude, laughing and mocking our stall or shaking their head in our direction. A few people came to say that they objected to the entire premise of our society, that our mere existence offended them.

In a world where we are readily pointing out our societal flaws, it saddens me that we tend to be more closed-minded about sobriety. That said, I do think our relationships with alcohol are shifting; more and more young people seem to be abstaining or taking it slowly.

If Sober Soc shows one student that sobriety doesn’t have to be boring, it will all be worth it. I wish I could tell past Charlie that there was more to life than drinking, but unfortunately, I don’t have a time machine.

I guess I’ll settle for encouraging any future Charlies to choose something of the alcohol-free variety on the odd Friday night.

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