University of Liverpool student and Alcohol Change UK Community Champion, Charlie Martina, talks about how she set up Liverpool’s Sober Soc to meet others who were willing to start having conversations about moderation or sobriety.
The term ‘sober student’ seems like an oxymoron. Unhealthy drinking patterns and behaviours can be normalised in UK student spheres, but just because something is normal doesn’t mean it’s good. It took two years after graduating for me to realise alcohol wasn’t serving me.
By the time I returned to study a Master’s in September 2021, I was sober but also nervous. I was nervous I wouldn’t be accepted and scared I would end up drinking again. I knew I had to make my second round of study different, so I decided to make my own community: Sober Soc.
Start by taking small steps. It’s not about creating something huge straight away, it’s about slowly working to change drinking culture and meeting new people along the way.
I held a stall at the societies fair during Fresher’s. I was 23 and nine months into my sobriety, but I felt as unsure of myself as I did on day one. People walked past, obviously hungover, nudged their friends and giggled in the direction of my Sober Soc sign. Deep down it hurt, but I tried to laugh it off. Later in the day, more people showed interest in my society, and I was feeling much more positive.
When you begin any new project, there is a chance of failure. The key is to stay in the moment! Don’t think forward to what it will be like in a year or two because you can’t possibly know. Start by taking small steps. It’s not about creating something huge straight away, it’s about slowly working to change drinking culture and meeting new people along the way. If you’re starting a society at uni, take advantage of the student union and the people they have access to. Get stuck in and learn as much as you can. Whether it’s because of culture, religion, alcohol issues, health reasons, I’m sure there’ll be more sober people out there than you think.
Fast forward to the end of semester 2 and Sober Soc is reaching the end of a very successful first year. On the SU website there are over 300 members: a collection of sober and sober-curious students who previously hid under the woodwork or tried to go it alone. We met up for weekly “sober circles”, made a WhatsApp group that now has over 70 members, and hosted a range of events from sober karaoke to tea at the cat cafe. Everyone I’ve met has been wonderful, and they’ve broadened my perspective of what it means to be an alcohol-free student.
At the recent Student Union Awards, we won “New Society of the Year” which was fantastic, and we know this society has a bright future ahead.
On 27 December 2021, I hit my one-year sober milestone. I wasn’t your stereotypical heavy drinker but that doesn’t mean my drinking behaviours were good. I experienced mental health difficulties, extreme ‘hangxiety’. I often blacked out when drinking and acted in ways I shouldn’t have. I tried to run away, and even tried to kill myself. It was rare for anyone to suggest having a booze break or consider my drinking habits, so I never questioned my relationship with alcohol.
Alcohol was never the villain; it was always some other area of my life that was going wrong. It was my childhood, my mental health, or uni stress that was making me miserable – not alcohol! It couldn’t possibly have been alcohol’s fault!
Well over a year after ditching the beer, I can see with clarity that a lot of my issues were tied up with drinking. Any time I tried to resolve past difficulties or had a chance to heal, I would drink to avoid facing reality and the situation would end up infinitely worse. I labelled myself a party girl and gave myself permission to dance the night away – every day.
It can be hard to realise alcohol isn’t working for you when you’re surrounded by heavy drinkers and pro-alcohol narratives. That’s why I wanted to create Sober Soc – I wanted to turn my mess into my message. I wanted to show students that it’s okay to question your relationship with alcohol. Being young doesn’t make you invincible, and it’s fine (and normal!) to be struggling.
At the recent Student Union Awards, we won “New Society of the Year” which was fantastic, and we know this society has a bright future ahead. Not everyone will agree with what Sober Soc is trying to do, but that shouldn’t stop us from starting a conversation about sobriety or moderation.
If you’re a young person or student and believe you’re in a sphere where you can make a difference, please do! Just because there aren’t enough people talking about it yet, doesn’t mean we should stay silent. Your voice matters. You’re not jumping on the bandwagon, you’re driving it.
Charlie is a Community Champion for Alcohol Change UK and President of Sober Soc at the University of Liverpool. She’s on Instagram and Sober Soc can be found here and here. Charlie is more than happy to hear from students wanting to get involved or trying to start something similar.